Barcelona has been breaking new ground in art and architecture since the Middle Ages, and its centre constitutes one of the greatest concentrations of Gothic architecture in Europe.

Barcelona has been breaking new ground in art, architecture and style since the Middle Ages, and its centre constitutes one of the greatest concentrations of Gothic architecture in Europe. Equally busy are the city’s avant-garde chefs, who compete with classicists for the gourmet’s attention.

See
The Museu Picasso occupies five medieval stone mansions with an incredible display of artwork. The collection concentrates on Picasso’s formative years and specific transitions, such as his Blue period (00 34 932 563000; museupicasso.bcn.es; Carrer Montcada 15-23; 10am-8pm Tue-Sun; £9).

In 1900, Count Eusebi Güell hired Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí to create a tiny garden city. In 1914 the project, Park Güell, was abandoned, but not before the architect had created two miles of walks and a plaza in his inimitable style (parkguell.es; Carrer d’Olot 7; 10am-9pm May-August, times vary rest of year; free).

In the 18th century, La Barceloneta was a factory worker’s and fishermen’s quarter. Some fishing families remain and the area is awash with seafood restaurants. Barcelona’s beaches start on the seaward side. Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta is a pleasant promenade from La Barceloneta to Port Olímpic marina.

Pick up the Ruta del Modernisme walking pack from the tourist office at Plaça de Catalunya. It contains a guide to Barcelona’s 115 modernist buildings, a map and discount vouchers (rutadelmodernisme.com; £10.50).

Montserrat, 30 miles northwest of the city, is a 1,236m-high mountain chain from where, on a clear day, you can see as far as the Pyrenees (abadiamontserrat.net; 9am-6pm; free).

Eat and drink
At its bar-restaurant, La Llavor dels Orígens – one of the chain’s two shops in the city – has a long menu of small dishes, including pumpkin and chestnut soup or rissoles with aubergine (00 34 933 107531; lallavordelsorigens.com; Carrer de la Vidrieria 6-8; lunch and dinner; mains from £4).

Specials at Tapas 24 include the bikini (a toasted sandwich with cured ham, cheese and truffle), rice in squid ink and, for dessert, chocolate balls in olive oil (00 34 934 880977; tapas24.net; Carrer de la Diputació 269; lunch and dinner Mon-Sat; tapas from £8, mains from £12).

Getting a seat in Cal Pep can be a problem, so most people are happy to elbow their way to the bar for some of the tastiest seafood tapas in town. Cal, the owner, recommends the trifàsic – a combo of calamari, whitebait and prawns (00 34 933 107961; calpep.com; Plaça de les Olles 8; lunch and dinner Tue-Fri, dinner Mon and Sat; mains from £12).

At the family-run Suquet de l’Almirall, the order of the day is seafood from La Barceloneta market (00 34 932 216233; suquetdelalmirall.com; Passeig de Joan de Borbó 65; lunch and dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Sun; mains from £16, tasting menu £38).

In an admirable location at the end of a beach, the W Barcelona Hotel offers avant-garde dining in its BRAVO restaurant and incredible views from its rooftop Eclipse bar (00 34 932 952636; w-barcelona.com; Plaça de la Rosa del Vents 1; lunch and dinner; mains from £22).

Sleep
On the chic side of Barcelona’s L’Eixample district, and just a short stroll from Plaça de Catalunya, Hostal Goya is no hostel, but one of the best budget options in the city. The brightcoloured rooms have parquet floors. Also on offer are two apartments sleeping four to six (00 34 933 022565; hostalgoya.com; Carrer de Pau Claris 74; from £70).

The terrace at Hotel Constanza overlooks the rooftops of L’Eixample. Single rooms are small but special with broad mirrors and red and yellow fabrics against black furniture. There are also suites and studios (00 34 932 701910; hotelconstanza.com; Carrer del Bruc 33; from £70).

Cool blues and aquamarines together with polished parquet floors lend the Hotel Banys Orientals an understated style. Rooms are small but impeccably presented with sleek, dark wood furniture, marble bathrooms and white linen. It also has more spacious suites in two nearby buildings (00 34 932 688460; hotelbanysorientals.com; Carrer de l’Argenteria 37; from £87).

Occupying a former medieval mansion, Hotel Neri combines historic detail with a top-of-therange aesthetic. Rooms are artfully decorated with a mix of period and contemporary furnishings. There’s also a rooftop solarium and an elegant restaurant (00 34 933 040655; hotelneri.com; Carrer de Sant Sever 5; from £210).

Casa Camper in El Raval is run by the Mallorcan Camper brand better known for their shoes. In keeping with the arty locality, rooms have a red colour palette and contemporary furniture from Spanish store Vinçon (00 34 933 426280; casacamper.com; Carrer d’Elisabets 11; from £220).

Getting around
The easy-to-use Metro has seven numbered and colour-coded lines. FGC runs trains to outlying areas useful for reaching destinations such as Montserrat (£9; fgc.net). The Metro, FGC and buses come under one zoned-fare regime (singles £1.20; tmb.cat).

When to go
In spring and early summer, Barcelona is full of book and flower stalls, with celebrations reaching their peak on St George’s Day (23 April). For the city’s biggest party, go for La Mercè, with acrobats, musicians, artists and human castles taking to the streets (bcn.cat/merce; 22-25 September).

How to go
British Airways, Monarch and easyJet offer direct flights from Gatwick (from £88), Liverpool (£74) and Bristol (from £95; easyjet.com). The R2 Nord train runs from El Prat Airport to the city centre (£2.50; renfe.es).

The article 'Mini guide to Barcelona, Spain' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.