1. Where to Stay
Choose between views of the Mediterranean Sea or the mountains at the 483-room Ritz-Carlton Hotel Arts (from $449), a beachfront skyscraper encased in glass and steel. Book a club-level suite (floors 30 to 33; from $736) for access to the private lounge and personalized concierge service. At night, dine at Adrià disciple Sergi Arola’s eponymous restaurant on the second floor, featuring reinvented tapas like patatas bravas served in a row of aioli-topped cylinders ($14).
Spot architectural masterpieces like Casa Milà and Sagrada Família from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Omm (from $294), where moodily lit hallways and piped-in beats contrast with the 91 airy rooms accented with blond wood. Downstairs, Michelin-starred Moo brightens its dishes with herbs and edible flowers from the patio garden, while the busy lobby bar attracts locals tucking into dirty martinis made with Spanish olives ($17).
Indulge in a midday siesta in your in-room hammock at Casa Camper (from $236), a converted nineteenth-century Gothic building boasting modern design accents like exposed shelving and Tivoli radios, plus the slick Asian-fusion bar Dos Palillos on the ground floor.
2. Where to Eat
Stop in for a snack at El Bulli veteran Carles Abellán’s Tapaç 24, a boisterous tapas joint festooned with olive jars, stacked egg crates, and hanging fruit baskets that’s open from 9 a.m. to midnight. Sit by the bar to watch cooks dish out bold bites like grilled ham-and-cheese reimagined with jamón ibérico, buffalo mozzarella, and grated black truffles ($11).
Go for the bargain prix fixe lunch menu ($22) at Santa, a two-year-old eatery from Paco Guzmán, who was a guest chef at New York’s Mercat in 2009. Ingredients here are sourced daily from local markets for seasonal specialties like crispy lechón (piglet) ribs with sweet and sour berries and artichokes topped with quail eggs and herring roe.
Reserve a table a month in advance at the Mandarin Oriental’s signature restaurant, Moments, opened last November by Carme Ruscalleda, the only female toque on the planet with a combined five Michelin stars. The nine-course Tasting Menu ($175) features playful riffs on Catalonian classics with an emphasis on seafood and seasonal produce pairings, like sea bass with strawberry chutney or crayfish with olives and banana.
3. What to Do
Beat the busloads and start shopping at 8 a.m. at La Boqueria, the famous covered food market that has supplied restaurants and hotels since 1836. Order top-quality jamón ibérico de bellota (made from acorn-fed pigs) from La Masia (stall 970), and hear vendors patiently explain the ham’s aging process while vacuum-sealing the translucent, marbled slices (from $58 to $118 per pound). If you’re feeling adventurous, pick up ready-to-eat grasshoppers and scorpion vodka from Petràs Fruits del Bosc (stalls 867 through 870).
Escape the mobs that descend around 9:30 a.m. to find more edible goods below the undulating roof of Mercat de Santa Caterina in the less hectic Ribera district. Inside, the Olisoliva shop stocks 100 types of Spanish extra-virgin olive oils. Look for the “100% Arbequina” label to ensure it’s made from traditional Catalan olives.
Reserve a spot at least two weeks in advance to learn how to make foams and jellies during a three-hour avant-garde cooking class with A Taste of Spain (from $222). Chef Monica Mayor, who cut her teeth at Barcelona’s modern Mediterranean restaurant Bestial, simplifies restaurant-quality recipes for home cooks of all levels. Lessons are taught in a private apartment with a terrace overlooking Tibidabo Mountain.
Sip Spanish bubbly in the cava-producing town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, a 45-minute train ride away from the Plaça de Catalunya station. The family-run Freixenet winery is across from the station. Reservations are essential for the hour-and-a-half tour ($9) of the arched cellars, bottling plant, and tasting room. Time your trip with the harvest, which usually lasts until late October and includes a cava festival that’s part carnival and part culinary showcase.
4. Insider’s Tip
Drink among chefs like Albert Adrià, brother to Ferran, on their Sunday night off at Quimet & Quimet (Poeta Cabanyes 25; 93-442-31-42), a fifth-generation vermouth bar that’s standing-room only. The walls are lined with wine and liquor bottles, but you’re here for the homemade Vermut Yzaguirre Reserva Especial, a dark, sweet, barrel-aged vermouth ($3) that isn’t served anywhere else in the city.
5. Oddball Day
Fuel up with a single-brew cortado and freshly made almond croissant from Pastelería Hofmann, a two-year-old pastry shop owned by Mey Hofmann of Barcelona’s top cooking school, before heading out of the city to Costa Brava, a picturesque region that has inspired the likes of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. The Catalunya Express ($31) leaves Estacio-Sants for Dalí’s hometown of Figueres every hour and takes 90 minutes. Once there, the surrealist’s namesake Theatre-Museum ($15) is a fifteen-minute walk from the station. Allot a couple of hours to browse the permanent collection, which houses thousands of Dalí’s works, including 39 jewels designed by the artist—the centerpiece is a ruby-encrusted beating heart—and their respective sketches. After that, walk over to the Museu del Joguet de Catalunya ($7) and marvel at the 4,000 toys on display, including some owned by Dalí, Joan Miró, and Federico García Lorca.Catch the 1 p.m. train to the medieval city of Girona (30 minutes away) to claim your 2 p.m. lunch reservation (Friday and Saturday bookings require six months’ notice) at El Celler de Can Roca, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant run by molecular gastronomist Joan Roca and his brothers. Ask for a table overlooking the central arboretum and spring for the artfully plated thirteen-course “feast menu” ($200), a nearly three-hour flavor progression showcasing spherification, deconstruction, and sous vide techniques. After dessert, walk along the Roman wall in the city’s well-preserved old quarter to explore El Call, a medieval Jewish neighborhood made up of labyrinthine alleyways, winding streets, and narrow staircases. Catch the last train ($21, about 80 minutes) from Girona to Barcelona by 8 p.m.
For up-to-date restaurant listings, check out English-language publication Metropolitan Barcelona.
El Tenedor is a local version of OpenTable with reviews, menus, and online reservations en español.
The digital version of Spain Gourmetour includes a glossary of Spanish gastronomy terms starting with the all-important aceite de oliva.