Barcelona is unlike many other cities in Europe a master of understatement even though it is overflowing with culture, architecture, artisans, bars, restaurants and nature. The good thing is: There is no such thing as the restaurant to go to. Which is why I always recommend to avoid the big venues – whether it be for dining or shopping. Barcelona’s gems can be found in the midst of the winding alleys of Gótico, on the casual placas of Gràcia, in beautiful El Born and pretty much always just around your corner.
That said, I understand it’s not always easy to locate future favourite places among a great offer on a 4-day-city-trip. And so it happens that more and more fellow travellers and friends ask me for my insider tips. As I have created such lists from scratch every single time anew, I thought it was finally time for a post with my personal Barcelona insider tips. This list is neither complete nor to everyone’s taste but might give you a guiding lead. And as you have probably heard of the Sagrada Familia already, I will also skip all the main attractions here – not saying that you should skip them on your visit!
I arrived in Barcelona more than a year ago and time has run fast ever since. I remember how I marvelled at the ancient architecture of the Ciutat Vella, the old town, back when I first set foot in the city and I think my jaw that fell in those moments never really closed. I’m a person with itchy feet. I get impatient in a city after some months and feel the need to move on. Not this time. Even though Barcelona is more and more flooded by tourists, it remains its authentic Catalan character. Barcelona is a city that is beautiful in some kind of dark way, which makes it so alluring to me.
Maybe you come to Barcelona for a short trip, maybe for a longer stay or even to live. I have compiled a little neighbourhood guide with some of my favourite places to go to, so you might get a better idea of where to begin your endless journey through the Catalan capital.
The Gothic Quarter
The Gothic quarter is the most famous and my favourite part of the city. Sometimes I get funny looks when I say that. Gótico is crowded with tourists at most places, quiet and mystical at some others. This neighbourhood will make you feel like walking through a gothic novel, getting lost in the dark, narrow alleys – one more enchanting than the other. Despite all the trendy and upcoming barrios, Gótico is still my favourite place to salir de copas (go out for drinks).
In this narrow street (Carrer de Sant Domènec del Call) you find one of my absolutely favourite places in the city: Salterio. It’s a chai bar in a quaint corner with thick stone walls and small tables scattered across the little space. A Moroccan lady continuously cuts fresh spices and herbs for traditional chai tea, excellent red wine is served and from the small ovens you can smell the heavenly scent of tapas that are a delicious mix of Middle Eastern and Catalan cuisine.
My favourite outside spot in the city is the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. You enter it through a narrow lane and suddenly stand in the midst of a calm square framed by historic facades. The fountain in the middle adds the final, magical touch to this place which has been a shooting location for movies like Perfume: Story of a Murderer and Vicky Christina Barcelona.
Let’s leave the quaint plaça and head a bit south.
In a corner you’ll come across Manchester Bar, another of my all time favourites. This pub is less traditional but a heaven for all indie and alternative fans!
A stone’s throw from here is Sub Rosa, a laid-back bar a dear friend once showed me. It’s both ideal for an afterwork beer and long drink at night. Make sure to secure the place at the big window! I love the view you have from here.
Time to leave Gòtico and head over to El Born!
Officially known as Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, the initially only small part of El Born has become so important that the term is commonly used for the whole neighbourhood. Let’s say: It’s my hood. This is where I have moved into my first apartment, where I run my everyday errands and live my everyday life. Born is gentrified to the core. It’s the hip and trendy barrio with so many bars, restaurants and shops that you don’t know where to begin. But it’s also a place where you feel at home, have neighbourhood vibes and enchanting Gótico-like alleys with artisan shops all the way.
My favourite part of Born is the artisan district around the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar. The streets Carrer dels Flassaders, Carrer dels Mirallers and Carrer del Brosoli are full of unique boutiques, workshops and bars like La Tercera, CLAY and Lito & Lola.
And this area has more to offer. For example my favourite ice cream from Gocce di Latte:
Burgers and the best fries from Pim Pam Burger:
One of my favourite bars Super Super:
The lovely Almond Flower Bar I buy myself a bouquet from every week:
I myself live further up towards Arc de Triomf where you can find an endless amount of bar, restaurant and shopping options too. The plaça between Carrer de l’Allada-Vermell and Carrer d’en Tantarantana is home to the great tapas bar Tantarantana and the polaroid and local design store Impossible Project.
What else to find around? A geek at heart, I love strolling Norma Comics and Gigamesh around Passeig de Sant Joan. Which is an almost ridiculously beautiful alley all the way up.
Good for a coffee and cinnamon roll to go and for yummy souvenirs is Demasié:
Recharge from serious neighbourhood strolling at Arc de Triomf and the Parc de la Ciutadella.
