Barcelona isn’t as far as we tend to imagine. Probably the most popular among the travelers city in Spain is within a hand’s reach thanks to cheap flights. You only need to book your flight tickets ahead of time, it’s best to find a special offer and you can travel there and back for less than 200PLN/46EUR (prices from February 2018). But the tickets are only a half of the battle. The real hitch is how not to let Barcelona overwhelm you with the touristic fuss, the commotion, the La Rambla’s tawdriness and music roaring from the clubs and the casinos next to the popular among visitors Barcelonetta city beach. I’ll tell you about places worth your while in and around Barcelona below, places you won’t find on the ‘to do’ list in trendy guidebooks. Some of them may be more famous, but I included them only if they really deserve attention and calling by even under a threat of being labelled ‘a tourist’. Off we go!
La Granja 1872
Let’s begin with every morning’s first – coffee! I haven’t tried coffee in every Barcelona place, but when I’m there I like to stop by in La Granja. For several reasons. First of all, they make delicious coffee – and I hope they always will. It’s quite possible because the place has been open since 1872 and constantly tempts with coffee beverages. Aside from coffee you can also eat the infamous churros and drink hot, bitter chocolate. Churros have their devoted fans as well as ardent enemies. It’s good to confirm which bunch you’re part of while in Spain. As for me, it’s not my cup of tea, however I reccomend La Granja’s hot chocolate, if you don’t mean a dense, lucious syrup and prefer more refined flavours.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that, but it’s hard to imagine a more ‘touristy’ place in Barcelona than La Boqueria. I agree! You’re right. However, unlike most such places La Boqueria doesn’t scare you away – it’s tempting! It seduces you with flavours, smelles and I really can’t imagine visiting this city without at least once stopping by the famous market. You can find everything here – from fruits, chocolate, fish, seafood and meat to spices, nuts, snacks and freshly made smoothies. La Boqueria is full of stalls as well as bars where you can eat products of our choosing prepared out back. My favourite thing is to do some shopping, sit down on the plaza behing the market, consume little croquettes (a must!) and wash them down with a freshly squeezed juice while basking in the sun. ‘We are the champions!’
It’s not even a place for tourists, though there’s plenty of them there. It’s the centre of the city, the most important transfer point. The Alfa and Omega – the beggining and the end of Barcelona. No other words describe it better. I’m fairly sure that most of you will take your first steps in Barcelona on that square. Why is it on my list of places to see then? Well, most people just run, even fly through the Catalunya Square, without looking around. I’d like to persuade you – when you get there (you will, no helping that) stop by for a few moments and just get bored! Yes, yes, I’m reccomending boredom! This square has its history and rhythm. Catalonia’s independence supporters gather here – old grandmas are knitting yellow scarfs to wrap the whole square in a huge yellow ribbon which symbolises the Resistance. Here you’ll find rare cases of mavericks playing hippie tunes on their guitars, strumming their out-of-tune banjos. Here you can buy super-cheap books written in the language of Don Quixote. All of than accompanied by the sound of the fountains and the squealing of the buses’ brakes. Maybe I’m wrong, but to me this rumpus and the local patriotism are worth five minutes of attention – the beach isn’t going anywhere!
Alright. We’ve made it to the Catalunya Square, let’s move on. Some of the most famous attractions in Barcelona are those designed by Gaudi – Park Guell, Sagrada Familia and many other buildings. Most of them have entrance fees and tourist crowds as a bonus – a poor entertainment in my opinion. I do reccomend going to Colonia Guell – only 20 kilometres away from Barcelona – also designed by Gaudi, but much less frequently visited. You don’t experience a heart attack after paying for the ticket, you don’t suffocate in a crowd, because hardly anyone goes there and after seeing the estate and the chapel (gorgeous!) you can take the opportunity to rest at the local bar where a sleepy waiter pours you a glass of sangria and you can eat fresh seafood as well as local delicacies – weird, but tasty tripe soup (connoisseurs only) and tortillas! The completion of your excursion can be grabbing a beer at the near-by castle. The castle is unfortunately locked up, but with a little effort you can easily get through the walls and enjoy the sunset under a tower. The La Rambla mob won’t find you there too. Instead you can fraternize with the local youth who likes to have a botellon in the castle – which simply means drinking spiritous beverages under the open sky. You won’t regret!
