Looking for some Barcelona hidden gems? Well you’ve come to right place with this guide to alternative things to do in Barcelona!
From the famous boulevard of Las Ramblas to Gaudi’s masterpiece the Sagrada Familia of course Barcelona is packed full of incredible things to do.
And the top attractions are deservedly popular. Particularly if it’s your first visit or you’re short on time and simply want to hit up all the biggest crowd-pleasers.
However, there are plenty of more unusual things to do in Barcelona that don’t attract the hoards you’re likely to find elsewhere.
Alternative Things to Do In Barcelona
Like any other big city, Barcelona has a regular tourist trail that’s well trodden and extremely popular.
However, if you want to discover a different side to Barcelona, or are looking for some non touristy things to do in Barcelona, you should definitely check out these Barcelona hidden gems.
Whether you’re after the best views in the city, a romantic spot to enjoy a night out, or a unique shopping experience, here are the best alternative things to do in Barcelona.
Barcelona Hidden Gems
Take in the Views at the Bunkers Barcelona
The Bunkers Barcelona is a hilltop hideaway, home to what are simply the best views in the whole of the city.
Positioned on top of a mount called El Turó de la Rovira in Parc del Guinardo, the Bunkers are 260 metres above ground. Though it’s definitely becoming more popular, it’s still one of the best hidden gems in Barcelona.
They’ve been occupied in some way or another for almost two and half thousand years, being adapted for various uses. But during the Spanish Civil War, they proved to be the perfect location for anti aircraft munitions.
These days the Bunkers is the top spot in Barcelona for kickass, panoramic, 360° views of the city and beyond.
Barcelona feels different from here, somehow vast and tiny at the same time. You can pick out many of the major attractions including the Sagrada Familia, Camp Nou, Tibidabo, and even the Magic Fountains of Montjuic if they’re on.
It’s a great place to take a picnic and a few beers or a bottle of cava and just chill out for a few hours.
The best time to go is probably at sunset, although it is busier busy then, especially on summer weekends.
But the city looks even more marvellous bathed in the golden light of the dying sun, making it one of the most special alternative things to do Barcelona.
Get Lost in the Maze of Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The Parc del Laberint d’Horta is nowhere near any other Barcelona attraction. Meaning it simply doesn’t register on many people’s radars and makes it one of the top secret attractions in Barcelona.
It also only allows 750 people in at any one time, so even at its capacity will always feel like a non touristy thing to do in Barcelona.
It’s a little tricky to get to, but once you find it you’ll surely agree it’s worth the effort.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta is an enchanting, tranquil oasis and a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Formerly the estate of a prominent local family, it was gifted to the city of Barcelona in the 1960s. It was then opened to the public in 1971, and has since been carefully restored and protected.
There are loads of different elements to the park including pavilions, statues, fountains, and even a canal.
But surely the most magical feature is the marvelous maze where you can enjoy getting lost among the false turns and dead ends it provides.
Exploring it is one of the most unique things to do in Barcelona for sure.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta is also one of the most romantic spots in the city and a great place for couples.
If you’re up for an adventure in a peaceful setting, this has to be on your list of alternative things to do in Barcelona.
Take a Scenic Hike from Tibidabo
Tibidabo is probably the most recognisable of the mountains that surround Barcelona.
Its idiosyncratic mountaintop church is one of the most distinctive features of the skyline and can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city.
Surrounding the church is a cool theme park that makes a great day out for kids and thrill seekers alike. However, if you’re more into nature and superb views, there’s a brilliant 10k walk that runs to or from here.
The Carretera de les Aigues is a route that snakes like a long, stone balcony about midway up the mountain. It’s an awesome Barcelona alternative.
The entire length provides spectacular views that are constantly changing as you walk. Unlike many mountain walks, it’s also virtually completely flat from start to finish.
And though this means it’s extremely popular among local hikers and cyclists, you won’t come across many out of towners. Because of this, it’s easily one of the best non touristy things to do in Barcelona.
At one end you can actually see the pitch of the Camp Nou, at the other you’ll meet the Tibidabo funicular on its way up to the theme park.
Take your pick which direction you walk in, but bear in mind that walking from the Avenida Tibidabo side means you’ll finish up away from the centre.
It’s a full day trip but if you enjoy hiking, a visit to Montserrat may be up your street too if you’re looking for more alternative activities in Barcelona.
Hang Out in Placa del Sol
Barcelona has lots of little squares and plazas, but none are as pretty or as well used as the charming Placa del Sol.
