Unique Things To do in Barcelona : 14 Alternative Experiences

unique experiences barcelona things to do

Tired of being a typical tourist? Find out this curated list of the most unique things to do in Barcelona with the most authentic and local experiences. Take it from a local!

Easy to see why Barcelona attracts so many visitors every year. The combo of Mediterranean beaches, unique architecture, delicious food, and a lively bar & hipster scene.

But what if it’s not your first time?
Or… what if you want unique experiences and alternative things to do in Barcelona?

I’ve lived 5 years in Barcelona, and guided during dozens of friends and family visits. So with time, I started to realize what’s really unique and interesting to do there. The below list all my favorite experiences and things to do. Enjoy!

Unique things to do in Barcelona

My 14 local things to do in Barcelona
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Where to stay in Barcelona

Start your hotel search with this list of the highest-rated places to stay in the best areas of Barcelona.

1Order the local tapas

experiences in barcelona like a local tapas barcelona

95% of first-time tourists in Barcelona think local food is paella or sangria. While it may seem that way since the city is full of tourist traps where the majority of paellas consist of too much rice and little of everything else, while sangrias are made from the worst wines and tons of added sugar.

Trust me when I say the food in Barcelona is better than this. You just need to expand your horizons. For starters,, and even though tapas have been imported from elsewhere in Spain, Barcelona is a good city to order a side of pimientos padrĂłn, patatas bravas or huevos cabreados.

There are a few decent spots in downtown (e.g. Ciutat Comtal or Morryssom) serving tapas, but the best is to do a bit of bar-hopping and look for local bodegas. The Poble Sec and the Barceloneta districts are perfect for this. Bodega d’en Rafael (map) is a solid choice.

Remember: if the place has stouts outside or the menu has pictures, ABORT the mission. Also, if you start questioning if the place is too touristy, it’s probably because it is.

🥘 Catalan dishes to order in Barcelona

Apart from variations on paella like arròs a la cassola (without saffron) and fideuà (with vermicelli noodles) as well as crema catalana for dessert, here are some typically Catalan specialties to try:

  • Botifarra – local meat-based sausage
  • Esqueixada – salad made with onions, peppers, tomatoes, vinegar, and shredded codfish
  • Calçots – a delicious variety of spring onion dipped in romesco sauce
  • Carxofa – for some reason artichokes are BIG in Catalonia and I’ve learned to enjoy them
  • Fuet – thin and dry pork sausage
  • Pa amb tomĂ quet – bread slices rubbed with tomato and olive oil

2The Gracia Festival

experiences-barcelona-things-to-do-local-party-gracia
Never mind the creepy looking man in the photo. Everyone is friendly during the Gracia festival.

Every year around the 15th of August the charming district of Grácia bursts into a DIY colorful festival. The residents of the neighborhood themselves decorate their streets and compete for the top award. This year my favorite was a HUGE pirate ship!

Apart from this, there are competitions, workshops, concerts and an impressive parade during the day filled with castellers (human towers) sardana dance and correfoc (fire runs). Basically the three main displays of Catalan culture in one place!

Other districts in Barcelona have similar yearly street parties, but Festa Major de GrĂ cia is definitely the largest and most festive one.

Find your place to stay in Barcelona

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3Explore the Barcelona neighborhoods

Uma foto publicada por BRUN🌎 (@bruno_mb) a

Instead of rallying through a list of touristy sights, explore Barcelona without any particular destination. Get lost in the tiny streets and explore what each local neighborhood has to offer – it’s fun to see how they’ve got so many different vibes and experiences.

Here’s a small overview. I’ve left out Eixample and Barceloneta as these are the ones more crowded with tourists.

