Barcelona is not just about Sagrada Familia and the Ramblas. That’s all good of course, I have been there. There is, however, another side of Barcelona that you should definitely swing by when you visit this little big city.
I am talking about the up-and-coming town of Poblenou which means a new village in Catalan. It is part of the Sant Marti district and is bordered by the sea.
Here are some of the highlights from the accompanying podcast:
Poblenou used to be an industrial town, with a lot of manufacturing and textile companies setting up shops there. Workers from other parts of Spain came there to work and it was basically abandoned when the industry went away. Squatters took up residence in the old derelict buildings as always happens. It’s still a work in progress, but that’s what makes it so exciting.
The city went through a revitalization in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. The train tracks that had separated Barcelona from the sea were removed. Barcelona suddenly became the coastal city that it should have always been.
The area is fast becoming the new it place. Artists and design companies set up shop there in the spacious lofts. The real estate market seems to be booming. Buildings in Poblenou include the Torre Agba, a 38-floor skyscraper designed by Jean Nouvel. It reminds you of the Gerkin in London.
It is, according to the designer, supposed to represent a geyser, but you can see why it has earned other names :-). It’s a sleek glass building that is done in the Barcelona colors of red and blue and is like a beacon in the city.
What to see in Poblenou Barcelona and beyond:
The new District 22 (@22), a trendy hipster place is poised to become the Silicon Valley of Barcelona. There is a major effort to bring more innovative companies with sustainable, and practical ideas.
There is a designated urban plan to accomplish this. It’s basically a “live” test place for ideas, using the actual city. How cool is that? Plenty of tapas bars and hangouts are springing up alongside chic hotels.
The El Encants Barcelona flea market – One of the places that have taken on a new look. It is a hybrid indoor/outdoor market. It feels outdoorsy and fresh air blows through, yet there is a glassy roof providing shade. I’ve never seen anything like it before. You can buy pretty much anything there, from used clothes to second-hand electronics to new bathroom fixtures.
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Other places include the Forum building, the DHUB, ( design museum of Barcelona). Poblenou even has its own Rambla de Poblenou, the main commercial street that goes from the Avenue Diagonal all the way to the beach.
The beach of course lends itself to a lot of water activities. We got a chance to do some paddle surfing, kayaking and sailing. I declined, as l am terrified of the water :-). so while the others went off in their wetsuits, we took a long walk and visited the nearby Ciutadella Park.
This park is the oldest and most popular park in Barcelona. It is somewhat close to the Barceloneta beach. It has the usual triumphal arch that is common in many European cities, like Berlin and Brussels.
It actually reminded me a lot of the Longchamps Palace in Marseille. It was interesting to find out that a young Gaudi (yes, that Gaudi of the famous, unfinished masterpiece that is the Sagrada) actually assisted architect Joseph Fontsere who designed it.
Gothic Quarter walking tour:
We also did a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter with our very capable guide, Xavier. I am always hesitant to use a guide when l visit places, but l must admit there is a certain something extra when you hear the history of a particular place.
For instance, l would have seen this work of art, and probably oohed for a second, maybe snap a photo, and move on. Xavier explained that this particular scene was how the city was in the old days when Barcelona was still a walled city.
Once inside the gates, the merchants had to pay taxes to conduct business. The enterprising merchants, therefore, set up shop outside of the city walls to avoid the taxes. A little later when we got to the actual remaining part of the wall, I felt a bit smug 🙂 compared to the other tourists because of my added knowledge.
I think sometimes we are so focused on trying to do our own thing, off the beaten path, that we forget there is a reason for the path in the first place. I will consider more tours going forward. I like acquiring knowledge.
On the last day of our Barcelona visit, we visited the MNAC, the Museum of National Art of Catalonia. That was such a treat for me. You can read more about the fabulous MNAC experience that let us behind the scenes.
Let me just say that a trip to Barcelona should include checking out this museum. You get fabulous views of the city and the Olympic ring from up there. That alone makes it worthwhile.
Biking through Barcelona:
A bike tour of the city was also one of the highlights. We had a great guide from Un Menys Bicicletas. He made sure that our bikes were adjusted just right. He was so chill in the way he rode, that my confidence grew as we went along. I’m okay riding bikes and was fine when on the bike lanes.
Once off on them, however, l was nervous trying to weave my way through the many pedestrian areas that we biked through. When he felt we should walk our bikes, we did so to be safe. He had an amazing amount of energy. Between him, Xavier and Jaume, we never lost anyone in the group.
Barcelona has so many kilometers of bike lanes, a bike is a great way to get around the city. Every so often, we would stop to check out many points of interest, like the Old Jewish Quarter, the Cathedral, and the San Pau del Camp church. We also got to see the section of Litoral, where 3 parts of Barcelona actually intersected.
The old town in one part, the new part and the Poble Sec. I found it interesting that by law, the old part served alcohol and closed by 11PM, the next part at midnight, and the last past at 1AM.
It’s pretty cool because you can just move your party/drinking to the other parts and just carry on :-). The demographics changed as well. As we walked deeper into the old town, you saw more residential, working-class neighborhoods, as opposed to the tourist areas.
Where to stay in Barcelona:
The Barcelo Sants hotel is a cool, space theme style hotel. It kind of had a Jetsons TV show vibe to it. The rooms are luxurious in this true 4 star hotel. The bed was big and had many fluffy pillows. There was soft lighting illuminating the room. The ambiance made for a peaceful place to crash after full days of discovering the city.
The hotel is ultra convenient as it sits almost atop the Sants train station. Direct line to the airport? Yep! You can’t beat that. The staff were so nice and there are computers that you can use, right in the lobby.
There is also a big screen TV and plenty of seats. I had about four hours to kill after we were done with the activities. I chose to hang out in the lobby, watch some television and catch up on my emails etc online, thanks to the free wifi.
Another option of good hotels in Poblenou Barcelona is the Travelodge Barcelona Poblenou. The prices are reasonable and the location is great. Nowadays, with the AirBnB debacle where the locals are rebelling against short term lets, you might want to consider staying at hotels in Barcelona. Don’t be surprised if the prices are very competitive.
The Food in Barcelona: (Where to eat in Barcelona)
- Andreu for the best jamon Iberico
- El Cangrejo Loco for amazing seafood and paella
- W Hotel for the most delicious burgers and fries
- Fabrica Moritz for German inspired cuisine and microbrewery
I will just show you in pictures some of the amazing food that we had in Barcelona. I don’t think l had anything that wasn’t exceptional. Tapas, seafood, and burgers were all great. The ultra delicious Iberico ham at Andreu? Fantastico!!!
The seafood Fideua at the El Cangrejo Loco? Insanely good. By the way, Fideua is about to overtake Paella as my favorite Spanish food. I freaking love it! It’s like paella but made with what looks like little short noodles. It is served with Alliolli sauce, a mixture of garlic, olive oil and egg yolk.
This experience was a fantastic way to discover a different side of Barcelona. I felt the same thrill when we discovered the Born neighborhood. I get why everyone says Barcelona is an awesome place now :-). I hope this encourages you to step outside the usual touristy things to do, and discover places off the beaten path.
If you’re ready for the expat life in Spain, make sure to buy your copy of our guide that walks you through the requirements.
Have you been to Poblenou? Or Barcelona? Or Spain? Share your experience with us if yes, if not…would you like to visit?