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Barcelona is without a doubt one of Spain’s most popular cities, and it’s easy to see why. Located right by the Mediterranean, it has some of the best city beaches I’ve seen anywhere in the world so far, the bar scene is exceptional and the architecture outstanding. With Gaudi’s spectacular constructions, the marvelous Gothic Quarter and the notably different neighborhoods, Barcelona is more diverse than most other Spanish cities and can keep you entertained for weeks. Most people only have a couple of days to explore the main sights, such as the Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church, Park Güell and Modernist buildings, the Ramblas pedestrian street and La Boqueria Market, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, and not to mention all the world-class museums and art galleries.
If you have more time though, I highly recommend venturing off the beaten path and visit some of the places that most tourists don’t get to see. The great thing about Barcelona is that most of the city’s hotels are located very centrally, particularly which means you can do a lot of exploring by foot, and for the further-out places you can use the reliable metro system.
Here are my six favorite experiences off Barcelona’s well-worn trails:
1 Els Encants flea market
Els Encants is not only Barcelona’s biggest, but also its oldest flea market. Over 500 vendors gather here to sell everything from vintage clothes, jewelry, accessories, furniture and antiques. You can find some amazing deals here, and if you speak at least a little bit of Spanish, you’ll be able to snatch some real bargains at Els Encants.
When? Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9am-5pm.
Where? Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes (Metro station Glòries on the L1)
2 Hang with the hipsters in Gràcia
Trendy Gràcia has become Barcelona’s hipster hangout over the past few years, and you find countless trendy coffee shops, quirky independent stores and creative eateries in this neighborhood. The area is great for shopping – especially fashion – but also people watching: Sit down in one of the many cafés with outdoor seating and watch Barcelona’s hip and beautiful crowd go about their day. Coming from central Barcelona, Gràcia with its narrow alleys was able to maintain some of the village feel it used to have when it was a separate village from Barcelona. If you’re a fan of ethnic food, you’ll love the big range of international restaurants here, ranging from Lebanese to South East Asian cuisine.
Where? The closest metro stations are Fontana and Lesseps on L3
3 Santa Caterina Market
If La Boqueria is too touristy and too crowded for you, head over to Santa Caterina Market in the Sant Pere neighborhood instead. The neighborhood itself is worth a stroll, and Santa Caterina market is also very photogenic with its stunning architecture, specifically the wave-shaped multicolored ceramics roof. This is a very local, typical fruit and vegetable market where the locals shop for fresh produce, meat, cheese, flowers and fish. Pick up some local ham, olives, cheese and wine and head over to Parc de la Ciutadella for a picnic. Or alternatively: Right across the main entrance from the market you find Cuines Santa Catarina, an excellent taps bar.
When? Mondays 7.30am – 2pm; Tuesday & Wednesday 7.30am – 3.30pm; Thursday & Friday 7.30am – 8.30pm; Saturday 7.30am – 3.30pm; closed on Sundays
Where? Francesc Cambó, 16 (closest Metro Jaume I on the L4)
4 Explore multi-cultural Barcelona in El Raval
El Raval is the most ethnically mixed neighborhood and while it’s located right in the city central and very close to Las Ramblas, not a lot of tourists make their way here. The area is a little seedier than the rest of the city, and while that might scare off some people, it actually shows you an authentic corner of the city. The area is becoming more and more gentrified as well, and the clash of hipsters and immigrants is interesting to see. The narrow streets invite to wander and get lost, cheap kebab shops make for cheap (and delicious!) lunch stops and thanks to the gentrification, some cool stores have moved into the neighborhood as well. If you’re into art, don’t miss the MACBA (Contemporary Art) and the CCCB (contemporary culture center with changing exhibitions).
Where? The closest metro stops are Drassanes or Liceu on the L3, Sant Antoni on the L2, Paral-lel on the L2 or L3.
5 Get lost in the labyrinth park of Horta
The Parc del Laberint d’Horta is the oldest garden in Barcelona, and is a gorgeous place to bring a date to! The labyrinth opened in 1791, and is a wonderful quiet space away from the hustle and bustle in the city center. In addition to the labyrinth, you’ll find beautiful sculptures, gardens and ponds. Bring a picnic and enjoy one of the most underrated green spaces in the city.
When? May to September: 10am – 9pm; March & October: 10am – 7pm; April: 10am – 8pm; November – February: 10am – 6pm.
Where? Pg Castanyers, 1 (Closest metro stop: Mundet on the L3)
6 Discover a lesser known Gaudi
Eusebi Güell, one of Gaudi’s main patrons, actually gave Gaudi his first commission when Güell wanted to extend his family vacation home in Barcelona’s Sarrià neighborhood. He landscaped the vast garden and built two gatehouses, plus a remarkable wrought-iron gate in the shape of a dragon between 1884 and 1887. The gatehouses, known as Güell Pavilions, have the for Gaudi typical colorful ceramic decorations in geometric shames
While you’re here, take a stroll around the Sarrià and Pedralbes neighborhoods, two quieter neighborhoods of the city up in the hills, with silent squares and narrow streets sloping downwards to the city center. Apparently Bar Tomàs has the best patatas bravas in all of Barcelona!
When? Open only for guided visits; Saturdays and Sundays tours in English start at 10.15am and 12.15am- you can see the gatehouses and the gate from the outside for free, though.
Where? Av. Pedralbes, 7 (closest metro stop is Palau Reial on the L3, closest bus stop is also Palau Reial on the following lines 7, 33, 63, 67, 75, 78 and H6)
Have you been to Barcelona? What’s your favorite off-the-beaten path thing to do in Catalunya’s capital? Share in the comments below!