Welcome to Barcelona! You're here for the biggest global meeting on mobile technology, the GMSA Mobile World Congress, which takes place in 2016 from February 22 to 25 in Barcelona's Fira Montjuïc and Fira Gran Via. But what will you do in your free time? Lucky for you, you're in one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, and whether you want to spend your hours away from work dining in Michelin-starred restaurants, sipping cocktails by the sea, dancing the night away, or unwinding in a relaxing spa, we've got you covered. The city is full of things to do, from art exhibitions to concerts to local festivals, and you might even get lucky enough with the weather to enjoy the winter sun on terraces and in squares, and even along the coast at the beaches. Even if you're only in town for a couple of days, you'll find plenty of things to do in Barcelona.
Ten sights you won't want to miss
One of the most perfect surviving examples of the Catalan Gothic style, this graceful basilica stands out for its characteristic horizontal lines, plain surfaces, square buttresses and flat-topped octagonal towers. There’s also superb stained glass, especially the great 15th-century rose window above the main door. The Santa Maria del Mar also boasts some great real estate. In the heart of the Born district, it's located amid some of the city's top bars, shops and restaurants, and it's a mere stone's throw from the Picasso Musuem (see below). A great place to start exploring this part of town.
By no means an overview of the artist's work, the Museu Picasso is rather a record of the vital formative years that the young Picasso spent nearby at La Llotja art school (where his father taught), and later hanging out with Catalonia's fin-de-siècle avant-garde. The seamless presentation of Picasso's development from 1890 to 1904, from deft pre-adolescent portraits to sketchy landscapes to the intense innovations of his Blue Period, is unbeatable, then it leaps to a gallery of mature Cubist paintings from 1917. The pièce de résistance is the complete series of 58 canvases based on Velázquez's famous 'Las Meninas', donated by Picasso himself.
Gaudí and Modernisme
The queues at the Sagrada Família can sometimes span more than two city blocks. The wonderful thing is you can appreciate the whole exterior of Gaudí's life's work from the street, but if you haven't got time to visit inside, there are many other Gaudí buildings to get to know in Barcelona. Top among the list is La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà), situated on Passeig de Gràcia, the city's huge shopping street. Be sure to visit the rooftop for stellar views and incredible architecture, even in the smokestacks. Also on Passeig de Gràcia, you'll find Casa Batlló, one of the most impressive and admired of all Gaudí's creations, jutting out of the skyline in a gorgeous splash of vibrant colour. Heading down La Rambla you'll come to the Palau Güell, Gaudí's first major commission, and the prelude to another collaboration with empresario Eusebi Güell, Park Güell. In the park (which was free until October 2013), you'll see for yourself that the fantastical exuberance of Gaudí's imagination remains breathtaking.
Remember that Barcelona's Cathedral and the Sagrada Família are two entirely different beasts. The Cathedral is in the centre of town and if you time it right, you can get in for free. You might think if you've seen one European cathedral you've seen 'em all, but we are partial to this one. It's definitely worth a visit, but if you're not in the mood to go in, at least feast your eyes on the wonder from the outside, which, after the years-long renovation, is finally scaffold-free. Glorious.
Thronged with tourists searching for a little bit of Barcelona's gastro magic, and usually ending up with a pre-sliced quarter of overpriced pineapple, Europe's biggest food market located smack on La Rambla is still an essential stop. Admire the orderly stacks of ridged Montserrat tomatoes, the wet sacks of snails and the oozing razor clams on the fish stalls. If you can't or don't want to cook it yourself, you can eat instead at several market tapas bars. If you visit in the morning, you'll see the best produce, incluing the smallholders' fruit and vegetable stalls in the little square attached to the C/Carme side of the market, where prices tend to be lower. But if you come only to ogle, remember that this is where locals come to shop. Don't touch what you don't want to buy, ask before taking photos and watch out for vicious old ladies with ankle-destroying wheeled shopping bags.
