Barcelona off the beaten path is a treasure trove of lesser-known places and hidden gems to include in your plans for a more authentic experience.
Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for tourists, a Mediterranean city that is the capital of Catalunya in the East of Spain. Founded over 20 centuries ago by the Romans, the popular city is a juxtaposition of old ruins and wondrous UNESCO heritage sites that make it such a unique destination. The list of things Barcelona is famous for is exhaustive and full of unique experiences: gastronomical delights such as tasty tapas, great weather, brilliant fantastical architecture by Gaudi, soccer, and a rich and diverse culture.
It’s no wonder that this vibrant bustling city has over 20 million annual visitors who descend onto the city to partake in all that it has to offer. The perpetual presence of tourists means that the usual famous spots of Barcelona such as La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and Casa Batilo feel overcrowded and underwhelming, not to mention expensive, as a lot of the famous landmarks and monuments are ticketed attractions that need to be reserved in advance.
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The good news is that Barcelona off the beaten path is a treasure trove of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-track attractions. These lesser-known places have their own charm and history, which can add a more authentic feel to your visit and can be some of the best ways to help you enjoy the beautiful city. Let’s check out some of these lesser-known gems to include in your plans:
Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter)
At the heart of the old city lies the iconic neighborhood of Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter. This is the historic part of the city, where legend has it that Christopher Columbus presented souvenirs of his voyage to the New World to the sovereigns who had funded his explorations. See our blog post write-up on a favorite walking tour of Barcelona where we explored the quarter.
The old town brims with Gothic churches, narrow alleyways, and quiet courtyards, and is a great place to experience the centuries-old ambiance of its Medieval past. It is easy to lose your way in the cobbled pedestrian pathways and chance upon musicians playing music or a cute café for a quick bite.
This bustling quarter also has plenty of attractions and is the perfect place to start your visit to Barcelona. If art interests you, then stop over at the Picasso Museum, which mostly houses work from his formative years. Housed in five gothic palaces, the impressive collection is the 3rd largest in the world.
Also in the neighborhood is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St Eulalia (in Catalan: Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia), a spectacular Catholic Church that was built in the 13th century. The Gothic building’s exterior features multiple spires, vertical buttresses and pointed vaults, while the interior houses historical stained windows, a treasury, and several crypts.
The entrance fee to the Cathedral also includes a lift to the roof where you get some of the best views of the city. Less popular than La Sagrada Familia, this is still an attraction worth visiting. Book online to skip queues so you can maximize your time exploring the cathedral and enjoying the festive, bustling vibe around the plaza.
It is easy to get lost in the labyrinth that is the Gothic Quarter; the Roman ruins, ancient gothic churches, bustling plazas with live music and street art makes this a truly mesmerizing visit. Located between La Rambla and Via Laietana, this neighborhood is easily accessible on foot or by metro. Find vacation rentals with Cozycozy.
Use our interactive map to book a stay in the Gothic Quarter:
Carrer de Blai (Street of Tapas)
A city can be truly understood only by partaking in its cuisine, especially a city like Barcelona a gastronomy hub famous for its Catalan cooking, wine culture and tapas. While Barcelona is home to 30 Michelin-starred restaurants, to truly indulge and relish the world-famous cuisine, be like a local and head to Carrer de Blai, also known as the street of tapas. This slightly off-the-beaten-track street is not far from the tourist areas of La Rambla and Port Vell, which makes it very accessible. A bustling, lively street especially during the weekend, this should be a must-stop on your visit to Barcelona.
This long walking street is located in El Poble Sec neighborhood and is lined by multiple bars where you can sample pinchos and tapas. The difference between the two is that pinchos tend to be finger food with a toothpick pierced through it while tapas are small sharing plates of food. Both however are absolutely delicious and are super affordable, priced as cheap as 1 Euro compared to the rest of Barcelona. The stunning variety of pinchos and tapas available can satiate all palates.
The bars tend to have limited space so it’s best to come early to grab a table and savor the delicacies with a drink in hand while you absorb the bustling atmosphere. To truly enjoy a tapas crawl on Carrer de Blai, it is important to come with an empty stomach. As you trawl through the bars enjoying these diverse concoctions of skewered meats, croquettes, and vegetables, you will truly experience a hidden gem like a local, while partaking in an essential Spanish way of life.
Book a stay near the Carrer de Blai and be close to all the tapas you know you want to enjoy!
Mercat de Sant Antoni
Barcelona is renowned for many things, including the 40+ food markets that are present in multiple neighborhoods. Most of the tourists head to La Boqueria market, the most famous local food market, which makes it an extremely crowded and overwhelming experience. To avoid the hordes of tourists and TEFL teachers working abroad and truly appreciate this slice of life, head on over to Mercat de Sant Antoni, a ten-minute walk from La Bouqeria.
