Galleries, architecture, gardens, beaches… there is so much to do in the Catalan Capital that in 5 days I felt that I had barely scratched the surface. In fact, there are so many attractions that the 7.44m yearly visitors to Barcelona rarely get past the multitude of museums, landmarks and Gaudi masterpieces. However, dig a little deeper and you will find that the best of what the city has to offer is off the usual tourist trail.
Every city has it’s share of incredible off the beaten track spots but Barcelona lends itself to endless discovery more than most. At one moment you are in an upstream battle against the crowds of Las Ramblas but a quick turn down an alleyway may bring you to a picturesque, romantic square where you are the only visitor. The labyrinthine streets of the Gothic quarter hide discreet galleries, bars and cafes that may look nondescript from the outside but wander in and you could find the best tapas in the whole city.
Here is a list of some of the hidden gems that I discovered during my time in the city and feel are worth checking out.
Serra de Collserola Natural Park, Plaça del Tibidabo, 3-4, 08035 Barcelona, Spain
This theme park, opened in 1905 and known to be one of the oldest working theme parks in the world, is not so much hidden as it is a gem. I say it is not hidden as it stands 512 metres above the city with it’s Sagrat Cor church and statue of Christ visible from almost anywhere in Barcelona. However, despite it’s omnipresence, Tibidabo is off the radar of most visitors to the Catalan capital – When I visited there were maybe only 20 other people in the park. Take the creaking funicular up the side of the mountain and you will be met by what must be the best panorama of the city. On a clear day you can even see all the way to Montserrat.
Plaça Doctor Andreu, S/N 08035 Barcelona Spain
There is a good chance that on your way to Tibidabo, particularly if you took the funicular up to the top of the mountain, you will have passed this cafe. Located in the rather prestigious neighborhood of Sant Gervasi, it’s position half way up the mountain and floor to ceiling glass fronted terraces provide it some of the best views if the city. I went in to enjoy the view over a lunchtime Estrella but at night it is worth heading up there to see the carpet of twinkling city lights below – surely no other nightspot in the city can compete with this vista.
The Alaire Terrace Bar at Hotel Conde de Barcelona
C/ Passeig de Gràcia, 73 8a Planta 08008 Barcelona
What could be better than sipping cocktails at sunset on a Eixample rooftop with two of Gaudi’s most celebrated creations – Casa Milà and La Sagrada Familia – in view. The Alaire terrace bar is located on the 8th floor rooftop of Hotel Conde de Barcelona and is the perfect place to while away the golden hour whilst getting spectacular views of some of the city’s landmarks. Luckily you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to drink here – just walk in to the reception and hop in the lift all the way top the top floor. It’s a little upmarket; the drinks are pricey and I felt out of place in my shorts and T shirt while the guests around me seemed dressed to impress. Thankfully, both the hotel and bar staff didn’t seem to bat an eyelid at my scruffy demeanor.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 6:00pm to 2:00am. Closed on Sunday and Monday
The Roman Temple of Augustus
C/ Paradís 10, Barcelona
Wandering down Carrer Paradís in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the last thing that you may expect to come across are the remains of a 2,000 year old Roman temple, tucked away in the courtyard of a Medieval building. I stumbled upon it completely by accident, spotting a small sign on the street. The temple in question is the Temple of Augustus. Built in the 1st century BC, it is as old as the city of Barcelona itself and dates back to when this was the Roman city of Barcino, under the rule of Tiberius.
The four columns that you will find within this courtyard are all that remains of the temple that once stood high on Tàber Hill before it was later demolished and then discovered again during excavations in the 19th century. In the early 20th century Catalan architect Lluís Domènech was given the task of restoring the columns and constructing this courtyard to display them.
Opening times: Mondays 10am – 2pm, Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 7pm, Sundays 10am – 8pm
Mirador de Colom
Plaça Portal de la Pau, s/n, 08001
The somewhat controversial Colombus monument is hard to miss, towering 60 metres over Barcelona’s most famous street, La Ramblas. The monument was opened in 1888 during the Universal Exhibition to commemorate Columbus landing in Barcelona harbour after his return from America. However, what most visitors to the city don’t realise is that at the foot of the column is a lift that will take you all the way up to viewing gallery at the top, 60 metres off the ground. From here you will get stunning 360º views of the Gothic Quarter, Mount Montjuïc, and the harbour.
Opening times: 8.30am to 8.30pm
Bunkers del Carmel
MUHBA Turó de la Rovira, Carrer de Marià Lavèrnia, s/n, 08032 Barcelona
I have to admit that I didn’t visit Bunkers del Carmel while I was in Barcelona. Due to my time constraints I had to make the choice between this view point or a trip up to Tibidabo – I chose the latter. What can I say? I’m a sucker for fun fair rides.