It’s located in the area of Gracia, probably the coolest neighbourhood in the city, full of independent boutiques and bars. And this indie character extends to Gracia’s favourite hang out spot making it one of the best alternative things to do in Barcelona.
Surrounded by bars and restaurants, you can take your pick if you want an al fresco sit down drink and dining experience.
But all the cool kids simply buy a beer or bottle of wine from one of its bordering shops. Armed with your drink of choice, your next task is to find somewhere to sit.
There’s a water feature on one side that makes for a decent chair, or a railing that runs along one side for some back support. But most local people just plonk themselves down on the warm paving slabs and make do.
There are people playing guitar, a nightly kids clubs that takes place, and sometimes a street performer or two putting on a show.
While it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, it’s like a free, open air bar and there’s a great atmosphere. Though Placa del Sol won’t be news to Gracia neighbourhood residents, for visitors it’s definitely one of the hidden gems in Barcelona.
Catch a Movie at the Montjuic Outdoor Cinema
A visit to Montjuic Mountain itself is definitely not on the list of non touristy things to do in Barcelona.
At its foot are the ever popular Magic Fountains and on its peak is a well visited castle. Plus, there are not one, but two cable cars that ferry people up and down it all day.
However, in the summer months on selected evenings, the grounds of the castle are transformed into a giant outdoor cinema. If you’re in town when there’s a film on, it’s one of the best alternative things to do in Barcelona.
It shows both classic and modern movies, and they’re all in their original language, so don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish.
Before the film there’s also a live music concert, included in the price, with a different band playing every time.
You can purchase food and drinks up there, but you can also take a picnic and bring your own booze. When it comes to unique things to do in Barcelona this place really hits the spot.
There’s even a free bus to shuttle you up and down the mountain from Placa Espanya, saving your weary legs. The tickets are unbelievably cheap, making it probably the best value night out you’ll find in Barcelona.
Don’t forget to throw something like this super small & waterproof picnic blanket in your bag.
Find a Bargain at Sant Antoni Flea Market
Many people head to Barcelona for the shopping and the obvious place to start is on Passeig de Gracia.
You’ll find outlets for most top designers here, with brands like Chanel, Gucci, Versace to name a few. It’s also got plenty of high street outlets if you prefer a slightly more accessible price range.
However, if you’re the kind of person that likes a Barcelona bargain, and you’re in the market for something vintage or one off, then get yourself down to Sant Antoni Flea Market.
Set over three floors, it’s a cornucopia of antiques, vintage clothing, fake goods, and various other intriguing curiosities.
From offcuts of fabric to musical instruments, brand new single gear bikes to full fitted kitchens, this place sells everything.
Even if you’re not in the market to buy something, it’s worth a look around to soak up the vibrant atmosphere.
It’s a sure hit in our Barcelona alternative guide.
And if you get peckish while browsing then the top floor has a number of hole in the wall type food outlets serving tapas style bites.
Alternatively there’s a slightly jaded but decent restaurant on the street level that does a top class menu del dia with a full bottle of wine per person. Yep you read that right – a full bottle of wine per person!
Soak Up the Sun on Platja Mar Bella
Barcelona is blessed with just under 5kms of beautiful, wide beaches. They are one of the main attractions of the city for many visitors.
However, there are plenty of tourists who never make it beyond the most famous and central stretch of sand, Barceloneta.
While it’s a nice beach on its own merit, over the summer months it’s so popular that it’s difficult to move.
It also gets filled to the brim with stag and hen dos, which can sometimes get a little bit, shall we say, over exuberant in their merriment.
Though none of the beaches during peak season are deserted, by heading a couple of kilometres along the coast it’s possible to find a quieter spot on a less busy stretch.
Platja Mar Bella is undoubtedly the pick of the bunch making it one of the best alternative things to do in Barcelona.
It’s about ten minutes walk away from both Poblenou and Llacuna metro stations, both of which are on the yellow line 4.
Not far away is the Rambla del Poblenou which has an embarrassment of cool bars and good restaurants, as well as supermarkets and little shops. Best of all they’re all priced at a fraction of what you’ll find on the main drag near Barceloneta.
Barcelona Nudist Beach
There’s also a great nudist beach along a section of Mar Bella beach. It’s very inclusive and hence very popular amongst gay and lesbian visitors to Barcelona.
Plus this section it’s sheltered from the main walkway that runs along the back of the beach so there’s no worries about prying eyes from outside outside of the nudist community so to speak.
