Barcelona's Best Kept Secrets
Wedged between the Mediterranean and the mountains, Barcelona is one of Europe’s most fantastic cities. With a sunny climate, world renowned architecture, award-winning gastronomy, and an incredible history to boot, it’s easy to see why each year brings over 30 million tourists into the city. But under such numbers, sometimes the charm that made Barcelona so popular to begin with fades away.
The good news is in a city this vibrant, there will always be undiscovered gems. These are the sights that only a few savvy travellers know about, hidden within plain sight and overlooked by most of the visitors to this enchanting city.
Gaudi’s Architectural Legacies
The poster child of the city, Antoni Gaudi’s wacky architectural creations can be found all over Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia is as famous a landmark as it gets, but equally as popular is Parc Güell and the Casas Batlló, Milà, and Vicens. But even with a pre-purchased ticket the waiting times to get inside can be astronomical, so if you don’t fancy the crowds head to some Gaudi’s lesser known creations.
Palau Güell is one of his earliest works, built in 1880 for Gaudi’s industrious and wealthy friend, Eusebi Güell. The palace gives a glimpse into the early architectural imaginings of Gaudi that would develop over his career; the bedrooms, grand staircase, basement and roof terrace are all the classic clashing of styles that Gaudi would go on to become famous for.
The Church of Colonia Güell, like the Sagrada Familia, is an unfinished Gaudi work. Construction halted in 1914 due to a lack of funding, but that wasn’t before construction of the crypt was already finished. It’s here where you’ll be able to see the architect’s chaotic architectural innovations come together, the most striking aspect being the brick columns leaning at different angles, supporting the vaults in the ceiling without the use of extra buttressing – the same pinnacle of design slated for the Sagrada Familia.
Food is a way of life in Barcelona, and so it makes sense that the markets are where you really start to feel the rhythm of life in the city. With almost 40 markets scattered across the barrios, there are plenty of options, but unfortunately most visitors stick to the Mercado de la Boqueria thanks to its prime location on La Rambla. If you do go, get in early to avoid the tourist crowds, snag a stool at the tapas bar La Quim with the locals and watch life go by. When it gets too crowded, head to one of the city’s many other options.
Mercat de Santa Caterina is a great alternative to La Boqueria and a good example of a local Spanish market. Wander through the aisles and rub shoulders with the locals whilst discovering colourful produce, fresh seafood, artisan wines and charcuteries. Afterwards, grab a bite to eat at one of the many eateries that churn out some of the best tapas in the city.
Palo Market Fest draws the hip alternative crowd. Taking place on the first weekend of every month in the beach barrio of Poblenou, inside you’ll find the latest in Barcelona fashion, jewellery, design and vintage wear. On top of that there are several bar areas that have live music throughout the day, and a good selection of food trucks serving up all kinds of tasty dishes.
A City Steeped in History
From the Spanish Inquisition to the Civil War, there’s a wealth of knowledge from over 2000 years of history to soak up in Barcelona’s storied streets. Most of it takes place in the medieval Gothic Quarter, but if you venture further afield, you’ll discover some sites that might otherwise slip you by.
Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau was designed as a city within a city, a hospital complex with beautiful gardens where the ill could recover in peace. Inside you’ll find Europe’s most treasured collection of Art Nouveau buildings, making you wonder why all places of healing aren’t so thoughtfully designed. Hours can be lost wandering around the hospital, its supporting cast of administration buildings, and of course the gardens, all of which were in use up until 2009.
Monasterio de Pedralbes is the best place to go if you need a break from the hectic city life. It’s flies under the radar thanks to its distance from the city centre, but well worth the trip out. Built in 1327, this Monastery was home to the nuns of the Order of Saint Clair who lived there and is a gem of Catalan gothic architecture. The cloister and the tranquillity of the grounds will send you spiralling back into another century.
Of course, in such a big and vibrant city as Barcelona there are always more discoveries just around the corner – and that’s part of this city’s charm.