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Off the beaten track in Barcelona

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Being a foreigner in a city means that you often get to play host or tour guide to visiting family and friends. Barcelona is one of those great city that offers plenty for a first, second, or third... time visitor. But what exactly is there to see and do after you have checked off La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia? After living here for more than 3 years, and having many repeat visitors, I have been able to explore quite a bit.

Besides all its major sites, the city has a different personality and varied events in each season. Always ask at your hotel about local festivals, or try the various seasonal dishes.

Nowadays I send my friends off to see the major sites on their own, and select a few alternatives that I can enjoy with them. These are some of my favourite activities that I try to do with my guests. If you visit Barcelona, see if you can add them to your sight-seeing list.

1: Montjuic Cactus Garden

I had been waiting for this garden ( ) to open again to the public, since the first moment I laid eyes on it when I first arrived in Barcelona. It was a long wait, almost 3 years! Apparently it had been closed for 5 years due to rehabilitation, I'm happy to report that it is now open!
The garden is situated on Montjuic, near the Miramar hotel. It overlooks the harbour, and you can wander around in what seems to be a Mexican desert filled with huge cacti but when you look up, find yourself in the Mediterranean, with a vista of blue waters and gigantic cruise ships. It makes for an interesting tableau, as well a fun (and educational) place for a photo.
You can end off your wander around the gardens with a coffee or beer at the Miramar restaurant & cafe ( ) next to the cablecar ( Teleferico: )stop, or if you are there in the evening, you can dine at the Miramar hotel.

2: La Caixa Science Museum Amazon Forest

The Cosmo Caixa ( ) or the Science museum of Barcelona offers up a fantastic array of interesting exhibition halls and permanent installations. The architecture of the building combines the old and the new, and as you wind down through the glass and brick construction you learn about how the earth evolved.
The best thing, in my opinion, about this museum is the stunning Amazon forest display. The museum contains an entire ecosystem showing a cross section of forest and river. Sit and watch piranhas and crocodiles frolic below massive trees festooned with creepers, while jungle fowl flap from branch to branch. I mean what could be better about an museum that has a planetarium and a piece of living Amazon?

If you have the energy after the museum, walk up the hill for the view. Pass some of the "castles" of Tibidabo as you wind up the road to the funicular that goes up to peak. Enjoy a drink overlooking the city at the Mirablau ( ). A different vista of Barcelona awaits, and the restaurants widows frame the view to the sea beautifully. If it's not too late you could also catch the tram up the hill or flag a taxi from the museum.

3: La Boqueria & a wander around in exotic Raval

No trip to Barcelona is complete without a stop at the famous Boqueria Market. It's not really an Alternative as it's in every guide book, but I can honestly say I never tire of the place. Each trip is fun in it's explosion of colour, tastes and smells, even for me! I always buy a weird juice combination and it's interesting to go from displays of bright sweets to creepy, slimy tentacles in the fish section.
You can enjoy tapas ( ) in the Mercat or if you like there are plenty of cafes in the surrounding area. If you walk out the bottom or the back of the Market into the streets, you find yourself in Raval.

La Rambla forms the border between the area known as the "Gotico" and "Raval". Home to many foreigners, Raval has a somewhat exotic flavour to it. You can find little cafes filled with delicacies from around the world. Somewhat notorious in the guide books as an unsafe area, this really only applies if you are not keeping an eye on your bag or are stumbling around the dark alleys, after too many mojitos at 3am. During the day it is well worth a walk-about.
Find hidden gardens, great book stores, vintage shops, fabulous outdoor cafes, Raval is also host to the marvellous CCCB ( ), a great stop for museum junkies. A peek at the plaza in front of the Modern Art museum unfolds in the clacking and scraping of a thousand skateboards as enthusiasts gather to polish or show off skills.

4: A conversation at a cafe in the Gothic

The Gotic quarter is stuffed full of fascinating cafes, shops, and plazas. You can walk through alleyways of graffiti or find yourself in a cloister garden in an ancient Gothic cathedral. It's one of the perfect places for people watching, and trust me, after walking around discovering secret corners of Barcelona, you will want to sit down and relax.
There are plenty of places for tea, coffee or snacks, and all you have to do is find a spot, enjoy your surroundings, and take some time to chat to your friends, your travel buddy or absorb the atmosphere. One of my favourite places to unwind is Caj Chai ( ). It's my go to place for Chai, but they also offer all sorts of Chinese, British and refreshing fruity teas. The snacks are yummy too, and you can relax on couches and read a selection of their books. It's tucked away in the Jewish quarter and is close by two interesting shops: La Basilica ( ) which sells fascinating jewellery and Sabater Hermanos ( ) a soap shop next to the historical Sant Felip Neri Plaza.

5: A day trip into the surrounds.

There are plenty of places of interest on the outskirts of Barcelona. I love to pick a direction and go exploring in the car. This may be a bit difficult for everyone, but if you happen to have a car available or are renting one, the Collserola ( ) has a number of scenic drives (and walks). The villages of La Floresta, Vallvidrera, and Sant Cugat (all reachable by train) are well worth an exploration where you can get a taste of Catalan village life, and if in season, you have to try eating the messy Calçots. Sant Cugat is host to the famous (and large) Mercantic Market for all things vintage where you could find some unique souvenirs here!

The coast to the south offers up the tiny beach village of Garraf, which I always try and visit with friends. And up in the mountains behind Sitges you find farm lands dedicated to the cultivation of grapes and the Cava ( ) industry that goes along with it. You can sample various cavas and olives while enjoying them in the typical scrub landscape of the Spanish Med.

Finally just next to the Airport lies the Delta de Llobregat. ( ) There are various protected parks, where you can walk along paths spotting birds or aeroplanes.

*Please note that these comments are my personal views, everyone has their own special places or hidden secret spots in Barcelona. I was not paid to promote any of the shops or museums and I am by no means an expert. These observations are all based on my own experiences and if you like you can see images HERE: (

I hope that some of the places I mention make it into your list of places to see in Barcelona and you enjoy them as much as I do!

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