5 years, 10 months ago
The 4th most visited city in Europe. And with a plethora of things to see – including one of the best beaches in the world – museums, cathedrals and World Heritage Sites, a trip to Barcelona can certainly leave anyone blinded by the light of a million and one things to explore and discover. “But wait” we thought to ourselves, “isn’t the best way to learn about a place to talk to the locals?” Why yes it is we thought back bi-polarly. Fortunately, as HouseTrip has over 4,500 quality properties within the city limits of this melting pot, we were spoiled for choice when looking for a street-smart local who could show us the ropes.
Meet Anna, one of HouseTrip’s Impeccable Hosts. She has kindly offered to share her local expertise with us and help you find some of the best things to see and do in the Catalan capital…
– What are some of the things you love to do in Barcelona in your free time?
credit: Atelier Teee
I love to go out for meals, and finding and trying out new restaurants has become somewhat of an obsession for me since I started living in Barcelona! I also love to go hiking in the lovely Catalan countryside surrounding the city. It’s not something you would really do on a short trip to Barcelona, but for anyone living here a bit longer, joining a local hiking group and getting out into the countryside on the weekend is really a great way to meet other like-minded people and explore places you would never find on your own!
credit: Stephan Geyer
I also love to ride my bike around the city – Barcelona is quite flat and has in recent years become very bike-friendly with many dedicated bike lanes being constructed that are set apart from the traffic. Barcelona is actually quite small – it’s not a large city like Madrid as many people imagine, and you can get almost anywhere by bike quite quickly. And the great weather makes it a bike-rider’s paradise!
– Where is the best place in the centre of Barcelona to escape the tourists and find some quiet time?
Montjuïc is the hill at the side of the old town right beside my apartment in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec. It’s full of small parks which have surprisingly few people in them. There are a few reasons for this. First, the hill is not that easy to get to unless you are specifically looking to go there – it’s off to one side and not directly connected to the old town. Secondly, it involves a bit of climbing, which can put many people off (although there is a funicular and a cable car to take you up if you want), and thirdly it can be difficult to find your way around it unless you have a map (it is not just one big park, but a collection of smaller parks interspersed with roads and buildings, including many buildings built for the 1992 Olympics). Those who have made the effort, and come well-equipped with a map, will be rewarded with peaceful, almost empty parks with breathtaking views of the city and ocean.
At the very top, from June to September there is also a little secret reward for the intrepid climber – an open-air cafe called La Caseta del Migdia that allows you to sit under the trees and enjoy a fantastic ocean view while eating a barbecue of Catalan sausages and salad and sipping a cold beer.
– Where would be a great place in Barcelona to take the kids?
One thing that I think all kids would enjoy is the Tibidabo amusement park in the hills behind Barcelona. It was built in 1889 and retains its old-world charm – don’t expect a modern mega amusement park – but it’s a lot of fun and the Ferris-wheel in front of an amazing view of all of Barcelona will leave you with some great photos and memories. For the adults there is also a beautiful old church there – the Temple de Sagrat Cor – built in 1806, so you can combine fun with a bit of history!
(you can actually see Tibidabo and the amusement park from the terrace of my other apartment, which has views over the whole city and the hills beyond!)
Another thing that’s fun for parents and kids alike is the “Magic Fountain” near Plaza España. At certain times in the evenings several days a week the fountain lights up with a spectacular light show set to music against the backdrop of Montjuic.
– What is Barcelona’s best kept secret?
credit: jueves enmedio
At the risk of sounding biased, I’d have to say it’s my neighbourhood – Poble Sec! The old centre of Barcelona can be extremely packed with crowds and tourists, especially in the summer months, but they rarely make it past the large street – Avinguda de Paralell – that separates Poble Sec and Montjuic from the Raval neighbourhood of the old town, even though Poble Sec is only a 15 minute walk from Barcelona’s main street, Las Ramblas! Those that do make it across the “great divide” will find a quiet, largely residential neighbourhood, built at the turn of the previous century, with tree-lined streets and beautiful old buildings nestled at the foot of the Montjuic hill. At the heart of the neighbourhood lies the cobbled pedestrian street, Calle Blai. Although there’s not much going on there during the day, Calle Blai springs to life after around 8pm when the terraces of its many bars and restaurants fill with locals meeting friends for a chat while enjoying a beer and the cheap local fare. The neighbourhood is generally quite a bit cheaper than the other areas in central Barcelona, both in terms of rent and restaurants, and therefore attracts an eclectic group of “starving” young artists and dreadlocked photographers as well as some of the last remaining Catalan old-timers that have largely been forced out of the rest of the old town by the astronomical rise in rent prices of recent years. Some of my favourite restaurants on or near the Calle Blai are Quimet & Quimet, La Tieta, Carmesi and Blai Tonight.
