Fairytale city - even in the rain

Park Guell, Barcelona - Spain
Park Guell, Barcelona - Spain

NOW, how’s this for typical? It’s raining in Barcelona. Cats and dogs. Thunder and lightning.

Across from our hotel window, an elderly Spanish woman - browned from decades of living in a land where the sun is more or less always hot - is cowering confused under a doorway. She doesn’t have an umbrella. She probably doesn’t even know what one is.

And here we are, two England-ers peering out our window, and coming out with the standard joke: we must have brought it with us. Oh, how we chuckled.

But here’s a thing: it hardly mattered.

Barcelona, on Spain’s Medetaranian coast, may be a city (usually) soaked in sun and home to some of the finest urban beaches you’re ever likely to lie on, but if you’re coming here just to catch rays you’re missing a trick - and a whole lot of top-draw attractions.

Sudden rain storm? No problem. We got a taxi to the Aquarium (home to 11,000 creatures and an 80 metre water tunnel through a sea of sharks), followed by a look around the hugely interesting Catalonia History Museum, and finished the morning with lunch at La Boqueria market, an absolute heaven of fresh seafood, lip-smacking meats and colourful vegetable nestled alongside heaving tapas bars.

The conclusion? This is Barcelona, one of Europe’s cultural capitals, and there’s something for all weathers.

We’d travelled there with Jet2 the day before for a budget weekend. We booked three nights at Boutique Barcelona Bed And Breakfast, a good value lodging in the city centre.

Happily enough, that first morning’s rain soon ceased. By midday the beaches were rammed and the legendary La Rambla - a heady three mile thoroughfare of fashion chains, high end shops, street sellers and sex workers - was streaming with locals and tourists.

We chose to take a cycle tour to see the best of this large metropolis.

We saddled up with Fat Tire Bike Tours and spent four hours cycling to such sights as the Olympic Village, Port Vell and, most jaw-dropping of all, the Sagrada Família. The latter is a basilica of awe-inspiring ambition designed by Antoni Gaudí and looking essentially like something ripped from the pages of a fairy tale and made real. Work started in 1882 and it’s not actually due for completion until 2026 but is still open for tours and services.

Another major Gaudi highlight was Park Guell, similarly Fantasia-like in its design and worth the hard climb to its hillside location for the mesmerising views alone. And of course a trip to Barca wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Nou Camp stadium. Football here is a religion - the sea-facing statue of Christopher Columbus is often decked out in team colours - and this place is its cathedral. Well worth a pilgrimage to.

If Barcelona is famous for its soccer, though, it’s equally renowned for its nightlife. This town likes to turn out as the lights turn on.

Clubs, pubs, bars and tapas restaurants spill out into every street. Those who like their evenings (and early mornings) drinking and dancing could do worse than head to the boulevard bars of Passeig del Born (Cactus Bar is especially recommended) or check out the deliciously seedy clubs of the El Raval neighbourhood.

But eating here is often an all night pleasure all on its own. Tapas bars such as the exquisite Cal Pep, sitting in the shadows of the city’s oldest streets, stay open late encouraging customers to relax and wile away their evening with good food and wine.

It is a perfect end to perfect days in a near perfect city.

Three things to do

1. Take a bike tour. Barcelona is a massive city and the sights are widely spread out but in temperatures touching 30 sitting on a bus is far from ideal. The solution? Fat Tire Bike Tours Fat Tire Bike Tours offers daily laid-bike English speaking cycle guides to the city. Costs €24.

2. See Gaudi’s work. Catalan native Antoni Gaudí was one of the finest architects of all time - and his fairy tale like buildings and parks dominate Barcelona. Prime examples are the jaw-dropping basilica Sagrada Familia, the whimsical and weird apartment block Casa Batllo and the hill top Park Guell, which offers the sensation of stepping into an alternative world.

3. Go to the Nou Camp. FC Barcelona play here and the design of the stadium matches the grandeur of the team FC Barcelona

Travel facts:

GET THERE: Leading airline Jet2 offers great flight times, and a generous 22kg baggage allowance to Barcelona Airport from Leeds Bradford International Airport. Flights start from £34 one way including taxes. Website www.jet2.com has more information. CrossCountry Trains run hourly services between Sheffield and Leeds starting from £10.50 open return. Information at Cross Country Trains

Stay: Boutique Barcelona Bed And Breakfast offers pleasant and affordable rooms in Calle Pau Claris, in the heart of the city, from £85 a night. Visit Boutique Bed and Breakfast

Eat: Barcelona is a city heaving with restaurants and eateries. Cal Pep Placa de les Olles; CalPep offers especially tasty tapas, as does Cata 1.81 (Carrer de Valencia; Cata181

Drink: The saying goes that Barcelona nights should start in Passeig del Born, a glorious boulevard full of gorgeous bars. Try a mojito at Cactus Bar or the range of beers at the simply named El Born Bar.