Cool Things To Do In Barcelona
Unique activities, special experiences and original tours to spice up your trip
By Duncan Rhodes
Looking to experience Barcelona in an original way? Here are some alternative ideas that will get you off the beaten path, and show you the Catalan capital in a new light…
In a city as magical and mysterious as Barcelona, there’s plenty to savour that goes beyond the ordinary… experiences that stay with you long after you’ve left and which, at the very least, will leave you with plenty of holiday snaps that go beyond the usual photo fodder of Gaudi buildings, greasy paellas and overpriced jars of sangria.
From unique restaurants, bizarre museums and one-of-kind bars, to authentic local tours, secret gardens, nudist beaches and thrilling activities we’ve compiled a few of our favourite unique and alternative ways to pass the time in Barcelona. So here they are in no particular order…
Fun Things to do in Barcelona
1. Chill Out In Sub-Zero Beach Bar
It’s not often you need a fur-lined Arctic coat to enter a bar in Spain, but at Barcelona’s Ice Bar you’ll be grateful for it – and the gloves as well. Literally on the beach at Port Olimpic you can switch from sweltering hot sands to Siberian sub-zero temperatures in seconds. Drink vodka from frozen glass, admire Gaudi-esque ice statues and then ask the cutie next to you if they’d like to share body warmth – just for survival purposes of course!
C/Ramon Trias Fargas 2
2. Ride A Steel Donkey
The ‘Steel Donkey’ in this case is simply a euphemism for an ordinary bicycle – but there’s nothing ordinary about Steel Donkey Bike Tours. Gaudi and Las Ramblas are off the menu. Instead you’ll visit the back streets of El Borne, the village district of Gracia, or the old industrial ruins of Poblenou, taking in recycled workshops, flea markets and squat houses en route. Barcelona’s original alternative tour, this is an action-packed day out on two wheels with rave reviews.
3. Get Cooking – Spanish style!
Learning how to prepare the perfect paella and mix the tastiest sangria by taking cooking classes with a Spanish chef. The paella of course is one of Spain’s signature dishes – a vast platter of rice and meat/seafood/vegetables (or all three!) normally made to share. Fun, friendly and a little bit messy this is a great activity to do alone or with friends and learn a skill that will definitely make you popular back home. Check out our article on food and drink activities for more gastro fun and frolics.
Barcelona’s residents are not shy, as anyone who’s visited the city’s beaches will testify. Half-naked is standard, but if you really want to let it all hang out then head down to either Mar Bella beach, or the Southern stretch of Barceloneta (called San Sebastien) towards the W-Hotel. On both these stretches of sand you’ll find some liberal folk bronzing their bits and you’re more than welcome to join in! At Mar Bella you’ll also find some cool gay-friendly chiringuitos for post-tanning mojitos.
Cava is, of course, the Spanish version of Champagne and during this zany activity you’ll take the train out to a 1,000 year old farm house in the Penedes wine region of Spain and bottle your own brew! You’ll taste three different varieties of the sparkling stuff and then ‘disgorge’ the bottle and apply your own custom made label, whilst learning a lot about Cava production in the process. If that tickles your taste buds, then check out this article for more wine-related trips and tours, including city-based tastings (if you don’t have time to leave Barcelona).
6. Skateboard At MACBA
That’s right grandpa, Barcelona is currently considered the skateboarding capital of the world and is all the rage with the Catalan cool kids who take their boards wherever they go. You can catch them practicing their tricks every evening on the Plaza del Angels by MACBA, and soak up some of the alternative vibe with 1 euro beer from a friendly Pakistani vendor. If you want to join in check out Free Skate Shop just round the corner to pick up a board.
Placa del Angels
Ok you don’t get to actually dance flamenco. That’s best left to the professionals! But you do get to see a first class show by some of Spain’s foremost musicians and dancers, and then enjoy some traditional Spanish cuisine in the form of tapas. This night is great way to combine two of Spain’s most famous traditions into one evening at an unbeatable price – it’s just €35 all included. More dedicated gourmands meanwhile might want to go on a guided tapas tour of Barcelona… or independently explore the best tapas restaurants in the Catalan capital.
8. Challenge Yourself in an Escape Room
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Sherlock Holmes, or even Indiana Jones, then pit your wits against the puzzles and challenges of one of Barcelona’s great escape rooms. There are several companies operating in the city and each has one or more interactive games where you have to frantically search for keys, crack codes and solve conundrums to progress and eventually leave the room! Some of the storylines are a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for something different to do in a small group of friends this might just be perfect for you.
