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.)
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?
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.
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.
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.