Barcelona can be considered one of the most popular tourist attractions that you can find in the world. Millions of people visit here on a yearly basis; in fact, there are so many of us that it’s considered that tourism is the second biggest problem after unemployment.
Why do they say that?
To put things into perspective, around 30 million tourists visit this 1.7 million inhabitants city each year. It has been identified that lots of these tourists stick only to the most prominent landmarks found in the city, which obviously leads to overcrowding, pickpocketing, high rent prices that are driving locals away from central areas, etc.
If you take a closer look at the attractions of Barcelona, you will notice that there are plenty of less known sites, which can provide amazing experiences to you at the end of the day. Having lived in Barcelona for six months, I thought of letting you know about some of the most prominent options out of them.
That being said, maybe you want to see something that not that many tourists did. Maybe you don’t want to follow the herd. Or maybe you have seen all the known bits and you’re looking for something new. If that’s you, keep reading.
1. The Barcelona Bunkers
Also known as the Carmel Bunkers, these are located on the top of the city, so to say, and definitely are one of the hidden-in-plain-sight gems of Barcelona. Not only that but due to their privileged position they offer 360 degrees views, which pretty much ensured the hill they are placed on has been in constant use for hundreds of years.
You will need to get to the Turo de la Rovira Hill, which is located in the El Carmel district, in order to get to this attraction. Be warned, there is quite a bit of a climb involved, no matter the direction you are coming from. As I mentioned in a different article, probably the easiest way to get there is by alighting at the Guinardo Hospital de Sant Pau metro stop on L4 and then walking the rest of the way. Heading from the tube stop to the nearby Carrer del Telegraf will allow you to use its super handy escalators and inclined elevators, which will get you to the base of the Parc de Guinardo. From there, another ten minutes of relaxed climbing will see you reach your destination. Should you feel less inclined to walk, bus 119 drops you 100 meters away from the top of the hill.
However, once you managed to reach the summit, the Bunkers are in a position to offer the best and most stunning possible views of the city. These bunkers were created during the Spanish Civil war (1936 – 1939), and despite their name, they were actually a set of anti-aircraft batteries and the associated soldier barracks, officer houses, mess hall, etc. Once you get there, you will be able to learn a bit about the history of Barcelona by reading one of the public signage that describes the bunkers and take in the views.
If you are already a bit familiar with the way the city unfolds, from this height you will be able to identify all the familiar attractions; you can even see the planes landing on El Prat if you are sharp-eyed.
2. Parc del Laberint d’Horta
If you walked through Parc de la Ciutadella on a sunny weekend afternoon only to be drowned in a sea of people or tried to enjoy Parc Guell but found it a bit too crowded for your tastes, then maybe a quiet park is more to your tastes. If I mention this is not merely a park but a historical garden that has been the first of its kind in Barcelona and has seen over 200 hundred summers, then I hope to have piqued your interest.
Work on the park has started in 1791 and over the next hundreds of years, it has been in the possession of the Desvalls family which has been slowly expanding it. In 1967 the family donated the park to the city of Barcelona and four years of restorative work later, it was being opened to the public.
As the name implies it, a labyrinth is to be found at the heart of this park. And at the heart of the labyrinth, there is an Eros statue, whose presence there I consider to be a clever pun from the whoever placed it. Get it? Eros at the heart? Hats off to you sir or madam!
Having a bit of fun getting lost in a labyrinth is always a nice experience (especially if you’re a bit drunk, but you haven’t heard me say that!) and when you are tired of that, there are a waterfall in the romantic garden, sculptures related to classic mythology or a neoclassical pavilion, to name but a few of the interesting sights you might see here.
To get to Labyrinth Park, the easiest way besides taking a cab is to take the L3Green Line from anywhere along La Rambla or Passeig de Gracia, up to Mundet. From there, only 500 meters are left between you and your quiet park and its trimmed cypress trees labyrinth. There is a small entrance fee of around 2 euros but the park is totally free on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Fun fact: only 750 persons are allowed in the park at the same time, to preserve its delicate environment. Since it’s off the beaten track, I personally doubt that number is ever surpassed anyway.
3. Cementerio de Poblenou
This can be considered as a one of a kind cemetery and you can discover it not far from the centre of Barcelona. It offers a rare representation of the local culture, seen through a different if a bit morbid lens. The art and society of Barcelona of the last two hundred years are also being well represented here.