ℹ Local Neighborhoods In Barcelona
  • El Born – a handful of interesting museums, hip art galleries, and hipster bars are the vibe of El Born. And Santa Maria Del Mar cathedral is not to be missed!
  • El Gòtic – albeit the most touristy, there are still many side streets which hide quaint shops and restaurants.
  • Grácia – I love it so much that I created a separate Grácia guide. Local, quaint, chilled but also hipster and alternative.
  • Poble Sec – enclosed between Raval and Montjuic, this is where locals go for tapas, pintxos, or for a drink on weekend nights.
  • Raval – the multicultural district of Barcelona, with international shops, restaurants and stalls. Still considered the ugly duckling of Barcelona, it also has some hidden gems like the bar El JardĂ­.
  • Poblenou – definitely the most up-and-coming district. Old factory buildings and warehouses are slowly being converted into clubs, bars, and coworking spaces, giving it a brand new face. Plus, it’s close to the beach!

4Drink vermut

Meeting up for the vermut (vermouth) hour is one of the classic traditions in Barcelona and a ritual to start off a lazy weekend day. It’s basically meeting up with friends or family on a bar before lunch – in Spanish time this can mean up to around 2pm!

The idea is to gather around, order some glasses of vermut and have some delicious tapas on the process. If you order a vermut de la casa (homemade) on a Sunday around midday and order some bravas to go with it, you’re almost half-Catalan.

Bars serving Vermut be found everywhere and you can choose between the classic (red) and blanc (white).

5Hit the beaches locals go

experiences-barcelona-things-to-do-local-beaches-badalona
No paquis selling everything and their mother? No hen or stag parties? This is already an improvement!

Barcelona is one of the best city-beach break destinations in the world. With such amazing long stretches of golden sand nearby, it hurts my feelings that people flock to the crowded and dirty Barceloneta Beach. I mean, during summer you’ll be lucky to find a space without anyone at an arm’s distance.

The neighbors Bogatell and Levant beaches are already a big improvement, but I personally quit going to any beaches in the city center since I found myself swimming next to a condom and a sanitary pad (true story!).

If you are serious about beach and want some real quality beach bum time, a day trip to the beaches further north along of Barcelona, like Badalona, Ocata or even Costa Brava is a great option. Less crowds, no stag parties, clean waters, all at a distance of a quick train ride (R1 Line). You can also hop on a bike and ride along the coast.

6All aboard a catamaran boat

experiences barcelona things to do boat trip catamaran
Yap. This is life.

In case you haven’t noticed, that big blue thing next to the city is the Mediterranean sea! While all the tourists enjoy Barcelona inland, why not a getaway to the sea?

To be fair, this can be a VERY touristy thing to do. Especially if you hop into one of the many booze cruises departing daily for crazy sunset parties.

Fortunately, there are also utterly relaxing boat trips, like a catamaran trip. See the sun set behind the mountains with a glass of cava in your hand. A comfy net to lie on. Live jazz music on the background. What’s there not to like?

This is exactly what’ve done for my 30th birthday: an amazing boat trip with Catamaran Orsom. Waking up and facing the 30s was tough, but after the trip, I definitely felt better!

7Chocolate & churros

experiences in barcelona like a local chocolate con churros
Sugar rush!

Whether you’re looking for a dessert or an afternoon snack, churros con chocolate won’t disappoint. Especially in the winter time, expect to find local families queueing up in the best places to warm up with a cup of thick dark chocolate.

While this unusual combination can be found elsewhere in Spain, it’s not to be missed when you’re in town. My favorite is the traditional Granja Dulcinea, in Carrer de Petritxol.

🎶 The other “churros con chocolate”

Funny enough, churros con chocolate is also the name of a LGBTI-friendly party! It happens in both Madrid and Barcelona and attracts crowds of locals willing to spend a different and fun Sunday evening. The theme varies every event, and you can expect music is of all flavours, from the traditional Spanish hits to reggaeton and the latest international pop.

8Enjoy the best Barcelona viewpoints

experiences-barcelona-things-to-do-local-el-carmel-view
Relaxing and enjoying the view.

