Fun Things to do in Barcelona – Papier Mache Festivals and Beyond

By Abi King | Spain

Aug 27

Abigail King in Barcelona at the Casa Mila

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.

Fun Things to do in Barcelona

Creative Things to do in Barcelona: Head to a the Papier Mache Festival de Gracia

 

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Festival de Gracia, 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.

 

Surprisingly Fun Thing to do in Barcelona: Take a Segway Tour from the Gothic Quarter to the Coast

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.

Fun Things to Do in Barcelona: Try to Understand Gaudi

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?

 

Tasty Fun Things to Do in Barcelona: Take a Cooking Class

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.

 

Dizzy Fun Things to do in Barcelona: Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride

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.

 

Cultural Fun Things to Do in Barcelona: Head to Girona

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.

Old Fashioned Fun in Barcelona: Hop on a Tram

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

Thrilling Things to do in Barcelona: Take a Quadbike into the Mountains

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. 

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About the Author

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.

  • I always find it incredibly good fortune if I get to witness a festival (or wedding) whilst travelling. A fantastic glimpse into a culture at its happiest.

  • I’ve lived in Barcelona for over three years, Abi, yet this was the first August I managed to brave the heat & humidity and head up to Gràcia. The atmosphere at the street party on the Saturday night was amazing, and the nieighbours had obviously gone all out on the decorations. I found Sants festival, a week later, a lot more accessible, though, partly because of fewer tourists and partly because of the wider streets – navigating the throngs in Gràcia was nigh-on impossible. A good local alternative, I would say.

    • Abi King says:

      That’s interesting to hear. You’re not the first “local” to say that Gracia is too crowded. I was lucky – but then I did head out pretty early! Next time: Sants!

  • rebecca says:

    this looks super awesome! its on the list for sure! I had never even heard of it. thanks for sharing

    • Abi King says:

      I’m really enjoying discovering so many festivals that are right on our European doorsteps that I never knew about! Glad you are too – Abi

  • This sort of thing is right up my alley. Gotta love Spain for festivals!

    • Abi King says:

      Yep. More festival days in a year than there are days in the year!

  • What a sweet festival!!

    • Abi King says:

      I think it gets a bit less sweet as the night goes on…But still, compared to the mayhem of nights out in the UK, yes, sweet!

  • Laura says:

    Looks like so much fun!

  • Angie Away says:

    So cool! Never heard of this festival – how cool you were there to see it!

  • That Alice in Wonderland one is so lifelike it’s eerie!

    • Abi King says:

      Shh…I’ve always found the whole Alice in Wonderland theme rather creepy…

  • I spent a week in Barcelona and sadly all I remember is having my bag stolen right off me and having to get a new passport, police report, etc etc. It is posts like this that remind me there is more to Barcelona and I need to go back to experience and enjoy them and no longer allow one person’s actions to cloud my memory of what is otherwise a wonderful city! :)

    • Abi King says:

      Ah…sad to say that’s a story I’ve heard many times before. Fingers crossed, I’ve always been lucky…and if anything felt safer there than in many other places. But, yes, it’s a fantastic city, one of my favourites, so do go back!

  • Corinne says:

    Abi, I am going to have to mark down this festival. What fun! I love that everything is handmade. It’s gorgeous.

    • Abi King says:

      Yep, it’s stunning! It runs for quite a while, too, which makes it easier to track down…

  • Very cool! This is definitely our kind of festival! If there’s art and creativity involved, we’re all about it!

    • Abi King says:

      Great! There’s lots of music, too, but the visuals really stood out for me.

  • Leah says:

    Looks like so much fun! I’ve always wanted to visit Barcelona, to be there during a festival is an absolute dream!

  • We love the Gracia festival! It’s so unique and a fabulous cultural tradition. Very sad to miss it this year but thank you for the wonderful article and photos!

  • I love the Gracia district!
    And I’d love to attend this “paper event”, thanks for the inspiration!
    Isn’t it so that Barcelona constantly celebrates, boasts with art and culture?
    I just couldn’t get bored of that city.

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