The original Cementario de Poblenou has been the first to be raised outside the city walls, in 1775, but it had to be rebuilt not even 40 years later, after being destroyed by Napoleon’s troops. Given its new lease on life (too soon?) that it got in 1819, that puts the new site at just a bit over 200 years.
Free guided visits are available for the people who visit Cementerio de Poblenou on the first and third Sundays of the month.
you will need to know a bit of either Catalan or Spanish to get the most out of these free guided tours, as they are not provided in English. Some of the graves that you can see in here reflect impressive artistic skills that might surprise you; Kiss of Dead can be considered as one of the most prominent statues. You will clearly know which one it is and why it’s called that when you see it.
4. Jardí Botànic Històric
Jardín Botánic Històric de Barcelona is a botanical garden located on Montjuic that I’d recommend all nature lovers to visit. Since everybody will be busy crowding the nearby Placa de Espanya and the MNAC, this will be one of the quietest attractions that you can see in Barcelona as well.
Not confusing at all, on the same hill of Montjuic there is another Jardín Botánic, which is not historical, as it was opened in 1999. The non-historic one is bigger, slightly more crowded and also charges a small entrance fee. As usual in Barcelona, it’s free on the first Sunday of the month and from 15:00 on the other Sundays. That being said, make sure you are heading to the Garden you actually intend to visit if you are ever here.
Coming back to our Historical garden, it is, as already mentioned, a small oasis of tranquillity. Being built on the site of an old quarry, it has a lower temperature than the surrounding area, which allows plants not local to Barcelona to grow here. That also makes it a good choice on those hot summer days.
If you are going to Barcelona with a loved one, this will be a great place for you two to go for a walk. While you are spending some quality time here, you won’t need to worry that much about obnoxious tourists or pickpockets. You will not even find the random people who approach you to offer cocaine as in the touristy areas.
5. Carretera de las Aguas
If you are an adventure lover visiting Barcelona, you must go ahead and visit Carretera de las Aguas, a trail that is popular among local bikers, dog walkers and runners. This path was once a service road for a water pipe, hence the name. At one point or another, the pipes have been removed, and we got the sand and gravel path of today. Since it was supposed to serve the water pipes, the trail is quite flat, the only difficulty being in reaching it.
As favoured by the locals as it is, Carretera de las Aguas is not that popular among visitors, probably because they never heard of it. That’s one of the main reasons why this is on my list of less known places in Barcelona, besides allowing you to get some impressive views of the city.
To get there just take the train lines S1 or S2, from Placa de Catalunya up to Peu del Funicular and from there you are only one funicular ride away from la Carretera. It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the trail from Placa de Catalunya, which is nothing short of impressive.
Some last words of advice if you decide to break away from the crowds:
- When taking the train from Placa de Catalunya make sure to board the middle carriages of the train, as the platform at Peu del Funicular is quite short.
- The funicular itself does not stop at the Carretera des Aguas unless one of the passengers requests it by pressing the stop button next to the door. Same way, you have to flag the funicular on your way down by pressing a button.
- There is not that much shade on the road so if you’re planning to do this on a hot day, make sure to get some sunscreen with you and of course, a water bottle. You will have the occasion to fill it at one of the fountains, but you need a bottle to do that.
I realise I might have gone a bit overboard on the last one and since there are so many remarkable less known places in Barcelona, I’ll throw in one of my favourite gems as o bonus. You know, since you bothered to read this far.
6. Teatre Grec
When you lay your eyes for the first time on the Greek Amphiteathre in Barcelona, you could easily be led into believing you’re dealing with a very well preserved authentic Greek theatre. Nevertheless, the theatre was built for the International Exhibition hosted in Barcelona in 1929, using again, as for the Historical Botanical Gardens mentioned above, the existing rock quarries of Montjuic to great effect.
Besides being able to enjoy a moment of quiet in the theatre gardens after a busy day of tourist-ing, if you happen to drop by in the summer, during the Festival Grec de Barcelona, you can actually witness music, theatre, circus or dance performances. I haven’t happened to be around for this Festival yet, but the sight of 1900 people filling the benches of this great venue for a nighttime show must be one hell of a view.
The easiest way to reach the Teater and its gardens are from Passeig de Santa Madrona after a nice visit at the MNAC of from the nearby Avinguda Miramar.
Now that you are aware of six of the less-known attractions you can find in Barcelona, the next time you visit consider checking at least a couple of them. That way you’ll know your time here has been well spent.
Until then, don’t stop wandering!
Photo credits: 2, 3, 4, 5