I’ve been here for a year and a half, more or less, and I’ve realised I haven’t really advertised a lot of Barcelona’s little hidden greats, or cutesy cafés in pokey streets, sunny squares for ‘taking’ your coffee, and so on. I know when I look to go on holiday, sometimes it’s better to know some lesser-known, off the beaten track areas, so you’re not prey to crowds and tourism.
I live in Gracia, which I fell in love with the moment I strolled through the tiny rows of perfectly square streets and surprisingly placed placas – there seems to be one on every corner, full of hip and happening Catalans sipping beer and smoking, laughing carefree and giving no sign that the country is facing a particularly difficult time at the moment. The streets are lined with orange trees, tiny tiendas and boutiques, and because the buildings aren’t so high here as in the centre, you have the feeling that you’re just visiting a local town. If you have a spare day after visiting all the usual Gaudi and wandering around beautiful Barri Gotico, I’d highly recommend a stroll through my local area. Some of my favourite haunts I’ve stumbled across in my neighbourhood are as follows:
Placa de la Vila de Gracia
This large square houses a beautiful tall tower, striking in the sunlight, and pleasant to look at as you dine or drink in the local bars in the area. There is a particularly good café here called Bo, of which there are two in Gracia, although the dessert prices at five euros a pop leave something to be desired. This said, they have excellent tapas at better prices, and it’s nice to sit in the square, especially when the resident clarinet player is tooting away. After school hours, kids play football in front of the powder-blue town hall building, the square really bustling with life.
In the maze of Gracia, there is a long street called Carrer Verdi, which has oodles of little boutiques and interesting shops placed along it. You can find a few restaurants with cuisine from further afield around this area, which I sometimes find lacking in Barcelona (the idea that Spanish food is the best in the world seems to be upheld by everyone at all costs, as I keep hearing from students in lessons). There are nice little delis which sell yummy olives, jamon, and the typical food from the surrounding areas. Gracia being a little upon the hippy side, there are many organic shops selling carrot croquettes and lentil dishes, a staple part of Catalan cuisine.
Humana doesn’t just exist in Gracia – it’s one of Spain’s only charity shop chains, and sells clothes only. There are several scattered over Barcelona, with an eclectic mix of pattered old shirts and clown-print trousers, with certain diamonds in the rough if you search hard enough. On certain days and weeks it has ‘sales’, in which every article is under 2 or 3 euros, which means the shop is cleaned out, and is packed to the brim with people. Normally, clothes are around the 6-10 euro mark, which is still quite bargainous, and some vintage clobber can be found with ease; whilst we do our good bit for the earth and give some back to those who need more than we do. The shop accepts donations too.
Close to the Mercat de l’Abecería Central, which is also worth a look (there is a little egg shop inside selling ostrich eggs, of all things), there is an organic food shop called Granel, which sells all kinds of things in a serve-yourself manner. Large tubes are suspended from the wall, and you can amuse yourself twisting the knobs to get the paella mix or red lentils packaged away in your little bags. It’s one of the only places I’ve found a large range of spices at good prices, including sweet dried chillies, a rarity here, among other things such as delicious loose leaf tea from a variety of flavours – from oolong to chocolate and orange infused. The prices are good and it’s nice to support the local businesses: important in these times.
What looks like a bog standard restaurant/café (call it a diner, Spanish style), is a delicious surprise on Carrer Escorial. The food is cheap, good, and just like (Catalan) mummy made it. Croquetas, pimientos del padron, and nice home-made pizzas, with a wide range of fish and meat thrown in, washed down with some bravas and beer, make for a good hangover cure, I’ve found. A meal for five can come out at as little as thirty-five euros, which really is nothing to be sneered at. Whilst it’s never going to earn Michelin stars, I’d recommend it for a traditional tapas evening with good service and jolly waiters (depending on the time).
Some other places I like, whilst not in Gracia, are equally worth a visit, especially as they’re more central…
Ranging from crammed to the brim with people clamouring for a good cuppa, to deathly empty and eerie, Caj Chai sells what looks like thousands of different varieties of tea, including inventive mixtures with coffee, steamed milk, and other delights. I’ve been a few times, but I still get lost every time I look for it, as it’s situated in Barri Gotico, where to me most of the streets are similar and rather confusing. It’s worth the search, though, and because of its location, is less likely to be full of map-reading head-scratching lost tourists.
If you’re sick of fried food, as nice as it is, take a jaunt to Juicy Jones, a vegan café just off La Rambla, which also makes reasonably priced fresh juices, either from the menu or to your taste. The menu del día, a snip at 8.50 a pop, offers two courses and a dessert (which to be frank, is always a bit weird as it’s never remotely what you think it’s going to be – I’ve never seen halva that looks like jelly). It does a very nice thali, with good spice levels, and the starters include the biggest bowl of hummus you’ve seen in your life, so value for money is definitely noted, particularly in an area which is the rip-off zone of Barcelona.
Now, the food here is nowt to write home about, but with cheap margaritas and a range of frozen cocktails, I found I enjoyed it more than I expected to (Mexican isn’t as good or popular here). The atmosphere is jovial and relaxed, and occasionally a free frozen shot of strawberry daiquiri may be thrown in if you play your cards right. Sounds of mariachi bands pipe over the sound system, and the lurid tableclothes really give you a feel of Mexico – bright, enjoyable, and a popular spot both for eating and downing a few drinks.
All this is just a taste of some of the great places I’ve discovered during my stay here: come here and find out for yourselves!