Unique Things to do in Barcelona
Drink With the Fairies at El Bosc de les Fades
Despite being a stone’s throw away from La Rambla, El Bosc de les Fades is undeniably one of the Barcelona hidden gems.
Concealed through an archway at the port end of La Rambla, opposite the slightly tired looking wax museum, this otherworldly bar is quite literally hidden.
Directly translated as “The Fairy Forest”, El Bosc de les Fades is tucked away in a location that you’d never find if you didn’t know it was there. And once you enter it’s large wooden doors you’re instantly transported into a world of make believe.
It alternates from the “on-theme” to the “plain odd”, but in some ways this adds to the charm.
To the left of the bar you’ll find an almost pitch black hovel, built around a fake tree with ethereal fairy nymphs sat by a running water fountain. Adjacent to the bar there’s a slightly freaky ghost room which has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. And if you happen to be there at the right time you might experience one of the forests storms.
But regardless of whether you’re baffled or bowled over, it’s certainly an experience. The drinks are reasonably priced, and for those looking for unusual things to do in Barcelona, it definitely hits the mark.
Pastrami Bar and Paradiso Cocktails
One of Barcelona’s most trendy areas is the tiny enclave of El Borne.
Though it’s located just a few strides out of the narrow, sun starved streets of the Gothic Quarter, the atmosphere and feel here is completely different.
Wide, tree lined boulevards are filled with light and warmth, and lined with contemporary boutiques and chic drinking holes. It’s here you’ll find Paradiso, consistently rated as one of the top cocktail bars in Barcelona.
It’s an elegant and stylish space with a beautifully designed wooden interior, but you have to know where it is to gain entry.
Paradiso Cocktail Bar is high up the list of hidden things to do in Barcelona.
This is because even though the name is on the outside, there’s no bar front.
Instead, it’s located behind a café-bar that specialises in pastrami. What looks like a large refrigerator door in the pastrami bar leads you into Paradiso, one of the most unique bars in the city.
But it’s not just the secret location that makes it one of the top alternative things to do in Barcelona.
Their mission statement is to provide world class cocktails at a reasonable price point, and while it may still be a bit steep for some budgets, they are worth the dollar. The well crafted cocktails are served with a heavy dose of theatre, with smokes and garnishes used to breathtaking effect.
You can also order what might be some of the best pastrami ever to pass your lips from the cafe outside to accompany your drinks. You can’t fail to be wowed.
Be shocked by Barcelona’s Baby Drop Off
Okay time to get downright dark when it comes to this recommendation for unusual things to do in Barcelona.
If you didn’t know to look for it, you unsuspectingly walk straight this significant landmark of some of Barcelona’s darkest history. Because this literal hole in wall tucked away in the lesser visited neighbourhood of El Ravel, was once where the cities unwanted newborn babies were left.
To give its correct name, it is called The Foundling Wheel and specifically you will find it in a wall of what used to be the Provincial House of Maternity and Foundlings of Barcelona.
As the sign marking it states, the foundling wheel ‘represents a host of dramas and injustices’. On top of a mothers pain of being forced to abandon her child, the care was so bad that many died before their first birthday.
Thankfully things have drastically moved on from a time when single mothers forced into abandoning their babies due to poverty and social stigma of having illegitimate pregnancies.
Discover Barcelona’s Dark Side
If you’re interested in hearing in more depth about the scandals and tortures that went on once upon a time in the city, there are some great alternative Barcelona walking tours.
They go way beyond the usual touristy sightseeing tours and take you right into the backstreets where only the ghost and spirits play.
Rub Up Some Good Luck At The Cat of Raval
Okay lets lighten the mood with something from the fun but unique things to do in Barcelona.
If you’ve been to Medellin in Colombia you’ll straight away recognise the this unique sculpture as the work of the Colombian sculptor and painter, Fernando Botero.
Gifted to the city in 1987, it had a few different homes before he found his permanent home on Rambla del Raval.
It’s thought that if you rub the bronze chubby cat’s balls it will bring you good luck. And who doesn’t want good luck?
El Gato de Ravel isn’t the only out of proportion work of art in the city. But you’ll have to pay close attention in Terminal 2 of Barcelona El Prat airport to see Botero’s oddly shaped horse.
Check Out the Old Street Art of La Carbonería
Next up on our Barcelona alternative guide is the fading colourful graffiti of a giant hot air balloon. It that covers the whole side of an old, now abandoned, building on the outskirts of the Eixample neighbourhood.
