Sant Andreu is one of Barcelona’s nine main districts. It sits in the northwest of the city and is rarely visited by many tourists, even though it’s just a 20-minute metro journey from the center. The small, village-like area of Sant Andreu de Palomar lies at the heart of the area and makes for an interesting alternative to some of the more famous Barcelona neighborhoods. The area has a very local and traditional feel, and actually used to be a separate village, which annexed Barcelona in 1897.
Step out of the Sant Andreu metro station into Plaça d’Orfila and you’ll immediately see the imposing Sant Andreu church. Different to many of the city’s iconic Gothic churches, it has a large dome instead of spires, and was built on the site of a 10th century Romanesque church. The building that stands today was completed in 1881.
Walk along Calle de Torres i Bages and you’ll come to a large square with a modern-style fountain and the big district library. Just behind it sits the old factory of Fabra i Coats, which has been turned into an arts and cultural center, housing artist workshops and showcasing exhibitions, concerts and artistic activities. At Christmas time, the factory turns into the toy workshop of The Three Kings and kids come from all over Barcelona for the chance to see one of the Kings, deliver their Christmas list and receive a small gift.
Head further into the village of Sant Andreu de Palomar itself – up cobblestone streets lined with bougainvillea and orange trees and past colourful Modernista-style houses and apartment buildings – and you’ll find the area’s second church, Sant Pacià . Not many are aware, but this little-known 19th century Neo-Gothic church is actually home to some of architect Antoni Gaudí‘s work, including the floor mosaics, the lamps and the altar. It’s hardly visited by any tourists at all, so you’re sure to have the place all to yourself. The only challenge is finding a time when it’s open.
Running through the middle of Sant Andreu is the bustling Carrer Gran de Sant Andreu, lined with many independent clothes shops, boutiques, bakeries, cafés and gift stores. However, if you’re after something more traditional, head to the Mercat Central, situated in the center of a charming plaza lined with shops, cafés and residential apartments. There is also a market on Saturday mornings in Plaza Comércio, selling handicrafts such as handbags, jewelry and clothes, as well as traditional products like local cheeses and honeys.
La Maquinista is one of Barcelona’s best shopping malls and lies just across the train tracks from the main village of Sant Andreu de Palomar. Built on the site of an old factory, today it’s a luxury outdoor shopping complex, home to many designer stores, restaurants, bars and a cinema. In the winter, you’ll find an outdoor ice skating rink here too.
Most of Sant Andreu’s cafés and restaurants are very basic or traditional without too much variety. However, there are a handful of stand-out places if you’re feeling peckish or just need a place for a drink and a pick-me-up.
Versalles is the area’s oldest café-bar, dating back to 1907 and has a spectacular, green Modernista-style facade with bright mosaics under its balconies. Inside you’ll find a beautifully carved wooden bar, colourful glass lamps and elegant statues.
Those looking for something more contemporary should head to Several Cafè on Calle Gran de Sant Andreu, a cozy little place, serving delicious homemade cakes and cookies, as well as fresh sandwiches and fruit smoothies. It also has a cute little garden in the back.
If you’re in the barrio early enough for breakfast, or want a quality place for lunch or some tapas, then head to El Balista, an Argentinean restaurant and tapería with chic decor and delicious empanadas (small, filled pasties).
Looking for somewhere to go in the evening? Head to La Vermutería de Sant Andreu, a trendy vermouth bar serving both traditional Catalan and international bites. As well as lots of seafood and meat options, it has some great vegetarian and organic choices – one of the very few places in Sant Andreu that does. It also holds live stand-up comedy nights (in Spanish or Catalan only).