Barcelona is one of Europe’s most strikingly, fabulously, poignantly, and intensely beautiful cities. Sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, it’s like the rainbow ice cream your mother wouldn’t let you have as a child: A fluorescent mix of colors and flavors that makes everything better. To prove our point and showcase that Barcelona is full of life, no matter where you leave the beaten path, here are eight places to experience Barcelona at its best – away from the tourist traps. (Even though in Barcelona, the touristy places are well worth a visit or three.)
1. Indulge at Caelum bakery
A surefire way to fix a sugar low is paying a visit to the corner of Carrer Palla and Carrer dels Banys-Nous. Here, cakes, sweets, and biscuits are laid out deliciously in the shop front window, tempting innocent passersby (see image up there). Caelum’s lovely bites are famously made by nuns, and yes, they are heavenly. Scoff away while people-watching in the shop’s salon, or head downstairs for a more underground-style afternoon tea.
2. Discover history at the National Library of Catalonia
Book and architecture lovers will get a kick out of wandering the arched halls and leafy courtyards of Catalonia’s national library. Now a temple to the written word – even working with Google to digitize public domain books – some sections of the library date back to the 15th century and were originally managed by a hospital. When you’re done channeling your inner bookworm, take a break in the picturesque courtyard before checking out the cute little cafés in the many archways.
3. Stock up at Mercat de Sant Antoni
Holding its own alongside the much flashier and tourist-filled Boquería market is this beauty on the edge of Raval neighborhood. Visit the Mercat de Sant Antoni to stock up your fridge with fresh fruit, fish, and veggies on weekdays, or swing by on the weekend to nab books, coins, and textiles at the outside collector’s market.
4. Relax and contemplate at Plaça de St Felip Neri
At the entrance to Barcelona’s Jewish quarter, the battered walls of Plaça de St Felip Neri – the tragic result of a Franco-ordered bombing in 1938 – are a reminder of Spain’s turbulent past. Now, this fountain-adorned corner is an unusually peaceful place to duck away for an afternoon.
5. Get inspired by the Raval neighborhood
Previously a neon-light-flashing no-go area for tourists, rough and tumble Raval has begun to show its shinier side: Bars, galleries, cafés, and a never-ending parade of colorful folk now call it their home, and cultural corners (try the skater-occupied MACBA museum) have been created in an effort to wash off its seedier history. While locals might still warn you to be careful of pickpockets and other unsavory characters, this winding, charmingly chaotic neighborhood packs a real eclectic personality punch full of diversity and is well worth your time.
6. Admire the Basilica de Santa María del Mar
If you like all things Gothic, put this almost 650-year-old church high up on your Barcelona to-visit list. La Ribera neighborhood’s Santa María del Mar is the type of cavernous, wondrous building that will stop you in your tracks, especially on a rainy day when the romance of it all is even lovelier. The basilica is truly stunning – so don’t forget to pick your jaw up off the ground as you leave!
7. Absorb new languages and sip café con leche
Barcelona is a very multicultural city and its inhabitants – natives and expats alike – are keen to learn languages. (Natives to Catalonia are already bilingual, as they speak both Catalan and Spanish.) If you’re in Barcelona to improve your Spanish or just want to do as Barcelonians do, we highly recommend spending some time in one of the many lush plazas or in coffee shops over a delicious café con leche – it’s a perfect way to do homework and pick up words and phrases that make you sound like a local in no time.
8. Celebrate during La Mercè Festival
September is an extra special month in Barcelona: The entire city comes out to play for a gigantic street party in honor of Barcelona’s patron saint, Mare de Deu de la Mercè, and the coming of autumn. Via Laietana bursts at the seams with parades, drummers, dancers, and the much-anticipated fire run, or Correfoc: Runners dressed as Devils take to the streets with gigantic sparklers that they spray into the crowds. (Don’t worry, it’s much safer than it sounds.)