Once a coal factory, between 2008 – 2014 the building was a significant part of the Barcelona Okupa Movement. Over the years young anti-capitalists have occupied many empty buildings within the city to protest their rights.
Principally they are against society having to dedicate most of their earnings to housing. And they view mortgages as banks forcing people to live in fear of losing their jobs and homes. So they rebel against the system.
After a number of unsuccessful evictions from the owner, the squatters were eventually made to leave La Cabonería by the police in 2014.
It was thought that the decaying building would be torn down to make way for a new development. But it has since been categorised by the city council as a site of historic and artistic interest.
It will interesting to see what happens to it next.
Get Freaked Out In An Escape Room
If you’ve never tried your hand at an Escape Room, this is a great option for things to do in Barcelona in the rain. Or for escaping the heat of the summer for an hour either.
Racing against the ticking clock you have to work together to put the clues together and find your way out of the locked room before your time is up.
You’ll need at least two of you and they are best played in a group. Personally we think the horror themed ones are the best because they give an extra edge. Try this one on for size.
Get Your Giggle On At The Sex Museum
Another option for things to do in Barcelona in the rain is to visit the Erotic Museum of Barcelona. Might not be a place to stop by if you’re visiting Barcelona with your folks mind!
Educational and historical in one respect, the stories told and objects on display in this unusual museum will also no doubt have you blushing.
It certainly makes for a fascinating Barcelona alternative activity that’s for sure.
You can book a ticket here and receive a queue jump, audioguide…and glass of champagne.
Unusual Things to do in Barcelona
Barcelona’s Agbar Tower
This unusual shaped 38 storey skyscraper is one of the more modern buildings on Barcelona’s skyline. And by unusual we also mean ridiculed.
Nicknames range from ‘el supositori’ meaning the suppository, to other, more sexually explicit names such ‘the dildo’. People also reckon the design was copied from the very similar looking design of The Gherkin in London.
Agbar Tower is located in the regenerated old industrial area of Poble Nou. The area in general is great to have a wander if you fancy seeing an alternative side to Barcelona. It’s a young crowd around these parts with new art galleries and microbreweries popping up on the regular.
It’s also a treat to visit at night with 4,500 LED’s producing over 16 million different colours across the building surface.
Be Wowed By Hospital de Sant Pau
Despite being a World UNESCO Heritage site, the Hospital de Sant Pau is not as popular as other Barcelona attractions. Perhaps it’s overshadowed because of its proximity to the famous Sagrada Familia, who knows?
We certainly didn’t visit until our fourth time in Barcelona. And hence why it’s made its onto our list of alternative things to do in Barcelona.
The world’s largest Art Nouveau complex, you’ll find Hospital de Sant Pau at the opposite end of pedestrianised Avenida Gaudí to the Sagrada Familia.
Interestingly part the complex is still a working hospital and will undoubtably be the the most beautiful hospital you will have ever seen.
You can just wander into some of the entrances, but to see the best of the buildings you should enter through the museum and into the grand courtyard. Despite appearing unconnected each separate mosaic clad building is actually connected by underground tunnels.
It’s fascinating to learn about.
Buy your tickets in advance here so you don’t miss out!
Get Spooked At Hospital Torax de Terrassa
This next addition to our list of unusual things to do in Barcelona will look more like the set of a horror film than a hospital, and that’s because it is. Nowadays anyway.
Set a way outside of the city centre, at the edge of the suburban neighbourhood of Terrassa, Hospital Thorax was was once indeed a hospital. It opened next to a pine forest in the 1950’s and housed patients with respiratory diseases. At least on the face of it.
You see, there are lots of dark rumours that circulate the goings on at Hospital Torax de Terrassa. It is said that during its operation it had the highest suicide rate of any institution in Spain.
The story goes that patients were driven mad by the combination of struggling to breathe and the isolation they felt. And that it was such a common occurrence for them to jump off the hospital to their death in the garden below that the garden was nicknamed ‘The Jungle’. Likening the sounds of screaming and loud thuds to that of primal jungle noises.
There are also perhaps even more sinister rumours that inhumane experiments on the patients took place there. Which was only confirmed when someone was arrested in possession of a foetus in a jar which he claimed he had obtained on the 5th floor of the Hospital de Torax.
Following it being abandoned in 1997 it received a lot of attention from ghost hunters. And in keeping with its disturbing past has since been taken over by a film and television studio for use as a horror/thriller film set.