9. Get Electric! On Two Wheels
The Catalan capital is chock-a-block with providers offering a little sightseeing via cycling, but how many of them also offer you a turbo-boost in the form of assisted battery power? Take a bike tour with Barcelona e-Bikes and you’ll be racing around the city on a vehicle that is something between a traditional bicycle and a scooter – and which can get you up and down hills even a doped-up Lance Armstrong would quiver at. Great for covering a lot of ground, without having to get on a tourist bus.
10. Learn The Art of Street Photography
If you’re a fan of “creative tourism” one great option that combines sightseeing with learning and creativity is to take a photo tour. Foto Ruta started in Buenos Aires but has expanded to London and now Barcelona, and offers a range of experiences all based around exploring the city through your lens. Foto Clue is a type of puzzle solving game where you use your camera to answer challenges, whilst their Streetscape tours and iPhoneography classes will help you takes images to be proud of.
11. Greet Madonna on a Magic Mountain
Not the Like A Virgin singer, but the real virgin Mary, or at least her image – The Black Madonna. This little statuette is kept safe at the Montserrat Abbey, up high in the peaks of Montserrat Mountain, where it draws pilgrims from around the world. It’s not just the religious who visit though, as the “jagged mountain” is breathtaking to behold and is in fact Barcelona’s most popular day trip destination. You can get there by public transport, or several tour providers will take you… we personally recommend our Montserrat & Wine Tour, which combines a visit to the mountain and abbey with wine tasting in a 10th Century castle. Click here for more info.
12. Learn To Speak The Lingo
If you’re in town for longer than a few days you might want to consider signing up for an intensive Spanish course – in which case check out our page on language schools in Barcelona. Speaking a foreign language is certainly an exhilarating experience, and at the same time it’s a great way to meet other students and make some new friends with whom to explore the city. If you don’t have time for that you can always check out our pages on Spanish and Catalan language tips.
In case you forgot folks, that big blue thing on your left/right is the Mediterranean sea! Why not charter a yacht from Barcelona and explore the marvels of the Costa Brava coast? Yachts can be hired bareboat or with a skipper, whilst keen anglers can even indulge in a bit of deep sea fishing in the Mediterranean. For more fun in the waves check out our article on water sports in Barcelona.
That’s right m’hearties, get as drunk as a sailor with a horde of other wild young things during the Barcelona Booze Cruise, which sets sail several times a week during the warmer months and features BBQ, DJs, games and a shipload of beer, cocktails and sangria. Definitely one of the best things to do in BCN for party animals!
15. Take a Tapas Tour of Gracia
Sign up for an evening of authentic tapas with the local expert guides of Tapas & Beers, who will show you three or four of the very best bars and bodegas in the picturesque Gracia neighbourhood – and help you select the signature dishes at each locale. A fantastic mix of food, culture and fun.
16. Take a Food & Market Tour of Sant Antoni
For a complete look at the local food scene try the Catalan Gastronomy Tour run by Food Tours Barcelona. This lunchtime tour takes you through the historic Sant Antoni neighbourhood, starting with a visit to the district market (which is much more authentic than the overcrowded Boqueria!) and then continuing to three of the best bodegas and restaurants in town to taste a mix of traditional and avant garde cuisine. You also get to visit an artisanal shop, make your own pan amb tomaquet (tomato bread) and drink from a classic porron vessel amongst other experiences.
If you’ve been ordering the same thing behind the bar for too long now, then how about enrolling for some cocktail classes in Barcelona… under expert guidance you’ll learn how to mix some of the tastiest concoctions known to man and serve them up with panache. Mark our words, once you’ve mastered the simple art of putting together the perfect caipirinha you’ll be the most important guest at any party. Organising by partners of Barcelona Life, the experience is perfect for stag dos or hen parties, or any party-minded group of friends.
18. Sneak off for a Crafty Beer
Like most of the world, Barcelona has experienced a craft beer revolution with scores of boutique breweries, beer bars and festivals appearing from nowhere to wet our whistles with delicious artisan ales. You’ll find great bars dotted all around the city, with a concentration of cool venues above Plaça Universitat in what is unofficially known as ‘the beer mile’. You can even take a tour of some of them in the company of a local expert and brewer.
19. Get Lost In A Labyrinth
Few locals ever make it as far as the Parc del Labirint in Horta (nearest metro is Mundet), making this green space a great place to lose both yourself and the crowds. As you have guessed by the park’s name the centrepiece is its wonderfully intricate maze, designed in the 18th Century by the architect Domenico Bagutti. There’s a token entry fee of around 2 euros, although if you’re really feeling the squeeze there’s free entry on Wednesdays and Sundays. All in all a great option if you’re travelling with kids. More on Barcelona’s beautiful parks here.
