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 league title in 2016, 2018 and 2019. 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 modern 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. Terminals 1 and 2 are on metro line 9, with a train every 7min that calls at Collblanc near the Nou Camp, before running to Zona Universitària, connecting with line L3 that stops at Sants main train station and central Plaça d’Espanya. A single ticket into town (30min, €5.15) can be bought from a machine at the station. Note that the T-casual ticket of ten journeys (€11.35) on the Barcelona transport system isn’t valid for line 9 from/to the airport. Once in town, a single ticket is €2.40.
A half-hourly train on the Rodiales R2 Nord local train line (€4.60, 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 5-10mins to the main square of Plaça Catalunya, single ticket €5.90/return €10.20.
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 reconfigured, rebranded Hotel Sofia Barcelona 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 on Carrer de Mallorca, and its rooftop pool. The simple Inglés Hotel sits on Carrer de la Boquería near the bar hub, while the upscale Condes de Barcelona on Passeig de Gràcia is handy for any architectural tour.
Handily close to central Plaça Catalunya, the Catalonia Ramblas has a pool and spa, the venerable Regina has not celebrated its centenary and the Acta Splendid is an affordable option. For the Ramblas, the Oriente Atiram 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.
Just off the Ramblas and main Plaça Reial, on Carrer de Ferrán, you find several match-watching options, starting with Irish Pub Temple Bar at No.6, then lively Lennox The Pub (No.7), a brand successfully established in Palma, Mallorca. O’Hara’s (Ferrán 18) is of similar ilk, while neighbouring Don Fernando (Ferrán 16) has a more local feel, with FCB paraphernalia.
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. A short walk away, The George Payne by Urquinaona metro is a popular party and soccer spot. Over by the Born, the Black Horse on Carrer de l’Allada-Vermell has long been a football-friendly favourite.
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.
Finally, at the Marina Port Vell, 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.