You can arrange a Hospital Torax de Terrassa tour here to learn first hand about the history of this creepy place.
It is however so far down the list of secret things to do in Barcelona for tourists that the tours are only in Spanish though.
Escape the Crowds at Castelldefels Beach
If you’re into your sun, sea and sand combo, Castelldefels Beach, just outside of the city is another excellent option for alternative things to do in Barcelona.
Located 18km south of Barcelona city along the Costa del Garraf this 5km stretch of golden sand never runs out of space. The water is also shallow and very ambient.
If you fancy renting a car in Barcelona, it’s an easy drive. Find the best car rentals deals here. There’s plenty of parking spots.
Or you can just jump on the train from Sants Estacio train station to the Platja de Castelldefels train station. It’s a 15 minute ride and then just a 3 minute walk to the beach. Book your train tickets in advance here.
Visit the Clear Blue of Calella de Palafrugell
Further North out of Barcelona city, you’ll find a beauty of a spot along the Costa Brava called Calella de Palafrugell.
It’s a crazy picturesque bay with crystal clear water and a pristine beach. In fact if you’re visiting Barcelona or this area of Spain for while we’d highly recommend spending a night or two here.
And if you get fed up of the sand there’s a gorgeous bar that overlooks the whole of bay to enjoy some shade and a few cocktails at.
The best way to get there is to a rent a car. That why the journey will only take around an hour and half. Book the best car rental price here.
Alternatively you can take the a bus from either Barcelona airport or Estació del Nord station in the city.
Just be that it is a rather long journey. Three hours from Barcelona airport. And then you’ll have to take a taxi from the Palafrugell bus stop to the beach front.
But if this is your preferred option you can find bus tickets here.
Or another great way to visit the beautiful beaches up this way is to take a tour from Barcelona. This way you keep your travel time to minimum and your beach time to a maximum.
All with a local guide to show you lots of secret things to do in Barcelona.
Kayaking Tour of Costa Brava
If you’re after exploring the stunning coast of Costa Brava in a more active way, there are some cracking day tours from Barcelona that include kayaking and snorkelling activities.
As well as getting up close and personal with the clear blue Mediterranean Sea, you’ll visit hidden caves and see lots of amazing underwater marine life.
Such an awesome idea for unique things to do in Barcelona. Be sure to pack some reef friendly sunscreen to protect you and the environment too.
Looking for Somewhere to Stay in Barcelona?
Its long, narrow streets are lined with trees and there are lots of cool squares to chill out in.
It neighbours the El Carmel district where the bunkers are and is totally possible to walk to them from.
It’s also where you’ll find Park Guell, is close to La Sagrada Familia, and just a short metro ride or 20-30 minute walk from the centre of town.
In our opinion it’s by far the best area to stay in Barcelona.
Bear in mind that the best budget accommodation in Barcelona gets booked up well in advance. So to avoid disappointment get your reservations made ASAP.
Here are our top recommendations for where to stay in Gracia:
Affordable Luxury: Hotel Barcelona 1882 is just a stone’s throw from the Sagrada Familia. And from its roof terrace you’ll get stunning views of this beautiful building. There’s also an incredible rooftop pool and bar up there for relaxing in the evenings.
The spacious rooms are soundproof and come equipped with flat screen TVs, air con, and everything else you’d expect from a 4* hotel. Rooms come with large windows meaning they’re extremely bright and sunny, with some even boasting panoramic vies of the city.
Midrange: Hotel BestPrice Gracia‘s name sums it up nicely. You won’t find a better priced, more comfortable hotel in the area, particularly not when you consider how nice it is.
Simply and tastefully decorated, rooms here come with everything you need to relax after a day of sightseeing. Air con, flat screen TVs with satellite, private bathrooms with free toiletries and hairdryers come as standard.
Cheap & Cheerful: Sant Jordi Gracia is a modern, stylish hostel with a trendy vibe. Dorms are air conditioned and everywhere is impeccably clean.
There are also lots of cool areas to hang out and meet fellow travellers. These include a rooftop terrace, the shared kitchen and a big common room.
Which of these alternative things to do in Barcelona will you be checking out on your visit? Let us know in a comment below, and tell us if you’ve got any more questions you want answered about them.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance!
As with any trip abroad, make sure you have a good quality travel insurance in place.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy wording & are perfect for adventurous travellers like us.
Get a no obligation quote here:
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.