To discover the best of Spain’s coastal city, take a wander through its decorated backstreets.

The best way to see this city is on foot. I’m not talking about ambling down La Rambla, either. In Barcelona, it’s all about the alleyways. The narrow passages are the city’s vital capillaries. On these pedestrian streets, I stumbled across under-the-radar boutiques, old-school tapas joints packed with locals, Instagram-ready laundry strung from rusted balconies—and plenty of places to raise a glass.

I spent hours wandering the labyrinth of backstreets in the shabby-chic El Born neighborhood. One Friday evening, I stumbled on Bar Brutal, one of Europe’s best natural wine bars (outside of Scandinavia, anyway). A couple glasses of briny, crisp Catalonian white wine fortified me for the weekly dance party a few blocks away in the vast courtyard of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, which is ringed by stunning Gothic architecture. If it weren’t for the DJs, the museum would be easy to miss, tucked away as it is along—you guessed it—an alleyway.

The narrow passages are the city’s vital capillaries.

Every hazy-headed morning, I went straight for a cortado, Spain’s answer to the cappuccino. The best I found was the velvety, artfully poured version at Caravelle in the lively, if somewhat seedy, Raval neighborhood. As it turned out, I had many of my favorite drinking moments in Raval, where I sipped an expertly mixed Manhattan—a happy surprise in a city not known for its cocktail culture—and later used a stranger’s lighter to set a sugar cube ablaze over a glass of absinthe at Bar Marsella, a 200-year-old bar they say Hemingway frequented. The place had a vibe that every Brooklyn haunt tries to mimic. Maybe it was just the absinthe talking, but I thought, here, in an alley in Barcelona, I’ve found the original cool.

>>Next: The Surprising Reason Spain Does Big, Long Lunches

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