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Diverse, colourful, convenient Barcelona is one of those cities that always makes business travellers smile when they learn they have an assignment there.

While it is Spain's second largest city, Barcelona has been giving the capital, Madrid, a run for its money when it comes to attracting commerce and conferences. The trend started when the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1992.

Since then, Barcelona has developed a diverse and dynamic hotel scene, adding exciting new properties and updating many of its classics. It has built a modern and efficient new airport terminal only seven miles from the central business district and connected it to the city via rapid rail. The city's success and popularity is showing up in attendance numbers, too. Its modern new International Convention Centre, for example, attracted 12% more attendees in 2010 than it did in 2009.

Hotel: Elegant or edgy?

Elegant
The Hotel Arts, a Ritz-Carlton property, is a Barcelona institution that combines the city's trendy accents with the elegance that its guests expect. Fronting the water, this modern tower (opened in 1994) offers excellent views of the beach, marina and surrounding cityscape. The lobby is decked out in fine fabrics and various conversation areas that invite visitors to stay and mingle awhile. Room décor is minimalist chic, with over-the-top touches such as Bang & Olufsen electronics. No guests on the upper floor Club Level will go hungry as the hotel lays out multiple daily food and beverage presentations. In addition to the hotel's al fresco Marina restaurant and the Michelin-star rated Enoteca, guests have easy access to a nearby stretch of beachside cafes specializing in Mediterranean cuisine. For those looking for something closer to the business district, check out the quietly chic 98-room Mandarin Oriental Barcelona in the upscale Passeig de Gràcia which opened in 2010.

Edgy
The W Barcelona hotel recently opened to tremendous applause among design-conscious visitors who know Barcelona as a Mecca for style. This new standout is already stealing buzz from the famously trendy Hotel Omm. Situated on the edge of the city in the more subdued beachfront Barceloneta neighbourhood, this all-glass tower offers sweeping floor-to-ceiling window views of the city and its waterfront. Muted in-room furnishings allow the dramatic views to provide colour accents. As you would expect at a W hotel, a DJ is frequently on site, mixing the tunes and setting a hip scene as patrons nosh over tapas and take in the Mediterranean vista.

Do not do this!
While Castilian Spanish is widely spoken, do not forget that the city lies in the region of Cataluña where Catalan is the primary language.  If you really want to impress your Catalonian hosts or colleagues, learn and use a few key words in Catalan and watch their eyes light up. Good morning = bon dia. My name is Chris = Em dic Chris. Nice to meet you = Molt de gust. I love it! Thank you very much! = M'encanta!  Moltes gràcies!

Off the clock
Hop a train for the 90-minute trip north to Figueres, the hometown of artist Salvador Dali. The train deposits you within walking distance of the zany Dali Theatre-Museum that showcases the unique interpretations of this hometown hero. One can easily spend an entire day here pondering what was going through Dali's head as he crafted thought-provoking pieces in the Mae West room or the antique "Rainy Taxi" Cadillac that spurts water when a coin is inserted. Barcelona is certainly artist central, but there is nothing more unusual in the region than this museum.

Expense account
The culinary tastes of this region focus on the area's intense love affair with seafood, which you will find piled high on regional favourites, like paella or fideuas (paella with noodles instead of rice). The top spots for seafood are the unpretentious beachfront grills and cafés along Port Olympic's waterfront. These cafes are also a perfect place to gather with colleagues after work for sangria, tapas and people watching as the sun sets. For a more upscale or celebratory affair, Moments, in the new Mandarin Oriental is sure to impress. Recently awarded a Michelin star after only a year in operation, a mother and son team of chefs turns out traditional Catalan dishes with international influences in a comfortable and elegant dining room.

Go local
Branch off from the main streets such as the tourist jammed La Rambla and wind your way deeper into Barcelona's soul in areas such as Passeig de Gracia. While still a hot spot for out-of-towners, the side streets of this major city passageway are a treasure trove of small cafes and shops that entice the senses of locals. Do not be surprised if few shop and café owners speak English.

Chris McGinnis is BBC Travel's business travel columnist.

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