Hidden Barcelona

All the secrets to discover the city like an expert

Words by Alba Tarragó
March 30th, 2017

Woody Allen, Freddie Mercury and Roy Lichtenstein are just some of the artists that have been inspired by the Spanish city of Barcelona. It reunites the best qualities of Spain, such as the weather, gastronomy and landscape with its own culture; one of the richest and most preserved in the country. This is why thousands of people are attracted to this city every year, with visitor numbers constantly increasing.

Perhaps one of the best things about the Catalonian capital is its combination of sea and mountains; you can reach either of these two sceneries in less than an hour by Metro or bus. The geographical situation of Barcelona makes the city the perfect choice as the Spanish capital for industry and trade. Today, although Madrid is the host city for all the governmental and economical institutions, Cataluña’s economy is considered the most powerful in the country.

What I appreciated the most during the three years that I spent there is the unstoppable rhythm of the city. Every day, there is an endless list of things to do, from cultural events such as exhibitions and concerts, conferences, workshops, to more simple things such as a new coffee shop to try. Apart from being the favourite destination for many international companies and artists, Barcelona takes care of its own identity. You can find plenty of traditional festivities with a mix of sardanas, castellers and rumba.

'Sardanas': the traditional dance - 'Castellers': a kind of human tower - 'Rumba': the typical musical genre

As you can imagine, this big metropolis is more than a touristic attraction. Its modernist architecture, the alternative vibes hitting its streets and the wide array of cosy restaurants and unusual bars can be enjoyed on another level when you walk hand in hand with a local.

Eating


If you are unaware of Catalonian Independence, here’s something that will make your time in Barcelona easier to manoeuvre. Don’t expect paella, toros, and flamenco as so many tourists do. Paella may have the reputation of being a typical Spanish dish, but in actual fact, it is a regional delicacy that heralds from East Spain near Valencia, while toros are prohibited in Cataluña and flamenco is typically danced in Andalucia in the South of Spain.

These international icons are far from belonging to the Catalonian culture and therefore are not really worth experiencing there. Of course, Barcelona, like every part of Spain, has something unique and special to offer to all its visitors. I recommend you go for the particularities of the city, not the generalities of the country.

It’s been said that Spain is cheap, but, again, Barcelona is different. While the South is one of the cheapest places to eat, this city could ruin you if you don’t keep in mind these tips. First and foremost, stay away from the city centre and don’t follow the shiny signs that say tapas. 

For a pit stop, a burger is always a good option. The restaurant Bacoa offers you five different locations to taste some of its 100% ecological meat or a delicious veggie burger. And if you want to experience new cultures, try La Vietnamita, located by the end of El Born, one of the most charming promenades in the city. You’ll be delighted by the many different flavours contained in one single bowl of noodles.

Bacoa
La Vietnamita

But, wait! Let’s try something typical, right? That will require a little bit of time so put aside a decent portion of your day for one of these places. If you fancy a nice dinner (especially suitable for romantic couples), you can’t leave Barcelona without stepping in Antigua. You might be scared by the length of the dish names on the menu, but don’t panic because any choice will be an extraordinary bite. I recommend having a degustation so you can choose two different dishes (suggestion: try both the fish and the meat) and share them with your partner.

I also have to mention El Nacional and its magnificent multi-gastronomic concept. Four spaces with four atmospheres and four culinary menus make up the restaurant which is a reconstructed old industrial unit. It’s difficult to decide to say what’s best? The food or the place? As the decor is so full of details, it almost feels as though you have stepped back in time to the Colonial period.

El Nacional

Sightseeing


I’m sure that all of you have heard about Gaudí and his gorgeous work all around the city. However, he has done much more than the Sagrada Familia cathedral and the Parc Güell. If you keep your head up while you walk through Barcelona you will be able to see a variety of stunning buildings and architectural details scattered about the city.

You can start your walk at the epicentre of the city, Plaza Cataluña, and walk along the street Paseo de Gracia. This could be considered as the Spanish counterpart of the Champs Elysées in Paris, as you can find the most luxurious shops and establishments in the city. But here, it isn’t a matter of Chanel, Loewe or Louis Vuitton. The whole avenue is impregnated by the modernism design that characterised the city in the XX century. The proof of its legacy are some façaces (and interiors) such as La Pedrera, Casa Batlló or Casa Ametller.

La Pedrera
Casa Batlló
Casa Ametller

At the end of the street you will reach Gracia, a friendly neighbourhood where locals love to meet and have a beer while sitting on the floor of some of its squares, particularly in Plaza del Sol. They are full of stories to tell. Take your time to discover all the hidden nooks and crannies of this small village in the middle of the city madness.

