Blending the sophistication of a European city with the Mediterranean lifestyle, Barcelona is a fabulous destination for a luxury weekend getaway. Here you will find luxury hotels, exceptional cuisine prepared by some of the world’s most creative chefs, the whimsical architecture of Gaudi and the modernista movement, well-preserved historic districts, vibrant markets, and beautiful beaches. With over two thousand years of history, Barcelona is a melting pot of cultures and traditions with well-preserved medieval districts filled with art galleries, boutique designer shops and a vibrant nightlife.
Barcelona has many luxury hotels, but our favorite is the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. Located in the heart of Barcelona on the stylish Passeig de Gràcia, the Mandarin is in the center of the luxury shopping district and just a short walk from many of Gaudi’s most famous architectural works. The hotel features contemporary interiors by Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola and bright modern rooms. Since the standard rooms can be small, we recommend the suites, which are spacious and many have balconies. Also, the suites come with 24-hour butler service. The hotel is home to one of the best spas in Barcelona and Moments, a Michelin 2-star restaurant run by famed chef Carmen Ruscalleda and her son Raül Balam. We particularly love the rooftop pool with its stunning city views and the creative cocktails at the stylish Bankers Bar.
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona // Passeig de Gràcia, 38-40 // website
While the Mandarin Oriental is our favorite Barcelona hotel given its prime location, exceptional service, luxury contemporary suites and excellent dining options, we love the design of the 83-room boutique Cotton House though its level of service does not achieve the Mandarin’s exceptionally high standards. The Cotton House is housed in a neoclassical 19th century building that served as the headquarters of Barcelona’s cotton guild and acclaimed interior designer Lázaro Rosa-Violán was commissioned to create a sophisticated space while preserving many of original elements of the building. For a splurge, we particularly recommend the Ottoman and Damask suites that feature the original colorful frescoes on the high ceilings, decorative moldings and magnificent parquet, all dating from the 19th century. The hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
The Cotton House // Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 670 // website
After getting settled into your hotel, we suggest spending the afternoon exploring the old historic districts of Barcelona. Start by heading to the Barri Gothic (Gothic Quarter), which is the oldest part of Barcelona and is made up of large palm-lined plazas and twisting pedestrian lanes filled with restaurants, bars and small shops. Within the district you will find two magnificent churches -- La Catedral (La Seu), an imposing Gothic cathedral, and Santa Maria del Mar, a magnificent soaring Catalan gothic church in the heart of the old medieval city.
Just to the east of the Barri Gothic is the district of La Ribera, where you will find stylish restaurants, old mansions turned into museums, and streets filled with designer boutiques and small artesian shops, as well as small restaurants and bars. This is also home to the Picasso Museum, which features an extensive collection of his early work, including an impressive collection of Picasso’s interpretations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas.
Before leaving the area, be sure to visit the Tower of Santa Maria del Pi. It is not widely known that you can purchase an admission ticket that includes access to the church’s tower, which provides 360-degree views of Barcelona. Well worth the climb up the narrow spiral stone stairs to the top of the tower!
Bordering the Gothic District is the tree-lined La Ramba, Barcelona’s most famous promenade. The bustling pedestrian-friendly street is filled with street performers entertaining tourists, inexpensive restaurants and souvenir shops. We find it overly crowded and touristy, so we generally try to avoid it.
Before dinner, we suggest a visit to Monvínic, a spectacular wine bar that features over 3,600 bottles. You can order a glass from the forty to fifty wines the Monvínic team opens every day or choose a bottle of wine from their extensive digital wine list. The bar also serves excellent tapas that pair well with the wines. We love a good wine bar and Monvínic is one of our absolute favorites!
Monvínic // Carrer de la Diputació, 249 // website
For dinner, we highly recommend ABaC, a Michelin two-star restaurant located in the boutique 5-star luxury hotel of the same name led by the super-talented Chef Jordi Cruz, who was the youngest Spanish chef and second in world to be awarded a Michelin star. The restaurant’s elegant dining rooms are dressed in beige and the well-spaced tables spread through several dining spaces on the ground floor of the hotel. The tasting menus show off Chef Cruz’s culinary genius. Some of Chef Cruz’s signature dishes include smoked steak tartare served with cooked egg yolk and pepper bread brittle and Mediterranean tuna belly with macaroni in ponzu sauce.
ABaC // Avda. Tibidabo 1, La Ribera // website
After breakfast (it’s worth noting that the Mandarin Oriental offers one of the best breakfasts in Barcelona), we recommend arranging for a private morning overview tour of Barcelona. For a truly unique tour, book a tour with Brightside tours, which conducts private tours using a classic sidecar motorcycle. The sidecar driver/guide will take you through charming backstreets of Barcelona’s many districts and visit Barcelona’s top sites, including the Barcelona Cathedral, Palau de la Música Catalana (a UNESCO world heritage site), and many of Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces.
