Barcelona without the bustle- authenticity and tranquility amidst the mayhem
Barcelona is famous for its characterful neighbourhoods (barrio in Spanish or barrí in Catalan). The most famous, such as the Barrí Gótic just off the ever popular (and populous) La Rambla, can be overrun by swarms of touristic activity over the summer months. Walking in a straight line with purpose becomes a hazardous undertaking as you run the gauntlet of hawkers and spruikers, school groups and ambling, dazed tourists. The air is filled with a cacophony of world sounds- a Barcelonan Babylon of contrasting languages. Of course, we visitors are all tourists, but where can we go to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more authentic Catalan vibe?
On a recent trip to Barcelona we didn’t visit the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Camp Nou, the Picasso Museum or dine on La Rambla.
One relatively unexplored barrio is the more edgy Raval on the opposite side of La Rambla. Wandering its narrow streets and hidden squares you’ll find a vibrant mixture of the grungy and the unexpected- a pop-up street bar here, a secondhand bookstall there, street art on every available surface. Micro-mobility contraptions – scooters, skateboards, bikes whizz past with little warning in a blur of sharp haircuts and lithe tattooed limbs.
Where can we go to enjoy a more authentic local vibe?
The wide open Rambla de Raval offers al fresco drinking and eating options for all tastes and budgets. Here a mixture of students, young urbanites and migrant families take their leisure as the sun goes down. One side of the square offers mainly Spanish fare- tapas and cocktail bars, along with pizza and burger eateries with some finer dining options. The other side of the plaza is mainly populated with Middle Eastern restaurants serving delicious and surprisingly cheap food- hence the students and families!
For lovers of artisanal produce and artefacts- jewellery, pottery, bespoke garments, furniture- El Born, just off the picturesque Placa de Santa María del Mar (St Mary of the Sea) is a warren of narrow alleyways jammed with bespoke boutiques, workshops, galleries, speciality coffee shops and barbers.
Around the corner, the independent gallery MOCO contains a wealth of contemporary works. Its exhibition included street art by Banksy and KAWS (sculpture above), ultra-real/surreal large canvases by Chilean artist Guillermo Lorna, eye-catching installations by Hirst, Opie and OSGEMEOS, and some spectacular digital immersive installations.
And you’ll never be stuck for something to eat. Tapas and Basque-style pintxos bars abound.
You can escape the crowds without foregoing the genuine Barcelona experience. We didn’t visit the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Camp Nou, the Picasso Museum or dine on La Rambla but we still enjoyed our full fix of Catalan culture.