To kick off my flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants trip around France in 2012, I took the trenhotel from southern Spain to Barcelona and spent a layover in the Catalan capital, intending to take a second night train to Paris that evening. I checked off all the main sights in the old town: the cathedral, the Boqueria market, Santa María del Mar, the historical museum, the Picasso museum, even a rediscovered synagogue. However, due to a combination of poorly-announced commuter train delays and poor planning on my part, I missed the night train to Paris by five minutes. Fortunately I was able to get a spot on the high-speed TGV leaving that morning and find a bed at a seven-euro hostel nearby…ah, the glory days.
|Plaça del Sol, Gràcia|
That winter I was back in Barcelona for a layover, this time on my way to Italy. But I arrived in the evening and had to get up at 4am to catch the airport bus, so my only memories of this trip involve threading a path through the disorienting hellhole that is the Sants train station and wading through all the traffic and tourists in Plaça de Catalunya.
|Plaça de la Virreina, Gràcia|
Over the years, this charming district slowly made its way onto my radar screen. Jessica of Barcelona Blonde first tipped me off to Gràcia after she moved into an apartment there; I was so amazed that such a cool place was hiding in plain sight in the middle of a world-class city! And then the folks at Devour Spain expanded their food tours in Madrid to Catalunya, inaugurating their Barcelona branch with a food tour of this neighborhood. It was clear I had to return to see what all the hype was about!
|Tree-lined city streets in Gràcia|
Now, what makes Gràcia, well, Gràcia?
|Narrow, shaded streets in Gràcia|
|Colorful seltzer bottles, Inch Bar|
Of course, Gràcia can get pretty loud in its own right—especially in the summer during the weeklong Festa Major de Gràcia. As my friend Jessica recounts, the whole neighborhood gets festooned in whimsical decorations and denizens celebrate all night long, but having fireworks go off at ungodly hours can make sleep, uh, difficult. But hey, what’s a Spanish small town without its annual party?
|Pretty houses in Gràcia|
There’s no finer pleasure in Gràcia than tasting everything the neighborhood has to offer, from the traditional Catalan apéritif of vermouth to Catalan staples like pa amb tomàquet, toast rubbed with tomatoes. Where to eat, then?
|A bomba tapa from L’Anxoveta|
I had a quality breakfast at Can Tosca (C/Torrent de l’Olla, 77) during my brief stay in this neighborhood. Their café con leche was a little runny, but they made up for it with a sandwich of tender botifarra sausage placed between two toasted slices of thin, bubbly pa de vidre bread rubbed with juicy tomatoes.
|Vermouth + anchovies at Ca’l Pep|
I stumbled across Inch Bar (C/ Escorial, 117) on my daily hikes down and back up to the hostel. Although it looked barely an inch wide from the street, it opened up inside and served me a refreshing local Moritz beer and open-face sausage sandwich.
|White and red varieties of sweet vermouth at La Vermú|
It was bars and restaurants like these that helped me finally gain a healthy appreciation for Barcelona—even if they made me want to never leave the neighborhood of Gràcia at all.
Have you ever spent time in Gràcia before? Would this neighborhood make you rethink your impressions of Barcelona? Share your thoughts below in the discussion thread!
For more pictures, check out my album on Flickr.