Dig deeper into Barcelona’s barrios with my guide to Gracia, a Catalonian treasure trove.
Beyond Barcelona’s famed beaches, hurried thoroughfares (looking at you La Ramblas!) and urban parks with enough pizzazz to make anyone blush lay the tucked away barrio, Gracia. Strolling through this quaint district provides a great snippet into the easy-going Catalonian way of life with its laid-back plazas, bars and restaurants. Combine that with alluring narrow streets and minimal road traffic and you have the perfect slice of Barcelona to simply lose yourself in without the hordes of people to battle through. Here, I guide you with things not to miss when in Gracia.
A quick guide to Gracia
This is not Las Ramblas – in fact, Gracia far from being rammed with tourists. (Muy bien!)
Despite its central location (a short 16-minute metro ride inland from Las Ramblas), Gracia has somehow managed to escape the mayhem of its surrounds, and its peaceful aura lures bohemians and creatives aplenty.
This charming district of Gracia stood independently until the late 19th century when it was engulfed by Barcelona’s great wave of urban sprawl, giving it a distinctive flavour which easily sets it apart from neighbouring barrios. It also holds its own in the architecture stakes with a small grid village layout punctuated by low-rise Mediterranean beige sand-like architecture, one-way streets and a series of plazas enhancing this cosy neighbourhood – so get the camera ready!
Gracia’s streets are littered (in a good way) with street art sandwiched between alternative art galleries and stores selling local items. One of its oldest streets, Travessera de Gracia (dating back to 1057) appeals to all senses with a string of independent boutiques. It is also home to the renowned fresh food produce market Mercat de l’Abaceria Central, founded in 1892 so make sure you treat yourself to the fresher things in life.
When your lunch hits the spot
You will find throughout Barcelona, it is much cheaper to go out at lunch than it is dinner time with many places offering a weekday set menu. If you find yourself a) in Gracia during the day and b) super hungry, possibly on borderline hangry, let me guide you to Gracia’s famed local favourite, La Singular.
Not only does this hidden gem serve up a three-course meal for a tenner (choose out of two dishes for each course), it also gives your tongue a gourmet escape with each visit as the menu changes according to fresh produce seasonality. Better yet, the price is inclusive of a cheeky vino – cheers to that!
I first visited this gem a few years back upon stumbling upon it randomly. I saw that there was a queue outside the door and thought, seeing as its location was not in a tourist goldmine, it must be good – I was right. Sitting inside, I had perched myself up on a stool with direct window access to see the chefs bring on their kitchen magic to create a gastronomic feed right before my very eyes. Rookie error back then as I had forgotten the name of the place until recently when I went back to Gracia and found it again – with the same chef still mastering each dish too!
The ultimate after-hours bar for complimentary pintxos
If you are one to bar hop your way around, Carrer de Rabassa is a goldmine for peppy Spanish cafe culture.
A little yet epic find is finding a free stool at the tapas bar, Gata Mala. Translating to ‘Bad Cat,’ this intimate bar is the place to get ultimate bang with your buck. The tapas are not only ridiculously good with taste and serving, but they are also reasonably priced too. What makes this place even better is every time you order a drink, you receive complimentary pintxos freshly made with your boozy order – score! See: Where to find the best tapas in Barcelona
Check out Castell
A guide to Gracia would not be complete without touching on Castell.To get a true feel for the Catalan way of life, pay a visit to Gracia’s historical square, Placa de la Vila de Gracia. It is not only home to a 33-metre colossal clock tower built in 1864, but its also home to the beautiful Casa de la Vila, the district’s headquarters built in 1095 which features a light blue facade with wrought iron balcony and windows. Above all, this square is the perfect backdrop to witness the energetic and remarkable all human-sport that is Castell.
The rich tradition of Castell dates back to the 18th century and remains ever so popular with locals today. The unusual sport consists of people standing on top of each other’s shoulders and holding one another in a ring type formation in order to build a human tower. It really is a fascinating sight as it is like watching small children climbing like mountain goats to the top of a human tower.
Tip: Try and visit on a Sunday if you would like to catch a glimpse of Castell.
Gracia & Gaudi
Gracia may be lacking Barcelona’s major tourist attractions but you don’t need to travel far to find them. A visit to Barcelona would be incomplete without marvelling at the work of renowned architect crusader Antoni Gaudi. And as luck would have it many of his masterpieces are just a stone’s throw away.
The colourful mosaics and imaginative designs of Gaudi’s Parc Guell converges on the outskirts of Gracia’s historic streets. The barrio is also home to the remarkable 19th century Casa Vincens. Gaudi’s first modernist house was a ground-breaking design in its time as it married Hispano-Arabic and oriental influences. Casa Vincens’s colourful appearance consists of reddish bricks covered with green and white tiles and decorated with Moorish carnations and iron railings.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed building is now a public museum celebrating Gaudi himself. Even if you don’t enter the museum, the sight of the colourful structure will leave you feeling inspired and amazed by the work of this visionary who was truly ahead of his time.