In this festive city, tradition blends with innovation in art, architecture and—best of all... "food" THE CATALAN CAPITAL will celebrate just about anything at the drop of a hat. Just consider its nighttime neighborhood festivals; La Mercè, the late-September carnival that dates back to the 19th century; and the early-wintercalçotadas—giant cookouts that herald the arrival of a leek-like sweet onion (yes, onion) known as the calçot.
Even with Spain's economic challenges, there's still reason to revel. Throughout the city is evidence of Barcelona's ability to blend tradition and innovation—in art, architecture, food and even sport. The city is graced with the work of 20th-century icons Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, and the Seussian architecture of Antoni Gaudí, as well as newer designs from Jean Nouvel and Herzog & de Meuron. Though FC Barcelona, the local soccer team, will be eternally popular, the town also spawned brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, who moved on to major positions in the NBA. Gastronomic godfather Ferran Adrià pulled the plug on his famed El Bulli last year, but top chefs have been setting up a number of more affordable restaurants, keeping the food scene in high gear.
Bordered by the mountains on one side and miles of beach on the other, Barcelona boasts an impressive diversity of neighborhoods. In the tourist-friendly center, visitors can stroll Las Ramblas, the old port and tiny streets in the Barri Gòtic [Gothic Quarter], then check out artsy Gràcia, with its cafes and cinemas, or the funky Poble Sec, where you can find a few superb hidden restaurants or catch the neighborhood's team of castellers—human castle builders—practicing Catalonia's native sport on Carrer Blai.
Gaudí's great Sagrada Familia basilica is still a work in progress, but the city's most vibrant cathedral isn't a cathedral at all. The centuries-old public market, Mercat St. Josep, better known as La Boqueria, is still Barcelona's pulsing heart, a near-daily celebration. Sit down at one of its kiosks for a meal made with ultra-fresh ingredients. Try a plump anchovy atop a slice of pa amb tomaquet—garlic-rubbed, olive oil-slathered tomato bread—or savor a sliver of Iberian ham. Cap off the party with a flute of bubbly Cava, just because.
Half of the EMBT design firm, whose work includes Barcelona's Santa Caterina Market renovation
Classic Eatery // Casa Calvet. I like having a meal within the design and décor of this Gaudí-designed place because of its relationship with the modernists. I order a glass of Cava and some bacalao [dried salted cod] if it's on the menu. Carrer de Casp, 48, casacalvet.es
Dreamy Hotel // Hotel España. This was designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and sits just off La Rambla. I like being inside the wonderful beauty of the architecture. It's like being in a fairy-tale setting. Carrer Sant Pau, 9-11,hotelespanya.com
Marc Goodwin and Cecilia Galera for The Wall Street Journal
Sharps Shop // Ganiveteria Roca. You can find all kinds of knives and scissors here—everything from fancy cutlery to everyday items. I particularly like their knife racks, as I have a big knife collection at home. Plaça del Pi, 3,ganiveteriaroca.cat
Dress-tination // Jean Pierre Bua. This is a beautiful shop where I like to buy dresses. They have designs from around the world, from houses like Tsumori Chisato or something a bit more conservative like Dries Van Noten. For Barcelona fashion, I love the elegant designs of Josep Font. Jean Pierre Bua: Avinguida Diagonal, 469, jeanpierrebua.com; Josep Font: josepfont.com.
Former chef at El Bulli, founder of the El Bulli Foundation
Soccer Stadium // Camp Nou. It's hard to find a building where one particular feeling—hope—can live so intensely. To see Barça play soccer is a unique experience, where you share the hope of victory or the disappointment of defeat surrounded by 90,000 people who share very similar feelings. Carrer d'Aristides Maillol, 12, fcbarcelona.com
Mega Market // La Boqueria. Historical and picturesque—where you can find many diverse products and personalities. Inside the market, there are many different dining kiosks, and among those, Pinotxo. Try breakfast at around 8 a.m. at Pinotxo's bar, which will undoubtedly be fun, and the food quality will be excellent. Rambla, 91,boqueria.info
Art Institution // Joan Miró Foundation. To me, Joan Miró is an artist who magically produces the spirit of Mediterranean art in his work. The foundation's building—the work of the architect Josep Lluís Sert—is a perfect example of equilibrium between architecture and landscape. Parc de Montjuic, fundaciomiro-bcn.org
Modernist Treasure // La Pedrera. The Pedrera [aka Casa Milà] is one of Gaudí's masterworks, a building that is art inside and out. I would love to know what he was thinking 100 years ago when he built it. Provenca, 261-265,www.lapedreraeducacio.org
The Television Star
Host of the TV show 'Bestiari Il•lustrat'
Design Source // Antique Boutique. Tiny and unique with well-selected, rare vintage furniture. Industrial, baroque or romantic: All styles are featured. If you like something, take it right away.Seneca, 16, antiqueboutiquebcn.com
Marc Goodwin and Cecilia Galera for The Wall Street Journal
Divine Inn // Hotel Casa Fuster. It's modern without being too designed; central but quiet, comfortable and elegant. You check in and feel at home.Passeig de Gràcia, 132,hotelescenter.es
Ultimate Asian // Shunka. The best Japanese restaurant in Barcelona, hidden on a tiny street. Shunka is not about luxury, but about being genuine. The katsuo tataki [seared bonito] is a must. Sagristans, 5, koyshunka.com
Dance Hall // The Boiler Club. Every two months, the nightclub La Cova del Drac-Jazzroom turns into a place of retro fantasy, magic and humor, with red lipstick and well-dressed guys. It's swing, rockabilly and Lindy-hop. Carrer Vallmajor, 33,theboilerclub.com
Italian Dish // Isabella's. The beef tagliata with Parmesan is the best meat in the coziest restaurant. It's tender, it's bloody, but it's not too much. Eat it after the burrata and before tiramisu. Ganduxer, 50, isabellas-restaurant.com
Writer-director of the 1994 film 'Barcelona' and this year's 'Damsels in Distress'Coffee Shop // Meson del Café. Have acortado—a shot of espresso cut with hot milk—and a ración of churros here in the Barri Gòtic. This is where the Consul character in "Barcelona" defends the American ant farm. Llibreteria, 16, 93-315-07-54
Vintage Drinkery // Mudanzas. In the Born neighborhood is this classic café-bar where Mira Sorvino's character misunderstands Americans, favorably. Get a whiskey. Vidrieria, 15, 93-319-11-37
Scenic Stroll // Sea to slope. Follow the progression of the city's wealth uphill from sea (mar) toward mountain (montaña). Start along the Passeig de Colom, then head up through the Barri Gòtic and continue up Passeig de Gracia or Rambla de Catalunya.
Design Destination // Vinçon. Architect Fernando Amat purveys objects of beautiful utility, representing Barcelona's modernist tradition in a historic building by the architect Antoni Rovira i Rabassa. Passeig de Gracia, 96, vincon.com
Exquisite Meal // Roig Robí. In the haute-bourgeois Ensanche district, "ruby red" offers a pure gourmet experience in a delightful garden setting. I recommend their baby filets of sole. Seneca 20, roigrobi.com
Plus Don't Miss...
Sirvent // The two locations are Barcelona's favorite spots to sip Spain's hot-weather drink, the cool, tiger nut-laced horchata.turronessirvent.com Quimet & Quimet // With Vermouth on tap, this a favorite watering hole, but the tapas, made with some of the world's best canned goods (yes, really), is what sets it apart. Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25Barcelona Beaches // Nonexistent before the 1992 Olympics, several wonderful beaches now start in the Barceloneta area and spread for miles to the north.