ELLE Escapes: Barcelona

Barcelona begs you to look closer. Look up and take in the soaring Sagrada Familia, architect Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical and somehow-still-unfinished temple. Look down: Under your feet are pretty pavement tiles distinctive to each neighborhood (the flower pattern by Josep Puig i Cadafalch is a symbol of the city). And look sharp: Tucked into centuries-old crevices and back alleys, you’ll find freshly painted examples of the city’s street art scene. The capital of Catalonia, tucked between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, is more than art-filled—the city itself feels like a pulsing, ever-changing work in progress.

Much of that progress lately is in shades of green, as the city’s artisans embrace sustainable methods and its restaurants make the most of local seafood and natural Catalonian wine. It was fitting, then, that my ride in Barcelona was the Volvo EX30, the brand’s newest all-electric car and smallest-ever SUV. This adorable head-turner (literally: one local stopped short in a crosswalk, gave my cloud-blue model the once over, and offered a hearty thumbs-up) has been designed to minimize its carbon footprint while maximizing interior space. Volvo designers incorporated recycled and renewable materials throughout, from the plastics in the exterior bumpers to denim, flax, and fishing nets repurposed for the interior.

You can get around Barcelona fine without a car, but I found that having one allowed me to explore farther-flung sites like the wine region, less touristy beaches, and the epic designer outlet mall La Roca Village, about 45 minutes outside of town. Plus, the EX30 made for a suitably forward-thinking (and pretty zippy!) way to explore this vibrant destination. Here are some of the best places to see, eat, drink, and stay in Barcelona.

What to See

Urban Art

an art gallery

Courtesy of Artevistas Gallery

With structures dating to Roman and medieval times, Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter is a maze of narrow streets that empty into peaceful plaças. There’s plenty to see (and take home) here, from local shops like Handmade Avarcas and Espadrilles for Catalan sandals, Soruka for sustainable and upcycled leather goods, or Bon Vent for home goods. But my favorite local color was the Barcelona Street Style Tour, whose free walking tours will help you spot—and understand the story behind—urban art it would otherwise be easy to miss. Afterward, visit an underground art gallery like Base Elements or Artevistas Gallery to take home a piece in Barcelona’s distinctive style: colorful, cheeky, a little childish, and, most of all, fun.

Passeig de Gràcia

passeig de gracia in aerial view of barcelona spain

pawel.gaul//Getty Images

One of Europe’s most elegant avenues, Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district combines world-class luxury shopping with world-famous Modernist architecture. Step inside Gaudí’s sinuous Casa Milà or the jewel-like Casa Batiló, which now houses two immersive art experiences. Almost as spectacular is the nearby Casa Loewe, the Spanish brand’s fantasy of a flagship store. The ornate, frescoed building was beautifully renovated in 2022, and showcases Jonathan Anderson’s sculptural designs alongside ceramics made by Pablo Picasso and a twisting bamboo installation commissioned from Japanese artist Tanabe Chikuunsai IV.

Parc Güell

park guell in barcelona, spain

MasterLu//Getty Images

Commissioned in 1900 by Gaudí’s friend and mentor Eusebi Güell, Parc Güell is a World Heritage Site with nearly 30 acres of gardens, buildings, mosaics, sculptures, and more eye candy than can be listed here. To encourage environmentally responsible tourism, the number of visitors is limited, so consider buying tickets ahead of time.

Anagram Tank Dress

Loewe Anagram Tank Dress

Espadrilles Malta Beige

Handmade Avarcas & Espadrilles Espadrilles Malta Beige


Soruka Ferrara

Where to Eat

La Boqueria Market

la boqueria market

Jacques LOIC//Getty Images

There is nothing like a local market for snacking and souvenir-ing. Just off La Rambla, the city’s main tourist drag, La Boqueria is Barcelona’s largest market and one of the most famous in Europe. Sip a fresh-pressed juice while roaming the aisles for foodie gifts like vials of saffron threads, pretty tins of smoked paprika or sardines, and fanciful sweets in bulk. For an atmospheric meal, pull up a stool at one of the tapas bars scattered throughout the space. Seats are in hot demand, so consider a late-afternoon snack of grilled seafood at La Ramblero (stall 550) to tide you over until dinnertime, which in Barcelona typically falls after 9 P.M. Or enjoy a late breakfast (is there any other kind here?) of fried eggs with caramelized foie gras or Iberian ham at El Quim (stall 606).

Fismuler Restaurant

a table with glasses on it

Courtesy of Fismular Restaurant

In a chic space with industrial vibes in the fashionable El Born district, Fismuler offers a contemporary and upscale take on tapas. Still, dishes are far from fussy, centering market ingredients like crazy-delicious razor clams served au gratin and trendy Bimi broccoli fried and served with burrata and green mole. The atmosphere is loud and lively, and the long farmhouse tables encourage sharing—each plate is delivered and elaborately described by a friendly waitstaff one by one, over the course of perhaps three hours.

Jacqueline Barcelona

jacqueline barcelona

Courtesy of Jacqueline Barcelona

Named for Picasso’s muse and second wife, Jacqueline is an extravagantly designed restaurant in Eixample that takes a choose-your-own-adventure approach. The main floor restaurant offers modern Mediterranean; the second floor hosts a super-intimate six-seat omakase sushi bar (book ahead: there are two seatings only at 8 P.M. and 10:30 P.M., Tuesday through Sunday); and downstairs there’s a dinner club offering live soul, Flamenco, jazz, and more. (The flower-strewn hidden cocktail bar you’ll have to find on your own.)

