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.
Discover the Masterpieces of Catalan Modernism
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 the city’s most beloved attractions amongst both old and the young, the Magic Fountain is a spectacular show of light, color, and music which takes place around the fountain at the base of Montjuïc Hill, in front of the MNAC (National Museum of Catalan Art). Constructed in 1922, the fountain was built ahead of the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition but has undergone numerous upgrades throughout the years, including the addition of music in the 1980s ahead of the 1992 Olympic Games.
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.
Tucked away in the backstreets of the Raval, the part of town long considered to be a no-go area, Bar Marsella is one of Barcelona’s most famous watering holes. The locale’s fame derives from two features. On one hand, it was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, among other bohemians, artists, and writers from the time gone by. On the other hand, the bar specializes in the sale of absinthe, an anise-flavored spirit nicknamed the ‘Green Fairy,’ owing to the effects of its high alcohol content (45–74 percent).
Perched high atop the Tibidabo mountain overlooking the city of Barcelona is the Tibidabo Amusement Park, the oldest amusement park in Spain and third oldest in Europe. One of the quirkiest attractions at the site is the Automaton Museum, a museum of mechanical creatures designed to replicate the movement of human beings, which the great Walt Disney unsuccessfully attempted to purchase in 1957.
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.
Barcelona native Joan Miró is one of the city’s most renowned artists of all times, internationally acclaimed for his surrealist, nearly child-like artwork. The Joan Miró Foundation is home to some of the artist’s most famous pieces, many of which were donated by the artist himself, involved at the time in the creation of the foundation. More than just a museum, though, the foundation was designed as a space for artistic and cultural interaction, a legacy continued by the Espai 13, an exhibition space dedicated to the work of emergent contemporary artists. This is one of Barcelona’s most singular and iconic artistic experiences.
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.
The pride and joy of most Catalans, FC Barcelona, that’s football club Barcelona for the non-sports fans out there, is one of the world’s most popular and successful clubs of all times. The club’s home, the Camp Nou stadium, is the largest stadium in Europe, capable of seating 99,354 spectators. Explore the stadium and find out more about the club’s history and track record with the Camp Nou Experience, including a tour of the FC Barcelona Museum.
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.