Chatting to past visitors before you jet off to Barcelona will result in a list of things to do that's as long as your arm, as this evocative city has something to see around every corner. You'll be inundated with, "You have to go to this little café I found," and "I just stumbled upon this little bar, make sure you go and try it." And yes, while you should take the advice of friends and strangers, Barca is also a city you have to explore for yourself, finding your own hidden gems…
Art lovers rejoice
Picasso, Miró, Dalí and Gaudi are just a handful of the names associated with the Barcelona art scene, and you can't move in the city without stumbling upon one of the artist's works, whether you're walking on Joan Miró's Tile Mosaic on La Rambla, staring up at one of Gaudi's magnificent architectural designs or wandering the countless museums dedicated to the avant-garde.
The most famous of Barcelona's artists has to be Antoni Gaudi, the architect's name is virtually synonymous with the city, and the best way to get a feel for his work is to take a tour of his most famous spots with the Barcelona Guide Bureau(www.barcelonaguidebureau.com). The three-and-a-half-hour English-language tour will take you to the architect's most iconic spots, from Casa Batlló and Casa Milà on Passeig de Gràcia, to his work of art-meets-park, Park Güell, and the breathtaking, yet still unfinished gothic church, the Sagrada Família.
A trip to the Picasso Museum is another art lover's must, and you'll find it in the Gothic Quarter, or the Barri Gotic. Housing over 3,500 of his paintings, this is one of the most extensive collections of the artist's work in the world.
An arty trip to Barca doesn't just involve living in the past, the city has a vibrant current art scene, so check out Spanish artist, Esther Arisa's gallery, which is just around the corner from the Picasso Museum on Carrer Cotoners. Arisa both displays and works in the space, describing it as her taller, or workshop. She is celebrated for her colourful dream-like large canvasses, but also works on framed acrylic and paper, which you can take away for a price that won't upset your bank balance. Upon leaving Esther's gallery, you'll find yourself in the Born district, an area packed full of studios and artisan shops, and the perfect place to stroll around and pick up a few one-off, non-tacky souvenirs of your trip.
Tapas, clubs and atmosphere
As with most of Spain, sampling food and drink is the perfect way to navigate the city, and unless you wander into a sports bar or a tourist trap café outside of Sagrada Família, you'll find amazing eats. La Boqueria is the perfect place to kick off a culinary tour, the market is lined with row after row of fresh market produce, where you can buy a few bits for an impromptu street-side picnic, or pick up dinner for the evening if you're self-catering. When it comes to restaurants, we'd recommend starting in Dos Palillos (dospalillos.com), which from its appearance and name you might assume is a regular tapas bar, but you'll soon discover that it's certainly no traditional restaurant. The tapas menu is inspired by Asian cuisine, and you'll find yourself tucking into delicious seafood, paired with Japanese or Vietnamese flavours - all with a Catalan twist, natch. But if you're after something a little more traditional, head to La Viblia Wine Restaurant And Showroom (laviblia.com). The gorgeous seaside spot serves the best paella in the city, so on that merit alone, it's a total must try.
After-dark is when Barcelona really comes alive, and the heart of the city's nightlife is around La Rambla and the Barri Gòtic. We'd recommend wandering up busy, pedestrian-only road La Rambla, enjoying the amazing street artists and then heading into one of the many bars and clubs the area has to offer. There's something for everyone in Barcelona's nightlife, and if you want a few chilled drinks in a stylish Barri Gotic bar, you'll be charmed by the goblets of wine in Espai Barroc; or if you fancy dancing the night away at one the best clubs in town, Las Cuevas del Sorte plays unabashedly cheesy disco hits and attracts a fun crowd.
Taking time to see more of the Catalonia region (of which Barcelona is the capital) is an absolute must. The Barceloneta - the closest beach to the city, and just a 20-minute walk from the centre - is a stunning spot at which to sun yourself, and is lined with palm trees, restaurants and bars; but if you get the chance, head south to the Costa Dorada for miles of sandy beaches. Alternatively, go north to the Costa Brava, which is known as the wild coast and is dotted with picturesque port towns and boasts famous fans including Orson Welles, and Liz Taylor, who filmed Suddenly, Last Summer on the dramatic coast.
There's a certain magic in Barcelona, and it's a city with everything - you can go from soaking up the sun on the beach one day, to trawling galleries and boutiques the next and all while eating your body weight in fantastic Spanish food every night. Andale!
Rock out at Benicassim
This beachside festival, just south of Barcelona, has made a name for itself as one of the most popular on the circuit, and this year is set to be the best yet. Bob Dylan, Florence And The Machine, The Stone Roses and New Order are all headlining, and the fest runs from July 12 to 14. www.fiberfib.com/en
After days spent trawling the boutiques, galleries and markets, you're likely to have a grumpy husband in tow, so a trip to FC Barcelona's stadium, Camp Nou, could be in order. Take a tour of the stadium and visit the Museu del Futbol Club Barcelona. You might not be too interested in hearing all about Barca's 21 winning seasons, but the enormous stadium is impressive and you might just bump into Mr Shakira, Gerard Piqué, aka Mr Phwoar (above). www.fcbarcelona.com
Take some time out of the city, and head to this mountain overlooking Barcelona's beautiful architecture. It's also home to the Tibidabo Amusement Park, which you might recognise from Vicky Cristina Barcelona. You'll also find the impressive Temple del Sagrat Cor, which at 512m high, is the perfect place to sit and look out over the city.
All About My Mother, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Passenger, Biutiful, The Orphanage, Buried
Luxury: Ohla Hotel
In fitting with the city's artistic feel, the hotel's exterior is an artwork covered with thousands of sculptures that look like eyes, thanks to the arty touch of surrealist Catalan designer, Frederic Amat. With a glorious rooftop, glass-sided pool, a boutique bar and Michelin-starred chef Xavier Franco's Catalan restaurant, Saüc, you simply won't want to leave this hotel in the heart of the city's most trendy neighbourhood, Barri Gotic. Double rooms start at Dh980-per-night. www.ohlahotel.com
Mid-range: Hotel Bagues
Located on La Rambla, just a stones throw away from the Boqueria market and in the heart of Barcelona, this 31-room hotel offers a traditional Spanish stay, but with a luxurious edge. Enjoy food from George Pierre's El Regulador brasserie, which serves up the finest and freshest Mediterranean food, and sources its produce from the neighbouring market. Rooms start from Dh740-per-night. www.derbyhotels.com/en/hotel-bagues
Budget: Room Mate
Found on Carrer del Rosselló, this futuristic hotel has a space-age feel, with bright lighting, vivid colours and stylish but comfortable furniture. Check into one of the larger suites and enjoy your own terrace, looking out over the Eixample district, with Gaudi's Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and the iconic town square, Plaça Catalunya, all within walking distance. Rooms start at Dh300-per-night. www.room-matehotels.com