Fall, or la tardor in Catalan, is an ideal time to visit Barcelona. As temperatures ease and summer crowds thin out, the charms of the Catalonian capital fully reveal themselves. Lines to Antonio Gaudí’s iconic La Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum are markedly shorter and it’s once again possible to take a pleasant stroll along the famous Las Ramblas. But Barcelona is hardly sleepy—a full roster of fall festivals and events keeps things lively, while sunny, warm days offer ample opportunity to explore some off-the-beaten track neighborhoods. Plus, hotel rates drop, a perfect excuse to book a stay in one of the city’s stylish new properties.
Check into a cool new hotel
Nobu Hotel Barcelona, the first Nobu property in the city, opens September 12 and is conveniently located next to Barcelona’s main railway station, Sants. Designed by the New York–based Rockwell Group, the 23-story, 259-room luxury hotel features interiors influenced by the traditional Japanese art form of kintsugi (broken pottery) blended with Catalan-inspired designs. The signature Nobu restaurant on the top floor affords panoramic views of the city and Olympic Park on Montjuïc hill, while the lobby-level Kozara offers Japanese-style tapas and the widest range of sakes and Japanese whiskeys in town. There’s currently a special introductory rate of €250 (US$274) per night. Eixample; barcelona.nobuhotels.com
Ian Schrager’s hip Edition brand launched its first mainland Europe outpost in Barcelona last fall, and the year-old Barcelona Edition has quickly become one of the top hotels in the city. Set in the trendy El Born district, a stone’s throw from the Gothic Quarter, the boutique property is seriously swanky; the 100 rooms feature herringbone parquet floors, custom walnut paneling, and king-sized beds outfitted with leather headboards and luxury linens. The London property’s famous Punch Room has been recreated here, up a hidden circular staircase and tucked behind a discreet wood-paneled door—speakeasy style. The crown jewel is the 10th-floor rooftop bar, offering spectacular city and sea views year-round. El Born; editionhotels.com
The new European luxury hotel brand Almanac opened its first property in Barcelona last February, and it’s ideally located a block off the posh shopping boulevard of Passeig de Gracia. The 61 rooms and 30 suites feature a soothing, contemporary design; most have large bay windows with built-in seating, creating a comfy nook to relax in while gazing over the busy Gran Via de les Cortes Catalanes below. The glass-enclosed rooftop bar, Azimuth, is a swell spot for drinks, with a wraparound terrace that offers fantastic views of La Sagrada Familia’s magical towers. Eixample; almanachotels.com
Kimpton Vividora Hotel, the brand’s first foray into Spain, is scheduled to open in early December in the city’s historic Gothic Quarter. Along with 156 stylish, playfully designed rooms, the hotel will have a rooftop bar and pool with views of the Barcelona Cathedral, plus Kimpton perks like a daily free wine hour and free bike rental. Gothic Quarter; kimptonvividorahotel.com
Discover a former industrial area turned hip ’hood
Poblenou, a seaside district north of the city center, hardly resembles the post-industrial wasteland it was just 20 years ago. Today it’s a hot spot for urban creatives, with warehouses and factories converted into tech hubs, artist spaces, and cultural centers, and its wide streets filled with trendy bars, restaurants, and vintage shops. It’s a 15-minute trip on public transportation, via the Metro, from Las Ramblas to Poblenou.
The neighborhood’s changing demographics can best be seen with a stroll along the Rambla del Poblenou, a long, leafy boulevard where old-school eateries rub shoulders with new tapas joints. A fixture on the Rambla since 1906, the rustic Can Recasens serves authentic Catalan sausages and more than 200 cheeses. Two blocks down, the quirky design of the French-Catalan spot El 58 complements its creative seasonal menu of traditional and contemporary tapas, chalked up daily on the dining room’s blackboard. Just off the Rambla, Salitre has become a neighborhood favorite since opening in 2018, turning out jewel-like tapas with a strong accent on fresh seafood. For top-notch craft cocktails, there’s Balius, a vintage-style bar set in an old corner pharmacy, with original glass shelving.
Poblenou’s art scene in particular is thriving. A great time to check out its cutting-edge galleries is during the annual Young Gallery Weekend, taking place September 26–29, 2019. The event features gallery tours, digital and performance art, and sound installations throughout the neighborhood. The 23rd edition of the Open Studios of Poblenou runs September 12–15, 2019, with 24 creative spaces opening their doors to the public. More than 150 artists will participate, and alongside exhibitions there will be live music, DJ parties, and screenings. In conjunction with the event, La Escocesa, a former factory turned artist atelier, will celebrate its 20th anniversary from September 13–15, 2019 with a host of public programming, including exhibits by resident artists, guided tours, and live performances.
Join the season’s biggest party
More than a million people flood Barcelona’s streets, plazas, parks, beaches, and cultural spaces for the multi-day La Mercè Festival, honoring the city’s patron saint. Over the five-day festival, some 600 events celebrating Catalan culture take place, from traditional displays of castells (human towers) and sardanes (folk dancing) to live music and high-tech light shows. Things kick off with a parade of gigantes (towering papier-mâché figures), accompanied by a huge drum procession; the biggest blowout (literally) is on Saturday night, when groups dressed as devils roam the streets and shoot fireworks until the wee hours, a medieval Catalan tradition known as correfocs. September 20–24, 2019
Get beyond Gaudí
Antoni Gaudí’s flamboyant creations are undoubtedly Barcelona’s star attractions, but there’s plenty more to see in this architecturally rich city. During 48H Open House BCN, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this fall, some 200 buildings and monuments will be open for guided tours, and most don’t require a reservation. You can even go inside hidden spaces that normally aren’t open to the public, including a room in the Arc de Triomf and a Gaudí-designed cistern in Parc Güell. October 26–27, 2019
Celebrate soccer star Leo Messi
FC Barcelona is one of the world’s top futbol clubs, and many consider its captain, Leo Messi, to be the game’s greatest player. Even if you can’t score tickets for a match at Camp Nou, you can see Messi, or at least a version of him, at the new Cirque du Soleil show Messi10. Based on the life and career of the star athlete, the 90-minute show features an acrobatic, costumed depiction of the sport of soccer. It will debut on October 10 and run for one month at the sprawling beachfront complex Parc del Forum.
Explore one of Barcelona’s trendiest streets
Home to a trio of restaurants from superstar chef Albert Adrià (brother of chef Ferran Adrià), the former working-class district of Sant Antoni has long been a top dining destination. But there’s plenty more to explore, including one of the coolest streets in Barcelona, Calle Parlament. It recently received an overhaul under the city’s new urban planning initiative, which has cut down on car traffic, created bike lanes, and carved out new dedicated pedestrian seating areas. The street is lined with boho boutiques and chic restaurants, cafés, and bars—try Café Cometa for locally roasted coffee, Bodega Vinito for affordable wines by the glass, and sample gourmet organic tapas at Sucursal Aceitera. It’s also where you can find one of the city’s few gourmet doughnut shops, La Donutería. Also a game-changer: a decade-long restoration of the 19th-century Sant Antoni Market was completed in May 2018; it offers all the charms of the famous Boqueria Market but with far fewer tourists.
Get to know a master
Join a historian-led walking tour from AFAR’s travel partner, Context, and follow the footsteps of Pablo Picasso, that traces his time in the city by visiting his old haunts as well as the museum dedicated to his life and work.