Plaza del Sol
Plaza del Diamante

Of course, you can’t leave Barcelona without walking down Las Ramblas, but more importantly, don’t forget to go to the two areas that border the crowded street. Coming from Plaza Cataluña, you will find on your left-hand side the most ancient part of the city, baptised like the predominant architectonical style, the Gothic Quarter. Again, delve into the history of the city through the walls that surround the Cathedral of Barcelona, called Santa Cruz and Santa Eulalia.

On the left side of Ramblas, you will find the Raval. Previously deemed a ‘dangerous place’ back in the ’90s but now it’s far from that. Feel free to get lost along the streets and get ready to fall in love with its people and all the welcoming establishments. And don’t forget the market La Boqueria, where all the top chefs from the city get their ingredients.

If you are looking for the best views of the city (and you don’t mind a nice and quick trek), take the V17 bus in Plaza Cataluña towards Carmel and stop at Turó de la Rovira. You won’t have to walk more than 10 minutes before you reach some old bunkers from the civil war which offer a 360º view of the whole city, from the mountains to the coast.

Cathedral of Barcelona
Details of a street in the Raval
La Boqueria market
Views from the bunkers in the Carmel

Coffee and tea


Even though the best dates to visit Barcelona fall between the beginning of June and the end of September (due to cooler temperatures and the off-peak tourist season), you will always be able to enjoy its Mediterranean sun.

For a cosy coffee accompanied by an indulgent snack in the afternoon check out any of the Cup & Cake locations. From huge slices of carrot cake to the cutest Oreo cupcakes, they’ll provide you with your guiltiest pleasure. And if you are tired of walking along Las Ramblas just let yourself fall into the gardens of the Maritime Museum and enjoy a cup of tea on the terrace.

 

Cup & Cake
Maritime Museum

But if you feel like discovering more, meander down Enric Granados Street, just behind the Universidad de Barcelona. It may be difficult to decide on where to go for a pitstop due to the choice on offer, but my suggestion is to try Cosmo, a symbiosis between an art gallery and a café.

And while we’re talking about mixing hot drinks and art… We’re not sure if the Antic Teatre was at first a bar or a theatre, but it’s certainly a great spot to visit and enjoy the union of art and beverages. They offer daily plays and excellent coffee.

Cosmo Bar
Antic Teatre

Culture


While in Barcelona, I’d strongly advise checking out one of the city’s cultural guides. Barcelonian people always keep on eye on Timeout to know what’s going on in the city. This way you will be up to date on any shows, exhibitions or concerts that may be happening, and luckily, some of these are often free to attend.

For those interested in art, there’s a wide range of museums to satisfy your taste. If you are keen on contemporary art, go to MACBA, located in one of the busiest squares in the Raval. Design lovers are also in luck as the Design Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 8 pm.

If you prefer to be in the open air, there are plenty of monuments and outdoor sculptures to visit. Take a walk from Plaza España to the Montjuic Castle (yes, there’s a castle!) and make a few stops on the way such as The Montjuic Magical Fountain which is especially beautiful at night (at exactly 8 pm you can see a colourful spectacle of music and light). Then, after climbing a few stairs, you will see the Montjuic Palace, where the view of the city is particularly good.

Barcelona is not particularly known for its green areas but it’s worth spending the morning in the Parc de la Ciutadella. There’s a lake where you can row a small boat among swans and ducks, a big fountain with a gold statue and, randomly, a stuffed mammoth. Plus, it’s near the sea, so you can be in the Barceloneta in no more than 15 minutes.

MACBA (Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona)
The fountain and the palace of Montjuic
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barceloneta, Barcelona's Beach

Night life


It’s been said that Barcelona is like New York i.e. this city never sleeps – and neither will you. From huge concerts to the most exclusive clubs, Barcelona will give you what you want. And, in case you are having any doubts about your preferred beers, don’t hesitate to try the local ones: Estrella Damn and Moritz which are both produced in the city. You can also visit their factories which have been converted into leisure spaces with fancy bars.

For classic cocktails converted into new experiences, go straight to the iconic Plaza Real, where Ocaña is located. It recreates the essence of the 1856s architecture when the surrounding area was built. You can take a seat on the terrace and enjoy a spot of people watching from your luxury pew.

In the evening, for something a little different, try some live jazz music at Jamboree. It’s considered an ‘institution’ for jazz lovers in this city and has been acting as a point of reference for more than 60 years. Jamboree becomes a night club every night at midnight after the daily performance.

Ocaña
Jamboree

Aer Lingus operates flights between Dublin and Barcelona twice daily with fares starting at €49.99.

For more information on fares and flight times, visit www.aerlingus.com.