BARCELONA is always gravitating toward what’s next, what’s new. Sure, the Catalan capital in northeastern Spain is rich with historic sites and classic tourist activities — browsing the centuries-old Boqueria market, studying the works of Picasso and Miró, posing with Gaudí’s frosted fairytale houses in Parc Güell — but the city’s current dynamism is rooted elsewhere. To discover what’s fueling Barcelona right now, look to new contemporary art museums and small galleries. Look to the bold tapas bars and buzzing night life rejuvenating outlying neighborhoods. Look to the new, but make time for old favorites too.
1. HOUSES OF GAUDí
Strolling the city’s grand, leafy boulevards is itself a pleasure, but simultaneously sampling, albeit superficially, some of the masterful works by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí makes a walking tour even more marvelous. Starting in L’Eixample, head south on Passeig de Gràcia, past the sinuous facade of Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (No. 92; 34-93-484-5900; lapedreraeducacio.org), and the spellbinding exterior of Casa Batlló (No. 43; 34-93-216-0306; casabatllo.es). Continue down La Rambla to Palau Güell (Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5; 34-93-472-5775; palauguell.cat), a dazzling mansion that reopened in 2011 after seven years of restoration. Inside, trace Gaudí’s genius from the subterranean horse stables and exquisite living quarters to the whimsical rooftop chimneys.
2. MEAL TICKETS
Since the celebrated El Bulli served its final meal, those seeking to taste the gastronomic wizardry of the brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià have turned to Tickets (Avinguda del Parallel, 164; no phone; ticketsbar.es), a carnivalesque tapas restaurant that opened last year under Albert’s charge in the city’s historic theater district. With a red-carpet entrance and marquee lights, the restaurant promises to unspool a mesmerizing show of its own. Once seated, don’t miss the “liquid” olives (8.30 euros for six, or $10.70 at $1.30 to the euro), the juicy tuna belly painted with jamón ibérico fat (13.50 euros), and a cone from the roving ice cream cart (3.50 euros). Reservations essential.
3. DANCING IN THE CLOUDS
After dinner sneak around back for a tipple at 41º (Avinguda del Parallel, 164; no phone; 41grados.es), the Adrià brothers’ cocktail lounge that has been evolving since it opened in early 2011. These days, the chic space functions in the early evening as a 16-seat restaurant with a 41-course tasting menu, before transforming into one of the city’s classiest cocktail bars. Order a lilac-colored Aviation (12 euros), then dance in the clouds at Eclipse (Plaça de la Rosa del Vents, 1; 34-93-295-2800; w-barcelona.com), a nightclub on the 26th floor of the beachfront W Hotel with views of the sparkling city lights.
4. BAKING BY THE BEACH
Nestled in the middle of the Barceloneta neighborhood is Baluard (Carrer Baluard, 38-40 baixos; 34-93-221-1208; baluardbarceloneta.com), a stellar bakery usually spilling a line of residents out onto the sidewalk. Buy a baguet baluard (1.20 euros) or a bag of buttery croissants (.95 euros each) and join the joggers, skateboarders and everyone else parading along the beachfront promenade. When selecting a patch of sand on which to bronze, note that the ratio of tourists to locals decreases the farther north you go. A lovely stretch is Bogatell beach, north of Port Olímpic.
5. SAY CHEESE
Sample luscious cheeses from small-production Spanish farms in the back room of Formatgeria La Seu (Carrer de la Dagueria, 16; 34-93-412-6548; formatgerialaseu.com), a narrow cheese shop run by an entertaining Scottish-born proprietress, Katherine McLaughlin. Still hungry after a tasting (five cheeses for 8.50 euros) and a glass of tinto? Continue nibbling — this time on anchovy tapas paired with cava — at El Xampanyet(Carrer de Montcada, 22; 34-93-319-7003) in the Born neighborhood. If it’s full (it always is), be patient. This tapas bar is worth the wait.
6. CONTINENTAL ART FEST
Steps from El Xampanyet is the world-class Museu Picasso (Carrer de Montcada 15-23; 34-93-256-3000; bcn.cat/museupicasso), but the barrio is now also home to the new Museu Europeu d’Art Modern, or MEAM (Carrer Barra de Ferro, 5; 34-93-319-5693;meam.es), which opened last summer in the 18th-century Palau Gomis. Inside, discover a trove of works from classical 20th-century Catalan sculpture to riveting contemporary figurative paintings.
