10 Hidden Gems In Barcelona
By Jess Soler, a paddleboarder, yoga lover, snorkeller and lover of all things outdoors.
Edited by Holly Stark
What makes Barcelona a unique city to live in is that it has natural beauty in its landscape, but it’s also such a cosmopolitan, urban city. There are many wonderful spots that most tourists, and even sometimes locals don’t know about. Looking for 10 hidden gems in Barcelona to explore? From cactus gardens to interiors of undiscovered cathedrals to secret Barcelona views, get lost among the city’s tree-lined streets and dip into undiscovered Barcelona. Wind your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways in the El Born neighbourhood, venture to the outer reaches of the city and skip the tourist neighbourhoods as you peel back the best kept secrets in Barcelona. Here’s my guide to Barcelona’s hidden gems so you can discover the Barcelona that’s adored by its locals.
La Caseta Del Migdia
La Caseta del Migdia, or The House of the Midday Sun, is one of the best kept secrets in Barcelona. The bar is perched on the cliff tops just behind the castle on Montjuïc. It’s hard to get to, hard to find, but worth it once you do. The outdoorsy location in a pine forest has lovely sunset over the sea views of the city. It’s a great spot to enjoy a BBQ in the afternoon, listen to a DJ in a chilled environment with a beer. It’s out of the way and one of my favourite spots in the city. Explore Barcelona off the beaten path and head to La Caseta for one of the more unique experiences in Barcelona.
Mossèn Costa I Llobera Cactus Garden
Montjuïc has a hidden Cacti Park which is pretty beautiful; a small, quiet heaven for plant lovers hidden in the mountains of Barcelona. A curious botanical garden undiscovered by many, Mossèn Costa i Llobera Cactus Garden has more species (over 800) than you can count and cacti in all shapes and sizes. As well as cacti, the gardens are home to all kinds of plant and tree species from the desert, subdesert, tropical areas, and highlands. It’s the perfect place to escape the busy city life. Take a breath and relax on a bench with a view overlooking the harbor of Barcelona. As one of the more alternative things to do in Barcelona, the park is not to be missed for any nature lover seeking a retreat from Barcelona’s streets.
Parc Del Laberint d'Horta
The charming Parc del Laberint d’Horta is a unique place to spend a day away from the big city. The park is a hidden green gem of the Horta and Guinardó district. Designed in 1792 by Italian engineer Domenico Bagutti, the park is Barcelona's oldest garden, home to artistic landscape gardening; flower beds, small squares, side paths, a maze created from cypress trees, mythological sculptures, tall trees and a waterfall, the area makes up a total of 55 hectares. The park's woodland setting and hidden corners make the perfect spot to relax. The park is also the home to the Torre Soberana; a 14th-century country house, which was restored and redecorated in the Arabesque style in the 19th century. Seeking non touristy things to do in Barcelona? Head to Parc del Laberint d’Horta for Barcelona off the beaten path.
Santa Maria Del Mar
A rare example of pure Catalan Gothic architecture, Santa Maria del Mar is an imposing church in the Ribera district, built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Aragon kingdom's maritime and mercantile era. The church is often overlooked by visitors and locals alike, but is one of the few examples of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that is very unusual in large medieval buildings. Well worth a visit, Santa Maria del Mar has an incredible interior.
La Granja Chocolate
Check out the best churros and chocolate spot at Barcelona hidden gem Granja La Pallaresa. This chocolate shop opened up in 1947 and has been serving traditional thick, dark hot chocolate with freshly whipped cream since. Located in the Gothic neighborhood (Barri Gótic) on a street known for its chocolate cafés, Granja La Pallaresa is not to be missed for chocolate enthusiasts. Down the road is a typical churro place called Xurreria Dels Banys Nous. Here you can pick up churros and take them into La Granja with you - they really don’t mind you bringing in churros from outside. The churros are amazing, but the shop doesn’t look much - the perfect decoy to keep tourists away! It’s one of my favourite hidden spots in Barcelona. So take the churros into the bar, choose your drinking chocolate and soak up the secret desert heaven.
