The first thing you think when someone mentions Barcelona are the sunny skies and the lovely beaches crowded with sexy people. The second thing is probably Gaudí. However, I think many people ignore the urban environment of Barça — a city just as cosmopolitan as other cities around the world.
Young, alternative skaters are seen everywhere, from the streets around the Barceloneta to the areas that surround the Universidad de Barcelona. Plenty of bars are located in this student area, including the small and hidden streets between Las Ramblas and Raval.
In these neighborhoods, you’ll find lots of original shops and alternative restaurants, including places specializing in Argentinian empanadas and typical Spanish tapas.
Barcelona is a cultural city, with more than the two languages of the locals — the Català and the Español. Walking through the streets, you’ll hear German, French, English, and Italian almost everywhere. During the summer, the streets come alive with sidewalk cafes and restaurants.
People — tourists and locals alike — pull up to these places and find the time to enjoy cold sangria or small cañas (beers) for endless hours. In the colder months, you can find shelter in cozy cafes — great places to enjoy xocolata or Catalan cream.
The urban culture of Barcelona offers also plenty of opportunities for a busy night. You have alternative bars like the trendy El Ciclista, where you can find fancy cocktails at fair prices. Or, if the night is warm and sexy, why not to walk around the Gracia neighborhood and get lost in its multiple cafes and international restaurants?
For those into art and culture, of course you have the city’s many museums to enjoy by day; but, once the museums close and the Picassos and Mirós are given a rest from all the inquisitive tourists, Barcelona’s best culture comes out to shine.
You have the Liceu, one of the city’s most famous theaters, where classical musical and ballet performances take place. Theaters and concert halls are always welcoming new productions, both from Spanish and international artists, featuring film festivals, dance, and contemporary performances.
Plenty of bars offer live music and even flamenco. For the free spirits, you can join the crowds around the Barceloneta, watching the Mediterranean Sea at night, enjoying a nice chat and a cold beer.
Shopping is another experience in Barcelona, and you can find practically everything you are looking for. If you know where to look, original designer clothes, gourmet products, and even artisan chessboards are available downtown.
While Barcelona is a thriving city and a tourist destination, it is understandable that some locals are against the practices of “stereotypical tourists.” Considering that many tourists visit this town to party and get drunk, they miss the essential history and value of one of the most diverse places in Spain.
Indeed, a life of excesses could be easily avoided in Barcelona. The Paseig Maritim (the boardwalk along the beach) and parks like Montjuïc or Citadelle offer exercise areas and a green escape from the urban noise.
Next time you visit Barcelona, be sure to explore the urban aspect that lies in the unknown streets. While many tourists orbit around streets like Las Ramblas as if they were lost comets, the real essence of this city is in its lonely hidden alleys and squares.
A glimpse of this urban dream of Barcelona has been portrayed in many movies and books, and you can discover the enigmatic easygoing-ness of the locals’ lifestyle. Eat late, have a caña, and practice your Spanish or Catalan with the people you find. If something is a trademark of this city, it is its friendliness.
I understand that it’s easy to get lost in the sunny and sandy pleasures that Barcelona offers us, but even while it is a port city, you don’t have to honor it by becoming a solitary sailor. You are allowed to leave the sea. Put your feet on the land.
5 Urban Places to Visit in Barcelona
- Poble Sec – This neighborhood is on the outskirts of the city center and is home to a number of cool bars and hipster cafes. Try the gay-friendly La Federica, which has a fun and friendly atmosphere.
- Gracia — Barcelona’s unofficial hipster neighborhood, you’ll find vegetarian restaurants and trendy bars. Check out the crowd favorite, El Ciclista, where you can get a gin & tonic for as little as €5.
- Raval – Near Barcelona’s university and home to many students, the plazas and open spaces in this neighborhood are often crowded at night. Look out for the El Gato del Raval (cat) sculpture by Botero in La Rambla de Raval.
- El Born – In the city center, El Born isn’t as touristic as other parts of downtown Barcelona. Famous for its many boutique shops, you’ll find both independent stores and chains in this area. It’s best to wander aimlessly through the small side streets until you spot something you like.
- Barceloneta – Along what’s easily considered Barcelona’s prettiest beach, Barceloneta has small alleyways that run right up to the Mediterranean Sea. The market has a number of local food shops, but you’ll also find trendy bars and restaurants, like the Makamaka burger restaurant — a favorite among locals.
Have you ever visited any of these areas in Barcelona? What’d you think about them? Let us know your thoughts down below!