In 2002 Barcelona was awarded the title of most gourmand city in Europe by the prestigious Le Guide des Gourmands, the first non-French city so named in the 15 years of the publication's run (at the time). Being the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, Barcelona's restaurants specialise in the delicious Catalan cuisine, typically flaunting the extensive use of garlic, olive oil and fish for many kinds of meals. It's not uncommon to find fish mixed with red meat in a stew. The pa amb tomàquet (bread smeared in tomato and seasoned with olive oil and salt) is a signature Catalonian delicacy served with every meal in most restaurants. Tapas, now popular worldwide, originated in Spain, and these bite-sized treats are a firm favourite in the city of Barcelona.
Catalonia is a premier wine region for Spain and the birthplace of Cava sparkling wine. Dark red grapes in the region make for the darker 'black' wine, or vi negre, which is a stronger red concoction. Dry white wines come second to the Cava in popularity among tourists and locals alike.
Barcelona's restaurants usually open around 8am (if they are open for breakfast that is) and typically remain open until midnight. Supper hours are very late, with most residents opting to dine between 9pm and 10pm.
Barcelona is a shopper's playground, as a three-mile (5km) shopping route runs from Las Ramblas, through Placa de Catalunya, along Passeig de Gràcia and up Avenue Diagonal. Most of it's pedestrianised and pleasant to navigate on foot. The Tomb bus is a service specifically tailored for shoppers in the city, and covers all the major retail centres; it departs every seven minutes from Catalonia Square and makes 28 stops up until Placa Pius XII. Tickets can be bought on the bus.
Barcelona is a very fashion conscious place and several big names such as Giorgio Armani, Burberry and Bally are represented in exclusive stores in the city, while there are also local Spanish mega-fashion stores such as Zara, Mango and Adolfo Dominguez. Travellers on a budget might want to take advantage of seasonal sales. Winter sales officially start around 10 January and summer sales around 5 July; savings are generally between 50 to 70 percent during these sales.
Shops in Barcelona open at about 9am and close between 8pm and 9pm daily. Some shops close for a lunchtime siesta between 2pm and 4pm. Non-EU visitors to Spain have a little extra incentive to bring souvenirs home: tax free shopping. So long as the goods bought are items that can be taken back to their country with them and the bill exceeds €90, they will make a saving of 18 percent on purchases. Visitors should look out for the Tax Free signs in shop windows.
With a lunchtime siesta, there's no excuse for not having enough energy to make it through a long night of partying up a storm on the streets of Barcelona. Alfresco dining is a good way to start an evening of revelry and has become a way of life in many of the city's squares. Good spots to sip on a glass of wine and people-watch are the Placa del Sol in Gracia and Passeig del Born, Placa del Pi and Plaça Reial in the Old Town.
Barcelona is a trendy city with a fickle club scene that changes just about as often as its locals change their minds on what they'd like to drink. During the summer, chiringuitos (beach bars) open along the white sands of Barcelona's urban beaches, each with its own vibe and music, and are popular with both locals and tourists.
Key nightlife spots include Barri Gotic, which despite its medieval atmosphere, boasts a great selection of bars and clubs to choose from, though it's best for visitors to keep possessions close to their bodies, as pickpockets operate in these areas. Las Ramblas is also full of party venues. This is where visitors will find some of Barcelona's most popular and trendiest nightclubs and bars. L'Eixample, north of the city, is the place to go to enjoy Barcelona's gay scene. Port Olimpic is great for night owls, as there are plenty of bars, clubs and great seafood restaurants, while the yacht marina is a great place to enjoy sundowners on a warm summer's evening.
With the rest of Europe right on its doorstep, Barcelona is dripping with culture and there are plenty of regular performances of ballet, music, dance and opera at various venues such as the Joan Miro Foundation and the Greek Theatre, or the Liceu Opera House. And for a more relaxed evening, visitors can enjoy Flamenco at various venues throughout the city such as Tablao de Carmen and Travel Bar Flamenco Guide, which are both located in the old quarter's centre.