There are plenty of historical (read: tourist) sites in Barcelona, but the real character of the city shines through when you step off the beaten path. To see the main sites, take a tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours. While Barcelona certainly isn’t the most bike-friendly city, these four-hour tours are a great way to check out the main sites without exhausting your Metro pass, as well as get some interesting (and funny) commentary by native English speakers. After you’ve gotten the tourist traps out of the way, give yourself some time to wander, people-watch and relax—before daring to take on Spain’s nightlife.
Parc de la ciutadella: This city park is home to Cascades de Gaudi and the Barcelona Zoo. One look at the fountains, and you can be assured that this isn’t the funhouse architecture that dominates the rest of his work. Gaudi was just an apprentice on the building of this waterfall, but as his fame outgrew that of the original architect, it was his name that became associated with these impressive fountains. After checking out the fountain, grab a grassy spot or a park bench to picnic or people-watch. There’s even a tiny lake where you can rowboat!
Carrer de la Riera Baixa: Just a few blocks away from the tourist-packed La Rambla, this street is packed with funky secondhand stores and bohemiam vintage shops. Check out Hola! for American high school letterman jackets and sports jerseys. Head across the street to Bille Jean for upscale vintage dresses and purses for a sweet price.
Mercat de la Boqueria: Pick up a boccadilla for lunch from this crowded market—or perhaps just a fresh-squeezed juice in more flavors than you can imagine—and walk a few blocks to the library. The serene library courtyard feels miles away from the hectic market. Packed with plenty of shade and benches, it’s the perfect place to give your tired feet a break.
Gracia Neighborhood: Packed into the narrow streets of this hip neighborhood are ethnic restaurants, homemade jewelry shops and funky clothes stores. Don’t miss the artisan jewelry and craft market in the Placa de la Revolucio for an unique and handmade souvenir. If you head to Barcelona in August, you can’t miss the Gracia Street Festival. The neighborhood streets compete for the title of the best decorated. At night, the streets come alive with live music, dancing and plenty of sangria.
Beach time: Make sure to schedule in some time to soak up the sun on Barcelona’s wide stretch of sandy beaches. Wondering why the Spanish all have such uniform tans? Nudity is legal on Barcelona city beaches, so don’t be alarmed when you spot someone baring it all.