Cheap flights to Barcelona
If you're looking for a city that's got it all you couldn't do much better than choose the Catalan capital Barcelona, Spain's second city, and one that's bursting with life at every turn. Whether you’re looking for a party town, laid back beach resort, or a cultural oasis in which to lose yourself this city has activities to keep everyone happy.
Not many European cities steeped in culture can also boast beautiful beaches literally right on their doorsteps, but Barcelona is no average city. Explore out-of-this-world buildings courtesy of famous local architect Gaudi, head down to Las Ramblas to find crazy street performers and market stalls selling everything from fruit and flowers, to birds, bunnies and snakes in cages or join the bikini set at Barceloneta Beach, a 15-minute stroll out of town and finish your day enjoying nightlife to rival Paris or London. This city has it all.
For a night of vulgar verses by lewd lyricists, pull back the curtains of Barcelona's Prostibulo Poetico ("Poetry Brothel"), where private readings are shamelessly exchanged for cold, hard cash. Events are sporadic, and take place at various venues, so keep an eye on their Facebook page: facebook.com/prostibulo.poetico.3
Barcelona's Port Vell offers a cornucopia of tourist attractions, including a world-class aquarium, well-designed shopping centre, somewhat cranky cable car and the Catalan History Museum. marinaportvell.com
Given Dia de Sant Jordi is upon us (see below), a bit of book hunting is in order. The atmospheric Llibreria Sant Jordi (41 Carrer de Ferran) peddles dusty second-hand tomes and seems to belong in a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel, while the excellent Hibernian Books (17 Carrer del Montseny) serves English-speaking bibliophiles.
Just outside Barcelona, Sitges is host to one of the liveliest Carnivals in Europe. Starting on 10 February (until 18 February), trainloads of revellers in fancy dress will arrive daily to party like there's no "mañana". Key dates are the Debauchery Parade (15th) and the Extermination Parade (17th).
Epiphany (6 Jan), not Christmas, is when Catalans exchange gifts, and the fun starts on the day before with The Three Kings Parade (5 Jan). The wise men arrive in sensational garb under sail at Port Vell (usually around 4.30pm), where they collect letters from kids and distribute sweets before promenading around town, floats and all.
La Merce is Barcelona's signature festival, a six-day celebration of the city's patron saint. Although the dreaded "c" word (that's crisis by the way) has dulled its glow in recent years, on 19-24 September there will still be a fantastic mix of crazy Catalan traditions, contemporary music, street theatre and much more to enjoy. http://merce.bcn.cat/en
Every district in Barcelona has its own extended holiday during summer, but it's the Festa Major de Gracia (15-21 August) that always draws the biggest crowds. Each streets is decorated with a different theme, and tinto de verano (red wine and lemonade) is on sale for €2 a pop.
A cornucopia of culture, Grec Festival runs throughout July and features a packed programme of music, theatre and dance. Many events take place in the wonderful open-air amphitheatre at the foot of Montjuic mountain. grec.bcn.cat
The Night of Sant Joan (23 June) is bigger than New Year's Eve in Barcelona and every youngster in the city will head to the city beaches for fireworks and a huge "botellon" (open-air drinking session). A fantastic party, but not for the fainthearted as drunk revellers let off pyrotechnics here, there and everywhere.
Formerly known only as the city's scuzziest roundabout, the area around Glories has enjoyed a serious revamp in the last year or so. Now you can recline in deckchairs by the Design Museum (museudeldisseny.cat) or shop under the gleaming metallic superstructures of Les Encants market's new home (encantsbcn.com), just for starters.
Now that Gaudi's Park Guell charges an entrance fee, the budget-savvy wayfarer might prefer a walk in the wooded Parc del Guinardo. The views over the city are even better (1-13 Calle Garriga i Roca).
January is the perfect time to visit Barcelona's top billings without the high-season circus. Gaudi's crowning work, La Sagrada Familia, may not be finished yet (it's still missing a central spire), but its interior is now done, replete with majestic white pillars. Completely unique (401 Carrer de Mallorca, sagradafamilia.cat).
Located in a natural park around 35 miles to the west of Barcelona is the Royal Basilica of Montserrat, one of Spain's most important pilgrimage sites. Check out its famous 12th-century Romanesque carving of the Virgen Moroneta, the Black Virgin and, if you're there on a weekday, catch the 1pm recital by one of Europe's oldest children's choirs, La Escolania de Montserrat. barcelonaturisme.com
The August sun is not to be reckoned with, so escape his fury in the shade of some of Parc de la Ciutadella's many pines, poplars and palms. This lively green space in the centre of the city is full of slackliners, cyclists, picnickers and ping pong players, and is the perfect place for an afternoon siesta (21 Passeig de Picasso).
Montjuic and its many venues are very much alive at this time of year, not only hosting most of the events of the Grec Festival (see above) but also the weekly hipster music fest Piknic Electronik (piknicelectronik.es) and even a One Direction concert in the Olympic Stadium (8 July).
Home of a 5km-long beach, the region's best kitesurfing, the castle that gives the town its name and half of FC Barcelona's players, Castelldefels is a beautiful coastal resort just the other side of El Prat airport to Barcelona. You can get there in 20 minutes by train.
One of the most scenic coastal resorts in close proximity to Barcelona (just over an hour by train), Sant Pol de Mar has several golden beaches flanked by jutting rocks, a gothic church and a three-star Michelin restaurant run by renowned chef Carme Ruscadella (10 Carrer Nou, ruscalleda.com).
The Nazis came here to look for the Holy Grail, and while you won't find the chalice, Montserrat Abbey is home to the medieval relic the Black Madonna. The abbey is set on high amid the beautiful jagged limestone peaks of Montserrat. Daily tours leave from Barcelona. montserratvisita.com