Destination Guide

Barcelona

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Photo by Naomi Hutchinson

With Michelin-starred restaurants, nine World Heritage sites, some of the world’s most beautiful Gothic and modernist architecture and more than two miles of beaches in one European city, Spain's Barcelona is like a cross between L.A. and Paris. This charming Mediterranean port city offers visitors a mix of history, fashion, relaxed rhythms and a vibrant, creative energy. Here you can walk from a palm-lined beach to the Barri Gòtic neighborhood and onward to an Art Nouveau–era avenue, all in the course of an afternoon.

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Renaissance style building

El Palace Hotel Barcelona

El Palace Hotel was the first five-star property in Barcelona when it opened as the Ritz in 1919, a date guests will find scattered throughout the hotel. César Ritz—already a savant of grand European city hotels—wanted the neoclassical property to evoke grandeur, and he succeeded: opulence envelops guests the moment they enter the lobby, where an extravagant crystal chandelier hangs from a high gold-lined ceiling and a carpeted grand staircase rises on either side. One need only take a few more steps in to find themselves in the Great Hall, where soaring ceilings, an elaborate red and white carpet and deep emerald columns give the impression that you’ve stepped into a monarch’s reception hall. Which all makes perfect sense, since the hotel was financially supported by then King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie, and has played host to multiple royal events (along with welcoming music royalty like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, art royalty like Picasso or cinematic royalty like John Wayne and Sofia Loren). El Palace also hosted the fashion shows of Pertegaz and Bastida in the 1940s. All this to say, the hotel has quite the pedigree.

Of the 120 rooms, this culture is perhaps best experienced in one of the six Art Suites, fashioned in 2016 as part of the hotel’s renovation and expansion. Each was inspired by a prominent hotel guest—including Josephine Baker and Salvador Dali—and is infused with their chosen art form (dance, sculpture, literature, etc.). While these suites may possess the most character, the hotel’s transportive feel is present in all rooms, which maintain the sophisticated, neoclassical style from the chandeliers to the candelabras. Bathrooms are spacious with a large walk-in shower, and some rooms have extra gems, like the beautifully tiled green and white Roman bath found in certain rooms and suites. All Junior Suites have a bedroom and living room in a shared space and views of a Barcelona courtyard, while the Superior Suites have a separate bedroom and living room. The family suites sleep up to seven guests in three bedrooms connected by a sitting room.

The day begins with a buffet breakfast in the Jardín, where the black-and-white tiled floors and greenery evoke the sense that you are dining out on a terrace rather than inside. All-day dining, including tapas and seasonal dishes, is offered in the soaring Great Hall, as is afternoon tea. The jewel of El Palace’s dining scene though is AMAR, which opened in spring 2022 and is headed by chef Rafa Zafra. This fine-dining restaurant is set in a distinctly modern space (a departure from the hotel’s style) and its menus take inspiration from Catalan cuisine as well as Mediterranean flavors at large. At night, from Thursday through Saturday, the Bluesman Cocktail bar is a popular, 1920s speakeasy-inspired space done in red velvet and gold patterned carpeting, with a glittering mirror ball at the head of the room. Reservations here are needed in advance.

A highlight of a stay at El Palace is spending time in the rooftop garden, where drinks and snacks are served beneath one of two whimsical pergolas, one of which offers views of the Sagrada Familia. There is a small rooftop pool, lined on one side with plants to continue the garden theme and on the other with a dining space for the pop-up restaurant. The garden changes themes with the seasons, donning orange blossoms in the fall and twinkle lights in the winter, and three times a year (summer, Halloween and Christmas), guests can enjoy a movie night on the 360-degree terrace—which is open year round anyway for the sake of enjoying the views. El Palace also has an immersive luxury spa inspired by Maya rituals and culture and complimented with Anne Semonin products.

Note: El Palace Hotel Barcelona is pet -friendly.

Suite at Cotton House Hotel, Barcelona, Spain

Cotton House Hotel, Autograph Collection

Located in the elegant Eixample neighborhood, the stunning Cotton House is fairly close to Barcelona's main sites and its central shopping street, Passeig de Gracia. It's an ideal spot for couples seeking a romantic getaway, design aficionados, or those looking for a laid-back vibe and respite from the urban hustle.

 Suite at Majestic Hotel & Spa, Barcelona, Spain

Majestic Hotel & Spa

For travelers seeking a classic yet stylish Spanish look and feel, the beautifully renovated Majestic Hotel is the best hotel option on the Passeig de Gràcia. Just down the street from the Mandarin Oriental, the family owned and operated 271-room Majestic offers a variety of suites – even some grand residences, for those staying longer – that offer a more traditional look, with extraordinary and romantic Gracia views.

The best rooms at the Majestic are the 30 Junior Suites, which are large enough to fit a family (there is a pull-out sofa bed) but in the lounge that closes off via a sliding door. While all the modern amenities – flatscreen televisions, expansive marble bathrooms, free wifi, Nespresso machines – are included, the antique desks and chairs and textured wallpaper impart a classical look that fits with the building’s century-old elegance. The marble bathrooms are stocked with custom toiletries, Atelier cologne and the turn-down amenity is a tiny vial of different scents for guests to try. Heavy, beige curtains are drawn at night to allow jet-lagged guests some respite from early-morning sunshine. Room categories are differentiated by views; the rooms looking out on Passeig de Gràcia with French doors that open to a balustrade are well worth the extra charge. The Royal Penthouse, the largest in the city, features three bedrooms, copious space for entertaining (including terraces) and a maxibar, a mini-bar that takes up an entire walk-in closet.

In contrast to the traditional look in the rooms, the upstairs pool and café deck feels young and hip. With views towards the sea and sunbeds for lounging, it’s a wonderful place for lunch afternoon lazing and a pre-dinner cocktail. And although the pool isn’t large, it’s perfect for a quick dip after sightseeing and essential to families traveling with jet-lagged kids. Other amenities include a fitness center and spa, as well as a business center. The grand El Bar Del Majestic draws an impressive looking crowd and delicious small plates and full meals.


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