Originally built as anti-aircraft fortifications during the Spanish Civil War, the bunkers were built high on Turó de la Rovira to give soldiers a view across the whole city. After the war the large 105 mm cannons were removed and the bunkers were abandoned and left to crumble to the state they’re in today. Recently they have received a slight renovation in a bid to appeal to tourists but with 360º views of the city I don’t think people need much convincing. It is still a relatively hidden gem – not many people make the trek up the steep slopes to the bunkers so theres a good chance you will have the spot all to yourself to relax and watch the sunset.
Sant Felip Neri Church
Plaça Sant Felip Neri, 5, 08002 Barcelona
Hidden in a quiet corner of the Gothic Quarter is the church of Sant Felip Neri and the romantic little plaza of the same name. This tiny square in the Barri Gotic is a serene and quiet oasis away from the crowds of tourists swarming the Gothic quarter’s tiny streets. However, closer inspection of the church reveals a darker history. The baroque facade shows pockmarked scars of the Spanish civil war, left untouched during the church’s restoration as a monument to horrific events that took place here with a small bronze plaque that reads:
In memory of the victims of the bombardment of Sant Felip Neri.
Here died 42 people – the majority children – due to the actions of Franco’s airforce on the 30th of January 1938.
During the Spanish Civil War the church and convent was used to house evacuated children, 30 of which were killed by an aerial bombardment that took place in January 1938. A second bombing shortly after killed people as they were trying to rescue survivors, bringing the death toll to 42.
Plaza Del Pi
Plaça del Pi, s/n, 08002 Barcelona
Barcelona’s Barri Gotic known for it’s beautiful squares hidden behind the medieval buildings and streets that surround them. However, not all squares are equal. Below the dominating church of Santa María del Pi is the picturesque and charming Plaza of the same name, one of the most loved in the city – particularly by artists and the city’s bohemian inhabitants. Pi translates to ‘eternal pine”, referring to the large pine tree that once stood in the centre of the courtyard but wander through today and you will find yourself surrounded by antique shops and bars with beautiful painted facades. On a weekend you will find elderly artists sitting peacefully below parasols, displaying their art, waiting for a customer at the small art fair or the farmers market in which local artisans are selling their home made honey and olive oil.
Pavellons de la Finca Guell
Avinguda de Pedralbes 7, Barcelona
If you still haven’t got your fill of Gaudi, then you may want to stop by Pavellons de Guell, the former gatehouses of the Güell Estate, on Barcelona’s Avinguda Pedralbes. Although in the future Eusebi Güell would become Antoni Gaudí’s main patron, this was his first commission for the entrepreneur. Inspired by Islamic design, the gatehouse features a turret, geometric brickwork and most strikingly, a wrought iron dragon.
Opening Hours: 10am – 4pm
Guided Tours: €4
Parc del Laberint
Passeig dels Castanyers, 1, 08035 Barcelona
North of the city in the Horta and Guinardó district is Parc del Laberint, the oldest garden in Barcelona. A remnant of the Spanish Monarchy, the park was landscaped way back in 1791 by Antoni Desvalls, marquis of Llupiaand Alfarrás to create this 55 hectres of open space. At the centre of Parc del Laberint is it’s main attraction – A 2 metre tall maze created to reenact the greek myth of the labrynth. As well as this there’s woodland, sculptures, a canal and pond making this the perfect hidden gem for an afternoon away from the crowds of the city.
Les Gens Que J’aime.
Carrer de València 286 Barcelona
Walk through the unassuming low door on a normal Eixample street, head down the creaking stairs and you will be transported to another time. More specifically, you will be transported to Paris in the 1960s. This murky lounge is filled with eclectic furniture, suede wing-back chairs and flea market lamps – all adding to it’s murky and gauche charm. It’s a little expensive but worth a visit – Where else can you find a bar with it’s own resident clairvoyant.
Carrer de L’est, 08001 Barcelona
There seems to be a hunger for all things retro at the moment – not in the ironic “let’s go to an 80’s power ballad night” way but in the way that people are once again drawn to physical media. Vinyl is as big as it has ever been and cassette tapes are fast following in it’s analogue footsteps. Enter Cassette Bar. With it’s displays of boomboxes, cassette players and an ancient TV flickering with a test pattern, this bar has become a pretty cool place to spend an evening thanks to the owner Fabio’s love of all things retro, eclectic music choices and inventive sandwich names – Anyone for a “Blue Monday”, “Autoreverse” or “TDK 90”.
Are there any amazing places in Barcelona that you have stumbled upon? Do you have any suggestions of great hidden gems in the city? Let me know in the comments.
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