Europe’s most popular football weekend destination, Barcelona has everything. Lapped by the Med, the capital of the fiercely independent region of Catalonia contains fizzing nightlife, fine modern dining, top shopping, quirky tourist attractions – and the world’s most revered football team.
Flagship club of Catalonia, FC Barcelona (‘Barça’) have now enjoyed many years of extraordinary success in which they dominated the game like no other club in the contemporary era. While the club’s Nou Camp stadium remains a cash cow, living proof of Catalan commercial savvy, Barça followed their extraordinary treble of 2014-15 with a league title in 2016. The world may not have seen a club so majestic, nor a player who can change a game as quickly as FCB figurehead Lionel Messi.
The FCB Museum is the city’s second most popular after Picasso. While Barça’s clashes with Real dominate the Spanish season, their rivalry with cross-city counterparts Espanyol is fierce for completely different reasons. Espanyol’s greatest victory every season is the one they can wrench from their big-money neighbours.
Forced to change home (twice) and change name, now based at a newly built ground out towards the airport, the formerly named Español are supported by a passionate core of followers with a collective chip on their shoulders.
El Prat de Llobregat airport is 18km (11 miles) south-west of the city. A half-hourly train on the R2 line (€3.60, 25mins) leaves terminal 2 to the main station of Sants. From terminal 1, take the shuttle bus to terminal 2. An Aerobús (€5.65, 35mins) runs every 15mins to the same destinations.
A taxi should cost about €25-€30.Barcelona’s extensive transport system comprises an extensive metro network, buses and trains. A flat fare is €2. Both the ten-trip targeta (T-10; €9.25) and T-Día day pass (€6.95) are valid from the airport. Taxis are hailed from the street – the green light should be on and the windscreen sign say lliure/libre. Call Barnataxi on +34 93 357 7755.
For the Nou Camp, the nearest hotels are the newish four-star Hotel Madanis and the revamped and renamed Spanish chain NH Barcelona Stadium, with its rooftop pool in summer. The Madanis also has a nearby apartment hotel for groups of three to five people.
North of the stadium towards Maria Cristina metro station, and both a short walk downhill to the Nou Camp, the Gran Hotel Princesa Sofía is a five-star with a spa and all the trimmings while, even closer, the four-star Catalonia Rigoletto is comfortable and convenient.
For Sants station, you’ll find attractive online deals for the Expo Hotel Barcelona and its rooftop pool. The simple Hotel Inglés sits near the bar hub, while the upscale Condes de Barcelona is handy for any architectural tour.
Handily close to Plaça Catalunya, the Catalonia Ramblas has a pool and spa, the venerable Regina is approaching its centenary and the Splendid is an affordable option. For the Ramblas, the Oriente is convenient if quite basic, as is the Ramblas. If you’re on a real budget, then of the many hostels, St Christopher’s is close to Plaça Catalunya and has sports bar Belushi’s attached.
Bar-wise, most of the action takes place around the Barri Gòtic and the Raval, with some gems hidden around the Born. Showy, mainstream Port Olímpic hots up in summer. Damm Estrella is the local beer, along with its stronger cousin Voll Damm. Football bars abound.
Near Plaça Catalunya, Belushi’s comes on like a late-opening sports bar and den of cool – but is, in fact, attached to a youth hostel. Grown-ups may gather at nearby party hub the 7 Sins, with cocktails and TV screens for football. If you’re prepared to trek, the excellent Sonora Sport Tavern is well conceived, done out with retro Americana and with tables outside – but it’s a bit of a walk from Marina metro station in Poble Nou. Later on at night, there are few other options nearby.
Of the many expat haunts, the Black Horse stands out. O’Hara’s (Ferrán 18) is of its kind, although neighbouring Don Fernando (Ferrán 16) has a more local feel, with FCB paraphernalia. Also central, Flaherty’s is good for live TV sports.
Finally, at seafront Barceloneta, the Fastnet features a harbour-facing terrace and Sky Sports TV inside. Nearby, tucked-away Ca’l Chusco (Almirall Aixada 5) by Carrer del Mar is a real local football haunt, with live TV, a betting board and affordable food and drink in a morass of tourist traps.