When to go to Barcelona

Spring - free museums and a charming festival

Spring can be a beautiful time to visit, particularly in March and April when the blossom is out on the cherry and olive trees, but be warned that there sudden, random, days of torrential rain. Easter is probably to be avoided if you can – hotels are very expensive and the streets fill up with tourists, even though Barcelona’s Easter celebrations are very muted compared to those in the rest of Spain.

One of Barcelona’s more charming festivals is the day of Sant Jordí (St George, patron saint of Catalunya) on 23 April, when the streets fill with book stalls and lovers exchange books and red roses. In May, look out for events surrounding International Museum Day (18th) – Barcelona’s museums will be free to enter and open very late (with special events and performances laid on), although this normally happens on the Saturday nearest to the 18th. In 2010, this will be the 15th.

Summer - humid but wonderfully quiet

Summer is very humid in Barcelona, but temperatures are mostly bearable as long as you take plenty of pit-stops. Many offices and businesses close down during August (though July is generally the hotter month), but the pay-off is that the streets are wonderfully quiet, with very little traffic.

The maddest, most raucous celebration of the Catalan year is Sant Joan on 23 June. Fireworks are left off all over town, all night long, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. To really get stuck in, head to the beach, which is where most of the outdoor parties are. The following day is a public holiday, when the city is eerily quiet.

Autumn - my favourite Barcelona party

Autumn is the most reliable time of year in some ways, in that temperatures stick in the 20s for around three months, but it can be very rainy, particularly in October/November.

Autumn sees my favourite Barcelona party, which is the week-long Mercè festival at the end of September. There are concerts, dances, parades, fireworks, aeronautical displays, a wine and cava fair and literally dozens of other performances going on around town, all of them free.

Winter - affordable hotels and beautiful days

Some of Barcelona’s most beautiful days - crisp, clear, dry - happen in winter, particularly in January. It’s also the quietest period, with comparatively few tourists, and hotel prices lurch dramatically down. Temperatures rarely dip much below 5ºC, but be warned that cheaper hotels and pensiones tend to have tiled floors and sparse furnishings, which makes them feel very cold in winter.

The Santa Llúcia Christmas fair runs from 1 to 24 December, and sees dozens of stalls huddled around the cathedral, selling all the scatological paraphernalia vital to a Catalan Christmas – the caganer (a small squatting figure with his trousers round his ankles, crucial to any nativity scene) and the ‘crapping log’, with his smiley face and jaunty hat, who excretes presents for the children. A couple of weeks later is the Three Kings’ Parade on 5 January (Epiphany), when floats decked up in fantastical ways crawl around the city and the kings and their helpers throw out armfuls of sweets into the crowd.