When speaking of viewpoints, the most popular in Barcelona is the Tibidabo mountain, on top of Collserola . There’s a huge cathedral and an amusement park up there – love the combination! – that can keep you busy for a couple of hours. Lots of photo opportunities.

For a more chilled alternative, head to El Carmel bunkers, also called Turo de La Rovira. These abandoned and remote anti-aircraft defenses are one of the most scenic eyefuls of the city.

The ideal time to go would be before the sun even begins to rise with virtually no one there, but let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen is it? Time your visit for the sunset instead when the heat dies down. Bring a bottle of cava and create a memorable moment.

How to get to Tibidabo mountain

If you don’t have a car, the best way to get to Tibidabo is to take the Tibibus. This special bus (T2A) service runs from Plaça Catalunya, with the stop right next to Desigual . The journey takes 20 minutes and the schedule varies throughout the year (daily during summer months).

How to get to Bunkers del Carmel

The El Carmel area is relatively remote but getting there without a car shouldn’t be as complicated as it may seem.

The buses 24, 92, 114, 119 and V17 will leave you quite close to the viewpoint. Or just take the metro. Line 4 (Guinardo – Hospital de Sant Pau) or Line 5 (El Coll / La Teixonera) are feasible options, but be aware there is still a significant walk uphill involved.

9Escape to nature in Collserola

Barcelona is a massive urban grid and can be overwhelming when you’re staying for a few days without contact with nature. Do it like the locals and explore the nearby Collserola Nature Park, just in the outskirts of Barcelona.

A paradise for hikers, but for bikers and dog-walkers too, this mountain range spawns all the way from the urban limits of Barcelona and has its highest point in Tibidabo (512m).

If you’re a fan of hiking trails, head to Parc del Laberint d’Horta and start walking up. There’s a trail connecting it to the city of Sant Cugat. Expect amazing views, some wildlife (wild pigs can be found roaming!) and make sure you have a lunch break at Can Borrell, one of my favorite Catalan restaurants.

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10Attend the local festivities

experiences barcelona correfoc
Correfoc is a must see once in your life.

The weather is great in Barcelona all-year round and people truly live the city outdoors. No wonder the events and festivities where you can have fun throughout the year are more than many.

There’s a bit of everything in Barcelona, from modern music festivals to local neighborhood parties and city-wide festivals. In most of them you can witness the holy trinity of Catalan culture: castellers (human towers), sardanas (typical dances) and correfoc (fire runs).

🎉 Local festivities in Barcelona
  • Festa Major de GrĂ cia – every year in August the residents of the GrĂ cia district compete to see who can better decorate their street. In between workshops, concerts, locals party every night for a whole week and everything culminates in a massive street parade.
  • La Mercè – biggest festival of the year, in honor of the patron saint of Barcelona. Very unusual art displays (I seen dancing robots and laser shows), firework displays, concerts, and other outdoor events in several different spots scattered in the city. Every year they invite a foreign city to showcase custom cultural shows.
  • Sant Jordi – people exchange books and roses in what is one of the most lovely days of the year to be in Barcelona. Book fairs pop up around the city. Happens in April.
  • SĂłnar Festival – arts, design, and electronic music festival happening in June.

11Try calçots

experiences barcelona calçots on the grill

Catalonia has its own food customs and traditions and calçots are the more interesting of them all.

During winter time (usually January-April) friends and families gather on the countryside for calçotadas (large barbecues) to enjoy calçots, a type of green onion looking like an oversized scallion with an extra-long white stalk.

After being grilled on charcoal, you peel them with your own hands and dip them in finger-licking romesco sauce. It can get messy real quick, but there are adult bibs to contain the damage. Fun, local, and delicious.

12Rent a bike and ride along the beach

One of my absolute favorite things to do in Barcelona is to rent a bike and ride north along the coast. You’ll pass by very different scenarios, from the crowded Poblenou, to the industrial area of Forum (stop for a photo on the giant solar panels!) and then into Badalona before arriving Montgat, Ocata or PremiĂ  de Mar beach areas.