Bow Earrings

Eikō Ai Bow Earrings

Floral Ribbed Midi Dress

Desigual Floral Ribbed Midi Dress

Wade Kitten Heel

Reformation Wade Kitten Heel

Where to Drink

Bar Brutal

bar brutal

Monika Frias

Barcelona’s natural wine scene is booming, and this bar and wine shop near the Picasso Museum in El Born was the pioneer that kickstarted the movement a decade ago. Ask the welcoming Bar Brutal staff to help you explore wine grown from organic or biodynamic wineries not only in Catalonia, but across the world. The wines—typically produced without sulfites, pesticides, or additives—range from funky to Bordeaux-smooth. Some say organic wines fend off hangovers; this fact may or may not be true, but when it comes to Barcelona nightlife, I’ll take any help I can get.

Mariposa Negra

mariposa negra

Courtesy of Mariposa Negra

The maze of streets in El Born, centered around the Picasso Museum and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, are full of boisterous tapas and cocktail bars to explore late into the night. For only-in-Barcelona flair, it’s hard to top Mariposa Negra, which offers cocktails with house-made ingredients (think: tigernut horchata, Scorpion chili liqueur, liquor of Génépi flowers) served in house-made ceramic vessels. Grab a couple of friends and attend the bar’s cocktail master class, where you’ll learn to mix four drinks and paint your own ceramic glass.

Bambú Beach Bar

a beach with a sign and a flag


Barcelona’s city life is so rich it can be easy to forget you’re also at the beach! There are plenty of places to drink, dance, and touch sand along the buzzing Barceloneta Beach, which is walkable from town. Personally, I like to seek out more of a deserted-island vibe. It’s an easy drive north to Llevant Beach, a quiet area with an idyllic laid-back bar and restaurant, Bambu Beach Club. Open seasonally, Bambu offers cold beer, cocktails, and sangria with Thai-inspired tapas and a view of the peaceful Mediterranean.

Regenerated Tote Bags Bustier Top

Marine Serre Regenerated Tote Bags Bustier Top

Kora Pant

Cult Gaia Kora Pant

Perfume Print Plaited Nylon Flap Bag

Bimba y Lola Perfume Print Plaited Nylon Flap Bag

Now 59% Off

Where to Stay

ME Barcelona Hotel

a pool in a courtyard with a building in the background

Davide Pellegrini

The ideal location of ME Barcelona puts you just off the Passeig de Gràcia and an easy walk to the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla, and the Picasso Museum. (You can even spot the towers of Sagrada Familia, recently unveiled after 140 years, from the rooftop pool and terrace.) The rooms have king beds, walk-in showers, and views of the city or peaceful inner courtyard.

Soho House Barcelona

a large bedroom with a bed and a couch

Courtesy of Soho House Barcelona

In an 18th-century building facing the Marina Port Vell, on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, Soho House Barcelona has all the features the members’ club and hotel is known for, including chic vintage furnishings, Cowshed spa and beauty products, and a no-laptop policy at the rooftop pool. But it also feels uniquely Barcelona, with Catalan design touches; a 100-piece art collection spread throughout the building (look for the Picasso in the reception area and a Blanca Miró mural in the stairwell); and a bar cart that wheels up to your room in the evenings, offering a pre-dinner cocktail.

Casa Bonay

a room with a bed and a door with a window

Courtesy of Casa Bonay

Authenticity and relaxed glamour are the watchwords at the boutique hotel Casa Bonay, lovingly renovated by local entrepreneur and co-owner Inés Miró-Sans. Rooms may have large windows, original mosaic flooring, or private terraces with hammocks. A leafy rooftop oasis exclusive to hotel guests offers sun beds, outdoor showers, yoga classes, and room service from Libertine, the famous tapas bar located on the hotel’s ground floor.

Red Cutout Tie One-Piece Swimsuit

Berlook Red Cutout Tie One-Piece Swimsuit

Kirsten Raffia Wide-Brim Visor

Helen Kaminski Kirsten Raffia Wide-Brim Visor

2 in 1 Eco-Friendly Case With Strap for iPhone

WOODCESSORIES 2 in 1 Eco-Friendly Case With Strap for iPhone

Beauty Picks

Anthelios Anti-Aging Primer with Sunscreen, 50 SPF

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Aging Primer with Sunscreen, 50 SPF

Vacation calls for hybrid formulas that streamline beauty routines, so there’s more time for seeing, sipping, and swimming. Here’s a multitasking primer packed with high sun protection, a blurring formula, and a lightweight finish.

Guava Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner

Ceremonia Guava Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner

Ceremonia’s Guava Leave-In Conditioner is a tropical delight regardless of your destination. Delectable guava scent aside, this leave-in is best used on wet hair fresh out of the shower; it softens strands, imparts a healthy dose of hydration, and tames unruly frizz.

Genaissance de la Mer

La Mer Genaissance de la Mer

For skin too good to touch, reach for the soothing Genaissance de la Mer serum. Designed to mimic the skin’s micro-symmetry pattern, which loses its strength over time, The Serum Essence restores firmness and improves elasticity over time.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar