Guide : Barcelona off the beaten path

There is probably not enough time and space to describe all the things Barcelona offers in one single blog post but we’ll give it a shot. As someone who lived there – let me tell you, the city unveils itself day after day and even if you think you saw everything, there is a big chance you’re missing a few things. I know that was the case for me.  

In this article we’ll give you some tips and starting points for your adventure. So let’s dive in. 

Areas of Barcelona 

This is probably one of the most important things to be considered when choosing an accommodation for your stay. Barcelona is a large city and often the neighborhoods offer completely different vibes. Do you want to be closer to the beaches and the buzzing nightlife or do you prefer the quieter hill side of the city? Do you prefer the setting of the old town or do you want to be in a more modern part?  These criteria will greatly affect your accommodation choice.

Those are the six districts in Barcelona that are perfect for city exploration :  The Ciutat Vella, Eixample, Sant Marti, Gracia, Les Corts and Sants–Montjuic.

  • The Ciutat Vella (Old city)   

This area comprises four smaller ones. The ancient Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), El Raval, La Barceloneta, and the Barri de la Ribera, which includes El Born District.

Each neighborhood has a distinct character within this compact area. The Barri Gotic features narrow alleys, filled with antique shops, historical cafes, and tourist-attracting restaurants, while El Raval exudes a laid-back, eclectic vibe, teeming with students and skateboarders. El Born strikes a balance between tourist-friendly features and local authenticity, and La Barceloneta, a quaint former fishing district, is now transformed into a hip beach neighbourhood.

If you like the narrow streets, old beautiful buildings with tiny stairs and preserved architecture from hundreds of years ago – then this is the place for you. Keep in mind though that this is the busiest area of the city and it can get quite crowded especially in the warmer months. Make sure that your accommodation is on a higher floor so it’s not too noisy. 

  • Eixample 

With the city’s expansion from the industrial revolution and the Old Town walls closing in, Barcelona’s officials tasked Ildefons Cerda with planning Barcelona’s future. The result was L’Eixample district, a grid-like section of the city interspersed with diagonal avenues and parks, showcasing the prevalent Modernista architecture.

The district is often divided into Eixample Left, south of Passeig de Gracia, and Eixample Right, north of Passeig de Gracia, which houses La Sagrada Familia. With its distinct architecture and fewer tourists, the district, primarily comprising apartment blocks (and naturally, an array of bars and restaurants), represents the ‘real Barcelona’ to many locals.

  • Sant Marti 

Adjacent to the north-western part of Eixample is Saint Marti. Formerly a separate village, Sant Marti was incorporated into Barcelona through Ildefons Cerda’s design, extending the grid-like pattern across this broad area from Port Olimpic to Park Forum. The district, also known as Poblenou, is among Barcelona’s most intriguing. It was the industrial heartland of Catalonia full with factories and warehouse buildings. Now it’s home to modern parks, futuristic office blocks, converted industrial nightclubs, and an extensive coastline of beaches. It’s also considered to be the new business hub of Barcelona with many coworking spaces, uni campuses and office buildings popping up. 

It is definitely less touristy than other parts of the city and while it’s starting to get more and more urbanized it still has a beach, laid-back vibe to it. 

  • Gracia

Gracia on the northern part of the city, similar to Sant Marti, was formerly an independent town outside Barcelona. Even now, it retains a unique, village-like tranquility compared to the bustling city center. Yet, its narrow alleyways and open squares are full of activity, hosting countless small bars and chic restaurants that appeal to the young adults and families that are drawn to live here. Gracia is also where you’ll find Gaudi’s Parc Guell. The Sarria-Sant Gervasi area it’s very similar to Gracia. 

Keep in mind that this area is not that close to the city center and you’ll need to jump on the public transport. 

  • Les Corts

Les Corts, often overlooked in favor of more centrally located neighborhoods, has a unique charm of its own. Les Corts has managed to retain a distinct, almost suburban atmosphere despite being incorporated into Barcelona. The neighborhood is characterized by its laid-back ambiance and spacious, tree-lined streets. However, it is far from being sleepy. The area is home to a dynamic mix of trendy coffee shops, traditional Catalan restaurants, and local boutiques.

  • Sants–Montjuic

Contrasting with the city’s bustling center, Sants-Montjuic offers both an urban and natural retreat with its vibrant local life and expansive green spaces.At the heart of the neighborhood, you’ll find Montjuic Park, a beautiful haven of gardens, museums, and historic sites, including the Montjuic Castle, which offers stunning city views. Also prominent is the Plaza Espanya, a bustling hub that leads to the impressive Magic Fountain and the MNAC (Catalan National Art Museum).

This is the fastest neighborhood to reach from the airport and it’s very conveniently connected to the more central parts of the city. 

Best time to visit 

This will depend very much on what you want to do while you’re in the city. Typically the high season is from May to September. The weather during that time is perfect for beach activities. However, Barcelona gets extremely crowded during this time, so if you don’t like this it’s better to skip this season. 

If you still want to enjoy the good weather and all the outside activities I personally recommend visiting in either April, September or October. It’s still very warm and you can enjoy a beach day but it’s also perfect for long walks because it’s not extremely hot. 

Even in months like February and March you can be lucky and have warmer, sunny days, so there is ultimately no wrong choice. 

What to do and visit in Barcelona 

We all know the most popular must see spots like the Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, Park Guell etc. They’re for sure not to miss but we’ll try to keep this list only for non traditional activities and places. Whatever you choose just make sure to leave a day in your program when you just wander around the city without any agenda. This is how I discovered some of the best spots. 

  • One of the best ways of exploring the city is by renting a bike. The infrastructure is perfect for cycling and there are many different options. My personal favorite was Donkey Republic because it has flexible terms and there is no need to commit for a longer term. But there are many other providers – just pick what’s most convenient. If the weather is nice make sure to go for a ride alongside all the beaches. Grab a bike from Barceloneta and ride to the north passing through all the beaches. It’s a completely pedestrian route which makes it very comfortable and it takes around 40 minutes to reach the last beach (Llevant). 
  • Go for a picnic in Park Ciutadella. This is hands down one of the best spots in the city for a picnic and a walk. It’s so green and it’s perfect for when you want to hide from the sun for a bit. If you happen to be there on the weekend there are organized group workouts just next to the fountain. 
  • Go to the Bunkers El carmel in Horta-Guinardo and make sure to catch the sunset. The views are incredible. It’s quite the walk up there and if you’re in the city center you’ll have to jump on the subway and then a bus but it is definitely worth it. Grab some snacks and something to drink on the way because you’ll want to stay there for at least two hours. 
  • Spend a day in Barceloneta. This is especially for those warm days where you just want to be on the beach. Have a walk through the tiny streets and visit the Market. Then head to the beach (make sure to keep an eye on your belongings.) 
  • Go to IDEAL Centre d’Arts Digitals for aficionados of augmented reality, virtual reality, and audiovisual projections. It showcases immersive 3D audiovisual art projects, including works by renowned artists like Dalí, making it an exciting introduction to modern art for kids as well. It’s a fully immersive technological adventure.
  • Visit Catalonia Library & Jardins de Rubió Lluch. It is set in a historic former hospital, which houses the lush Jardins de Rubió Lluch. This courtyard, filled with orange trees and greenery and framed by aged archways, is a hidden oasis. It even features a quaint bar and local old-timers engaging in chess games. If you like this atmosphere you should also explore the Jardí de la Fundació Julio Muñoz Ramonet.

Traditional dishes 

When you think of Barcelona you might automatically think of paella : however the dish actually originates from the area of Valencia. That’s not to say that there are no good spots in Barcelona but you might want to take a trip to Valencia for a really really good one. 

Instead here are some more typical dishes and snacks you can enjoy in Barcelona 

  • Pa‘ amb tomaquet or  Pan con tomate – This is probably one of the most popular dishes in Barcelona. You can have it as a snack or breakfast. It’s made from fresh squashed tomato spread out on a white bread with olive oil and pepper. Almost all the places serve this. 
  • Cava – it originates from Penedès wine region in Catalonia and it’s similar to Champagne and Prosecco. It’s often enjoyed with tapas (some typical ones are Pimientos de Padron/fried green peppers, Champiñones al Ajo /Mushrooms with lots of garlic and olive oil, Tortilla de Patatas , or Patatas Bravas/fried potatoes with a yummy red sauce. 

Note : none of the locals drink Sangria (don’t know where this idea came from), so you can happily skip that one and have cava instead. 

  • Crema Catalan – not to be missed, it originates from this region of Spain and it’s delightful. It has a texture and taste similar to creme brulee. 

Places to grab a bite

  • Sec – hands down the best place for brunch/lunch in Poble Sec. It’s a very tiny space so make sure to book in advance because it is definitely worth it. You won’t make a mistake whatever you order but make sure to try the acai bowl and the sec club sandwich.
  • Vrutal – this is an amazing vegan burger place (btw you won’t even notice you’re not eating meat). They have a great selection, all very tasty. 
  • Parking Pizza  – a great alternative spot to grab a slice of pizza in a parking lot. Definitely worth checking it out. 
  • Ziryab Fusion tapas bar – on a small street in the old city, this restaurant has a typical old school Barcelona vibe. They have a very interesting approach to tapas with unusual ingredients. 
  • Fat Schmuck – if you’re in the mood for a classic american burger with asian fusion, you’ll love this place. 
  • Honest Greens – there are several spots in the city, they offer everything from smoothies, salads though nice green bowls. Definitely recommend this place for a nice healthy bite. 
  • Little Fern – nice laidback breakfast/brunch spot in Poblenou

Honestly one of the best things you can do is to find a random bar on the streets filled with locals and just grab a glass of cava and enjoy! 

That’s it! Hope you enjoyed this mini Barcelona guide.

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