It can be a long ride but it’s a chance to see local areas of the city and enjoy high-quality Mediterranean beaches as opposed to the crappy ones in the center. Don’t forget to reward yourself with a tapas lunch at a chiringuito (beach bar).

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Where to stay in Barcelona?

Start your hotel search with this list of the highest-rated places to stay in the best areas of Barcelona.

13Forget La BoquerĂ­a and explore other Barcelona markets

experiences barcelona things to do like a local markets

Don’t get me wrong, I actually like La BoquerĂ­a. It’s lively, fun and actually, I did some groceries there myself.

But there’s no other way to say it: it’s a crowded mess and it’s full of tourist traps. Being right next to Las Ramblas attracts the overwhelming majority of tourists in look for novelty food items; the best seafood, fruit, veggies, and nuts are where locals go.

🛒 Local markets in Barcelona
  • Mercat de la Libertat – one solid option to find local produce in Grácia.
  • Mercat del Ninot – in “left” Eixample. It doubles as a great place to go for seafood tapas.
  • Mercat Santa Caterina – an architectural statement in Born with its ondulating colorful roof.
  • Mercat Sagrada Familia – just a few steps away from the cathedral, this small market has great fresh produce and glorious seafood.

14Go on a side trip

montserrat mountain barcelona alternative thing to do
Montserrat is a killer side trip from Barcelona.

Finally, if there’s a thing I love about Barcelona is the myriad of different day trips you can take.

Want a beach getaway? You have the whole Costa Dorada and Costa Brava to explore.
Craving some mountain time? No worries, choose between Collserola, Montserrat or Montseny.
You’re more of the cultural type? Figueres has a gorgeous Salvador DalĂ­ museum.
Roman ruins? Tarragona has it all over the city.
Medieval villages? BesalĂą is waiting for you.

And I could be here all day. The easier is to read more about dozens of Barcelona day trips here.

experiences Barcelona things to do w hotel

Booking a trip to Barcelona

Best areas to stay in Barcelona

First of all, I suggest AVOID staying at Raval (potentially unsafe at night) and Poble Sec (too many loud bars).

Now, the biggest tourist attractions are in Eixample. For the best options in terms of logistics and if you like to stay in the center of the action, Hotel LleĂł is a good option.

experiences barcelona what to do
Hotel LleĂł
Excellent location, clean rooms, helpful staff and a swimming pool in the terrace. What can go wrong?

Poblenou (next to the beach, but far from downtown) or Born (cool and hip district, potentially loud at night) can also be good options.

Best local area to stay in Barcelona

On the other hand, if you seek a more local vibe, I definitely recommend staying in Grácia. Healthy local food, cool indie shops, and a quiet vibe away from tourist crowds and loud bars await you. I recommend the below place.

gracia barcelona places to stay aparthotel silver
ApartHotel Silver
 
Easy walking distance to the streets and plazas in Grácia, but also to metro that take you to other areas. It even has a private garden!

Hotels & apartments in Barcelona

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You can start your search with my shortlist of top-rated places in Barcelona with WiFi.

Getting around Barcelona

Walking is by far my favorite way of knowing a city and Barcelona is no exception. The districts of Eixample, Barceloneta, Raval, GĂłtic are all oretty flat which makes things easier.

Public transportation is top-notch, so unless you plan on making a lot of day trips, renting a car in Barcelona won’t be needed at all. For a medium-sized city, the amount and frequency of metros, trains, trams and buses is remarkable.

There are daily passes for tourists, but I strongly suggest getting a T-10 ticket. This ticket with 10 journeys is not only cheap (a little over 10 EUR, 2019 prices) and gives you access to buses, metro as well as some trains too. The best part? This is a multi-person ticket meaning you can share the pool of journeys with others.


What other unique experiences you recommend in Barcelona?
Share your suggestions below in the comments! 👇

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14 comments đź’¬

  1. Very nice guide. Thankyou. I will share with friends visiting.

    I live in Barcelona. But am from England. And familiar with many of these traditions but will try some of your suggestions. Thankyou.

