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Barcelona: An Insider's Guide to 24 Hidden Gems for Travelers

Want good advice about a destination? Find a local. Want great advice? Seek out locals who love their home so much they've made it their life's work to help visitors fall in love with it, too.
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Want good advice about a destination? Find a local. Want great advice? Seek out locals who love their home so much they've made it their life's work to help visitors fall in love with it, too.

Offering visitors unrivaled expertise on Barcelona, locals Francesca Gufoni and Laura Coch work as Local Hosts for vacation packager Monograms. Every day, they share advice, enthusiasm, and assistance with travelers looking to discover the true magic of the city.

After getting great suggestions from the duo about my own itinerary this spring, I reached out to find out some of their absolute favorite things in and around Barcelona. They dished on their favorite tapas haunts, Gaudi buildings, day trips, and more.

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Favorite Gaudi Architecture
Gaudi's whimsical spirit still defines Barcelona nearly a century after the architect's death. Gufoni and Coch agree on their favorite of his masterworks.

Gufoni: "While it might not sound original, it's the Sagrada Familia. The building is fascinating, magical and very futuristic. Inside, it's so bright—touched by colorful flashes of lights. The choir seats, sitting up high, are mystical. It's hard to believe this building was conceived more than a century ago. It fits perfectly in the present … and it will fit in in 2040 (when the building is currently scheduled to be completed) or when there are cars flying past its exterior."

Coch: "By far, my favorite Gaudi monument is Sagrada Familia. It has all of Gaudi in one building and is definitely the highlight of his entire career."

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Favorite Plaza to Sit and Watch Life Go by
To know Barcelona is to see it as the locals do: from a bench in a plaza on a warm day. Here are Gufoni and Coch's favorite spots to watch life go by:

Gufoni: "Plaza Reial (Royal Square). You can sit at the tables of the Glaciar Bar (which still has the bohemian-style of the old cafes) under the arches that surround the square and watch a wide variety of people passing by the fountain or under the palm trees. Here, you're certain to encounter everyone from tourists and acrobats to kids or couples holding hands."

Coch: "The Plaza del Pi is absolutely charming. Located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, this is where you can enjoy the lively medieval city next to the stunning church of Santa Maria del Pi, beautiful historic shops, and daily local life."

Related:27 Awesome Natural Wonders in Europe

(Photo: Placa Reial via Shutterstock)
Favorite Local Sweet
Dessert can be the window into the soul of a culture, so it's a must for curious visitors. Here are Gufoni and Coch's favorite local sweet treats in Barcelona.

Gufoni: "It's obviously chocolate! My favorite chocolates are called Catanies and they come from a Catalan town called Vilafranca. They are praline with an almond inside, covered by delicious chocolate and a crispy caramel skin with cocoa powder … amazing!"

Coch: "Mel i Mato ("fresh cheese with honey") is a delicious goat cheese produced in the region of Catalonia. If you eat it alone, you might not like it. Instead, eat it like a local and blend it with honey. It's so good!"

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons via CC Attribution/Share Alike)
Favorite Tapas Spot
Tapas is a way of life in Spain, and a can't-miss experience for tourists. Here are Gufoni and Coch's favorite tapas spots in Barcelona.

Gufoni: "It's a restaurant called Museu de l'Embotit (the Cold Cuts Museum) and is famous for its ham, salami, and Catalan cold cuts. The owner, Ciscu, prepares small plates for sharing, according to tradition. Everything is homemade: Spanish omelet, croquettes, salted codfish salad, and an outstanding roasted ham. It's nice to go there with friends and watch football matches with others from the neighborhood."

Coch: "Ciudad Condal, located in the Eixample District. They have the best tapas in Barcelona made even better by their wonderful food display at the bar."

Related:How to Snack Like a Local in Europe

(Photo: TripAdvisor)
Favorite Less-Known Modernisme Building
Gaudi isn't the only architect to have created the signature whimsy of Barcelona's architecture. Here are Gufoni and Coch's favorite less-known modernisme masterpieces.

Gufoni: "Casa Roviralta, a house built by Architect Joan Rubió i Bellver. It was a residence of friars in 1903—a private modernime house that won the Artistic Buildings Competition. Today, it is a restaurant famous for stone-oven lamb meat."

Coch: "The Hospital Sant Pau is a complex of 48 art nouveau pavilions surrounded by gardens created to help patients recover faster. Now, it still brings calm to all visitors. It has been recently refurbished and re-opened to the public. In the future, it will definitely become a 'must-see' in Barcelona. The hospital was built by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, a contemporary architect of Gaudi. They weren't close friends, but they shared a passion for architecture and design."

(Photo: Interior of Hospital of Holy Cross and Saint Paul via Iakov Filimonov/
Favorite New Trend
What's new and hot in Barcelona? We asked Gufoni and Coch. Here are their favorite current trends.

Gufoni: "Rooftop yoga! People organize in groups and meet on rooftop terraces shared by the residents or owners of attics. Up in the air and far from the traffic, enjoying the dawn or sunset, it is perfect for those who don't live near a park or the beach."

Coch: "Cooking workshops suitable for all tastes! From local cuisine like paella, tapas, and Gazpacho, to Thai or Japanese cooking."

