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Remember, you're in Catalonia, not Spain. Except when you're in Spain. Heck with it, just call it Barcelona.
CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)Spain's second-largest city is not exactly smug, but it is geared up to show itself off, especially for visitors who want to know what to do in Barcelona.
It wants to be acknowledged as more sophisticated than Madrid, more progressive than Paris and a great deal more efficient than Rome.
It does a fine job of it, too.
Architecturally stunning, from the modernist beachfront sculptures to the melted-effect houses of Antoni Gaudi, this is a city that stimulates the first-time visitor, and still excites those who have been coming back for 30 or 40 years.
Veterans will tell you what to do in Barcelona and how much the city has changed in two decades.
W covers the bases -- and the beds -- from A to Z.
A beacon on the Barcelona beachfront, the W edifice gazes out into the Mediterranean like an ostentatious, pot-bellied bather preparing for his first summer plunge.
From the outside it's eye-catching; inside it's roomy, light and does a slick job catering to the guest prepared to spend extra on expansive sea views.
There's a pool, choice of restaurants and, on the 26th floor, the swish Eclipse bar.
For those wanting to know what to do in Barcelona, one of the city's more popular beaches is at the foot of the tower, and the many restaurants, narrow streets and plazas of the Barceloneta district are a few minutes' walk away.
W Barcelona, Placa de la Rosa dels Vents, 1, 08039 Barcelona Spain; +34 93 295 2800
About 100 years old, the Majestic peers with a certain gravitas down Paseo de Gracia, Barcelona's major shopping avenue.
With its grand staircase, marbled pillars and discreetly lit ground-floor bar, there's a classical feel to the place.
From the rooftop terrace bar you can see how the city grew outward from its neatly gridded center and took over village-y barrios like Gracia, which climbs up the hill behind the hotel.
You've had all you can eat and drink -- for a day or two, anyway.
Now here's where to go and what to do in Barcelona by day.
Mercado Santa Caterina
Most of Barcelona's big, warehouse-style markets are a joy, not just for the mix of smells and exotic local delicacies -- there's barely a part of the pig that does not find its way into Catalan cuisine -- but the vendors.
The ways they compete for your business border on the flirtatious.
The Santa Caterina, in the Born, has been remodeled, but retains its old stall system and much of its charm.
Here you'll find a weird, Alice-through-the-looking-glass world created in the early 1920s to delight children and celebrate the chameleon vision of Antoni Gaudi.
Whether it's the tiled, multi-colored lizards that draw your gaze or if you simply want to listen out for the peculiar way the wind whistles through the spooky tunnels, Park Guell is enchanting.
There are superb views of the city from the top of the hill.
Park Guell, Carrer Olot 5, 08024 Barcelona Spain; +34 93 413 2400
Homage to Catalonia
Barcelona regards itself as more than just a provincial capital.
Catalonia aspires to be a nation-state, clear of interference from Spain.
Decades of obligatory schooling in Catalan mean the language thrives, even if in the streets of Barcelona you'll hear as much Spanish spoken as Catalan.
Catalans are proud of their cultural difference from their neighbors.
They celebrate the things they think make them unique.
Here's what to do in Barcelona if you want to see Catalanism as its proudest.
FC Barcelona, Camp Nou
"Catalonia Is Not Spain."
So used to say a huge banner at the Camp Nou stadium, home of a sporting club that, more than any Catalan institution, has come to represent the independent-thinking region's confidence in itself.
They play the world's most popular sport better than any other team in the world -- they're holders of the UEFA Champions League (Europe's most prestigious club championship) and have never been relegated from Spain's premier league.
Where most teams are happy with a double and dream of a treble, Barca, as they are also known, once won a sextuple -- six titles in one season.
The museum at the stadium is the most visited of all Barcelona's museums, and though recent success has made tickets for matches harder to come by, it's usually possible to get in to all but the very biggest fixtures.