Brightside Tours // website
One of our favorite Barcelona restaurants is Albert Adria’s Bodega 1900, which is fashioned as an old-school vermuteria, a relic of the past that served vermouth and tapas. Vermouth was traditionally served mid-afternoon with tapas at neighborhood bodegas. Albert Adria’s captured the essence of the traditional vermuterias with its marble-topped tables, tiled floor and walls lined with photos and elBulli memorabilia but has improved upon it by using modern cooking techniques to prepare traditional recipes with the best ingredients. Some of our favorite dishes from a recent lunch included fresh anchovies with olive oil and elBulli’s famous spherical olive; a “Russian” salad with tuna belly; fresh razor clams with olive oil and pepper; grilled fois gras with pickled onion and roasted garlic; beef tenderloin cured in salt and spices; and a magnificent caramel flan. Make sure to order a glass of Adria’s excellent homemade vermouth to accompany your meal.
Bodega 1900 // Carrer de Tamarit, 91 // website
For this afternoon, we suggest exploring Barcelona’s famous dream-like architecture and design of the modernista (Art Nouvelle) movement. Antoni Gaudi was a leading figure and created many of the most famous architectural delights of this period. Not to be missed are Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera (Casa Mila) and Park Güell.
Located high on a hill offering great views of the city, Park Güell was originally built in the early 20th century as a luxury residence area and is now one of city’s most popular and photogenic attractions. Gaudi’s dreamlike creations include a gingerbread gatehouse, mosaic dragon and large plaza with serpentine benches made with multicolor ceramics.
La Pedrera (Casa Mila), a residential apartment building build in the early 1900’s, is one of the finest examples of Antoni Gaudi’s creativity and innovation. The apartment complex features undulating façade, whimsical shapes and designs on the roof terrace and creative interior spaces.
Probably the most famous of Gaudi’s masterpieces is the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia. This iconic cathedral was started in 1882 and is still unfinished (though, reportedly, the construction is expected to be competed in the next decade).
Before dinner, head to the Mandarin’s stylish Banker’s Bar for a creative cocktail or glass of wine. Make sure to take note of the ceiling, which is made of safety deposit boxes, a nod to the building’s former use as a bank. Some of our other favorite bars in Barcelona include the Dry Martini Bar, a sophisticated homage to the traditional English martini bar, and Batuar, the Cotton House’s stylish bar. If you go to Batuar, order their signature Gossypium Cocktail which is made with pisco, blue curaçao, gin, lime and spices.
Barcelona’s restaurant scene is heavily influenced by the now-closed elBulli, which was named as the “World’s Best Restaurant” for many years. Today, many of Barcelona’s chefs are alumni of elBulli. One of our favorite Barcelona restaurants is Disfrutar, which is the collaboration of three former elBulli chefs -- Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch. The restaurant is divided into three sections, each thoughtfully designed to be reflective of Barcelona and its environs. The chefs offer three tasting menus – the 19-course “Classics” menu, the seasonal 26-course “Festival” menu and the gut-busting 31-course “Disfrutar” menu. Some of our favorite dishes from the “Disfrutar” menu include a “panchino” (deep-fried ball of dough) filled with beluga caviar and garlic butter; a smoked apple cider with a crispy Mille-feuille made with Parmesan foam and filled with Idiazabal cream cheese; a tomato meringue shaped like a half-sandwich with a frozen gazapacho sorbet in the center; macaroni carbonara consisting of penne “pasta” made from jamon consommé with a carbonara foam of egg and Parmesan. Make sure you save room for the multi-course progression of desserts… not to be missed!
Disfrutar // Carrer de Villarroel, 163 // website
Our favorite Saturday morning activity is to visit La Boqueria, a famous covered market where local chefs and home cooks go for the freshest seafood, meats and produce. As you pass through its stained-glass and iron gates of this massive market, you will find several hundred individual vendors, selling everything from wild mushrooms to wild game. Come hungry since you will find many food stalls selling traditional dishes.
One of the best (and most Instagramed) food stall is Pinotxo Bar, a 14-seat restaurant nearing its 100th anniversary that serves many Catalan classics and is particularly known for their rice dishes. You will be welcomed by proprietor Juanito Bayen—known to all as Pinotxo (pee-no-cho). Just ask “What’s good today?” but you can always rely on their Catalan classic called Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante, a soupy rice in seafood broth.