Since we’re already there let’s stay a bit longer in the provinces of Barcelona and venture to the Montserrat monastic complex… ‘It wasn’t supposed to be touristy!’ you’ll say again. Hold on! Most tourists go there by bus or by cable car. What I’d like you to do is a mountain hike – mountains in this area are incredibly picturesque. The peculiar shapes of the mountain tops and rock formations invite to wander around. While climbing the Montserrat Range you can find more than one not besieged by tourists chapel. The main monastery – yes, a bit terrifying when you think about the queues and the crowd, but it’s worth it to just drop by even for a second if you’re already there… why not? Especially because the entrance to the church is for free. But what captivated me the most are the mountains, mountains, mountains! Option number one for those who after a day in the city want to take a break from all the attractions the metropolis offers. I strongly recommend going to the Montserrat higher ranges, which means to the monastery and beyond! Prepare for a whole day escapade!
My number one on the Barcelona tapas map! I love it! I go there every time I’m in Barcelona and it never disappoints me. It’s always delicious, but I must add it’s not the cheapest. It’s located near the cathedral square which makes the prices rise. However it doesn’t change the fact that – in my humble opinion – it’s the perfect place to stop by and relax during a walk or in the evening after a long day in the mountains J
Bosc de Les Fades
It’s a lovely bar sitting at the very end of La Rambla, next to the wax museum. It’s a suggestion for all those who like to feel a litle bit of magic in life. You can drink a fine latte, sangria, have a little something to eat, but the highlight isn’t the menu. When you walk into the place you magically teleport to a forest inhabited by fairies. There are trees with human faces, streams running along the walls, the fairies lurk under the ceiling, inside the tree trunks and by the little springs. The light fades away from time to time and then the guests’ conversations are interrupted by storm sounds. It’s fabulous! I recommend it especially for a nice evening.
MACBA and Raval
If you’ve already walked along La Rambla couple of times, visited the gothic district and are wondering is there anyone else except tourists in Barcelona and where is the real life… Well, I present to you Raval. A small quarter, but much more real, I think, than the overcrowded city centre. You can find the grocer’s stalls, local bums and hipsters skateboarding by the modern art centre MACBA. The cafes and bars are full not of tourists, but of people who live here. Often enough in the neighbourhood you can find good discount shops offering many treats for vintage and boho fans.
I have mixed feelings about recommending this place. On one hand I’d like you to get there because it’s an extraordinary spot. On the other hand what if it becomes more popular when I recommend it to you? And yet Robadores 23 is charming for its authentic beauty backed by the presence of many Barcelona citizens. I just have to hope this recommendation won’t have many readers and the little bar on lovely Raval won’t get flooded by the tourist plague. It’s just the place for an evening drink and a concert. They often play flamenco there (!) which isn’t popular in Barcelona, but it still has its own group of admirers who gather here. The scene is tiny, scarcely any chairs to find so come an hour early if you want to get in at all. It’s atmospheric and boutique. You won’t get wowed by the staff, no one will serve you a sophisticated drink, but a feast for your ears and eyes – that’s a given!
While we’re on the subject of drinks – you can’t leave Barcelona without trying absinthe at Marcella Bar. It’s a place well-known, iconic even! Despite that I do recommend it because it isn’t a tourist attraction as it is, but an experience worth investing in – unfortunately, beverages are expensive there. Nonetheless, what are all the money in the world in light of joy you’ll feel when you can get on your drink at the bar where Picasso, Dali, Gaudi and Hemingway used to drink absinthe? Entering the Marcella Bar you immediately feel the atmosphere of the past era because nothing here has changed since the famous artists last visits. Literally – NOTHING! Even dust on the bottles and the chandeliers hanging from worn out ceilings remained unchanged. No wonder such a scenic area has gained an approval of many, including Pedro Almodovar who shot a few scenes for „Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” in Marcella’s alcoves. I recommend it!
And now a map in hand, dig on the net in search of discounts and hit the road! Just remember – go to Barcelona OFF-SEASON. So forget summertime and look for something in autumn. I promise – you won’t be disappointed!
Author: Joanna Zubkow
Translation: Barbara Piątkowska