February 21

9 Unusual Things to do in Barcelona to Bring Her Culture To Life

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Unusual things to do in Barcelona

Enjoy this inside guide to finding unusual things to do in Barcelona and discover the soul of this Catalan capital.

Unusual Things to do in Barcelona Itself

See Gaudí's Work A Different Way with an Academic Tour

From the stone-melted spires of the Sagrada Familia, all shrouded in scaffolding, 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, it is his work that earns Barcelona her status as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The quickest (and easiest) way to grab a hit of his work involves a stroll down the iconic Passeig de Gracia, with a particular stop at the extravagant Casa Mila (nickname La Pedrera.)

Spain - Barcelona-Casa Mila - Travel writer - Abigail King

Barcelona: a city to return to again and again

A Word About Casa Mila

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 Gaudí amid the eager 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? 

Festival de Gracia Barcelona Unusual and Fun Things to do in Barcelona

Dance in the sun amid Papier Mache at the Festival de Gracia in Barcelona

The Papier Mache Festival de Gracia

Held every August in Barcelona in Gracia, this is one of those unusual things to do in Barcelona that's full of fun and fiesta.

Gracia itself is a bohemian barrio that once stood separate from the city but which, over time, became swallowed up into the whole.

It's the world famous Passeig de Gracia, home to Gaudi's landmark Casa Pedrera with the creepy ice cream chimneys, that leads from the centre of town out to Gracia.

Residents and neighbours work together all year to produce these imaginative street art displays for the festival - and then crowds come from dawn until, well, the next dawn to admire and party away.

Spain - Barcelona - Gracia - Swirling ribbons Festival Gracia

Swirling paper ribbon hanging from the sky in the narrow streets of Gracia, Barcelona

As expected in this part of Spain, Catalan culture sweeps through the streets in the form of red and yellow striped flags and castellers limbering up ready to form 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.

Segway Through the Gothic Quarter to the Coast

Bear with me here. I mean, sure, it’s a Segway through the famous sights. But it's a Segway through the famous sights! An outrageously fun and unusual thing to do. 

You haven't seen Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter and the old port, Port Vell, until you've dragged 40kg of equipment through it, seeing the W Barcelona hotel lurk on the horizon like a shark's fin.

Spend ten minutes  “training” and then 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. But it is great fun.

How Barcelona Has Changed

“My city, Barcelona, has changed so much,” says Sergi, my guide. “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.”


Take a Cooking Class

Another unusual thing to do in Barcelona is to learn what makes her taste buds tick.

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 where you can buy salted cod bacalau, fresh fruit and vegetables, and the black sugar coal substitute that goes into naughty children's stockings at Christmas.

After that, learn how to make a menu of Crema Catalana and a Catalan version of paella. 

Hop on a Tram

Hop on board the Tramvia Blau, an 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.

Find the Tramvia Blau-Tibidabo stop between Plaça Kennedy and Avinguda Tibidabo.

Live Like Locals: Eat Well, Drink Well, and Dance

No, not in terms of cleaning out your gutters and picking up the drain cleaner. 

In terms of only hearing Catalan as you sip beer and listen to live music. In terms of finding the secret eateries, even in the city centre, and the art exhibitions that aren't overrun with tourists. 

When it comes to unusual things to do in Barcelona, this is one of the best things you can do. But how do you find them?

My top suggestion will always be to wander around, keep your eyes open, chat to people and walk away from the crowds. But if you're short on time, I'd highly recommend checking out the community with paid apps called Spotted by Locals. 

They've even crafted an itinerary for us: how to spend three days in Barcelona like a local.

City view of Girona for Things to do in Girona Spain

City view of Girona - A Place in Spain with So Many Things to Do

Unusual Things to do Just Outside Barcelona

Barcelona's gorgeous east coast position allows plenty of coastal adventures in resorts. But for more unusual things to do in Barcelona's surroundings, take advantage of her mountains. Rural, rolling in green and smoky blue, they will provide you with a rich, cultural, exceptionally good time.

You can arrange these as day trips but it's a better idea to head out from Barcelona if you can. Why? It helps to spread the economic and environmental aspect of your trip to one of the most popular cities in Europe. And, it's just more fun.

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. 

Balloon flights leave early in the morning and many come with a (near obligatory) glass of cava. Note, cava, not champagne. It's practically the regional drink around here.

Head to the Medieval City of Girona

Leave the crowds of Barcelona behind 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 Flowers, the Eiffel Bridge and the restaurant and sweet shop of the Can Roca brothers, whose restaurant was rated the best in the world.

Take a Quadbike into the Mountains

Feel the fresh air and zoom through the Catalunyan countryside on four wheels. 

Barcelona's geography limits the city spread and the majority of the rest of Catalunya remains deliciously rural. It's the kind of countryside with crumbling stone farmhouses, sneak peeks of mountaintops and rust-red earthy soil.

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. 

More on Travel in Spain

Browse through our articles on travel in Spain for more ideas and inspiration. In particular, check out 21 Unusual Things to do in Spain and 49 Interesting Facts About Spain.


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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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    • 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!

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

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    • 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

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    • 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!

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

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  • 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! :)

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    • 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!

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 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!

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  • 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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