Rock out at Anti-Karaoke, share a paella with Spain’s most wanted gangster or enjoy a night of saucy stanzas at a poetry brothel… The Editor assembles an eclectic list of top things to do in Barcelona!
They don’t call her The Great Enchantress for nothing… almost everyone that comes to the Catalan capital ends up falling head over heels in love with this mesmerising beauty, who is not only stylishly decked out in a beguiling blend of Art Nouveau and modern architecture, but whose love of the finer things in life – tapas, vermouth and sex just for starters – can’t help but endears her to pleasure seekers.
Yes, she is cool and good looking and damn near perfect, but if Barcelona has a character flaw, it’s that she’s just too damn sought after these days, and some of her most celebrated assets are now either overpriced or, more simply, overrun. In this Secret Seven then, I’m going to share some alternative things to do that haven’t made it into every guidebook just yet. If you edge towards a more authentic style of travel, then hopefully these tips will help you break away from the mainstream attractions and get you enjoying the city from a more local perspective.
Always wanted to be a rock star? Just didn’t get round to, you know, learning an instrument, forming a band, and practicing 20 hours a week in your best friend’s parents’ garage whilst everyone else was down the pub? Then Anti-Karaoke is the event for you! Hosted by the gregarious American comedian and femme fatale Rachel Arieff, AK is a bit like normal karaoke except 1. you can only sing f@cking epic rock songs (so no Wet Wet Wet, or Careless Whispers) 2. there’s no cheesy sing-a-long screen, so you’d better know the lyrics 3. the mic and soundsystem are professional quality and 4. there’s a headbanging crowd high on booze and bass riffs egging you on. An extrovert’s dream Anti-Karaoke provides the atmosphere and audience for you to live out your rock star fantasies, and if you’re shy you can always haul up your mates or members of the audience to get stuck into Killing In The Name of. Fresh for 2016 and AK has moved into an awesome new venue, the Moritz Beer Factory (worth visiting for it’s own sake!), although it looks like it’s just going to be a monthly event for now.
Fabrica Moritz Barcelona, Ronda de Sant Antoni, 39 – 41
2# Tapas & Beers
Undoubtedly the coolest food tours in town, Tapas & Beers offer three distinct experiences, all designed to help you “taste the real Barcelona”. The first is their tapas tour, a delicious romp around some of the best tapas bars and bodegas in the much-loved district of Gracia, where you’ll sample half a dozen or more delicious Spanish and Catalan dishes washed down with homemade vermouths, Cava and cerveza. The second is a craft beer tasting tour, in the company of a master brewer. Here you’ll get to sample some of the latest products of the Catalan beer revolution as you drop by some of the best cervecerias and micro-breweries in town (just try to remember that craft beers are always stronger than standard cerveza!). The third is the so-called “Hipster’s Bar Hop”, a bar crawl that takes you down the backstreets of the multicultural Raval district to some of the city’s more secret and eclectic nightspots. All their experiences are small group only and you’ll find yourself blending in with the locals in their natural habitats (viz. bars!).
3# Bunkers del Carmel Viewpoint
I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this one, but hey this is your reward for being cool enough to read Urban Travel Blog (hint: you might want to subscribe for more such rewards!). A trip up to Bunkers del Carmel is the best way to see out the sunset in Barcelona, and whilst the dilapidated old military hideout is a sorry sight, the views over the city are nothing else but spectacular. Somehow the the hill is the perfect elevation to gaze over the metropolis, just high enough to gauge its scale but not so high it becomes an abstract equation. Do as the locals do and take a picnic and enjoy the city fade to orange and then indigo and black. Like all good secrets, it takes a bit of uncovering, especially as many taxi drivers won’t know exactly where to go. However if you ask your cabbie to drop you off at Restaurante Las Delicias in Carmel, address Carrer Muhlberg 1 you can easily hike up the rest.
4# The Summer Street Parties
From May ’til the end of September there is pretty much always an epic fiesta happening somewhere in or around Barcelona. That’s because at some point during summer virtually every district in the city will celebrate it’s own festa major (grand festival) by inviting every man, woman, granny & gramps, baby and dog onto the streets for food, drink, live music, DJs and dancing. Each festa major lasts around a week (the bigger and better ones tend to span two weekends) and many have their own unique traditions, whilst nearly all include some shared Catalan traditions – such as the notorious correfoc (fire runs), where demon-masked pyromaniacs wield industrial-size sparklers at those foolhardy enough to get near, or castellers (human castles), when groups of well-trained collectives clamber on one another’s shoulders to make “castles” of up to 10 stories high. Fun, informal and full of community spirit, life doesn’t get much better than swigging a cerveza in the sultry summer night air at one of these wonderful fiestas. The most famous is Festa Major de Gracia, when locals decorate their street for the occasion, whilst the massive La Merce in September is the festa major for the whole city and is suitably epic, usually with a massive programme of street theatre, arts, workshops and wine tasting. Barcelona Life has a very useful guide.