Another “secret” is the centre of the Poblenou neighbourhood which lies behind the Bogatell beach at a 20 minute metro ride from Plaza Catalonia. Even I had not discovered it until recently as it’s well protected from the casual eye by the ugly suburbia of high-rises that guard it on either side. I had previously taken one look at those high rises and run the other way! But recently I had the opportunity to live in the old centre near the Market of Poblenou for 2 months and just fell in love with the neighbourhood. The buildings in the old centre of Poblenou are cute and small – often only 2 or 3 stories high and also from around the turn of the last century. It has quite a beachy, artsy feel about it (the beach is only a 5 minute walk away) and it has some great cafes, shops and restaurants – and a real community vibe with a lot of young families choosing this as the area to bring up their children. If you’re looking for a chilled neighbourhood in which to have a bit of a beach holiday while still being within a short trip of the Barcelona city centre, you can’t beat Poblenou – but make sure you stay in the streets of the old centre (near the market) and not in the modern soul-less developments that surround it!
– Where can I find the best tapas in Barcelona?
credit: Mirari Erdoiza
If you are in the mood for some beers with friends while getting your fingers greasy over a shared plate of tapas, the Barceloneta neighbourhood can’t be beat. This area was traditionally home to the local fishermen and still retains a very village-ey and low-key vibe, despite being, with its location right between the old centre and the beach, what you’d imagine would be peak expensive real estate and trendy restaurants in any other city. The decor in these ‘bodegas’ will definitely be no-frills and neon lights (and if it’s got nice decor, be warned, it’s probably touristy!) , but as long as that’s what you go in expecting you will really enjoy the atmosphere in these places. One of my favourites is El Vaso de Oro on the Calle de Balboa. It’s a tiny place with a long narrow bar, and you will find it full of locals drinking beer and eating the simple, traditional fare while bantering with the friendly waiters and yelling and gesticulating at each other boisterously from one end of the bar to the other. Some others in the same vein that I love in this neighborhood are La Cova Fumada and La Bombeta.
As an alternative to “tapas staples”, you also have huge variations of local fare from region to region. For example, in the Basque country they are famous for their pintxos which are slices of white bread with a variety of toppings and a toothpick in the middle. These are small and usually quite cheap. The pintxos are pre-prepared and laid out on the bar, and you just put the ones you want to eat on a plate and keep the sticks after you have eaten them. The bartender afterwards counts the sticks in order to know what to charge you. While nothing beats eating pintxos in the Basque country itself, if you’re not able to make it there, there are some excellent pintxo places in Barcelona that can give you a taste. One of the best ones is Gasterea in the Gracia neighborhood. In recent years, many Basque pintxo restaurants have also popped up on the Calle Blai in Poble Sec. One of my favourites is a little place called Blai Tonight which only opened about a year ago and has already become the most popular place on the street. Here the pintxos are tasty and only €1 each, but it’s best to go before 8pm as it can get so packed that you can’t get in. The place won’t win any awards for the decor, but, as in many places in Spain, I have found there is little relation between decor and food quality – in fact, in many cases an inverse relation exists!
There is one last thing you have to try while in Spain: vermouth. It’s pretty much a Spanish institution to have un vermut at around 12 or 1pm, as an appetizer for the main meal. Spanish vermouth is red and drunk on its own or with a spritzer of soda water (sifón), with ice and with a slice of lemon. Check out this great write-up by an American on drinking vermouth in Spain:http://catavino.net/vermouth-
– Any food markets that you know about where I can find great ingredients for cooking in the kitchen of a holiday rental?
credit: Julien LaGarde
Although the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas is the most famous and well-known market in Barcelona, I don’t really recommend it – it has gotten too touristy and at times is so packed that you can’t get to the stalls. As a result the service has gone downhill and the prices have gone uphill…
I prefer the Mercado de Sant Antoni, which is a market at the back of the Raval neighbourhood and about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Unfortunately the beautiful historical old market building is undergoing extensive renovations (due to finish in about 2016), so the stalls have been moved to a temporary building in a street beside the market, but the essentials are still there. I really like the feel of this market – it’s a lot quieter and mostly full of older locals doing their daily shopping. They also have a book market on the street outside the old market on Sunday mornings.
Featured image by marcp_dmoz