Top things to do in Barcelona… and what to do instead
Barcelona is an immensely popular tourist destination with many famous must-see landmarks that are standard for a first-time visitor. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the tourists or want to experience a different side of Catalonia’s capital, we’ve rounded up a few alternative options.
Instead of eating on La Rambla… go pintxo-hopping on Carrer Blai
First of all, you should never eat on La Rambla. When a tourist thinks of Barcelona, they immediately imagine the tree-lined boulevard sprinkled with flower shops. As Barcelona’s popularity as a travel destination has grown, so has the number of tourists and restaurants catering to them. Carrer Blai offers a quieter alternative. Filled with restaurants that serve bite-sized pintxos (tapas from the Northern Basque country), you’ll experience a more authentic encounter while running into both locals and tourists alike. Even if it’s a little bit crowded, it’s normal to stand at the bar while munching on these tapas like they do in the North of Spain.
Instead of Barceloneta Beach… Try Bogatell Beach
Because people are most familiar with the very core of Barcelona, it’s understandable that they end up visiting the nearest beach. Barceloneta beach is so overcrowded with tourists, many times drinking noisily, that it can put a damper on your unwinding time. If you want a more relaxed beach atmosphere, try Bogatell in Poblenou. Here, you can join in on a beach volleyball or football game, go for a swim, sunbathe, or enjoy some paella at Chiringuito Escriba, without sitting towel-to-towel with a bunch of screaming guiris.
Instead of Visiting the Gaudi Houses… go see the Hospital de Sant Pau
With ticket prices at over 20€ each, for some, entering the famous Casa Batlló or Pedrera may be a big stretch for your budget. If you want to marvel at some ornate architecture, the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, built between 1901-1930, is the perfect alternative. Comprised of over 17 buildings, the complex was once a very important hospital (some buildings still function as such) and is now a UNESCO Heritage Site. Located near the Sagrada Familia, it is absolutely a treat for someone looking for a collection of beautiful buildings.
Instead of drinking sangria…Try tinto de verano or vermut
If you talk to a local, they will probably confirm that all the signs for sangria have been put there for tourists. Actually, people in Spain tend to drink something similar called tinto de verano. Like a red-wine spritzer, tinto de verano is made with one part red wine and one part lemon-lime soda. If you’re not in the mood for tinto de verano, you can also try a Spanish or Catalan vermouth (vermut in Catalan). This drink which is generally popular as an ingredient in martinis is popular as a standalone drink here. Usually drunk in the afternoon or as an aperitif, you will probably be served some olives or pickles with this typically sweet libation.
Instead of wandering outside the Sagrada Familia… go inside the Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia is doubtless one of the most famous churches in the world. Many tourists make the mistake of visiting it from just the outside. Despite it being gorgeous from afar, it is nothing like seeing it up close and from within. Even if you’re not a “church person”, you think you’ve seen enough of them, or you just don’t want to chalk up the money, the Sagrada Familia is a structure you should marvel at and take in at least once in your lifetime.
Instead of having a big dinner… have a big lunch
The Spanish are notorious for eating late, and taking their time in general. It’s normal that they skip breakfast or have small a glass of orange juice before starting their day, and then eat a big lunch around 2 or 3pm. Why not share a delicious paella or fideuà (a Catalan version with noodles instead of rice) for lunch? There are also tons of local restaurants, even hotels, in Barcelona that offer very affordable lunch menus that commonly include a main dish, drink and a starter or dessert. A complete, satisfying lunch is your first step to integrating into Spanish life.
What do you think of our list? Let us know if you have any other options you would suggest to someone looking to explore an alternative Barcelona.