Planning a trip to Barcelona? Dreaming of palm trees, delicious sangria and the Mediterranean sea? Here are five hidden gems that you can explore for absolutely free!
Santa Caterina Food Market
Forget about the overcrowded Mercat La Boqueria and explore this amazing local favourite market! Mercat de Santa Caterina is located near the Barcelona Cathedral and the undulating, brightly coloured roof will catch your eye immediately. Explore the market, enjoy the vivid atmosphere and practice your Catalan/Spanish skills with the locals.
Located inside is Cuines Santa Caterina, a restaurant that offers a delectable array of outstanding quality food. Cuines translates to ‘kitchens’ in Catalan, and here you can explore four different types of kitchens – Asian, Mediterranean, Italian and vegetarian.
Metro L4- Jaume I
The magic fountains of Montjuïc
The magic fountains of Montjuïc – or Font màgica de Montjuïc – should definitely be on your list of hidden gems in Barcelona. This site offers a spectacular display of colour, light, and water acrobatics accompanied by music from Thursday to Sunday in the summer and every Friday and Saturday during the winter.
Also located on Plaça d’Espanya (and definitely worth a visit) is Arenas de Barcelona, a former bullring that is now a shopping mall. The roof terrace boasts various restaurants overlooking Plaça d’Espanya and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). With the beautiful Barcelona skyline in the background, this rooftop offers the perfect view of the fountains. Do keep in mind that although the bars and restaurants are open till late, they are generally overpriced.
Metro L1 + L3 – Plaça Espana
Thirteen geese living in a Gothic cathedral
Thirteen geese in a cathedral. I know what you must be wondering… 13 geese, where, what? Well, I’m not kidding! The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia), also known as Barcelona Cathedral, is certainly is one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Barcelona. It is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, who was gruesomely tortured (put in a barrel with knives stuck into it and rolled down the street), paraded naked in the public square, and martyred for refusing to recant her Christianity. Today, this poor young virgin is the co-patron saint of Barcelona.
Plaça Garriga I Bachs is located right next to the cathedral and it is here that you’ll find the entrance to the cloister where the 13 white geese are kept. The specific number is explained by the assertion that Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred.
During the weekend (Saturdays at 18.30 and Sundays at 12.00) you’ll bump into people dancing the Sardana, the traditional circle dance of the Catalans, at the Plaça de la Seu in front of the cathedral.
Want a food recommendation? Bilbao Berria is a good Basque restaurant on the plaça in front of the cathedral.
Here’s another tip: the romantic, slightly faded Plaça Sant Felip Neri is also unmissable. The narrow, labyrinthine streets of the Quarter lead to this unexpected tiny square with a charming little fountain in the center overlooked by the Baroque church of Sant Felip Neri.
Metro L4- Jaume I
Free rooftop swimming pools
Grand Hotel Central
This modern five-star hotel within a stone’s throw of most attractions in the Old City is the best place for a refreshing swim and spectacular views. Although the rooftop bar and infinity pool is technically only accessible by customers, my friends and I managed to sneak in pretending were patrons of the hotel. Another way to grant yourself access is by playing it cool and actually going for a drink at the Skybar which is open from April to October. This is a great place for a Martini-with-a-view (particularly if you fancy a dip as well).
Metro L4 – Jaume I
Terraza La Isabela, the rooftop bar of Hotel 1898, is named after a beautiful island in the Philippines. This oasis is located directly at the Ramblas, providing a great place to relax and sip fancy cocktails. The rooftop bar has a lounge feel and offers amazing views of Montjuïc and Tibidabo. Boasting serene music, cocktails and tapas, this bar is indeed a very special one. Just pretend to be a guest at the hotel, dress well, and follow others onto the lift to enjoy this awesome space.
Metro L3 – Liceu
District Sant Pere
Perhaps the least visited part of the Old Town is the medieval barri of Sant Pere. I lived in this charming neighbourhood for a while and can honestly say it’s my absolute favorite part of Barcelona.The charming streets with almost no traffic will offer you a slice of much-needed tranquility in the city. (I know, I know, I might seem biased just because I lived here but this barri just keeps on enchanting me to this day.)
Just wander around during a late afternoon, try to get a real sense of this little pocket of the city, and treat yourself with a steaming cup of coffee as you people watch. Nomad Coffee Productions is an up-and-coming coffee shop situated at the corner of Sant Pere Mes Alt and Passatge de Sert, a charming small street worth a visit. Just across this cool coffee shop is Casa Lolea, a beloved restaurant that serves vermouth, wine, artisanal sangría and tapas all day long.
The best way to end the night is with a concert at the Palau de la Música. Please make sure you book ahead. Then, if you’re still up for drinks after visiting this stunning Art Nouveau concert hall, go have a beer at L’antic Theatre and enjoy the magical, light-strung garden bar.
Metro L1 +L4 Urquinaona