The Kissing Wall
Hidden in a tiny square that’s literally a few minutes away from the cathedral (you’ll wonder how you didn’t stumble upon it yourself) is Barcelona’s most poignantly beautiful piece of street art. The piece, entitled ‘El Món Neix en Cada Besada' (The World Begins With Every Kiss), was originally installed as part of Barcelona’s Tricentenary celebrations, but has become such a beloved feature of the neighbourhood that it was never taken down. Wander through the maze of old streets and from a distance, the mural is an intimate expression of two people kissing; get up close and you’ll see it’s made up of thousands of tiny mosaic tiles. The artist, Joan Fontcuberta, asked the readers of a local newspaper to send him photos of their own personal moments of freedom, 4000 of which were printed onto the tiny tiles and arranged according their colour density. The end result features everything from faded shots of family days at the beach to politically charged graffiti, photos of locals kissing their loved ones to snapshots of their children's birthday parties alongside the reminder inscribed on the neighbouring wall that “The sound of a kiss isn’t as loud as a cannon, but it's echo lasts a great deal longer.”
La Pastelería Hofmann
In life’s endless search for the best croissant in the world, you may sometimes wonder if you’ll ever find it. Visit La Pastelería Hofmann, and you very well might. This is a local institution, but in the winding alleyways of El Born, you’ll need to keep an eye out to spot it. A bakery and patisserie, they’re famed for their stuffed croissants, which are filled with a tantalising array of flavours from classics like marzipan or mascarpone to fruity delights like mango and raspberry. The perfectly flaky, buttery croissants are the stars of the show, but you’ll be tempted by everything! With sweet treats piled high on rustic wooden tables, farmhouse style kitchen cupboards reaching to the ceiling and the smell of fresh bakes wafting from the ovens you’ll feel like you’re in someone’s own kitchen - just make sure you get there before 12 or the croissants will be sold out.
Bunkers Del Carmel
Perched high above the Carmel neighbourhood at the top of Turó de la Rovira sits an unlikely beauty spot. Scattered across the hilltop are crumbling concrete bunkers, the remnants of anti-aircraft fortifications built during the Spanish Civil War in 1938 - and whilst the canons might be gone, the 360 degree, almost bird’s-eye view of the city has not. Join the locals and head up here at sunset with a bottle of wine and some nibbles for the best views of Barcelona at golden hour (or any hour, actually). You’ll be able to spot all of the city’s most famous landmarks, as well as see the ocean as it melts into the sky on the horizon - a pretty spectacular vista. And as well as the stunning views, there’s a small museum inside one of the bunkers where you can learn about their role in the war, and about their unlikely evolution into becoming a shanty town during the 40s and 50s known as The Cannons neighbourhood.
Quimet Y Quimet
Hidden in the El Poble-sec neighbourhood, with only a tiny sign (and probably a queue out of the door) to indicate its existence is what is widely regarded by locals as one of the best tapas bars in the city. Swap the crowds on touristy Calle Blai for Quimet y Quimet, a tiny standing bar in the El Poble-sec neighbourhood and you’ll be one of only about 15 people happily sipping vermouth and nibbling montaditos, their speciality, at the stainless steel bar or huddled around one of the tiny tables. Quimet y Quimet has been run by the same family for over a hundred years, and today’s owner is known for his skill at throwing together mouthwatering combinations of seafood and meats atop the crispy pieces of bread which serve as the vessel atop which float mouthwatering folds of smoked salmon with Greek yoghurt and honey, salty tapenade with roasted sweet peppers and anchovies or smokey cured meats and shavings of sheep’s cheese. Shelves generously stacked with vermouth, wines and seemingly any other drink you could wish for, as well as bottles, jars and cans of olives and preserved delicacies line the walls - floor to ceiling - and atop the narrow bar sit bowls of delicious ingredients waiting to be thrown together. You’ll quickly see why it’s packed every night. Get there before doors open at 7pm (Monday to Friday only, they’re closed weekends) to make sure you’ll get in!
Casa Dels Entremesos
Another spot that really is hidden away despite being just a few minutes from the cathedral is the Casa dels Entremesos; a uniquely local Catalan experience. This tiny museum is rather unusual, but that’s all the more reason to visit it and get to know more about Catalan culture. Its name means “the giants’ museum”, and you’ll find on display Els Gegants, the oversized figures which are a well known feature of the city’s festivities and parades. The original giants which first appeared in 1424 at the Corpus Christi procession were biblical figures and popular saints, but the tradition grew to include, dwarves, monsters and giant heads. Learn about this important part of Catalan heritage and folklore, and while you’re there you can check out what’s on in their programme of workshops, courses, themed exhibitions and other cultural activities.