- The outlying suburb of Horta-Guinardó, to the north west of Barcelona’s city centre, is a vast and mainly residential district. It’s an area where tourists tend not to tread – probably because it’s a further out from the centre and relatively unknown. Like many areas on the outskirts, it was once a stand-alone village, and was taken under Barcelona’s wing at the end of the 19th century. A valley runs through the middle of the area, flanked by hills and mountains, making it a great point to gain access to several of the city’s natural attractions.
Running up that hill
In reality, the Horta-Guinardó district takes in quite a few different neighbourhoods – Horta, el Guinardó, el Carmel, Vall d'Hebron, La Clota and La Font d’en Fargues. Up into Carmel, the higgledy-piggledy houses built on these hillsides date back to the 1960s and 70s, when immigrant workers were encouraged to move to Spain by Franco. The terrain gets even steeper as you head north, where part of the Parc de Collserola, the largest metropolitan park in the world, stretches out. All in all, expect some steep streets, accompanied by some spectacular views.
Know your neighbours
The small-town feel resulting from Horta-Guinardó’s history as an area hived-off from the main city can either be a drawback or a blessing, depending on what you want from your time in Barcelona. Most residents tend to be life-long inhabitants of the district. At night time, you may well struggle to see any signs of life. Staying here would be ideal for families, given how tranquil it is and the ease of access to parks. If you’re on a budget you might also want to consider it – accommodation will be cheaper here, and the metro means you’re never too far from the city centre.
Horta-Guinardó is not exactly a commercial hub. You won’t struggle when it comes to shopping for groceries, as there are lots of little local supermarkets. For a wider choice of products, you could try the large branch of Mercadona on Carrer de Petrarca. Otherwise, for a decent dose of retail therapy, your best bet is the neighbouring district of Gràcia, with its quaint boutiques and one-off designers. Another option is to jump on the metro to the massive La Maquinista shopping centre in the opposite direction, in the district of Sant Andreu.
As the third-largest district of Barcelona (after Sants and Sarrià), Horta covers a lot of ground. If you’re staying in the northern part, your nearest metro stations will be Vall d’Hebron, Montbau, Mundet and Valldaura on the green line 3.This line stops off in Gràcia before reaching the city centre and down to the port. In the centre of the area is the metro station of Horta itself, on blue line 5, with trains from here taking you directly to the Sagrada Família in around 10 minutes. Towards the south of the district you’ll find the metro stations of Alfons X, Guinardó and Maragall, on yellow line 4. This is the line to take for direct access to the beaches at Barceloneta and Vila Olímpica. Aside from the metro lines, there’s a plethora of bus routes criss-crossing the area. Its various green zones make Horta a fairly pleasant place to explore on foot, although bear in mind that it possesses several quite steep streets, unlike the extremely flat city centre.
- The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and Sant Paul) is a Modernista masterpiece in the south of the district, and one you should definitely make some time for. Designed by Catalan architext Lluis Domènech I Montaner, the complex is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a fully functioning hospital until 2009, when much-needed renovation work started on the site. You can get free access to its grounds in the meantime, and there are also guided tours several times a morning in a choice of European languages.
Sitting just above the streets of Horta is an area called the Vall d’Hebron. If you have some time to spare, you might like to visit the 19th-century Palauet de les Heures, which sits majestically at the foot of the Collserola hills. Now used as a university building, it resembles a French chateau on the hillside. It would be worth a visit for its gardens alone, with their intricately landscaped terraces and impressive collection of plant and tree species. Public transport stops at the Passeig de la Vall d’Hebron, but you can take a free bus that goes right around the university grounds and will drop you off there.
A perfect place to park yourself
Near to the Mundet metro station, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta is a real find in an area that isn’t exactly short on scenic highlights. Dating back to the 18th century, it’s one of the oldest and most established parks in the city, comprising both gardens and a museum. The romantic design and grounds have stood the test of time very well. An intriguing maze of cypress bushes awaits you at the centre, and if you successfully manage to navigate the topiary, you’ll be rewarded by a pool and a statue of Eros himself. There are also a dedicated picnic place and kids’ play area just by the museum. Make sure you call in to see Horta’s own Velodrome, which was used to host the track cycling events of the 1992 Olympic Games.
Occupying a much larger area of ground is the lush Parc del Guinardó, which also boasts its fair share of cypress trees. Fringed by woodland, the main part of the park is a mixture of landscaped leafy corners and delicate water features, making it an ideal place to relax as well as take in some sweeping views across the city.
If you need to feed the hungry hordes, head to Carrer del Tajo, where you’ll find Sant Fost. A rustic, down-to-earth Catalan kitchen, it serves up Mediterranean dishes at reasonable prices, in a very family-friendly setting. Their cod done with honey (bacalao con miel) is one of our particular favourites. Just a few streets north, close to the Plaça Eivissa, is Can Xus. Their speciality is anything that can be roasted over hot coals, although the menu is quite varied. Slightly higher prices here do seem justified by the quality of the food and friendliness of the service. Elsewhere, right on the edge of the Parc del Carmel, is the Mesón Restaurante Delicias. The waiters are helpful, the portions of tapas are massive and there’s a sunny terrace where you can scoff on your squid rings. The queue outside is testament to its popularity.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Horta-Guinardó isn’t exactly known for its nightlife. There are a few bars and clubs dotted around, but you’d do better to plan in advance where you’re going to go, to save you wandering round on the look-out. An absolute highlight if you’re into cocktails is Torre Rosa, whose head bartender is the recipient of numerous cocktail awards. The setting is equally memorable – a hundred-year-old Indian house, with a garden terrace that is idyllic in the summer. If you feel the need to shimmy on down, an excellent bar is Samba Brasil, close the metro station of Horta. Cocktails are expertly concocted by the bar staff here, and the caipirinhas get a particularly good name. Water features and tropical plants complete the atmosphere. Nearby you can also find the memorably named Louise Se Va Nit. Done up in the style of a Madrid concert hall, this is a rock venue through and through, and often plays host to concerts from independent rock bands.
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