    I only have one comment on your guide. I feel I need to say something. (Is not to argue or upset you)

    On the picture of the beach, you have used the term ‘no paquis selling etc etc’

    “Paqui/ Paki “is considered a racist slur almond many. Especially people from Bangladesh or Pakistani. It might be better for you to use the full term ‘pakistani’ but maybe is best to remove this generalisation … Is like saying ‘no black people selling fake handbags’.

    But your choice. Only a small suggestion.

  2. Thank you for this — it’s a well-written post that offers a lot of helpful information that I have not seen elsewhere.

  3. Just a heads up mate – if you’re referring to what I think you are with the word “paquis” as you’ve described the beach sellers as in your photo for number 5, it’s a highly offensive term in English. It’s essentially akin to calling a black person the n-word. So probably best you remove it from the photo caption and anywhere else you may have used it on your site and don’t use that word again.

    1. I appreciate your concern James, as a local I’ve had this conversation many many times. 🙂

      Technically, I do agree it may be inaccurate and even ignorant to use the word – not everyone will be from Pakistan (the country) obviously – but it’s definitely not offensive. The term has generalized and the context has taken over – it’s now referring to *anyone* selling stuff on the beaches or in 24h supermarkets.

      While this may be an issue in English-speaking countries, it’s not offensive at all for Southern Europe, including Spanish, Catalan, or – more importantly – for the people themselves. There are plenty of other similar cases that originated words in Latin we all use now. Only people who find it offensive are exactly English-speaking who are not the first-parties involved. 🙂

      PS: I’m not racist at all and I do find offensive if someone assumes the same just because of a word to describe a group of people. Especially because there are the same people who then practice active racism bias on a daily basis or vote for Brexit.

    2. With all due respect Bruno, you are writing in English therefore your content is, I assume, for an English speaking audience to whom the use of that word is offensive. I don’t really see how you can’t understand that point?I’m offended by you using that word. Regardless of whatever else you think, whether you choose to use it when speaking in Spanish or Catalán, my point is that it is highly offensive in English.

      I have no idea what you’re referring to at the end of your comment, I never accused you of being racist and was extremely measured in my initial comment. And what on earth has Brexit got to do with it?!

      I also find it laughable that you presume to speak for “the people themselves”. Absolutely shocking!

      The correct response would be to recognise that the term is offensive in English and just take it down, not to argue that it’s ok to use because apparently in Southern Europe it’s accepted. Absolute nonsense.

    3. Like I said, as a local I had this conversation dozens of times with locals & expats, so I won’t expand much and keep it short.

      If you see it through a local perspective, there is not and there has never been a problem with the words paqui or chino. It’s not calling an offensive name. It’s not depreciative. They’re abbreviations of nationalities who define a group of people in a place, shop, or activity – and this is key – in the context of the local culture. This may come from the way Latin language has been built. As opposed to English, it’s perfectly common to use terms as “the american guy”, “the mexican shop”, or “the french family” and there is absolutely no harm in this.

      But hey, I’m not a language expert. What I feel is absolute nonsense is:
      1) a WORD offending someone in 2019, particularly when that someone is a third-party to the whole situation.
      2) find something offensive that is only offensive back home. Metaphorically, it’s like a Japanese person coming to Barcelona and saying locals can not greet each other with a kiss because it’s considered offensive back in Japan.
      3) DEMAND that I take down a word from a website just because you’re offended.

      Again, while I do appreciate your input and feedback, I don’t appreciate when someone tries to impose their moral truths just because it’s the way that is done back home and implying that any other possible course of action is perceived as incorrect and racist. Look, learn, and adapt to the local environment (in this case Barcelona’s).

      Take care and chill.

    4. Your blog isn’t in Barcelona, it’s on the internet in English and in English it’s highly offensive to essentially label anyone with brown skin a “paki”.