If you are still hungry after grazing your way through the Boqueria Market, head to Irati Taverna Basca, a Basque restaurant located in the Gothic Quarter that specializes in “pintxo”, the traditional small bites from San Sebastian served at the stand-up bar with a glass of wine or beer. If you a bit hungrier, head to Cal Pep, located nearby in the El Born district, which specializes in seafood and is often cited as offering the best tapas in Barcelona. This small restaurant is very popular with both tourists and locals, so there are often long lines waiting to eat at the bar (which is where you want to be rather than the more sedate back room). Arrive early to get a spot at the bar and let Pep or the staff advise you on the best dishes.
Irati Taverna Basca // Carrer Cardenal Casanyes, 17 // website
Cal Pep // Plaça de les olles, 8 // website
Barcelona offers a multitude of activities that will satisfy virtually any interest.
For beach lovers, you can spend the afternoon relaxing on the shores of La Barceloneta Beach with a beer enjoying a picturesque view of the Mediterranean.
Shoppers will love discovering small boutiques and shops of local designer and artisans located in the narrow alleyways of the historic district. Also, the stylish Passeig de Gràcia is filled with luxury international designer boutiques.
Barcelona is also a delight for art lovers. Barcelona is home to excellent art galleries, including Sala Parès (since 1840), Galeria Joan Prats and Joan Gaspar. Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Picasso Museum, which features an extensive collection of his early work, including dozens of Picasso’s interpretations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas.
After closing elBulli in 2011, Ferran and Albert Adrià have opened a series of super successful concept restaurants in Barcelona including Tickets, a modern tapas restaurant, Pakta, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant, Bodega 1900, and two Mexican restaurants. Over three years in the making, Enigma is the latest and final creation of the Adrià brothers. More than just a restaurant, Albert Adrià envisioned the 24-seat Enigma as a complete dining experience where every aspect of the experience has been carefully studied and considered.
The entire 4-hour dining experience is rather theatrical. Enigma is located on the first floor of a nondescript apartment building and you will need personalized code to get in. Once you enter your personalized door code (which you will receive shortly before the day of your reservation), you will be greeted by a hostess in large open reception area designed to evoke a Japanese inn and provide a chilled bottle of refreshing rainwater from Patagonia. The hostess will explain the restaurant’s concept and that you will dine in six different dining areas throughout the evening.
The design of the restaurant is unique – it feels like a circular maze with the various dining areas separated by huge slabs of rippled opaque glass that resemble sheets of ice and the ceiling is covered in mesh with cotton gauze and lavender and white lights. Over the course of the evening, you will be presented with over 40 courses (mostly small bites and paired beverages). To enhance the sensory experience of the dishes, the restaurant suggests that you experience each dish without explanation and allow the server to explain the dish after you finish each course.
You will start in your journey in La Cava (the “cave” or wine cellar), where you will select your wines for the evening (the pairings are amazing!) and will be presented with five or six bite-sized tastes, which might include a thin wafer of dried ginger with edible flowers or a frozen disk of coconut with kumquat. The effect is to gently prepare your palette for the dozens of dishes to come and gently transition you from the world outside to Adria’s world.
Next stop will be The Bar, which is a small room with an enormous half-round stand-up grey bar where you will meet Marc Alvarez, the bar manager. Here you will start with the “essence” of vermouth, which is a single drop of hyper-concentrated 150-year old vermouth that is placed on the back of your hand (extraordinary!). Marc Alvarez will then concoct a number of delicious seasonal cocktails which will be accompanied by more small-bites from the kitchen.
You will then be escorted by one of the chefs through the open kitchen, where you will meet Diego Grimberg, the head chef, and his team as you head to the main dining room.
The main dining room is similarly designed to resemble an ice cave, with each widely spaced table illuminated by spotlights. Recent standout dishes include fresh beluga caviar served on a nori (seaweed) wafer; razor clam with lemon and seaweed; thinly sliced “cloud” of porcini mushrooms in a porcini jus and wild pigeon with peach and black current served with “escabeche” sauce. For adventurous eaters (any only with their permission), the last savory course will be a dish they call “Walnut”, which is rabbit brain. An unusual, but delicious, dish to finish the savory courses.
At some point during the dinner service, you will be escorted to La Plancha, a small 8-person counter surrounding an enormous Japanese-style tempenyaki griddle and Japanese charcoal grill for five or so courses. Some recent standouts included a Bellini caneloni with smoked cream and fresh Alaskan salmon roe; lightly cooked prawn with a smoked-shrimp sauce; baby abalone in a sherry sauce and am inside-out grilled cheese sandwich with the brioche bread in the center and the 24-month old aged Parmesan cheese on the outside.
After a series of extraordinary desserts, you will be escorted through a “stock room” to the recreation of their now closed highly acclaimed bar 41 degrees. They painstakingly moved the entire bar to the new space where you can order from their creative cocktail list, coffee and tea and will be offered succession of small sweet bites as a fitting end to an extraordinary 4-hour dining experience.
Enigma // Carrer Sepúlveda 38-40 // website