"Barcelona is like Sydney, while Madrid is more like Melbourne," explained a friend before my recent trip to the Catalan capital. And with that, being a staunch Melbournian myself — with an inherent (albeit rather irrational) dislike of all things Sydney-related — Barcelona was already behind the eight ball. In my mind: So just beaches and burgers then?
However, having just spent a solid week in the cosmopolitan city thanks to Chic Outlet Shopping, it admittedly bears some resemblance to Sydney's beautiful sea-loving culture, but most impressively, it also boasts a rich heritage in art and architecture (hello Sagrada Familia) as well as eclectic independent stores and cafes scattered throughout its medieval Gothic Quarter. That's right, it's not just a ditzy Bondi blonde. (P.S. I really do love you Sydney — but it's buried deep, deep down.)
Guided by local Francesca Tur — the savvy creative director of independent communication platform, Tendencias.tv — here is my tried-and-tested guide to sampling the best of Barcelona, all in a jam-packed 24 hours. Whip out the calendars guys, it's time to block out your next holiday to Spain.
9am: Start the day right with a healthy breakfast at Cotton House, the five-star hotel dripping with old school elegance and colonial charm located on Gran Viá de les Corts Catalanes. With jazz and blues setting the tone, take a seat on the palm-lined terrace for a relaxing morning with cooked eggs and smoked salmon, washed down with fresh OJ and a side of granola. But if you'd rather stay indoors, head to the sun-drenched lounge by the bar for a cheeky morning tipple, or enjoy a pot of tea in the well-appointed library. The Spanish are well-known for their generous hospitality, but service here is super on point with staff looking extra swish in their buttoned-up livery.
10.30am: You guessed it, I'm starting with shopping first. Might as well get the retail fix early on, right? (Yes, I'm an addict and I love it.) Just a short walk from Cotton House is Wer-Haus— a concept store that blends fashion, food and art. There's a gallery at the front showcasing Spanish artwork; a contemporary boutique at the back selling apparel from local designers to Raf Simons and Études Studio; and tacked inbetween, a cute cafe serving small bites and a mean flat white.
11.30am: If you're keen on just local designers, then head over to NU#02. Everything here is designed and made in Barcelona, so it's the perfect souvenir (that you can use or wear!) for your time in Catalonia. Catering to both girls and guys (gents, check out Josep Abril) it also features a few homewares (for instance, lights and marble trays) peppered throughout. Everyone leaves happy.
1pm: With all that shopping, you should have worked up a healthy appetite. There are stacks of options in Barcelona, including the all-day La Esquina for generous-sized meals and freshly squeezed juices, but for something that you can't find anywhere else, dine at El Nacional. A former carpark, this industrial space has been transformed into a stylish food hub with four restaurants and four bars all under one roof. We went for tapas at La Taperia, but there's also fish and seafood, a meat-heavy brasserie, and a fast deli restaurant.
3pm: Head south from El Nacional and you'll reach the trendy El Born district. Quirky boutiques rule these labyrinth laneways, but one that really caught my eye was Bon Vent. Run by a family of shopkeepers that believe in good products, and even better service, each of the nautically-inspired pieces (apparel, footwear, jewellery and homewares) are personally hand-selected and brought back by the family to this one store in Barcelona. A big supporter of local design, it also stocks the increasingly hard to find Naguisa espadrilles. #Yes
4pm: Just across Via Laietana is the Gothic Quarter. Naturally, you have to pop by the Cathedral that towers over the district, and take your mandatory #selfie. But once you've had enough of the bustling tourists, head to L'Antiquari for a refreshing beer. Sit outside for a stunning view of Plaça del Rei — one of the most beautiful plazas in Barcelona surrounded by tall Gothic buildings.
5pm: Feeling peckish? Pick up a homemade quiche at Tarte & Quiche back in El Born. There's also açai smoothies and fruit bowls if you're eating clean. Fuel up, you're going to need the energy before hitting up our next destination...
6.30pm: What is a trip to Barcelona without a visit to Basílica de la Sagrada Família? It'd be like visiting Sydney without checking out the Opera House. And like the Opera House, you have to venture inside to fully appreciate it's beauty and grandeur. One of the stunning architectural feats of legendary local Antonio Guadí, work started on this church way back in 1882 and it's still ongoing. Pro tip: Book your ticket online at least two days before to avoid the long queues.
8.30pm: You've been pounding the pavement hard all day. Give yourself a well-deserved treat by savouring the best of local Catalonian fare at 2-Michelin star restaurant, ABaC by Jordi Cruz. If it's a gorgeous summer evening (but when is it not?) opt to have your degustation in the manicured garden decorated with Spanish sculptures. And wait till you try the chocolate dessert. #Ridic
11pm: When the sun finally sets, it's time to end the night on a high... high on a rooftop that is. For something classy, head to Claris Hotel with its mature wine-drinkers, ancient artworks, and a white-collar crew. For something more casual, with live music to boot, visit the rooftop at Casa Camper. And for something trendy with a killer view, definitely swing by the Skybar at Grand Hotel Central.