Related:Hottest Food Trends for Travelers in 2015

(Photo: Christine Sarkis)
Favorite Market
Barcelona has a rich history of neighborhood markets that sell everything from ham (of course) to candy, and books to artisanal pottery. Here's what Gufoni and Coch recommend.

Gufoni: "The Sunday Book Market in the quarter of Sant Antoni. Every Sunday morning they close a part of Urgell Street from traffic. For the morning, the street becomes full of stands of old books, new books, comics, DVDs, and vinyl records. All around, you see neighbors walking with their dogs or playing with their kids, and bars open for midday vermouth."

Coch: "La Boqueria. Once you walk in, you'll feel an explosion of colors and flavors. It is the perfect place to taste a little bit of everything and has food from all over the world. The motto of this market is, 'If you can eat it, we have it.'"

(Photo: Christine Sarkis)
Favorite Museum
Barcelona is an art town through and through. Which of the many great museums rank highest in Gufoni and Coch's estimation? These two slightly off-the-beaten-path treasures.

Gufoni: "The Joan MirÁ Foundation. The building is on the hill of Montjuic and it's full of natural light, so the colors of the works of Miro are even more powerful and fascinating. It's in a quiet location, surrounded by nature and has great views on the city. I like the fact that the artist was still alive when it was built, so it is exactly how he conceived it."

Coch: "MNAC (National Museum of Art of Catalunya) because it's a historical building that houses a unique collection of Romanesque and Gothic art recognized worldwide. Don't miss the incredible views from this building. It's in a very privileged location on the mountain of Montjuic."

Related:Incredible Free Museums Around the World

(Photo: TripAdvisor)
Favorite Something Totally Unexpected
Ready to be surprised by Barcelona? Then keep your eyes open and go for a wander, say Gufoni and Coch.

Gufoni: "Different forms of urban art throughout the city. As you walk along the streets of Barcelona, the works just run into you. Graffiti, decorated tiles, sculptures made with abandoned objects, collages, posters … you can find many of them photographed by the people of Barcelona on a Facebook page called Varcelona."

Coch: "Along the narrow streets in the Gothic Quarter, you will find the clothes, hanged up to dry, on both sides of the street. You must trust your neighbor and clip the clothes tightly if you don't want to lose them!"

(Photo: Christine Sarkis)
Favorite Day Trip
Barcelona is lovely, but so is the surrounding region. Here's where Gufoni and Coch go when they want an adventure beyond city limits.

Gufoni: "My Argentinian friends and I like to have barbeques outside the city. For this, we go to a small town called Gava. There, you can gather and eat at the bottom of a hill, surrounded by trees. In the afternoon, we move to Sitges, which is not far from there and we have a walk on the beach or on the narrow streets of the old quarter, with its characteristic small white houses and handicrafts markets."

Coch: "Girona is only 30 minutes away from Barcelona by high-speed train. Don't miss the line of colorful buildings on the Onyar River, and the most well-preserved Jewish Quarter of Europe. Home of El Celler de Can Roca (the world's No. 1 restaurant) Girona has also been chosen as a background for the sixth season of Game of Thrones."

Related:Game of Thrones Location Update

(Photo: Girona, Spain via Shutterstock)
Favorite Beach
Barcelona is close to some of the Mediterranean's most beautiful beaches. Here's where Gufoni and Coch go when they crave a day at the seaside.

Gufoni: "I like to take the train north of Barcelona to Sant Pol de Mar. The journey itself is beautiful as the train follows the beach line. After one hour, I get off in Sant Pol de Mar and I spend the day sunbathing and enjoying the sea. Thanks to my work I normally have free time during the week so I can find quiet places on weekdays. The railway goes straight through the village so the train passes slowly and in midday it is very calm, when all the shops have closed for lunch. The beach is quite long so no one disturbs you."

Coch: "Cala Sant Francesc in Blanes (Costa Brava). Within an hour's drive of Barcelona and easily reached by public transport, it is one of the finest beaches in the area and may also be one of the most accessible. It is a relaxing, beautiful spot with crystalline waters and an incredible landscape … away from the crowds."

(Photo: Cala Sant Francesc Beach via Shutterstock)
Favorite Activity Suggestion for Monograms Visitors
Every day, Gufoni and Coch work to help Monograms visitors find incredible things to experience in Barcelona and Catalunya. Here are the activities they find bring the most delight.

Gufoni: "Explore. To find your love of Barcelona, it's important to walk, watch, and taste your way through the city. The independence Monograms provides travelers helps them do just that. They can personalize their trip and find their own, personal reasons to fall in love with Barcelona."

Coch: "If you like sparkling wine, you should definitely visit the Cathedral of Cava, Codorniu, with the world's largest underground cellars. You can combine this day trip with Montserrat, a spectacular mountain with a monastery on top and a unique black Madonna."

(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

SmarterTravel contributors occasionally accept free or partially subsidized travel in exchange for our unbiased opinions. We never accept compensation in exchange for a positive review.

Read the original story: Barcelona: An Insider's Guide to 24 Hidden Gems for Travelers by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Hospital de Sant Pau via Shutterstock)

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