Anyone who has been to Barcelona will tell you that the city is a traveler’s dream, with everything you could possibly hope for a city break all wrapped up in one. From fine art museums to designer shopping and the beach right on your doorstep. However, there are certain truly unique experiences which you can only find in the Catalan capital. Here are ten things to try to seek out while in Barcelona.
Antoní Gaudí is Barcelona’s most famous and most revered architect and, along with his contemporary Lluís Domenech i Muntaner, is considered one of the pioneers of the historic movement known as Catalan Modernism which emerged in Catalonia in the late 19th century. Distinguished by its emphasis on natural curves and patterns, asymmetry and dynamic shapes, many of the most iconic landmarks in Barcelona can be attributed to the movement. Take a tour of the main sites such as the Casa Batllò, the Palau de la Mùsica, or La Pedrera to get a feel for this historic architectural movement.
One of Spain‘s most acclaimed contemporary authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafón based his most famous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, in Barcelona, and although the book contains an element of fiction, it’s possible to take a Shadow of the Wind walk through the city and visit many of the locations which appear in the story. Many of these are important landmarks in the city, making the tour not only entertaining but also a great way to explore the city’s history and architecture.
You have to plan it right or be really lucky to experience La Mercè as this spectacular celebration only happens once a year in the week running up to September 24th. La Mercè is shorthand for La Mare de Déu de la Mercè or ‘The Virgin of Mercy,’ the patron saint of the city of Barcelona, and has been officially celebrated since 1871. The week-long celebrations include processions of the gegants (large papier mâché giants), performances by Castellers (the human pyramids), and a typical dance called the sardena. The festival comes to an end with a large firework display and celebrations throughout the city on the eve of the 24th.
Considered one of the forefathers of what is broadly known as molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adrià was head chef of the world-famous three-Michelin-star elBulli restaurant, located north of Barcelona on the Catalan coast. Five times nominated the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine, elBulli shut down in 2011 before reopening as a culinary ‘creativity center’ in 2014. Today, Barcelona is home to a handful of restaurants which bear the Adrià name and continue the creative legacy of elBulli, the tapas restaurant Tickets, the Mexican-inspired Hoja Santa or the Nikkei restaurant Pakta, to name a few.
Not strictly exclusive to the city of Barcelona, this is a Catalan tradition that you simply must experience if you happen to be in the region between the months of January and March. A calçotada is the name of the large, ceremonial meal during which Catalans gorge on a type of sweet onion known as calçot. A cross between a leek and a spring onion, the vegetable is typically cooked over a large open fire before being dipped in a special nut-based sauce known as romescu. The whole thing can get quite messy, owing both to the sauce and the wine that usually accompanies it.