You’ll never find a shortage of fun things to do in Barcelona, no matter the stories of overcrowding you read. Truth it, there are still so many ways to explore this beautiful, creative city at the heart of Catalunya in Spain. The classical things to do here are great.
But read on for some unusual and fun things to do in Barcelona.
This is the Festival Gracia, or Festa de Gracia, depending on which language you plump for. It’s held every August in Barcelona in Gracia, a bohemian barrio that once stood separate from the city but which now links up quite nicely via the famous Passeig de Gracia (home to Gaudi’s landmark Casa Pedrera…that big house with the swirly stone balconies and creepy ice cream chimneys. We’ll come back to that later…)
Residents and neighbours work together all year to produce these imaginative street art displays – and then crowds come from dawn until, well, the next dawn to admire and party away.
As expected in this part of Spain (Catalunya, a region with a desire for independence) Catalan culture sweeps through the streets in the form of red and yellow striped flags unfurling from balconies and castellers limbering up ready to form their famed human towers. But alongside local traditions, the soundtracks from Ghostbusters and Jaws prowl between the papier-mache parrots while indie hipsters and ageing rockers perform on stages set on street corners and leafy plazas.
It’s a fun festival for families by day and rebel-ready revellers by night with talented performers lined up day after day after day.
For me, though, it was Alice and friends who stole the show by plunging me into an underwater world of swirling confetti and fluttering fish.
Bear with me here. I mean, sure, it’s an ominous start to the day: dragging 40 kilos of equipment through Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
But it is a fun way to see the city, particularly with an early morning start.
Barcelona’s old port, Port Vell, looks anything but. Alongside mustard-yellow sand, buildings gleam and none more so than the W Barcelona hotel, lurking on the horizon like a shark’s fin.
After ten minutes of “training” we set off to explore the labyrinth of the Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic. Its right-angled streets – with unexpected crossroads, slopes and inexplicable patches of sand – provide quite an obstacle course for the beginner Segwayteer. Bewildered grey-haired men wearing flat caps appear from their doors, prompting occasional swerves and in one case – a direct encounter with a wall.
“My city, Barcelona, has changed so much,” says Sergi. “Before, there were slums and no beach. But now, after a lot of work for the Olympics in 92, you see this.”
Sergi gestures towards a clean shoreline, sophisticated skyscrapers and a giant solar panel. “Even in the last five years, regeneration continues. But the mountains, Montjuïc and Tibidabo, and the Mediterranean Sea, they will see that Barcelona cannot grow too much. My city is contained.”
Barcelona may be contained, but on the smooth open space beside the water, we were free. Soaring and swirling across the sunlit ground, with Montjuïc rising up behind us and the coast curling slowly away, riding a Segway provided a surprisingly fun way to see the city of Barcelona.
From the stone-melted spires of the Sagrada Familia, all shrouded in scaffolding and scuff-marked by crowds, to the swirling cream chimney tops of the Casa Mila to the cheeky blue lizard that slides down Parc Guell… Gaudi’s work defines Barcelona – in pictures, postcards, storybooks and stone.
A stroll down the iconic Passeig de Gracia reveals much of his work, most notably through the extravagant Casa Mila (nickname La Pedrera.)
Commissioned by a showy couple mired in scandal, on completion La Pedrera aroused the outrage of the local press and the inner Scrooge on account of the residents who refused to pay for the “eyesore.”
No wonder, then, that Gaudi refused all civilian commissions after this. Instead, he retreated to a solitary and soulful life, shuffling back and forth between his humble abode and the always- in-progress Sagrada Familia (construction began in 1882 and has never yet stopped.)
But it can be difficult to learn about Gaudi, amid the wild crowds. That’s why I’d highly recommend a tour with Context Travel. Tours are tiny and are run by academics who know all the shortcuts Barcelona has to offer.
For years, Madrid forbade Barcelona from expanding beyond its medieval city walls and when that law finally broke, architectural creativity exploded onto the scene.
Both old and new money gasped for air beyond Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, turning their attention to the dirt track leading to the nearby village of Gracia. They founded an architectural college – and built Barcelona’s version of the Champs Elysees.
My on-hand professor pointed out doorways and hidden accolades, gremlins buried in stone and stained glass rose motifs that I now understood to mark the fierce spirit of rebellion. How had I missed so much before?
The cuisine in Barcelona has a heavy Catalan influence, as you would well expect. Cooking tours often take you through the incredibly rich and photogenic Boqueria Market before leading you through a menu of Crema Catalana and a Catalan version of paella.
Beautifully situated as it is, between the mountains and the sea, Barcelona makes a great base for zooming up into the sky on a wicker basket beneath a great big ball of fire.
Leave the crowds of Barcelona behidn for the day and travel to nearby Girona instead. It’s a beautiful medieval city with an energetic cultural calendar. Watch out for the annual Festival of Flower, the Eiffel Bridge and the restaurant and sweet shop of the Can Roca brothers, whose restaurant was rated the best in the world.
Hop on board this old-fashioned tram for a journey through the leafy, residential part of town to reach the funicular. Originally part of the official Barcelona transport network, when it came time for the city to upgrade, this route was spared because of its charm. The journey covers 1276 meters overall, with a climb of 93 meters.
Stop: Tramvia Blau-Tibidabo – between Plaça Kennedy and Avinguda Tibidabo
Feel the fresh air and zoom through the Catalunyan countryside on four wheels.
Disclosure – I have visited Barcelona on many occasions and have always found plenty of unusual and fun things to do. Sometimes I’ve been a guest of Catalunya Tourism or Costa Brava Tourism. Often, I’ve just travelled alone. Whichever way you look at it, this is my own list of unusual and fun things to do in Barcelona.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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