If you’re after quirky things to do in Barcelona, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. This is something that the city does exceptionally well. From the colourful modernist art of Gaudí to mountain monasteries surrounded by mist, there’s plenty to do for the curious traveller who wants to see something a little different in and around one of Spain’s most famous cities.
5 Quirky things to do in Barcelona
The Mountains and Monasteries of Montserrat
Montserrat will always be a special place for me. Not just because it’s beautiful and mysterious, but because it’s where I had my very first taste of independent travel. It was here, hiking up in the mountains and gazing down on the hazy landscapes of Catalonia, that I realised this was how travel should be. And I’ve never looked back.
I’d come to the Barcelona area with some friends to celebrate finishing school, yet whilst they were content to lay by the pool I wanted to get out and explore. So I left them on their sun loungers and excitedly (and a little apprehensively) set off alone to visit the famous monastery in the clouds. In the funicular that transports visitors up the steep 1,200 metre high mountainside I met a climber from India. We spent a happy day walking the trails in the nature reserve, poking our heads into deserted hermitages, and of course visiting the famous Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. The monastery was founded in 1025, but there has been a religious presence here since Roman times and even today it remains a popular pilgrimage site.
Montserrat feels a world away from the bustle of Barcelona, yet is only about 45 km northwest of the city. It is easily reached by train, cable car and then the funicular, and is well worth a day trip. As well as the monastery, you can see the statue of the Black Madonna, who is the patron saint of Catalonia. Gregorian chants are sung daily in her honour by the monastery boys’ choir. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sound, and just adds to the slightly eerie atmosphere of the mountains. The museum is worth a look too, as it houses the work of artists such as Monet, El Greco and Dali. A visit to Montserrat simply shouldn’t be missed, and is definitely one of the most quirky things to do in Barcelona.
In the footsteps of Gaudí
You don’t have to be a fan of art to fall in love with Antoni Gaudí. You may not have heard of him, but you’ll certainly recognise some of his work. It’s unmistakable in its modernist quirky splendour, and can be seen all over the city in the form of civic buildings, churches and even parks.
My particular favourite works of Gaudí in Barcelona are the colourful open spaces of Park Güell, and the wonderfully imaginative Casa Batlló. Both are fine examples of Gaudí’s creativity, and wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney fantasy movie. The Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sits up on Carmel Hill and boasts gardens as well as architectural gems. Park Güell is full of curiosities. There isn’t a single straight line in the entire complex, which makes it flow delightfully from one area to another. There is a ‘Hall of 100 Columns’ (there are actually only 86 columns) which was inspired by the Temple of Apollo in Greece. And a huge mosaic salamander greets visitors on the entrance steps, just daring people to pass into his domain.
A little further into the heart of the city Casa Batlló stands proudly overlooking the Passeig de Gràcia on the ‘golden mile’. It is the striking symphony of colour and light that makes this building really stand apart from the others in the street, and the fact that the Legend of Sant Jordi (Saint George) and the dragon is cleverly hidden in its façade, interior and roof.
Inside the Casa Batlló visitors can really get to know and understand Gaudí. Or at least try to. The inner courtyards have been imaginatively designed to represent an underwater fantasy world, transporting observers to the depths of the sea. There are skylights shaped like tortoise shells, countless shades of aqua to give a marine illusion, and even a grand staircase banister carved in the shape of an animal spine. Perhaps a huge mythical deep sea beast.
Ascending back up to the earth’s surface, the roof terrace offers fine vistas of the city, and if you look through the eye of the dragon you can see the Sagrada Familia looming in the distance.
Whilst on the trail of Gaudí we mustn’t of course forget the Sagrada Familia, one of the top quirky things to do in Barcelona. This huge imposing basilica is still unfinished, yet remains one of the most humbling buildings I’ve ever seen. The construction has all been privately funded, which is why it has taken so long. Well worth the wait I’d say! Inside you can explore the colourful forest of columns, and if you have a head for heights, climb to the top of one of the turrets for a bird’s eye view of the city.
I would love to know what was going on inside Gaudí’s head when he designed these spaces. It’s certainly the stuff of wild imagination and impossible dreams.
Get your Gothic on in the old quarter
Without doubt, exploring the medieval alleyways, hidden squares and patio cafes of the old city was my favourite way to get to know Barcelona. The buildings and cobbles are packed with history at every turn, and if churches and plazas float your boat, then this is the place you’ll want to be. There are still reminders of the brutal Spanish Civil War across the city, such as the bomb scars which you can still see on the church walls in Plaça del Rei and Plaça Sant Felip Neri. Dating back to the 13th Century, Barcelona’s Gothic Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia is the jewel in an already very sparkly crown. It has a fantastic range of animal gargoyles, and 13 white geese which are kept in a secluded cloister with a pond to represent the age at which Saint Eulalia was martyred. Not something you usually find in a cathedral.
Grand theatres and open air movies
The live music scene is thriving in Barcelona, with plenty of venues across the city. If you only have time to visit one, make it the Gran Teatre del Liceu, a splendid opera house on La Rambla which first opened in 1847. Having survived fires, anarchist bombings and civil war, today the theatre is proudly decked out with red carpets, gold leaf and intricate carvings. It’s definitely the perfect setting for a magical evening of entertainment. For something a little more intimate, head to Casa Batlló for their summer courtyard concerts. Music and modernist architecture, it’s what Barcelona is all about!
If you fancy something more contemporary, why not go and see a movie. Outside! You need good weather for open air film screenings, and luckily that’s something that Barcelona has in abundance. Head down to Sant Sebastià beach on Thursday and Sunday evenings to kick back in the sand and enjoy some independent films offered by Cinema Lliure. Or check out the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona which stages its own film festival showing free documentaries and short films.
Magical fountains and picnics in the park
Open green spaces aren’t abundant within the city, which just makes those that do exist even more special. The Parc de la Ciutadella is well worth a visit. Built on the site of an old military citadel, today it is home to the Catalan Parliament, as well as having a lake and a zoo. Stock up on tapas from La Boqueria (Europe’s biggest food market) on La Rambla, grab a bottle of fizz, and rent a boat on the lake for a leisurely yet sophisticated afternoon.
Alternatively, if you fancy a bit of exercise with your outdoor adventures, take a hike up Montjuïc Mountain for some great views and fewer tourists. Here you’ll discover buildings from the 1992 Olympics, as well as the Olympic Stadium and botanical garden. After your hike, don’t forget to check out the magic fountain of Montjuïc, a spectacular extravaganza of sound, light and colour.
If you still have energy to spare after all of these quirky things to do in Barcelona, there are still plenty of sights to see, from museums and shopping to cooking classes and even spending time on the beach. It’s the perfect place for a city break, or even to use as a base for a longer visit to the area, with medieval towns, rolling countryside and the sunny Costa Brava right on the doorstep.
This post has been sponsored by Casa Batlló, yet words and opinions remain my own.
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