7. CREATIVE TYPE
The narrow, winding streets of El Raval are packed with cutting-edge boutiques and the creative types who frequent them. If you don’t get lost exploring this maze, you may still lose your bearings while browsing the thousands of rare architecture and design tomes in the rambling shop Ras (Carrer del Doctor Dou, 10; 34-93-412-7199; rasbcn.com). A newer locus for literature and art (and their creators) to commingle is across town at Mutt (Carrer del Comerç, 15; 34-93-192-4438; mutt.es), a slick bookstore and art gallery that opened in December 2010.
8. FREE CULTURAL EXCHANGE
There’s always something happening at CaixaForum (Avinguda de Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 6-8; 34-93-476-8600; obrasocial.lacaixa.es), a hub of culture in a former textile factory that hosts everything from lectures and photography exhibitions to musical performances. Among the current offerings is a spectacular, free Goya exhibition with nearly 100 artworks, which was coordinated with the Museo del Prado in celebration of CaixaForum’s 10th anniversary. Afterward, it’s mere steps to the free nighttime music-and-light show at the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (bcn.cat/parcsijardins/fonts/EN/magica.html; every half-hour from 9 to 11 p.m.).
9. LITTLE TEMPTATIONS
Plump cherry-red lips — a prominent decorative motif — are no match for the tempting small plates served at the bright, bubbly Lolita Tapería (Carrer de Tamarit, 104; 34-93-424-5231; lolitataperia.com). This location formerly housed the much-loved tapas bar Inopia, and you’ll still find a few signature dishes from the previous tenant on Lolita’s menu, including “La Bomba de l’Eixample,” a delicious meat-stuffed potato croquette with spicy tomato sauce and a generous dollop of garlic aioli. New favorites include the oozy cheese discs with fresh grill marks and a drizzle of truffled honey, and what is perhaps the city’s best pa amb tomàquet — light, crispy toast rubbed with tomato and drowning in fragrant olive oil. Most items cost 2 to 5 euros.
10. JUNIPER AND JUICE
Roll right across the street from Lolita to Xixbar (Carrer de Rocafort, 19; 34-93-423-4314;xixbar.com), a specialty gin bar whose superb selection of the spirit ranges from my classic standby, Hendrick’s, to an intriguing new competitor, Gin Mare. The spot sports some oddball décor — is that a giant blue lizard crawling down the wall? — but is serious about its cocktails, like the refreshing strawberry-infused gintónic served in a hefty goblet (9 euros). If you discover a new favorite brand, the bar’s adjacent shop, Gin Corner, sells bottles (open until 10 p.m).
11. BARRIO BRUNCH
Catch the morning sun at a table outside Bar Lobo (Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 3; 34-93-481-5346; grupotragaluz.com/rest-barlobo_en.php), a pleasant all-day restaurant on a tiny plaza a block from La Rambla. The Don Quijote combo — café con leche, fresh juice and a toasted open-face sandwich with fuet (Catalan sausage) and manchego (8.50 euros) — is fine fuel for impossible dreams (or the day’s adventures).
12. MIRACLE IN PROGRESS
The continuing construction of the Sagrada Família (Carrer Mallorca, 401; 34-93-207-3031; sagradafamilia.cat), 130 years and counting, means that no two visits to the awe-inspiring cathedral are ever the same. Even if you’ve made the pilgrimage in the past, it’s worth checking back to see the latest progress, which recently enabled regular religious services (in Catalan and Spanish only) to commence. (Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church as a basilica in November 2010.) The resplendent stained-glass windows, soaring arches and intricate stonework are already magnificent, but imagine how spectacular this inordinately ambitious feat of architecture will be when it’s finally finished in another dozen or so years.
IF YOU GO
The Ohla Hotel (Via Laietana, 49; 34-93-341-5050; ohlahotel.com), opened in 2011, has 74 rooms and suites with modern design. The location, two blocks from Plaça Catalunya, is ideal even if you don’t have a reservation at the in-house, Michelin-starred restaurant Saüc. Doubles from 240 euros ($310), breakfast included.
Since opening in late 2009, the Mandarin Oriental (Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40; 34-93-151-8888; mandarinoriental.com/barcelona), with 98 elegant rooms and suites, has been the choicest hotel on the grand Passeig de Gràcia. Faultless service and unadulterated luxury do come at a price: from 385 euros.
Font By The NY Times / Ingrid K. Williams