Sure, it's not quite spring yet, but how bad can it be when there are so many days filled with winter sun in Barcelona? You might not want to take a dip in the Mediterranean, but a walk near the coast to breathe in some fresh sea air and clear your head of technology for a while could be a welcome change. And the great thing about visiting the beach in winter is the sea and sand are about as pristine as you'll see them all year.
If you're used to being soft-soaped by eager-to-please art centres, you'll have to adjust to the cryptic minimalism of the MACBA, where art is taken very seriously indeed. Yet if you can navigate the fridge-like interior of Richard Meier's enormous edifice, accept that much of the permanent collection is inaccessible to the uninitiated, tackle shows that flutter between the brilliant and baffling, and, most important, are prepared to do your reading, a trip to the MACBA can be extremely rewarding.
'One museum, a thousand years of art' is the slogan of the National Museum, which you can see from the convention centre, and the collection provides a dizzying overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. The highlight is the Romanesque collection. The display here features 21 mural sections in loose chronological order. A highlight is the tremendous 'Crist de Taüll', from the 12th-century church of Sant Climent de Taüll. Even 'graffiti' scratchings (probably by monks) of animals, crosses and labyrinths have been preserved. The excellent Gothic collection starts with some late-13th-century frescoes that were discovered in 1961 and 1997, and the modernista collection is also unmissable.
At the convention centre you're at the bottom of Montjuïc, and if you head up the steps you get to the National Museum (MNAC, see above) and just beyond that a bit is the Fundació Joan Miró. Approachable, light and airy, the museum's white walls and arches house a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró's graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings. Miró is shown as a cubist ('Street in Pedralbes', 1917), naive ('Portrait of a Young Girl', 1919) and surrealist ('Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement', 1935). While you're there, don't pass up a visit to the open-air sculpture garden.
Camp Nou, where FC Barcelona has played since 1957, is one of football’s great stadiums – a vast cauldron of a ground that holds 98,000 spectators. That’s a lot of noise when the team is doing well, and an awful lot of silence when it isn’t. If you can’t get there on match day but love the team, it’s worth visiting the club museum. The excellent audio-guided tour of the stadium takes you through the players’ tunnel to the dugouts and then, via the away team’s changing room, on to the President’s box, where there is a replica of the European Cup (Champions League), which the team won at Wembley in 1992, in Paris in 2006, in Rome in 2009, in London in 2011, and in Berlin in 2015.
Where to eat during the GSMA Mobile World Congress
Barcelona continues leading the way in cutting-edge, international cuisine. In the wide range of quality restaurants in the city, 22 stand out above the rest: those that have the honour of receiving one (or two) Michelin stars. If your wallet allows and you want to pay tribute, here's the list of Barcelona's 22 star-studded restaurants. Enjoy!
Try these restaurants, cafés and tapas bars for the best traditional Catalan fare in Barcelona – from 'escudella' (Catalan stew) to crema Catalana, from hearty meals in a family-owned restaurant to haute cuisine prepared by star-studded chefs of world renown. Enjoy the finest traditional dishes in Barcelona.
Finding a truly good paella in Barcelona can be complicated, especially these days when anyone with a handful of rice, a jar of broth, and a picture of the dish outside their tourist-trap establishment can claim to have the best paella in town. Don't worry, you don't have to go to Valencia to taste this traditional dish. Barcelona does paella right, and our list of 10 of the best restaurants for paellas and rice dishes will guide you in the right direction.
Bracing ourselves for the backlash of not mentioning the place your grandfather swears has always had and will always have the best patatas bravas in the world, we dare to pick the 20 best places in Barcelona to get this popular tapa of thickly cut and fried-to-perfection potatoes piled high and served with a spicy (by Spanish standards) sauce. Purists will opt for recipes passed down from generation to generation served in bars like granddad recommends, while many will discover new and innovative formulas that are just as delicious in their own right.
