- Up until the end of the 19th century, Gracia was a large village with very much its own identity. To reach it, Barcelona residents had to trudge along a dirt track through the countryside. The city’s relentless expansion meant that Gràcia found itself grafted on to Barcelona in 1897, against a backdrop of heartfelt protests from loyal locals. Today, the original dirt track is unrecognisable – it’s the broad boulevard of the glamorous Passeig de Gràcia, the most prestigious address in the city. Gràcia retains its independent streak, though. Historically, it has been the source of many of Barcelona’s underground and fringe movements, and the recent political protests of the ‘indignados’ found strong support here.
Café culture and sociable squares
Gràcia boasts several charming squares. Whether you fancy enjoying an early morning cup of coffee and a read of the newspaper or socialising into the early hours over tapas, its squares hold a certain appeal. In fact, the whole area is peppered with plaças. The main one is the lively Plaça del Sol, a focal point of the neighbourhood, which starts to pick up the pace at night as a popular meeting place for locals. As its name suggests, it’s also a great spot to soak up some Barcelona sun. Another square worth stopping at is the Plaça de Rius i Taulet, with its famous clock tower, where there’s always something interesting going on. Live concerts often take place in Gràcia’s squares – you’ll never be too far from stumbling across one.
Know your neighbours
Artists and artisans love Gràcia. Crafts and trades have a long history here, and the neighbourhood is full of workshops and studios, where creative Catalans (along with a handful of foreigners) have set up base.
The area’s population is an intriguing assortment of characters. It’s known for its closely knit community of Catalan families who have lived there for generations, and who see themselves as being from Gràcia rather than Barcelona. But they manage to intermingle readily with the thriving ethnic population (many Catalan gypsy families, for example, have settled here quite happily over the last century). You’ll see plenty of young people and students around the place too, although they don’t tend to live locally as rents are on the high side. Tourists are a bit thin on the ground, though, so the barrio is ideal if you really want to experience life as a Barcelona resident.
If your style in clothes and accessories is fairly mainstream, you’re unlikely to find shops to suit your taste in Gràcia. Alternative chic and vintage quirk are the area’s forte. Gran de Gràcia is the ‘high street’, but take your time just wandering in and out of the many other narrow streets and you’ll inadvertently find some boutique gems. Carrer de Verdi is particularly good for trendy clothes shopping.
Bookshops, art galleries, little art shops, old bakeries, timeworn grocers’ shops and middle Eastern cafés also abound in the area. If you’re a convert to the alchemical properties of olive oil, then Oli Sal, “where gold is liquid” is the shop for you. It houses shelves and shelves of more types of olive oil then you ever thought possible, along with soap and bubble bath made from the precious stuff. It’s an appealing destination whether you want to stock your apartment cupboards or choose an original holiday gift.
The area’s main street is the Carrer Gran de Gràcia, which is where the Passeig de Gràcia extends up above Diagonal Avenue. This street also runs parallel to the green line (line 3) of the metro, with its stops of Fontana, Lesseps and Vallcarca. You also have the metro station of Joanic, which is part of the yellow line 4. This is the one to take if you’re heading for the beach.
Walking around Gràcia is a pleasure. The area has a safe feel to it, helped by the fact that it has fewer tourists, and fewer pickpockets as a result. Although some of the streets are narrow, they’ve been thoughtfully laid out – a throwback to the days when Gràcia was a stand-alone village. Up towards the northern end of the district the conventional street layout starts to falter, and the streets become more meandering as they approach the mountains that border Barcelona.
- The most hotly anticipated event in Barcelona’s calendar of festivals is the Festa Major de Gràcia – a week-long extravaganza that takes place around the 15th of August every year. Locals really put their heart into it, and visitors are welcome to wander around the streets getting a peek into the in-depth preparation that goes on. Residents of each street compete with each other to see who can scoop the prize for the best street decorations, and a carnival mood takes over, with live music, correfoc (fire runs), parades, dancing and fireworks. Timing your stay in the city to coincide with this celebration is by no means a daft idea.
Another advantage for visitors who choose to stay in Gràcia is being close to the Verdi multiscreen cinema. This is the most well-known cinema in Barcelona to show films in their original language (v.o. standing for ‘versión original’), with subtitles in Spanish. Perfect if you fancy seeing the latest release while you’re in town.
The biggest draw nearby is the whimsical Parc Güell, laid out over 37 acres and one of the last projects designed by Antoni Gaudí. It resembles the scene of a children’s fairy tale, with its gingerbread houses, serpentine benches and resident salamander made out of mosaic tiles ready to welcome you at the entrance. As well as the Gaudí museum, at the entrance, you can take in the blend of nature and architecture that Gaudí mastered so successfully.
Within Gràcia itself there are some stand-out examples of Modernista architecture. The most iconic is Casa Fuster, which looks a bit like a city-centre castle and nowadays functions as a 5-star hotel. There’s also Casa Viçens, tucked away on Carrer de les Carolines. It’s privately owned and sadly not open to the public, but definitely worth a detour just to appreciate the Moorish-influenced façade.
There’s a huge range of restaurants in Gràcia, from traditional Mediterranean fare to cuisine from all corners of the globe. Then of course there are plenty of little tapas bars dotted around the many squares. Many of the pricier restaurants are located along the Gran de Gràcia, one of which is Fernandez, which would be a good choice if you’re celebrating a special occasion. For a more laid-back vibe, head to Amelie, which dishes up satisfying and original food at very affordable prices. The service is second-to-none. The beautifully illuminated Ferrum is another of our favourites, where staff take particular care to make diners feel at home.
Gràcia’s nightlife revolves around its terraces and squares, where people can kick back and watch the comings and goings of the barrio. Bars are also ten a penny. For an ‘authentic’ feel, you might enjoy the atmosphere in Ban Canigó. It can look a bit stark on first glance, but it turns out to be quite a homely place, enduringly popular with locals. The incredibly cheap drinks and hearty sandwiches could be a factor, of course. Gràcia’s also full of bodegas (somewhere between a bar and a traditional wine cellar). The El Roure bar, whose house speciality is a potent vermouth, is full of old-timers and has a reputation for dishing up the best tapas in Gràcia. Later on in the evening, you could sample the charms of El Alfa, a nightclub on the main Gran de Gràcia. Always popular (particularly with 30-somethings) it plays a good selection of music and has a very reasonable entrance fee.
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