Sultry, sun drenched and intoxicatingly laid back, inimitable Barcelona is in a league all of its own. Spain’s second city is a favourite with visitors and locals alike, charming all who visit with its blend of architectural styles, Blue Flag beaches and proud Catalan culture. In terms of things to do in Barcelona, the likes of the Sagrada Familia, La Boqueria and Las Ramblas need little introduction. But once you’ve ticked off the icons and drunk the mandatory glass of sangria, what’s next?
Well that’s when the real Barcelona experience begins, and that’s where we come in. These are our top picks for 5 alternative things to do in Barcelona…
1. Get to know Gaudi’s lesser known masterpieces
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s most famous piece of work (and yes, it’s still unfinished). But just limiting yourself to this one masterpiece, is to merely skim the surface of Gaudi’s architectural ability.
Fondly known as ‘God’s architect’, Gaudi’s style of Catalan Modernism (often referred to as Art Nouveau) can be seen across the city of Barcelona. Casa Batlló, a building that has been likened to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, is a particular favourite of ours. Covered in shards of stained glass that shine blue and green like the glassy surface of a lake, Casa Batlló was the home of textile industrialist Josep Batlló, who commissioned Gaudi personally.
Casa Vicens is another stroke of genius, and the very first house that Gaudi designed. Built in the 1880’s as a summerhouse for stock broker Manel Vicens, the house transports you back to Gaudi’s Orientalist Period, and is altogether something different. Dashes of Moorish influence combine with oriental palms, pink walls, flower adorned tiles and flying birds to create something that feels utterly dreamlike.
2. Head to the hills and the mountain town of Montserrat
Located around 1 hour north west of Barcelona, lies the spectacular Benedictine monk mountain retreat of Montserrat. A visit here is one of the absolutely essential things to do in Barcelona, for two reasons. Firstly, the views are out of this world, and whilst the monastery built into the cliff face is an impressive sight by itself, really the panoramic mountain views over Catalonia are the main event.
The second reason for visiting, is the 12th century statue of the Black Madonna, the patron saint of Catalonia. Enthroned above the high altar in the basilica of the monastery, it is in the Black Madonna’s honour that the ‘Escolania de Montserrat’ choirboys sing their hearts out everyday, creating a sound that is both beautiful, and haunting.
3. Explore Barcelona’s newest foodie hotspot, Sant Antoni market
Of the top things to do in Barcelona, La Boqueria is a must do. But if you’re looking for a more local experience that takes you off the tourist track, head to the neighbourhood of Sant Antoni. This local barri is about to hit the big time, thanks to a whopping €80m investment in the recently re-opened Sant Antoni market. Vegetables, fish, fruit, vintage clothing, homewares and trinkets are all sold here, in a historic setting that celebrates the original architecture and vibrancy of the markets beginnings. Squeeze in to a tiny stall for out of this world tapas, grab a fresh fruit juice and browse at your leisure.
If you visit on a Sunday, you’ll get to enjoy one of Europe’s biggest open air markets, and a local Sant Antoni Sunday tradition. 78 stalls take up temporary residence each weekend selling new and second hand books, comics, stamps and collectables, whilst locals meet here to swap books, gossip and stories.
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4. Visit the UNESCO listed Roman ruins at Tarragona
A trip to Tarragona is to step way, way back in time. Located around 45 minutes outside of Barcelona, Tarragona is a masterclass in the preservation efforts of the Roman Empire, with many beautiful buildings and monuments dating as far back as the 12th century. The Les Ferrers Aqueduct, also known as the Devil’s Bridge, is particularly impressive, as is the ancient amphitheatre. Carved into a steep slope between the Roman walls and the deep blue of the Mediterranean, this spectacular monument could once hold 15,000 spectators, where gladiators and wild animals fought to the death.
5. Take a tapas walking tour in El Born
Trendy El Born is where the city’s well heeled, cultural crowd spend their time. Narrow medieval streets, designer boutiques, traditional Bodegas and stylish cocktail bars are all synonymous of the area, whilst the Santa Caterina Market delivers an authentic local feel. The wine scene in El Born is also second to none, with countless wine bars and Bodegas serving up natural wines, the newest boozy trend in town. It makes sense then, that a tapas tour of this area will nothing short of mouth-watering. Tuck into Spanish favourites like Jamón Iberico, Croquette and Montaditos, whilst discovering the history of the barri, and how it evolved to become one of the trendiest spots in town.