5# Get Lost in Labyrinth Park
Gaudi’s adventures in landscape gardening make for an unmissable – albeit massively crowded – attraction, whilst Parc de la Ciutadella is undoubtedly the most lively and fun of Barcelona’s green spaces (head here if you want to see the locals engage in a bewildering diverse range of activities, from slack lining to tap dancing). But for a little lush corner of the city to explore, practically on your own, Parc del Laberint d’Horta offers a lovely change of pace. Aside from the eponymous maze, there is a canal and small waterfall and several neoclassical features, such as a pavilion, and several statues inspired by Greek mythology. The improbable fee of 2 euros and 17 cents tells you how geared up to tourism it is, but that simply adds to the charm.
Passeig dels Castanyers 1-17
6# Eat Paella With A Gangster
Dani El Rojo (aka El Millionario) robbed well over a hundred banks in the 80s and 90s and did several stints in jail, before embarking on a similarly intriguing life of non-crime… for example he has worked as a bodyguard for Lionel Messi, as the merchandising manager of a famous Catalan rock band and in 2015 as a film star in a Spanish spy parody flick. Eating a slap up seafood meal with this gangster turned celebrity is one of the many unique experiences that specialist tour company Trip4Real offer in the Catalan capital. And it sounded so outrageous that naturally Urban Travel Blog simply had to try it! Not the cheapest experience on offer, but grab a few mates and splash out because Dani is a natural raconteur and his lusty tales of delinquency, drugs and daylight robbery make for a legendary lunch date.
7# Vintage Shopping
Barcelona is a hipster city, sometimes slavishly so, but whatever your view on Karl Marx-esque beards, limb-covering tattoos and stretched earlobes, it is undeniably fun to play the fashion victim and spice up your image with some unique items for your wardrobe. There are two streets in Raval that are honey to hipsters, and they are Riera Baixa and Carrer Tallers. The former is a small pedestrianised avenue that often gets overlooked (as it leads to nowhere in particular), but has several cool shops like Polly Maggoo and La Vella Maia Vintage. The latter is like a sunny slice of London’s Camden Town, with a mix of hip shops (some are so cool that you pay by the kilo), specialist stores selling punk and Gothic memorabilia and a good scattering of tapas joints and bars for intershop boozing. Depending what store you go to you can pick up some amazing bargains (I picked up a blue leather biker’s jacket for €40 the other day!) – or pay silly prices for something that is, however you market it, still second hand (Holala Ibiza I’m talking to you!) – so shop around.
Those who have a bit more money to burn might also want to consider taking a private shopping tour with the lovely Antiques & Boutiques. The girls at A&B are absolute gurus of fashion, design, art, furniture and antiques.
Bonus Tip: Poetry Brothel
I’d probably put this higher on the list, except this den of vice verses is as elusive as it is seductive. If you are lucky enough to be in town during one of their sessions of saucy stanzas then be sure to turn up with a few euros in your back pocket that you can slip in the hat of any number of the poetic putas that work here in exchange for an erotic reading or two. And just in case you’re confused, there is no actual sexual interaction at the Prostibulo Poetico, just plenty of verbal caresses from the souls, hearts and libidos of these literary lovers.
Bonus Tip: Street Photography Tour
Personally I’m a big fan of creative tourism, and the idea of learning a new skill, whilst at the same time exploring a new culture or place, is deeply appealing to me. I did just that when I signed up for the “Streetscape Photography” experience offered by Foto Ruta and had a great time not only learning more about using my Nikon 3100, but also exploring some of the forgotten nooks and crannies of the city, as well as hanging out with some cool fellow shutterbugs. Check my article reporting back from this urban photo tour, which also has some cool tips on other creative activities in Barcelona. For Apple aficionados the same team also offer an iPhoneography experience, helping you get the most out of your cameraphone (useful I guess if you’re part of the Instagram generation… and whilst I’m getting a bit old for that kind of oneupmanship, I do upload the odd pic from time to time!).
Still hungry for more tips? Find out how I chose to spend €500 in Barcelona in two days right here. And of course, with tips on everything from the unmissable attractions to the finest bars in town, our Long Weekend guide is essential reading for anyone considering a city break in the Catalan capital. You might as well find a few more original ideas for cool activities on my other website, Barcelona Life.