Bon dia! We are all dreaming about our next trip to Europe. Images of sunny coastlines, extravagant modernist architecture, and exciting fútbol games quickly come to mind when thinking about this classic and historic Mediterranean port.
Of course, you cannot travel to the city without visiting the “essentials” like the Sagrada Familia Cathedral or Gaudi’s Parc Güell.
But when you go, I encourage you to truly immerse yourself and explore spots that are not frequented by the typical tourist. After all, overtourism is becoming an increasingly apparent problem, and we should be mindful of the spaces we occupy in places that locals call their home.
As a former expatriate in a similar touristy city (the Spanish capital of Madrid), you would be surprised by how many things you can do outside of the obligatory cathedral visit. That is why I have compiled this list of “unusual”―or less mainstream but equally fun―things to do in Barcelona!
01 | Get lost in a maze of beauty
If you wish to escape the hustle and bustle of Barcelona without actually leaving the city, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta is for you. One of the lesser-known (yet equally fascinating) attractions, this park is the oldest of its kind in the city. Composed of an 18th-century neoclassical garden, a 19th-century romantic garden, and a hedge maze, it can be interpreted as an homage to the gods and goddesses of classical mythology. For example, within the center of the labyrinth are statues of Ariadne and Theseus, which, if you are familiar with Greek mythology, is a fitting location for the two characters.
At the gardens, you can also visit the former palace home of the Desvalls family, take pictures in front of the Danae Pavilion, or contemplate life while listening to the steady streams of water spouting from the numerous waterfalls, canals, and fountains scattered along the terraces. Without a doubt, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta is the perfect place for solitude and wellness, where your spirit can commune with the nature surrounding you.
You can learn more about Parc del Laberint d’Horta on Barcelona.cat.
02 | Indulge yourself at the Chocolate Museum
Sure, you can visit museums to educate yourself on the Spanish conquests of the Americas… but why not treat yourself to simultaneous education and consumption of sweets?
The conquistadors brought cocoa back from Central America and first introduced them to peninsular Spaniards. To honor this trans-Atlantic transfer, Barcelona established the Chocolate Museum. You’ll learn about the evolution of chocolate and its trajectory from a little treat to how chocolate became an exemplar of the city’s talented art and sculpture.
From glass-encased sculptures of famous cultural icons like Louis Armstrong to intricate replicas of architectural masterpieces like the Sagrada Familia, these exhibits produced entirely from chocolate are sure to impress your mind and satiate your sweet tooth.
Indulge in some sweet info on the Museu de la Xocolata’s website.
03 | Receive some enlightening “Sex Education”
Like the critically acclaimed Netflix television series, Barcelona’s Erotic Museum details the ever changing concept of sexuality, as explored through our ancestors’ eyes. A unique attraction for lovers of museums, sexual kinks, and unabashed art alike, the exhibits here will intrigue and teach you something. Collections of art pieces display intercourse from ancient times to the modern day, such as the Japanese depictions of exaggerated genitalia (shunga) and 1920s Catalan pornography.
This unusual museum focuses on Barcelona’s relationship with eroticism via pieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso. Other fascinating artistic erotica featured comes from the Orient and ancient civilizations. The Erotic Museum is a testament to humankind’s deepest fantasies. Yet this place maintains the professional and educational aspects of your typical, run-of-the-mill museum.
Click here to satisfy your inner curiosities about sexual history.
04 | Watch performances like an aristocrat
The Palau Dalmases, an architectural gem of the 17th century, was once the meeting place of several aristocratic societies like the scholarly Desconfiats. Decorated with a Baroque courtyard, a staircase with Solomonic columns, and friezes depicting classical mythological stories, just standing in the physical presence of this palace can evoke an ambiance of royalty.
But the beautiful historic façade is not the only unusual thing about this place. Nowadays, the Palau Dalmases operates as a flamenco performance venue during the evening. Reserve your ticket entry, dress in your most elegant clothes, and request a glass of wine as you watch the flamenco show’s intense furor.
The passion emitted from the flamenco dancers is palpable—I guarantee your experience will be unforgettable.
Experience the Mediterranean magic of flamenco here.
05 | Check yourself in at the hospital
The formerly operational Hospital de Sant Pau is the largest building complex in the world, designed in the Art Nouveau style. Decorated throughout the exterior of the 27-building complex are stained glass windows, ornate statues of gargoyles and angels, and colorfully-tiled roofs. If that does not impress you enough, wait until you enter the interior: both its museum and cultural center contain carefully-designed arches, intricately constructed columns, and a plethora of colorful ceilings that complement the rest of the interior.
The site, officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, reopened to the public back in 2014 and serves as a multipurpose area, hosting a multitude of events, meetings, and tours. One of the complex’s new buildings erected also continues to serve as a hospital, but hopefully, your reasons for visiting are not medical related!
Click here to prepare an appointment with the hospital.
06 | Retreat into the mountains of Montserrat
A quick 90-minute train ride outside of the center city is the multi-peaked mountain range of Montserrat. After either getting your multi-hour workout in by climbing up the trail or taking a fun ride up via the cable car, you will reach the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, a beautifully constructed monastery tucked high up within the mountain’s slopes.
The Montserrat Abbey’s elevated location allows for a breathtaking view of the surrounding area. You can see the misty formation of clouds or try to make out the tiny roads embedded in intensely green pastures. If you are feeling spiritual, you can also enter the monastery’s shrine, where a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, or Black Madonna, stands to be revered. Feeling adventurous? You can hike (or ride the funicular) up even further into the mountains. The highest point, Sant Jeroni, is accessible and offers impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea and, if you are lucky, the Balearic island of Mallorca.
Prepare an incredible excursion to these beautiful mountains on Barcelona.de.
If you include Barcelona on your next trip to Europe, remember the countless activities this sunny port city offers you. Activities range from hiking and niche museums to labyrinths and hospital visits. I encourage stepping out of your comfort zone and visiting somewhere not frequented by the majority of tourists, because who knows―you might encounter something life-changing!
Additional Resources ::
An architectural marvel has sat incomplete in a residential corner of Barcelona since its architect, Antoni Gaudí, died during construction in 1926. For decades, La Sagrada Familia has been an example of Christian fealty and Catalan ingenuity wrought in granite and sandstone; but little could anyone have guessed that ninety-four years after Gaudí’s death a Japanese sculptor would dedicate his life to completing the architect’s colossal work.
Etsuro Sotoo left Japan for Europe in 1978 with a rather particular calling to simply cut stone. Once in Barcelona, he joined the La Sagrada Familia project as a humble stonemason before working his way up to Chief Sculptor in 2013.
Watch this amazing short video Constructed Views: Stone Cut An uplifting profile of the Japanese sculptor who has dedicated his life to completing Barcelona’s legendary La Sagrada Familia.