Penalva has lived in Barcelona for the past seven years and ranks it among the world’s top places to reside. “The city is the right size to get to know people and the international art scene easily,” she says. Barcelona’s other winning qualities include months of warm weather and a wealth of gastronomic delights. Among Barcelona’s native sons are Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, and Antoni Gaudí, whose architecture defines the Spanish city. Whether it is Gaudí’s fantastical Park Güell (Carrer d’Olot, 5; parkguell.cat), with its eye-popping colors and surreal passageways, or his magnum opus, the still unfinished Basílica de la Sagrada Família (Carrer de Mallorca, 401; sagradafamilia.org), the architect’s imprint on the landscape is impossible to miss. The towering basilica, which soars nearly 560 feet, is perhaps the world’s most famous construction site: Ground was broken in 1882, and completion is now set for around 2026. Fiercely proud of its role as the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous community with its own distinct language, Barcelona holds an abundance of cultural institutions. Penalva suggests a visit to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc; museunacional.cat) to view its trove of Catalan visual art. The museum is located on top of Montjuïc hill, affording spectacular vistas.
Taking a break from the cultural itinerary, Penalva recommends the contemporary art space and café Cosmo (Carrer Enric Granados, 3; galeriacosmo.com); the cheesecake, she says, is a must. Those craving dinner with a view won’t be disappointed by the bar and restaurant El Cercle (Carrer dels Arcs, 5; elcerclerestaurant.com). Penalva advises making a reservation ahead of time for a table on its outdoor terrace, right above the Reial Cercle Artístic (Carrer dels Arcs, 5; reialcercleartistic.cat), a private fine arts society that houses a permanent exhibition of works by Catalan Salvador Dalí. Next to the Lluís Domènech i Montaner–designed Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall is Le Cucine Mandarosso (Carrer de Verdaguer i Callís, 4; lecucinemandarosso.com), a restaurant known for its authentic Italian fare with a menu that changes daily according to seasonality and freshness. Locals also flock to Bodega La Palma (Carrer de la Palma de Sant Just, 7; bodegalapalma.com), a wine and tapas bar that originally opened as a grocery store in 1935. Another go-to spot is Belvedere (Passatge de Mercader, 3; bcnrestaurantes.com) which, according to Penalva, serves some of the city’s best cocktails. There is also Boadas Cocktails (Carrer dels Tallers, 1; boadascocktails.com), which makes an expert Negroni. Penalva likes it for being “one of the few authentic bars remaining on Las Ramblas,” the historic pedestrian boulevard.