Barcelona may be bridesmaid to Madrid the bride, but she’s the one that caught the bouquet and is still single, sassy and sexy. Spain’s second city (and the capital of autonomous Catalonia - a region with a distinct culture and language) is Western Europe’s most popular city break. And what a dynamic destination it is: even if Barcelona didn’t have stunning pine-green hills at its peak and a golden strip of sand at its base - and there aren’t many cities which can boast both beaches and mountains - it would still be a fascinating place to visit.
Here is the famous boulevard of Las Ramblas; once an ancient river, now a bustling throng of performers and people. From here Barcelona unfolds north, to the modernista marvels and chic shops of Eixample and the jumble of streets and squares in arty Gràcia, and west, to the clandestine entertainments of the Barri Xines and the hip restaurants of El Raval. South is the spruced-up waterfront, the Olympic village and the yachts of Port Vell; to the east lie the medieval Barri Gòtic and the boutiques and bars of trendy El Born. All of this is crowned by the peaks of Mount Tibidabo and Montjuïc, and bordered by the deep blue of the Mediterranean.
Within these natural boundaries lie a profusion of Michelin-starred eateries, an ever-evolving music scene, eye-poppingly eclectic architecture and a slew of sleek museums and galleries - the city of Miró and Gaudí has long had its finger on the pulse of art and style. Barcelona is a collision of vibrant energy and colourful character which, like Catalonia itself, should be embraced with gusto and flair.