This food market is where you get to rub shoulders with the locals and enjoy the Catalan culinary offerings without crowds of tourists. Located in the Sant Antoni, this sprawling historic market is charming and hints at its storied past since it was designed in 1882. As you head inside, you are engulfed in the sights and sounds of the dozens of stalls selling the freshest local produce, meat, baked goods, and delicious cooked food at affordable prices.
You will also find stalls selling jewelry, toiletries, clothes etc at the perimeter of the market. Sundays are even more special as a flea market springs up, where locals sell and exchange books, records and coins which can make for great souvenirs.
Mercat de Sant Antoni is an off the beaten track market that is far from the frustrating crowds in other local markets and allows for you to indulge in this unique Catalan experience at a relaxed, enjoyable pace. And because it’s not thronged by tourists, the prices you will find here are a lot cheaper than in places like La Bouqeria. The market is open Monday to Saturday from 8 am – 8 pm but it’s normal for stalls to run out of produce by 3 – 4 pm so plan your visit accordingly.
Stay near the Mercat de Sant Antoni:
Parc del Laberint d’Horta
Barcelona is such a bustling vibrant city that it can get a little overwhelming as you maneuver its many historic landmarks. If you are looking for a break from the hustle-bustle of its busy streets in a relatively secret garden, then do yourself a favor and head to another hidden gem called Parc del Laberint d’Horta. This is Barcelona’s oldest garden, designed in the 18th century by the Desvalls family and was continuously expanded and improved till the mid-1800s.
The park is divided into 2 parts: the neo-classical garden which was part of the initial design including the maze, and the romantic garden which was the expansion done in the 1800s. The estate is resplendent with majestic trees, a waterfall, flower beds and pavilions.
The piece-de-resistance of this hidden gem is the hedge maze or labyrinth, that sits in the center of the park and is a source of delight for anyone who visits. The labyrinth is made from 750 meters of trimmed Cyprus and has around 2000 twists and turns for tourists and locals to get lost in. The manicured gardens are dotted with statues of Greek gods, temples, ponds, and pavilions which are reminiscent of an opulent and majestic time gone by. At the entrance of the park, you will also find a Moorish-inspired castle, that was the residence of the Desvalls family.
As you stroll through this beautiful garden, discovering its secrets in the many hidden corners, you will find yourself marveling at this estate while relaxing after a hectic itinerary. As an off the beaten track location, you will not find many tourists in Parc del Laberint d’Horta, which makes it a must addition to your list. It’s important to keep in mind that only 750 people at a time are allowed in the park to preserve the architectural heritage so make sure to plan accordingly.
Another claim to fame for Barcelona is Antonio Gaudi and his fantastical architecture that dots the city and many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. He is to Barcelona what Leonardo da Vinci is for Florence. He came to the Catalan capital when he was 16 and helped revolutionize architecture with iconic buildings like La Sagrada Familia and the installations in Park Güell. He also designed the unique houses of Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (Stone Quarry). Since these are the main sites frequented by tourists, it can be difficult to fully appreciate Gaudi’s genius.
However, there is another lesser-known building that is off the tourist track but worth seeing called Casa Vicens. It is the first house designed by Gaudi in 1888 and was commissioned by stockbroker Manuel Vicens I Montaner. The architecture incorporates Oriental and Islamic themes along with influences from nature to create one of the most unique buildings in the city.
The house is an amalgamation of colors, patterns and intricate designs that make this a must-visit on your hidden gems list. To better understand the history and details of Casa Vicens, you can get an audio guide (available in different languages) for an extra cost or take a guided tour. Located in the Gracia neighborhood with only a short walk from the metro, this Gaudi creation should definitely be visited.
Stay near the Casa Vicens:
The Gràcia neighborhood (Passeig de Gràcia)
As you continue your quest of seeking unusual things and unique experiences in Barcelona that are off the beaten track, make your way to the Gracia neighborhood, also known as Passeig de Gracia. Once an independent municipality, this neighborhood became a part of the city and is a melting pot of cultures while exuding a bohemian relaxed vibe.
As you maneuver through the narrow streets, you will chance upon a plethora of plazas, where people congregate to socialize and or eat at the many cafes. A good reason to spend time in this neighborhood is that you will not want for any cuisine. The food you find will be diverse and range from Michelin starred restaurants to local bars serving tapas.
Book your stay in Gracia by using a link from this map:
The traditions of Catalan run strong in the neighborhood while going hand in hand with modern amenities like yoga studios and designer boutiques among the best restaurants in the city. It is easy to have a great time in this hidden gem of a neighborhood, as you spend a couple of hours eating, people watching and shopping.
Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
Another hidden gem that is a secret from tourists is Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, the world’s largest Art Noveau complex that was previously a hospital serving the underprivileged. This stunning 600-year-old building is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the best places to visit in Barcelona. It gives a run for its money to places like Parc Guell, Casa Batilo etc. as it’s a beautiful Catalan building with little to no crowds.
You can stroll in the beautiful garden on your own and marvel at its splendor or you could get a guided tour to better explain its rich history. It’s hard to believe that it functioned as a hospital until recent years, when it was fully transitioned into a cultural heritage site. It’s a short walk from Sagrada Familia and has a train station right in front of the complex.
Stay close to the Recinte Moderista de Sant Pau:
La Barceloneta Neighborhood
A visit to the Catalan capital is incomplete without heading to the city’s famous beaches, located in the famous neighborhood of La Barceloneta. A former traditional fishing harbor along the Mediterranean Sea, over time the neighborhood evolved from a working-class district to a more modern neighborhood. However, its narrow streets and less polished façade gives it a unique atmosphere that belies its former self.
The coastline of the city is dotted by many beaches, with Barceloneta beach being the busiest as it gets overrun with tourists and locals alike. If you are looking for something less touristy, you can head north or south of this bustling beach to find a little quieter strip, such as Nova Mar Bella Beach to enjoy the sun and sand.
If you find the beaches to be overwhelming, then take a step back and explore this unique neighborhood. If you are feeling hungry, there are plenty of lunch stops where you can indulge in seafood while people watching. The neighborhood presents many options to get a taste of Catalan cuisine, with La Bomba Tapas (developed as tongue-in-cheek homage to Spanish Civil War partisans) being a fantastic option. Or if you are done exploring Barceloneta, you can then walk over to El Poblenou neighborhood with its trendy converted factory buildings, the Gothic Quarter or La Rambla, as both are a short walk away.
Book your stay in La Barceloneta:
The historic neighborhood of El Born is another part of the city that has a trendy vibe, iconic buildings, and tapas bars. Located near the Gothic Quarter, you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring its many interesting gems.
You can start exploring the area by visiting a lesser-known but equally worth-visiting food market called the Mercat de Sant Caterina or Santa Caterina. This building has a striking appearance thanks to its wavy ceramic mosaic roof. The market is similar to La Boqueria, with ample fresh produce, seafood and spices for sale but at lower prices. The best part is that it’s off the beaten path, which means no hordes of tourists and an experience that can be truly savored.
Another hidden gem you will encounter in this neighborhood is Barcelona’s stunning opera house called the Palau de la Música Catalana. This UNESCO Heritage Site is a magnificent example of Catalan Art Nouveau and is just as magical on the inside as it is outside. To fully appreciate the experience, there are guided tours available for an extra cost or you could just meander through and take in this architectural marvel.
Stay in El Born:
La Fábrica Moritz
Located in the El Raval neighborhood is another hidden gem that makes for a unique experience: La Fabrica Moritz, a former beer factory turned micro-brewery and cultural center. The Moritz brand of beer came into being in 1856 and steadily became famous all over Spain. It was produced in this factory till this historic 19th-century building was reinvented into a microbrewery and cultural center.
Stay in La Raval close to La Fábrica Moritz:
Day Trips from Barcelona
Even though there are many main sites worth seeing in beautiful Barcelona, you can also venture out from the Catalan capital on a day trip to visit the neighboring region. There are many day tours you can choose from that can help maximize your experience of the Catalunya region.
Some popular day trips from Barcelona include Montserrat, Costa Brava, Girona etc. You can choose from a variety of unique tours for activities according to your interests, such as wine tasting, horse riding, a “Games of Thrones” tour etc. See our post on Best Day Trips from Barcelona to get details on the many day tours that are available and choose your favorite guided tour with a local expert.
The site houses restaurants, a bar, a bakery, and a boutique, which makes it a great spot to spend a couple of hours. The architecture and interiors are a juxtaposition of old posters, brickwork walls, stainless steel containers and state-of-the-art screens. On the weekends you can book a guided tour to sample their beer offerings followed by grabbing a bite to eat. An unusual stop that results in a great time.
Discover Barcelona Off the Beaten Path!
Barcelona is a true smorgasbord of stunning architecture, delicious tapas, bustling food markets, beaches, different neighborhoods, beautiful parks, and so much more. It’s the perfect place for an architecture aficionado, a foodie or a beach bum; which is why most of the popular places like Sagrada Familia, Park Guell or Las Ramblas are over-run with visitors. But a great way to truly immerse in the Catalan way of life is to explore the hidden gems and unique experiences away from the city center that are just as amazing.
From exploring the narrow streets of the Gothic center to eating at the local bar on Carrer de Blai, Barcelona off the beaten path is a treasure trove of interesting things to do and see. It is just waiting for the adventurer in you to venture off the beaten path away from the main sights and unearth its hidden gems, just like a local.
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