Barcelona

Sit on the ‘Roof of the City’: And 5 Other Unusual Things You Can Do in Barcelona

19 Mar 2022
As one of the most visited cities in Europe, it’s very easy to follow a guidebook’s recommendations for Barcelona’s best places to visit when in the city. The likes of La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, and Tibidabo are very impressive, after all.

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

interesting sights in barcelona - hemp museum © Palace Mornau FB
The Hemp Museum at Palace Mornau © Palace Mornau Facebook
The city’s Ciutat Vella (‘Old City’), with its medieval buildings and narrow walkways, may not be the first place you’d look at for a marijuana exhibition, but the Palau Mornau houses one of the biggest museums of its kind in Europe.

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

interesting sights in barcelona - hemp museum © Palace Mornau FB El_casino_de_l'Arrabassada_Restored
A restored photo of Casino de la Rabassada
At its peak, the Casino de la Rabassada was one of the most majestic buildings in the city. This was down to its origin as a luxury hotel built in 1899, before it was expanded to include a casino 12 years later. It was bad timing.

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

Interesting sights in Barcelona © Natalija Sahraj / Shutterstock.jpg
The so-called Ravel Cat is the work of Colombian artist Botero © Natalija Sahraj / Shutterstock.jpg
When you walk through the central neighbourhood of El Raval, it’s easy to be distracted by the sights and smells of one of the busiest parts of Barcelona. If you pay attention to the buildings around you, though, you may spot a curious-looking wooden turntable built into the wall of 17 Ramelleres street. You might think it’s a decoration, or perhaps a small shrine, but the truth is a little more alarming. It’s an 18th century baby drop-off from when the building was an orphanage.

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

© trabantos / Shutterstock
What better place to enjoy a drink than the 'roof of the city' © trabantos / Shutterstock
For jaw-dropping views of Barcelona, the Bunkers of Carmel are the place to go. Set on top of the Turó de la Rovira hill above the city are military bunkers used by soldiers fighting in the Civil War in the 1930s.

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

The entrance to Parc del Laberint d’Horta © Till F. Teenck / CC BY-SA 2.5
Nobody likes getting lost, but what if it was in one of the most beautiful gardens in Spain? The Parc del Laberint d’Horta is also one of the oldest green spaces in the city, with a history stretching back over 200 years.

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 fountain

Mercury 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.

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