You want it slightly hipper? Let me take you to…
Raval is colourful, Raval is multicultural, Raval is young. It’s the neighbourhood where experimental fashionistas meet skaters, Middle Eastern takeaways meet trendy burger places and artsy museum visitors meet university students. Everything is a little more dirty and louder here. It’s where Barcelona lives life – around-the-clock.
You will most probably pass this neighbourhood when visiting MACBA, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Barcelona, or the CCCB, Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona. But Raval has to offer a lot beyond the impressive museum walls. If there is the one street in Raval, it’s Carrer de Joaquín Costa. Have drinks and Lebanese food at quirky Beirut, sit down on one of the 70s couches with a refreshing beer at 33/45 or enjoy coffee and ice cream at Nømad Every Day. It’s the 7-days-a-week-version of the Nømad Coffee Lab & Shop in Born, which closes its doors on Friday afternoons.
Raval is also your neighbourhood to go to for vintage shops (just stroll Carrer dels Tallers and you’ll find dozens) and flea markets such as El Flea. Head to the Filmoteca de Catalunya for some old movie screenings, to Chivuos for Latin American sandwiches and craft beer or to La Donutería for great doughnuts!
I spent my first Barcelona month living in Gràcia and it was a great place to start my life in the city. Gràcia used to be an independent district at times and was only incorporated back into Barcelona in the late 19th century. This is why you might find yourself within idyllic neighbourhood charm instead of buzzing city life. It is both a very traditional district (most people speak Catalan here while you hear more Spanish in other parts of Barcelona) and international. It has become more and more trendy among young families, students from abroad and artists. As Gràcia lies further up the hill, it’s great to begin your discovery of Barcelona here after a visit at Parc Güell for example.
One of the things I like most about Gràcia is the street art. You can find many great pieces here throughout all the small alleys down from Eixample up to Carrer d’Astúries, one of my favourite streets in Vila de Gràcia.
You will find a lot of unique fashion boutiques, jewellery shops, organic supermarkets and restaurants along the way. I like going here especially for Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine or to have drinks on one of the cosy plaças like the Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia or Plaça del Sol that make this neighbourhood so special. Around this corner you can also find the great ice cream parlour Ottimo’s and the quaint second-hand bookstore Tuuu Librería where you pay whatever the book is worth to you.
Further down towards Eixample you will find Onna Coffee, which serves one of my favourite coffees in town.
Invigorated from the overdue dose of caffeine? Let’s keep on exploring then!
What Else to See
One thing I love about Barcelona is how small the city actually is. This makes it so very easy to explore it on foot, which is without a doubt the best way to marvel at all the highlights you cross every dozen footsteps you take.
One neighbourhood which feels both home to me (as I have my office here) and at the same time a bit different from the rest of the city is Eixample. The neighbourhood, which is divided into the left (Esquerra) and right (Dreta) Eixample, was built as an expansion from the original old town of Barcelona to its former surrounding villages around 1900. It’s the district of modernista architecture (with Gaudí’s Casa Batlló as the most important landmark), high-end fashion avenues and beautiful patios. Head to the Rambla de Catalunya for shopping, to the trendy boutique hotel Casa Bonay for your stay, or dinner in the hotel-owned restaurant Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey, coffee at Satan’s Coffee Corner or the great rooftop bar.
On the other side of the Eixample you will find the Sagrada Familia, the surroundings of which are less chic and rather down-to-earth local. It can be difficult to find a good place to take a bite in between all the fast food restaurants that surround Gaudí’s masterpiece, so I give you a little hint. Gula Sana has become one of my go-to’s every weekend for a solid coffee, glutenfree cakes and sandwiches.
Further down, you cross Glòries with the iconic Torre Agbar and can eventually reach Poblenou, Barcelona’s up and coming neighbourhood. The once industrial zone has turned into both an attractive residential and office space with a rough warehouse-charm. Go to SKYE Coffee for excellent coffee, to beautiful Espai Joliu for both coffee and plants, to Razzmatazz for excellent parties and to Can Dendê for the best breakfast! You want to head to the beach? Poblenou also offers that. The Platja de Bogatell gives you the sunshine of Barceloneta with less tourists.
If you head back to the west, you’ll find yourself in Barceloneta, which I don’t like so much for the beach but for amazing steak dishes at La Malandrina and ice cream at La Heladería Mexicana.
You want to enjoy a real, tranquil beach day? Look beyond Barcelona and take the train or metro to Badalona. This city is only 20 minutes from Barcelona’s centre by public transport and gives you the feeling of a holiday during your holiday. I’m frankly admitting: Also I head here sometimes if I’m in need of a mini-vacay. And because I’m lucky enough to have one of my dearest friends living here.
Beach, shopping, architecture – the full package? Well, of course you’d want to show your friends this one picture with a breathtaking view over Barcelona. You shall get it. At the Bunkers. Though also Parc Güell and and the Montaña de Montjüic offer you a nice sight, sitting on the stone wall with a beer in your hand at the Bunkers del Carmel is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.