Barcelona is more than beaches and bars – uncover these top 10 hidden sites in Barcelona that most tourists overlook.
Every city has its secrets and those hidden gems off the tourist track that are typically only discovered when you fully explore an area and stumble across them, often by accident.
Barcelona has hidden gems and secrets by the truckload but they are rarely visited on the average guided tour, where usually only the most famous landmarks are mentioned, like Antoni Gaudi’s famous Casa Milà, pictured right.
Most of the time these spots are overlooked or passed by, which is a shame because they often hold some of the best-kept secrets of history, intrigue and magic.
Here is a guide to 10 of those so-called secret locations and hidden gems in Barcelona that are definitely worth checking out if you’re in the city.
Remains of the Temple of Augusto
Strolling around the Gothic Quarter is always an experience with its narrow, windy cobbled alleyways and the intricate and stunning architecture found there. However, there is a little corner that is truly awe-inspiring if you know where to look: the medieval patio located at Calle Paradís 10. Inside this ancient patio you will find four columns that once formed part of the Temple of Augusto. These columns are more than 2,000 years old and measure 9m high. If you happen to come across them, the sight is truly amazing. You will be immediately transported back to Roman times simply by entering a seemingly unremarkable little patio in a similarly nondescript street.
The Arús Library
Borges once said that all mysteries are found within a library. And in this case he wasn’t wrong. The Arús Library, once of the most beautiful to be found in Barcelona, is home to one of the most famous monuments in the world – but on a smaller scale. The connection is New York. Located at Paseo San Juan 26, you will find a diminutive replica of the 19th-century Statue of Liberty gracing the entrance.
Museum of the History of the City of Barcelona
The main headquarters of this museum is located in the Plaza del Rey. Here you can learn all about the evolution of the city over the centuries and through the various ages. The museum is located underneath the old town and contains Roman ruins, through which you are guided and given the history of. You won’t believe what’s right underneath your feet, and after perusing the first couple of rooms, you are then led even farther underground where sights such as an old Roman wall, a fish-salting facility, a wine-making set-up and the foundations of a cathedral await you. It’s pretty jaw-dropping stuff and very easy to miss if you don’t know where to look.
The chilling air-raid shelters
While Barcelona’s history dates back thousands of years, its recent history is also very interesting too, although some of the stories will probably make your hair stand on end. The Civil War began in 1936, and as the city suffered constant bombings, engineers were ordered to quickly build underground shelters to protect the people from these attacks. Today, some of these air-raid shelters are open to the public, which is the case of the one found below the Plaza del Diamante. It is some 13m underground, 250m long and can hold up to 200 people. To visit the shelter, you must make a reservation beforehand by calling 932 196 134.
Also worth a visit is the Refugio 307 shelter at Calle Nou de la Rambla 169. This is made up of 400m of tunnels which are 1.6m wide and 2m high.
Silent Witnesses in the Sant Felip Neri Church
The Sant Felop Neri Square has become one of those places full of tranquillity, serenity and significant hidden silences. It’s a space to reflect right in the heart of the bustle of the Gothic Quarter. The reason being probably has something to do with the front of the church that dominates the square. Under attack during the Civil War and the bombings of 1938, a total of 42 people seeking refuge underneath the convent lost their lives. And when it came to rebuilding and restoring the church, it was decided to leave the holes caused by the explosives and shrapnel for everyone to see rather than cover them up, as some kind of testimony and manifestation of what had taken place there.
Traces of the aqueducts of Barcelona
It is a well-known fact that Barcelona used to have two aqueducts that carried water into the city. One brought water from the Besós River, while the other one transported it from Collserola, but both ended up at the same place – the Placa Nova that is there today. Here, you can see a reconstruction of the old water passage, as well as two of the original defence towers, which are still standing and look over the square. Another remnant of the aqueduct can be found in Calle Duran y Bas, where four arches have been integrated into a dividing wall of a more modern structure.
This is perhaps the most famous site within this guide, yet despite being designed and constructed by the city’s most renowned and recognised architect, Antonio Gaudí, Casa Vicens is still overlooked by many. Tucked away at Calle Carolinas 24 in the Gràcia district, this is a stunning piece of architecture, with oriental and Moorish influences, that dates back to 1883. Even just contemplating the exterior of the building will transport you to another time and place.
La Font del Gat
The Font del Gat, or the Cat’s Fountain in English, is one of the most popular fountains to be found in the city of Barcelona. It was sculpted in 1918 by Antoni Homs and is situated in the beautiful garden of Los Jardines de Laribal in Calle Tapioles. In days gone by, it used to be a meeting place for a group of well-known gastronomes, who would get together to talk about and sample each other’s culinary delights. The fountain was given its name as the water flows through a hole that actually looks like a cat’s mouth.
The Santa Madrona Chapel
During the Middle Ages, the area of Montjuïc was abundant with convents, chapels and hermitages, however, out of a great number of them, the only one to survive is the Ermita de Santa Madrona (1403). Located at the bottom of Calle Montanyans, it is a place filled with mysticism due to the stories that surround it. Legend has it that merchants from the olden days were transporting the remains of Saint Madrona to Marseille from Thessalonica in Greece, but the ship sunk and became shipwrecked right opposite the Monjuïc hill. From this event, it was interpreted that the saint wished to stay in that place and so the chapel was built in her honour. In 1563, Madrona was declared patron saint of the city of Barcelona, although many people today do not know this fact.
Urban works of art
The last port of call in this guide is dedicated to two corners of the city in which a couple of well-known artists have erected their work. The first is the famous mural by Keith Haring – an American artist and social activist diagnosed with AIDS, which he later died from – titled Together We Can Stop AIDS. The original mural was painted in a poverty-stricken, seedy area in Raval known as the Barrio Chino, but it has now been restored to an outside wall of the MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art). The mural depicts a syringe around which a large snake has coiled itself. The snake has the name AIDS. A couple in the shape of a pair of scissors cut up the reptile and another figure places a condom on its tail. It is painted in one colour, red, the colour of blood. The second piece of art is found on Barcelona’s most famous street, Las Ramblas. When you least expect it, close to the Boquería market, you will find that you are standing on a beautiful piece by Spanish painter Miró, which was inspired by the cosmos.