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Destination: Barcelona

Comfortably situated on the Mediterranean Sea, this Catalonian capital is practically a country of its own: Catalan customs and Gaudi’s dreamlike architecture frosted on almost every street give it a decidedly unique flavor.
La Font Magica, Montjuic, at night.
La Font Magica, Montjuic, at night. Lonely Planet Images
/ Source: Forbes Traveler.com

The Draw
• Medieval architecture that overlooks sun-kissed Mediterranean beaches and swanky cafes

• Some of the most cutting-edge restaurants, hotels and shopping in all of Europe

• A city stuffed with breathtaking works of modern art, by the likes of Dalí, Picasso and Gaudi

The Scene
Comfortably situated on the Mediterranean Sea, this Catalonian capital is practically a country of its own: Catalan customs and Gaudi’s dreamlike architecture frosted on almost every street give it a decidedly unique flavor. Five-star hotels like The Palace and Hotel Arts blend into a musky Old World backdrop, which is easy to appreciate whether you’re soaking up the sun at Mar Bella beach or getting lost on the winding back streets of the Gothic quarter. Stay at a hip hotel like Casa Camper or order up a classic martini at Boadas, a bar that seems to have crept out of a Hemingway novel; it’s this ever-changing scene that has helped Barcelona build -- and live up to -- its reputation for distinctive flair.

To Be Seen
• Parc Guell. This huge Gaudi-designed park, full of stone and mosaics, makes for a great stroll. Wander to the top and feast on one of the best views in town.

• Gothic Quarter. Medieval streets thread their way through an area thick with 13th-century structures. Don’t miss the Catalan Gothic, Cathedral de Barcelona or the Placa de Rei, an ancient square lined with 16th-century Gothic buildings and the façade of the old royal palace.

• Gràcia Neighborhood. Mingle with an upscale local crowd in this posh tourist-free area. A city of its own until 1897, the Gràcia neighborhood has managed to maintain its private identity, though it now boasts chic art galleries and independent-film cinemas. Dine at the luxurious Botafumeiro and you might find yourself eating next to the king of Spain.

• The Beach. Grab an umbrella and go beach hopping. Barcelona’s coast is peppered with sandy stretches like Nova Icaria, with a great selection of restaurants, and Bogatell, a slightly less crowded beach.

• Get an insider’s look at famous Spanish tapas with a private walking tour. Stop in classic shops while you sip wine and nibble on tapas along the way, then enjoy a three-course lunch in a building that was a hot spot for artists like Dalí and Picasso.

• Race an F1 car at the famous Circuito de Catalunya track, where the Catalunya Grand Prix is held every year. Experience the life of a race car driver as your instructor teaches you the tricks of the pros.

Overrated
Las Ramblas. Unless you enjoy people watching, this boulevard is a tourist mecca, not a slice of Barcelona. Street performers salt the sidewalks, and tourist restaurants line the street.

Underrated
El Born. Known simply as “Born” to the locals, this neighborhood is the city’s chicest locale. Peruse the work of up-and-coming artists at Galeria Principal Sombrerers, and indulge in a five-course dessert at the restaurant Espai Sucre. Linger past sunset for a pumping club scene.

Don’t Miss
Evo Restaurant at the brand new Hesperia Towers. Enjoy an exquisite meal from the first three-star Michelin chef in Catalonia, Santi Santamaria, under a blanket of stars. A glass dome encases this elegant restaurant atop the tower.

When To go
Spring and autumn are the most colorful -- and most mild -- times of year.