While the healthy living associated with the Mediterranean diet may be admirable, once in a while it's nice to just sink your teeth into a big juicy brunch. In comparison with a coffee-and-sandwich breakfast and the famously lengthy, languid lunches, brunch isn't a meal you'd immediately associate with the local culture. In fact, as a predominantly Anglo-Saxon tradition, it suffers from a less refined, more DIY – OK, let's just say it: greasy – image. However, in recent years this foreign weekend favourite has proved surprisingly popular in the Catalan capital too, albeit with less of an emphasis on the grease. At weekends you'll find many of Barcelona's restaurants and bars open for business well before midday, and enjoying a brisk brunchtime trade. So, from hangover restoratives to fancy breakfast feasts, dig in to Time Out's guide to the best brunches in town.
There are menus listing tempting tapas just about everywhere you turn the Catalan capital. The choice can be overwhelming, and nowhere else but Barcelona boasts tapas in such variety – but this can apply to quality as well as the dishes on offer. Here are the restaurants, cafés, bodegas and tapas bars serving the best mini-meals in Barcelona.
Get to know Barcelona's vibrant nightlife
Find the best drinking spots in the Montjuïc and Poble-sec area, very near the MWC venue in town. Whether you want a few pintxos with your drinks, a bit of lunchtime music with your vermouth, a bar that also serves slow food, something with a terrace to sit outside, or to be surrounded be gorgeous interior decoration, there's something nearby for you.
We've taken the temperature of Barcelona's nightlife to find ten of the hottest clubs: places that bring together the best music and the liveliest scene so you'll head home late, happy and exhausted.
Sample some of the finest bespoke cocktails in Barcelona, and meet the city's most daring mixologists. Whether your taste is for the red-velvety classic interiors and old-fashioned drinks as your nan likes 'em or if you prefer a more modern ambience with your one-of-a-kind tipple, we've got just the place for you.
If you want to check out some of Barcelona's renowned club nights and sessions while you're in town, let us guide you to the hottest of what's on right now, whether you're staying the weekend or want to risk showing up to conferences late in the morning by taking in a weeknight session. You'll find all kinds of music played by national and international DJs, parties that start at 6pm and others that go on until 6am. We promise not to tell your boss.
It's always the right time to for a good glass of wine, and you don't have to be an expert to enjoy one. Just head to these top wine bars in town and they'll help you pick out a grape that suits your taste.
If you fancy a night out among the rich and stylish around town, these are the places to go to see and be seen, to sip stellar cocktails and dance the night away in your best party clothes.
Where to go shopping
Shopping along Barcelona's biggest shopping street, the grand Passeig de Gràcia, means being right in the heart of the centre of town, where you'll be taking in a breathtaking modernist building one minute, and the next dodging others out for a walk, in a hurry to get somewhere, or doing their own spending. From the biggest brand names to the most affordable, from the exclusive shops to those open to everyone, you're bound to find a treasure to carry home that suits your taste and fits your budget.
Unlike a stroll along La Rambla suggests, Mexican hats, flamenco outfits and bull figurines don't have much to do with Barcelona. To make sure you go home with something a bit more creative than 'BarcelonaBarcelona' bags or an 'all I got was this lousy' T-shirt, we've selected 15 shops where you can get a grasp of the real Barcelona and buy something authentic and unique for your loved ones back home (and for yourself). From small boutiques and galleries selling local design, to comic book stores and sweet shops: the streets of the Barri Gòtic, the Raval and the Born offer everything the tourist heart desires, so you can stay well away from the sombreros.
Verdi has long been one of Gràcia’s liveliest streets, where bars vie for space with independent shops of all descriptions. That quirky, offbeat vibe now extends up the hill beyond Carrer de l’Or, where the shawarma restaurants and cinema-goers thin out. It’s all down to a combination of traditional shops with original new ventures.
When you're out shopping in Barcelona, you want something original to bring home, whether you're on holiday, redecorating your local flat, or in search of that one-of-a-kind item for your wardrobe. In these 15 shops you're sure to find just what you're looking for, and possibly even a few unexpected surprises, all made in Barcelon by local designers and artisans.