But if you want to head off the beaten path, or La Rambla, as the city’s main tourist street is called, then it’s time to start hunting for those little-known gems that make Catalonia’s capital city so special.
Gaze at marijuana in a palace
Built as a city palace in the 16th century by the noble Santcliment family, it had fallen into disrepair by the turn of the 21st century. A rich Dutchman turned out to be its saviour. Ben Dronkers, the founder of Amsterdam’s Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum, wanted to expand his collection to a different country, and the palace was the perfect choice in his eyes.
After an extensive ten-year renovation which restored the old building to its former glory, the new museum opened its doors in 2012. Championed by drug reform advocate Richard Branson, it gives visitors the unique chance of inspecting over 8,000 items of weed paraphernalia against a backdrop of Renaissance-era architecture. The weed is not included in the price, though.
Visit a haunted casino
Instead of taking a modern approach to understanding problem gambling, the city’s governor closed the casino just a year later, outlawing betting in the process. The site soon became derelict, and still stands there over a century later, a ghost of its former self. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit it, though. The landmark still sits proudly on the hillside today, and visitors can walk around its abandoned gardens and hallways. Just be careful not to bump into a spooky resident...
See where they used to drop babies through a wall
Because of the customs of the time, the shame of abandoning a baby was too much for many mothers to bear, which is why the ‘hole in the wall’ allowed them to discreetly drop their child off to be cared for by the nuns without anyone noticing. It wasn’t all sad news, though. Sometimes people would drop off small gifts and donations for the children at the orphanage.
Sit on civil war bunkers
While they may have been too worried about the war to enjoy the view in the past, today’s visitors are lucky enough to be able to sit on the tiled platform up there and enjoy the incredible skyline. The vantage point is such that the bunkers are known as the ‘roof of the city’, and it really does feel like you’re on top of the world up there.
Get lost in the oldest garden in the city
Back then mazes were high fashion for the rich, the Desvalls family who owned the estate wanted to create one with over 2,000 feet of twists and turns. Visitors who find the centre will be treated to a beautiful statue of Eros, the Greek God of Love, as well as other smaller sculptures along the way. Finding your way out, though, will be a different challenge altogether.
Inspect a mercury fountainMercury is one of the most toxic substances on the planet, so maybe building a fountain from it isn’t the best idea. It is, however, extremely beautiful to look at, and also plays a key part in Spain’s industrial past. For many years, the country had the world’s most prolific source of mercury, with the mines at Almadén pumping out over a quarter of a million tons of quicksilver over almost two thousand years.
American sculptor Alexander Calder built the fountain in time for the 1937 World Fair in Paris, where it was placed in front of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. It was later transported to Barcelona, where it’s now housed in the Joan Miró museum, to the delight of its thousands of visitors per year.