      Whose local perspective are you looking at it from? Certainly not the people in question. The word is depreciative because it reduces anyone with brown skin to being a paki -stripping away a persons’s identity and reducing them to nothing more than a slur. It’s the definition of depreciative. It’s othering. It’s stigmatising. It’s subversive. It’s certainly not harmless as you claim.

      In response to your three points:

      1. I can’t believe that in 2019 someone would not only use the word “paki”, but then go on to relentlessly and blindly defend the use of that word. If you don’t know that words have genuine power, that they can truly offend, hurt, and even have the ability to directly or indirectly result in physical harm, then in truth you shouldn’t be writing at all.

      2. I also have lived in Barcelona and have heard and seen that word used first hand in a very derogatory manner. There are plenty of other things you could say like “beach seller”, “24 hour shop”, or even just “person” but instead you wilfully and deliberately choose to use a highly offensive term. Need proof that the word isn’t just offensive to me? Plus your metaphor is so far off the mark I don’t even know where to start with that.

      3. At which point did I demand you take it down? At first I said it would be best, then I said it would be the right thing to do. Not a demand, I was appealing to any shred of humanity that you may have that you might try and understand the problem with using that word. Not once did I “DEMAND” that you take it down. If you wish to remain uneducated and deliberately turn your eyes away from the hurt that this word can cause, not just in English speaking countries but in Barcelona as well, then that’s your prerogative. It’s your blog and you can damn well do whatever you want. But you can’t then claim to not be racist, or at the very least prejudiced, once you have been presented with information that disproves your point of view and continue to insist that just because you don’t think it’s harmful that it’s not.

      Adapting to the local environment doesn’t mean using offensive, derogatory, divisive, and ultimately unnecessary terms to describe people of colour.

      You keep referring to me as a third party like I don’t qualify to have a voice on the subject, but as someone who has been subjected to racial abuse for my entire life, someone who like you has lived in Barcelona, and someone who has seen how harmful a casual use of these kind of racial terms is, I would say I actually speak from personal experience.

      So in your own words, “look, learn and adapt” to the 21st century Bruno. The term needs to be stamped out.

    5. I don’t allow external URLs on comments so had to remove your link, apologies.
      I stand by what I said and I won’t feed off more this pointless discussion. You think something is offensive when it’s not. I’m writing from the perspective of a local, not from the perspective of “English culture” which has nothing to do with this situation.

      Racism bias is a serious issue and sadly, so much more than an inoffensive word.
      Adapt, chill, and don’t create problems where don’t they exist. Take care!

    6. No problem, I understand you not accepting external links on your blog.

      I hope you at least read the article before deleting it – for anyone else interested it’s an article which contains interviews with local people from Barcelona, the ones that Bruno insists it’s fine to call “pakis” and “chinos”, and many of them say they do take offence at the use of those terms, particularly the younger generation who aren’t willing to just accept it as just “the way things are”.

      To read the article search on google for “Cada vez que dices “voy al chino” o “voy al paki” estás siendo racista” and it’s on a site called playground mag.

      So clearly my arguments aren’t based on “English culture” as you suggest, and the problems are very much there in existence already, not created by me as you claim.

      Choosing to bury your head in the sand and peddle the same tired narrative that casually throwing racial slurs about is not a problem simply because it’s commonplace and even going so far as to suggest that it’s “cultural”, is, of course, your choice. I hope one day you come to realise that your casual acceptance and use of terms like these that have negative racial undertones is in fact extremely dangerous.

    7. Like I mentioned, I won’t feed this conversation anymore as it’s not at all the goal of this article. Appreciate you could do the same.
      Take care.

  4. I enjoyed reading your post. We’re in Barcelona now, and will try some of your spots. We went to cadaques yesterday and found it delightful. Thanks.

  5. Great post !! Ive been in Barcelona once and I loved it ! I definitely will be back one day so I will come back to your post and use some of those tips for sure 🙂 Thanks for sharing !

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