If Barcelona could be found in a toy shop it would be one of those Russian dolls. At first glance, visitors see the Barcelona Brand™ promoted by the tourist board, a Barcelona where open-top buses visit Gaudí’s Modernist buildings, restaurants on La Rambla serve paella and sangria, and flamenco flyers promise an authentic experience. Lift the doll’s painted face and inside you’ll find another Barcelona, and then another. Join us as we go right down to the innermost core of secret Barcelona, beyond the tourist trail.
- Discover the Mercat Galvany
This is one of Barcelona’s oldest farmers’ markets. It was established in the Middle Ages when it was surrounded by fields, long before the first structure to cover it was built in 1868. It’s now an elegant Modernist building with cast iron arches and stained glass windows, located in the well-to-do-neighbourhood of Sant Gervasi. Thanks to its picky clientele you’ll find gourmet treats such as the best Catalan and French cheeses, delicious delicatessen products and fruit preserves. C/ Santaló 65, near Muntaner FGC.
- Plaça Virreina Barcelona
Take the metro to Fontana, walk down C/ Asturies, and you’ll find yourself in this tranquil square. There are plenty of café terraces where you can relax and soak up the winter sunshine, or sit on the steps of Sant Joan church to enjoy the local ambience. Artisan markets occasionally pop up here at the weekends. The Cíber Virreina internet café is handy for printing out last-minute boarding cards.
- Palau Robert Gardens
If you’re on Passeig de Gràcia, continue to the intersection with Diagonal and you’ll find a green oasis of calm. The Palau Robert’s ornamental garden is a perfect place to stop and read the information you pick up from the tourist office – which is always less crowded than the main one in Plaça Catalunya. Free art and photography exhibitions fill the gardens and sumptuous drawing rooms inside. Passeig de Gràcia, metro: Diagonal.
- Can’t get hold of any Barça tickets?
An FC Barcelona home game is top of many visitors’ must-do lists. Tickets may seem to be sold out, but fret not, hold your nerve and wait until closer to the date for season ticket holders to release their passes.
- Refresh yourself with a “horchata”
This traditional drink is sold in ice-cream parlours and bars throughout Barcelona. It is made from the milk of tiger nuts, which are actually the tubers of the chufa plant. Delicious and refreshing! For a local experience, and some of the best horchata in town (and spectacular dulce de leche ice-cream…) hop on the metro to Poblenou and go to the Orxateria “El Tio Che” in Rambla Poblenou, 44-46.
- La Rambla’s Dragon
Next time you get to Liceu, about half way down La Rambla, look down and you’ll notice a colourful mosaic by Joan Miró on the pavement. Look up at the house opposite, at La Rambla 82, and you’ll see a bank. When the “Japonisme” movement briefly swept Barcelona in the 1860 this was an umbrella store. If the art deco dragon holding an umbrella on the corner of the building’s façade could talk, what tales he would surely tell…
- Music and artisan markets in Plaça del Pi
One of the most picturesque squares in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, Plaça del Pi is an oasis of contrasts. Spanish guitar concerts are often held at the Gothic church of Santa María del Pí, which is also famous for having one of the largest stained glass rosettes in Europe. Artisan stalls offer a range of local products such as preserves, cakes and cheese.
- Chocolate and churros
This traditional sugar rush snack-attack is definitely recommended for satisfying the cravings of any sweet tooth. Very thick hot chocolate is served with long doughnut-like fingers, which are dunked and devoured. Some of our favourites spots are the Granja Dulcinea (C/ Petrixol 2) just off the Ramblas, the Churreria Layetana (Via Laietana 46) near the Born, and la Nena (C/ Ramón y Cajals 36) in Gràcia.
- Free entry to museums and galleries
Culture heads listen up, this is a secret worth getting in on! Sunday is museum day. Several of Barcelona’s top museums and galleries offer free entry every Sunday afternoon after 15:00. These include the Maritime Museum, CCCB and MUHBA (Museu d’Història de Barcelona). Other museums are also free all day on the first Sunday of the month, such as the Picasso museum and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC).
- Stars in your eyes
A visit to the Planetarium in the CosmoCaixa science museum always hits the spot when you’re after some cosmic perspective, but the Fabra Observatory above Tibidabo offers the real thing. Guided tours of the observatory and a glimpse of the night sky through powerful telescopes are offered every Friday and Saturday. Yes, it’s on top of the hill behind Barcelona and a mission to get there. But it’s an experience you’ll remember long after the museums and restaurant meals have all blurred into one.
This article was provided by Francesca Hector, who has been living in Barcelona for 10 years.