Winking in the sunlight, Barcelona is the sparkling jewel of the Mediterranean coastline. Futuristic buildings pierce the skyline next to the technicolour excesses of its turn-of-the-century architects, and its medieval heart is little changed since its streets were built hundreds of years ago.

The Cinderella of Europe, the city has as its backstory an impressive rags-to-riches tale. Once upon a time it was a downtrodden backwater; littered with human debris, abused by visiting sailors and ignored by its wealthy Mediterranean neighbours. These days, however, it’s the city on everybody’s wish list, with its miles of long sandy beaches, extraordinary artistic heritage and a climate envied by most of Spain, not to mention Europe.

No one leaves Barcelona disappointed

Everyone has their reason for coming to Barcelona, and no one leaves disappointed. Some come here for the food – Ferran Adrià, continually voted best chef in the world, is from here, and his influence has spread to the furthest corners of the city’s gastronomic scene. In addition to the myriad Michelin-starred restaurants about town, even modest, family-run tabernas have become a little more daring in their combinations of flavours and ingredients since Adrià’s meteoric rise. See Barcelona's best seafood restaurants and Gastro bars in Barcelona to read more about Barcelona's culinary delights.

Others come to drink: maybe to sip on a Manhattan at a burnished wooden bar while soft jazz plays in the background; maybe to sit on a pavement terrace in the sunshine with an ice-cold beer and watch the world go by, or maybe to steel their nerves with a tall and unbelievably generous gin-tònic before hitting the dance floor (see Barcelona nightlife for more information).

Thousands come every year to drink in the city’s famed architecture. Not only the fantastical creations of Antoni Gaudí and the dazzling creations by Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers or Toyo Ito, but also the vast and tangled web of the medieval quarter, spreading out from the Disneyesque Gothic cathedral. Read about an architectural trip in this great travel guide: Getting to know Gaudí's Barcelona.

Many come for the beaches and the endless sunshine. They come to swim and surf, to cycle along the seafront and to stroll through the parks. Those that feel energetic might even take the short train ride to the Collserola hills, flanking the city to the north, where they can hike, jog and climb while taking in spectacular views across the city to the Med.

Why would you want to be anywhere else?