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Travel

Barcelona city guide: what to see and where to stay

Words by Rob Chilton

No wonder Neymar wants to return to Barcelona. EDGAR takes a ramble around the beloved Spanish city and finds food, architecture and a cool hotel right in the middle of it all.

Few cities in Europe combine classic with cool like Barcelona. An elegant 19th century townhouse stands shoulder to shoulder with a surreal apartment by Antoni Gaudi, while Michelin starred restaurants sit happily next to a hipster sandwich deli. The clashing contrast of architecture – coupled with its rebellious role as capital of Catalonia – makes Barcelona a dizzyingly beautiful and eclectic city.

Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona.

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Barcelona's VIP street, Passeig de Gracia

Typical of Barcelona’s Jekyll and Hyde personality is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which celebrates its 10th birthday in November. Nestled in the famous Eixample district on the fancy Passeig de Gracia, the hotel’s neighbours include Chanel, Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Cartier; Manolo Blahnik has a store in the lobby, while the iconic Plaça de Catalunya is down the road.

Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.

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Barcelona skyline

But across the street from the contemporary and design-heavy hotel is Gaudi’s startling house, Casa Batlló, a melted candle wax type of structure that is a must-see highlight of any trip to Barcelona. Greeting you at the hotel’s entrance is not only a friendly concierge in waistcoat and tie, but also a seven feet tall blue gorilla sculpture by French artist Richard Orlinski. Passing through a towering and sunlight-filled atrium via a skywalk is a rather grand way to enter a hotel.

Lobby of Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.

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Skywalk leading to the lobby at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

A cosy and modern lounge in warm gold and amber by the acclaimed Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola is the sophisticated room that awaits you. Down below is the spacious and bright Blanc restaurant that does a huge breakfast, including a killer Spanish omelette. In the seductive Banker’s Bar, a wall of rusty and scratched safety deposit boxes are a clue to the building’s past life as a bank.

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Banker's Bar

Moments is a two Michelin-stared restaurant from the celebrated Spanish chef Carme Ruscalleda, while the wild and green Mimosa Garden is one of Barcelona’s most secluded terrace bars, beautifully fragranced by rosemary plants. A rooftop restaurant, Terrat, offers Peruvian food and a dipping pool to keep you cool on warm days, of which there are plenty in Barcelona.

Terrat rooftop pool and restaurant.

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Terrat rooftop pool and bistro

With so many neighbourhoods – and tapas bars – to explore, Barcelona can be a hectic city, which is why the Mandarin Oriental’s central location is such a bonus for any tourist who wants to see it all. Gaudi’s famous World Heritage Site, Parc Guell is a 15-minute cab ride away, while it’s only a 20-minute drive to the Nou Camp. Our taxi driver chuckled and said, “Lots of amazing architecture in Barcelona but the most popular thing for tourists is the Nou Camp!”

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Messi's playground, the Nou Camp

Also nearby is Passeig de Sant Joan, currently the hottest foodie neighbourhood in Barcelona; EDGAR recommends the hipster and retro bistro Granja Petitbo, a lunch spot on the corner of a busy crossroads where you can refuel with a hefty sandwich or a plate of tacos before venturing out again into this cool city of contrasts.

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