Barcelona is something of a second home. As my wife has relatives there, and one of my best friends has lived there for almost 20 years, I visit very often. The following list is a mixture of personal choices and recommendations by locals.
The most creative museum or gallery
There are no doubt more obscure galleries in the city, but for me the Fondació Joan Miró (Parc de Montjuïc, above) is a must. Not only can you experience the artist’s alternately cartoonish and cipher-like paintings, but the airy space itself – designed by Josep Lluís Sert – exudes a zen-like calm. Plus there’s a café and an excellent bookstore, if you care about those things. Which you do, right?
The café where you go to read, write or be inspired
Somehow my footsteps always lead me to the Raval neighbourhood, and specifically a tapas place called Tosca del Carme (Carrer del Carme, 40) on a street corner overlooking a small park. This is only its latest incarnation, and it will no doubt have others, but for me the attractions are the shady terrace, the space where my little boy can play, and the general air of bohemian benevolence. The tapas aren’t bad, either.
A restaurant with a difference
If you’ve never read The Shadow of the Wind, by the great Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafón, I urge you to rush out and buy it right now. One of the story’s prime locations is an ancient restaurant called Els Quatre Gats (Carrer Montsió 3), opened in 1897 and a gathering point for the city’s Modernista artists (including Picasso). With its Art Nouveau touches, yellow walls, stained glass windows and rickety mezzanine, it offers a voyage back in time. Not to mention market-fresh local dishes.
The most creative neighbourhood
Trendy quarters come and go, but as a visitor it’s still hard to beat El Raval, tucked away behind the long pedestrian street of Las Ramblas and the vibrant Boqueria covered market. Once considered sordid and dangerous, today the area features graffiti art, skate shops, tiny tapas bars, tattoo parlours, fashion boutiques, graphic design stores and the occasional organic food outlet – not the mention the MACBA contemporary art museum. Just strolling around there makes one feel arty and vaguely edgy.
The store you can’t pass without going in
A bookstore, naturally, called La Central (Carrer d’Elisabets, 6), which also happens to be located on the prettiest street in El Raval. As well as a vast selection of books in Spanish, it has extensive English and French sections, as well as maps, souvenirs and trinkets. I rarely leave without a translation of the latest Spanish bestseller.