The first time I visited Barcelona I couldn’t stand it. I was desperate to leave. I had no desire to explore it whatsoever or try all the things to do in Barcelona that everyone always goes so nuts about.
Beach? Not bothered.
La Rambla? La unexplainable appeal.
There were moments when I wished that I was back in my hotel room, just so that I could go to sleep and be one night closer to exploring another city somewhere else in the country.
Twelve months later and I’ve changed my mind faster than Hilary Clinton changes her stance on pretty much anything.
Now I’m a full convert to the blue waters, vast light-ochre beaches, delicious food, and heat that never seems to raise too high or drop too low.
I love the people; their typical Mediterranean, laid-back lifestyle sets my mind at rest. I feel the pace of my gentle amble forever decreasing the longer I’m around them. They slowly move from home to office, and from local supermarket to the nearest corner café, where more tables than feasibly possible are scattered as if on top of each other.
I ♥ Barcelona.
…and I love her more the further away from the tourist areas my legs take me.
Going Off The Path in Barcelona
It’s not through a sense of elitism that I find myself enjoying off the path things to do in Barcelona, it’s because they tend to be quieter and without as steep a price to pay.
What I especially tend to prefer about the path less trodden is the higher potential that the only people around for the next half kilometer or so are locals, people who walk and bike along the same paths and roadways every day.
When Franca and I venture into these quieter areas, we are entering small worlds with invisible walls that only the collective and singular people know of, much in the same way that there’s a part of your hometown that you may feel is a part of your own small “kingdom,” filled with your café, your bakery, and your favourite bar.
When I’m off the path, I’m searching for the things to do that you don’t always tell other people about; and in Barcelona, I’m always hoping to find something unusual to see or do that the locals love, adore, and frequently walk past blindly, due to the familiarity in which they have with it.
Here are a few places that I’ve discovered during my own, slow-paced walks around the neighbourhoods of Barcelona. They’re my kingdom. My fiefdom. A part of the complex, multi-cultural, and life-loving Barcelona that I would happily call my home, and the world I’d like you to see.
1. Torre Bellesguard
It took me a long time to realise why people the whole world over love the architecture of Gaudi. The man was a genius. Actually, he was beyond any level of genius at the time he was creating his masterpieces, and he remains up on that elite plateau, away from many of this aspiring generation all these decades later.
My first experience of his work wasn’t Sagrada Familia – and I’m glad about that.
I walked past the cathedral once and it bored me. All I saw was a building beyond hype. It wasn’t until later when I visited the cathedral, after a visit to a lesser known building called Torre Bellesguard, that I saw the appeal.
Torre Bellesguard was a commissioned piece for a wealthy family, and as a first introduction to Gaudi’s work, it’s absolutely perfect. Not only is it a great off-the-path thing to do, it’s also a great place to learn about the man and his methods of imagination.
Franca and I had a guided tour around the estate, which explained the theories and reasons behind every shape, every material choice, and how they not only all intertwine with each other, but connect with his other building designs. Fascinating.
Visiting Torre Bellesguard isn’t just a cool thing to do, it’s educational, too.
2. Behind La Boqueria Market
I really can’t place what it is that people love so much about La Rambla. It’s a street like so many others. Perhaps, once upon a time, it was a genuinely beautiful route to the centre of the city from the waterfront. But today, it’s not much more than a human assault course in which there are no winners for reaching the other side.
Along the route is La Boqueria Market, a market that must have been a regular market from which the inhabitants of the local neighbourhood would have bought their fresh produce, quite possibly delivered at Barcelona’s docks that very morning. Today it’s nothing more than a tourist trap. However, if you explore behind the building, you’ll find a small collection of street art and graffiti gems that most tourists are oblivious to.
The lorries that carry stock between the warehouses, and stockists in and around Barcelona, all park behind the market to deliver their goods, and almost every single one of them has been painted on (almost) every side with a graffiti tag or street art mural of some description.
The vans are used, abused, and often rusty along the edges; however, somehow these few splashes of paint turn them into mobile art galleries that parade the works of the artists around the city 24/7, 365 days a year.
If you want to see Barcelona’s street art, then this is great “off the path” place to begin from and it’s one of many free things to do in Barcelona, too.
3. Monastery of Pedralbes
I’m not religious, but I truly appreciate and love the quiet sanctuary that can be found in places of worship – from Catholic chapels in Italy, to grand, whitewashed mosques in Malaysia.
The Monastery of Pedralbes offers the same quietness, the same seclusion from the relentless buzz of people and automobiles that never seems to cease, especially in a city as widespread as Barcelona.
Walking around the two-storey monastery brought me a breath of fresh air that I was in urgent need of, and the building itself is incredibly well-preserved. It’s easy to imagine just how identical the scene and peacefulness would have been just a hundred years ago, or a hundred before that.
If ever you find yourself in Barcelona and in desperate need of a break from tapas bars and mass tourism, heading here would be my first recommendation.
4. Street Art in El Born
There are two reasons to visit the El Born neighbourhood of Barcelona, the first of which is the street art of this aging housing district of the city.
The neighbourhood is filled to the brim with real locals (and not just tourists staying in Airbnb apartments), but actual locals both young and old, who can be seen living normal lives that don’t involve any souvenirs. Between the tall, aging houses is an endless, open gallery of street art on the walls and metal shutters of closed shops, some of which the best examples of Barcelona’s street art and graffiti culture, filled with all of the colours of life that Barcelona tends to endlessly exude .
5. El Born Centre Cultural
This miraculous building is the second reason you should visit the quieter neighbourhood of El Born.
I’ve become more of a history nut over the past few years, especially on the topic of the Roman Empire; so, when we came to stumble upon the shape of a covered market hall, both Franca and I were highly surprised to find ruins from the time of Augustus open to the air, where we’d expected to see Jaume selling his seasonal fruit and veg.
The ruins were discovered during the course of some restoration work on the market hall, but once they were found, the designs for the hall changed for a greater purpose: to preserve the ruins and use the space for cultural projects.
Today, it’s free for both locals and foreigners to walk through and admire, and there are rooms in constant use by performers and musicians to practice their pieces.
Of the off-the-path things to do in Barcelona, it’s amongst my favourites.
What do you want to do in Barcelona? Have you ever been? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!