Passeig dels Castanyers 1
20. Chase The Shadow Of The Wind
If you haven’t heard of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind head straight to our Barcelona books section now! This magical masterpiece has inspired more than one paperback lover to descend on BCN and retrace the footsteps of the young protagonist Daniel Sempere. Take a literary tour with Get Your Guide and you’ll mingle fiction with reality as you step into the very streets and visit the actual buildings that form the backdrop of the book.
It’s not every day you get to sit behind the wheel of a Ferrari, let alone drive one around the streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A ride in a California convertible starts at just €88, whilst those with a bit more time and money can choose to motor along the winding roads of the Catalan countryside, where you can pretend you’re James Bond on the way to Monte Carlo. Click on the link above for more details about these luxury supercar experiences.
22. Visit a House of Silk (Saturdays only)
Culture vultures looking for something other to do than queuing outside Gaudi’s many monuments might enjoy La Casa de la Seda. Once the headquarters of the city’s influential Guild of Silkmakers, today it’s a small museum to those times. A guided tour (Saturday mornings only) takes you through its lavishly decorated rooms and gives you some of the history of this lucrative trade.
23. Get Covered In Chocolate!
And there you were thinking the best thing to do with chocolate was eat it… well think again. Having it rubbed all over your body by an expert pair of hands is definitely the way forward, and a chocolate massage for two could be the perfect way to spice up a romantic weekend in Barcelona. Not only that but chocolate, when rubbed on the skin, is supposed to have a slimming effect on the body, help burn fat, diminish cellulite and have an anti-ageing effect as well. The rich aroma of course is famous for inciting pleasure. The team at Barcelona Massage can help you organise anything from a chocolate rub down to a sea-shell massage and much more.
24. Dine In The Dark
Barcelona’s Dans le Noir? is no ordinary restaurant, so be prepared to be taken out of your comfort zone during this insightful sensory and culinary experience where your dinner is taken in the pitch black. Blind waiters lead you into a lightless room and attend your every need as you learn to eat without your eyes (best wear a bib!). Whilst the food is top notch it’s the experience and what you learn that is making this one of coolest things to do in Barcelona! If you’re looking for a little something different to do with your friends then a meal at Dans le Noir will definitely stick in the memory.
Passeig Picasso 10
In this group activity (min. 8 players), you race against both the opposing teams, and the clock, as you navigate the winding streets of the Barri Gotic and beyond in a bid to find the (proverbial) treasure in this interactive urban game. You’ll have to solve cryptic clues, consult your compass and move sharpish to claim the winner’s bottle of Spanish champagne.
26. Go Swimming In An Olympic Pool
For amazing views over the city and a great place to escape the heat, it’s worth climbing up the hill to the Piscina Municipal de Montjuic. Despite the awesome location, the pool doesn’t tend to get too crowded and you should find a spot to lay down a towel and sunbath, as well as of course swim and enjoy the vistas. Open July and August only.
27. Experience The Legendary Nightlife
This is a city that knows how to party, and you can hardly say you’ve visited if you didn’t spend at least one night drinking and dancing until dawn. Our guide to going out recommends a range of great bar and clubs where you can spend the evening, or check out this VIP Nightlife Tour for an unforgettable night in the city’s most glamorous venues.
28. Enjoy a Recovery Brunch
If you did go out and explore Barcelona’s nocturnal leisure options, you might be pleased to discover that both fried breakfasts and healthy brunches are very much en vogue in the city right now. If you need to recharge and refuel check out our list of the best places above to kickstart your day.
29. Go Vintage Shopping
Barcelona is big on the Bohemian style and you’re much more likely to score style points in the Catalan capital with faded Americana shirts and 80s leather jacket than the latest labels from the high street. Carrer Tallers is the best place to hunt for hand selected and hard to find items from yesteryear, or read more on our feature article. If you simply can’t do without your Prada, Diesel and Zara check out our guide to shopping in the city.
30. Hmmmm, still thinking about this…
…meanwhile please share your own thoughts in the comments section!
Still not sure what to do in BCN? Are you crazy??? Try swinging by our guide section for the essential attractions and a break down of the best districts. Or read up on our recommended tour providers for more original (as well as tried and tested) activity ideas…
for a different take on things consult this nearly-as-awesome-as-ours list by Time Out.
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.