There is Barcelona of Gaudí – extravagant, imposing, and breathtaking.
And then there is another Barcelona – a city bound by startling contrasts. Hiding behind the shadows of Gaudí´s skeleton spires and curved balconies is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets; colorful graffiti here alternates with carved frescoes; serene gardens are squeezed between broad avenues; every other façade, with paint peeling here and there, treasures a history you would not find in any guide.
Hardly any other city in the world can be so balanced and conflicting at the same time. Barcelona definitely deserves more than one visit – save queueing to enter Sagrada Família and rambling Montjuïc for another time; here are some suggestions on discovering quite a different side of the city.
INTO THE WILD
Barcelona is definitely green-friendly city – parks and gardens are countless, but while central Parc de la Ciutadella might be a bit too touristy, lined along the northern borders of the city there are some gems worth a half-day trip from the center.
To reach the oldest park in Barcelona, Parc de l´Laberint d´Horta, you’d only have to take the green line from Plaça de Catalunya metro station and in less than 20 minutes get off at Mundet. Yes, you’d have to climb up the hill – but the walk is short and relatively easy. At the end, you’d be rewarded with gardens of spectacular beauty, hedge maze, ample belvederes, upper terrace overlooking the maze and with adjoining large pond, and even a tiny waterfall.
Hilltop Parc Túro del Putxet is even richer in vegetation, and much quieter. The tourists prefer Parc Güell – which is definitely worth the admiration; but if you are hoping to unwind and escape from the crowd, then Parc Túro del Putxet should be your first choice.
For breathtaking panoramic views of the city, head to Parc del Guinardó. It is not as easily reached via public transport, as both parks mentioned above – you’d have to take a ½ hour-long bus trip from Plaça de Catalunya, and then, for those superb views, climb uphill – but the panorama is truly priceless. The park is also not as nearly as crowded as you’d expect, considering the unbeatable views; and you’d definitely enjoy its almost fairy-tale serenity.
ESCAPING THE CROWD
If you are tired from the crowds rushing back and forth central neighborhoods of Ciutat Vella, Eixample and also seaside Barceloneta, but still want just as much fun, travel north of the city and explore the barrios of Sarriá and Grácia. Former uptown villages they have kept unique ambiance and independent spirit. Sarriá is a tad bit quieter, and Grácia is a truly thrilling venue when it comes to both entertainment and nightlife.