Design Destination: Barcelona, Spain

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Perched atop the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona overlooks the glistening Mediterranean Sea as the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in all of Spain. Originally founded as a Roman settlement in the Middle Ages, the breezy beach-side metropolis boasts a rich cultural heritage that attracts visitors from all over the world. Ancient cobbled streets lined with world-famous cathedrals and architectural wonders from the likes of Antoni Gaudí were once a veritable stomping ground for some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miro to name a few. It seems the region offers an overflowing fountain of inspiration to all who gaze upon its sandy shores; from high-end cuisine to haute couture, Barcelona is home to some of the greatest creative minds in the world – and over 20 Michelin stars. A mere stroll through anyone of the unique districts would give you a fascinating view of Catalan heritage, though it would take a lifetime to fully appreciate the long history and thriving culture that have shaped one of Spain’s favorite cities. Here are some ideas to get you started:

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Stay

Your home away from home awaits at The5rooms, an eclectic B&B created by owner Yessica Delgado Fritz in 2004 and conveniently located right downtown. Though it may not be as glamorous as the ever-popular Hotel Omm, the The5rooms offers a “stylish yet warm” alternative to the city’s countless luxury inns, with a far more personal touch. Stay just minutes from Plaza Catalunya, Paseo de Gracia, and Las Ramblas at the original Hotel, where you’ll be offered breakfast on the house (a rare amenity among Barcelona hospitality). Before you set out for the day, feel free to peruse their library of city guides, art books, and multi-lingual novels while you enjoy a drink from their self-serve “Honesty Bar.” If you feel cramped, you can book a room across the street in a gorgeous turn-of-the-century building that holds 12 rooms in addition to the Hotel’s original 5. You can even book one of two apartments, which come equipped with a full kitchen, dining room, sun terrace, and enough space to sleep 4 guests.

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Art

The city’s creative expressions extend far beyond the conventional “art scene:” in fact, it would prove incredibly challenging to identify what’s not art in the Mediterranean metropolis. That being said, you could easily spend an entire trip visiting Barcelona’s museums alone – and this time, we won’t stop you. The Picasso Museum is truly a must-see; more than 4,000 works provide immense insight to the artist’s mind, life, and relationship with the city. Since 1963 the collection has served as an essential reference for art historians and curious travelers alike.
If you’d like to see more work off the walls, the Museu Del Disseny (Museum of Design) shows a wide variety of historic and modern works, from product and graphic design to fashion, decorative, and textile arts that demonstrate the massive influence of Spanish artists in the functional field. Take a closer look at the region’s intriguing artistic heritage at the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art) as you walk through centuries worth of Romanesque, gothic, and Baroque art all the way up to modern prints, posters, and Modern works.
Stay up-to-date with a visit to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, whose impressive collection of conceptual pieces proves the city still stands at the center of progressive thought and artistic risk-taking. A number of independent galleries will give you a genuine glimpse of how today’s artists are working and thinking, like the experimental ángels barcelona or the lively Cosmo café & galería de arte in Eixample.

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 Can’t Miss

You can’t visit Barcelona without a trip to the Basílica de la Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Gaudí’s most famous buildings. Its story goes all the way back to 1866 when construction began, was handed over to Gaudí in 1883, and remained unfinished when he died in 1926. Ravaged by the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the building continued to change hands and has yet to be completed; but it’s worthy of recognition even in its current state, despite the scaffolding and sawdust. Elaborate and impressively huge, the iconic structure embodies Antoni Gaudí’s signature style and the spirit of historic Barcelona.
The church-hopping isn’t over until you step inside Santa Maria del Mar, arguably the greatest living examples of Catalan Gothic Architecture. Dating all the way back to the 14th century, the basilica’s geometric design and breathtaking stained glass windows show the remarkable attention to detail and hauntingly beautiful style that emerged from Barcelona’s early days.
Few people can resist a good piece of fried dough – no matter what form it takes. Catalonia’s version is the Xurro (known elsewhere as a “Churro”), a long, skinny, star-shaped cruller made with nothing more than flour, water, and salt. Locals enjoy them topped with cinnamon, sugar, or dipped into a cup of hot cocoa – usually to offset a long night of dancing. Avoid the ritzy shops and buy some right on the street from Churrería J. Argiles or Xurreria El Trebol, or sit down with area workers on their coffee break at Churrería Layetana.

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Shopping

Stay away from the high-end shops and you might avoid being trampled on your way out of the fitting room. La Ribera, once home to Barcelona’s textile district, is now a design hotspot; check out Studiostore, a “concept” shop, artist studio, gallery, and event space that’s bursting at the seams with creative energy. But don’t be afraid to set out on your own and explore the surrounding neighborhood, a fascinating maze of winding streets and miniscule boutiques that carry on a tradition of hand-made clothing, bags, and other accessories.
Like many cities, Barcelona has some excellent markets that are definitely worth your time. Els Encants Vells, or the “Old Charms” flea market, brings 500 vendors to an open complex near Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. If you arrive early you could score some truly unique finds – but it may take some digging. Study up on your Spanish beforehand so you can bargain with sellers. Though you won’t be able to take it on the plane with you, check out the incredible furniture that’s sold in a large hall beside the market.
Barrí Gotic, though crowded, houses a number of fascinating boutiques, high-end shops, and historic store-fronts. Here you’ll find Barcelona’s oldest shop: at 250 years old, Cereria Subira is a testament to a class of craftsman and artisans long gone. The elegant shop, which specializes in traditional candle making, is worth a visit whether or not you’re in the market for a new light.

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Food

La Boqueria may be crowded, but it’s one of the best food markets in all of Europe. Get there early to avoid the crowds and peruse endless stalls of the freshest produce from all over the world, cheese, eggs, abundant seafood, and the finest meats. Some say the market has been around since 1217, and despite throngs of tourists its still a popular spot among locals today – even some of the area’s greatest restaurateurs do their shopping in behind the massive iron gates on La Rambla. You can easily find a tasty bite at any of the food stalls that line the market, but it’ll cost a lot more than your average food truck hot dog or street-side gyro.
Tapas, a variety of appetizers or small plates, are a staple of Spanish cuisine. Enjoy them with family or a large group of friends – they pair well with good conversation. Originally opened as a bodega in 1940s, La Cova Fumada serves hungry locals a traditional menu of tapas and drinks in a charming family atmosphere, including the legendary “potato bomb,” a ball of mashed potatoes and pork that’s rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried in olive oil. Some say the classic dish was invented by none other than María Pla, the grandmother of La Cova’s current owners. It’s hard to go wrong with anything on the simple menu, but make sure you try some fresh-caught seafood. If you prefer this style of meal, Quimet i Quimet or Bodega 1900 would also be sure to satisfy your appetite.
Most of Barcelona’s fine dining scene takes place in the city’s upscale hotels, like Enoteca in the Hotel Arts. Awarded two Michelin stars in 2013, the scenic waterfront eatery “offers a contemporary classic Mediterranean cuisine with outstanding quality and imagination.” Enjoy such poetic dishes as their “young lamb surrounded by spring” or an imaginative carrot gnocchi as you watch the sun set over the Mediterranean. You’ll find more traditional Catalan fare at Estevet, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Their classic menu of ham croquettes, Iberian ham with tomato bread, chickpeas with spinach, and paella offers a taste of the region’s specialties and pairs well with the mid-1900s décor.
If you’re trying to save some Euros for a trip to the designer stores or a night out on the town, try Los Toreros. This hidden gem behind La Boqueria has an extensive A La Carte menu of tapas and main dishes at reasonable prices.

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Party

Like Berlin, Barcelona’s nightlife usually lasts through the morning as clubbers emerge for around 8 am much needed xurro and a long nap. If that’s your style, you’ll have fun at the legendary Sala Apolo, the center of the city’s indie club scene with good vibes and live folk, rock, pop, and electronic music every day of the week. For more R&B tunes hit up Marula Café, where a vintage air will make vinyl lovers will feel right at home. Dance the night away to groovy jazz, funk, disco, and soul beats in this elegant, minimal space buried in the Gothic Quarter.
Those who prefer the squeal of a guitar to a soulful scat should head to Sidecar Factory Club, an underground indie rock haven that’s managed to stay hip for 25 years running. While you’re there, make sure you check out the historic Plaça Reial or “Royal Plaza,” a national landmark that’s accented by a number of lampposts designed – you guessed it – Antoni Gaudí.
La Caseta Del Migdia offers a peaceful retreat from the Barcelona’s typical nightlife. It’s off the beaten trail, but well worth it: watch the sunset from your makeshift milk-crate seat as you down a cold one at this secluded hill-top restaurant and bar.

Lizzie Wright

Lizzie

​Lizzie Wright is an aspiring artist and designer with a passion for the written word. While she works on her BFA in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she spends her (rare) spare time riding around Providence on her trusty Cannondale and drinking lots of coffee. She is especially fascinated by the dichotomy between aesthetic form and function, which has an immense influence on her work. As a lover of the natural world, Lizzie plans to focus on Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies to pursue a more efficient future for design. Read more by visiting her website

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