Thinking of visiting Barcelona but want to avoid the crowds? Here are a few of the best non-touristy things to do on a weekend in Barcelona.
If I was asked to compile a list of my top ten favourite cities in Europe, Barcelona would most definitely be on it.
In Barcelona, you’re right on the coast but still only an hour from the stunning Monsterrat mountain range, with its rocky crags, vast monastery, hermitage caves, hiking trails and stunning views in every direction. Even in the city itself, there are an amazing amount of green spaces, where you can turn the pace down several notches, and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Barcelona also boasts an abundance of art and culture. Everywhere you look, the city’s streets are alive with visual art. Along with the work of Antonio Gaudi, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miro, there are some talented street performers, interesting sculptures and wonderful murals to marvel at. Barcelona feels like a city that encourages creativity, in whatever form it may take.
You’ll find well-preserved centuries-old monuments and beautiful, historic architecture that blends perfectly with more contemporary style buildings to create a city that is both ancient, grand and elegant, and modern and progressive.
And its nightlife is as diverse as its architectural styles. Whether you like cocktails, a bottle or two of real ale, a glass of chilled Sangria, or some sparkling prosecco, Barcelona has it. Whether you fancy some live flamenco or jazz, a bit of rock, some chilled beats or a full-on D.J set, Barcelona has that too. The city’s nightlife ranges from tiny cramped tapas bars and wood-panelled pipe smokers pubs, to cocktail lounges, hidden gardens, and underground clubs.
What’s more, it’s got a metro system that is efficient, reliable and ridiculously easy to navigate, which makes getting around the city an absolute breeze!
To summarise, if you fancy an invigorating mountain hike in the morning and an amazing tapas spread for lunch, followed by a spot of sightseeing, a mooch around some art galleries, a late afternoon stroll along the beach, and then some fresh seafood, live music and drinks in the evening, Barcelona has got you covered!
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Jet2CityBreaks, who very kindly covered my flights to Barcelona, along with three nights at the stunning Catalonia Magdalenes hotel and all expenses involved. However, all content is entirely my own and I was under no obligation to write anything specific about the destination, hotel or airline.
I’ve visited Barcelona on two previous occasions, and as much as I love the city (you can read more about the reasons why in this post), I despise crowds. So, my third visit was always going to be about finding parts of the city that aren’t major tourist hotspots. Some of the sights in this post are places I have returned to, because I genuinely enjoyed the experience the first time around, and some were new to me on this particular weekend in Barcelona.
Whilst nowhere in one of Europe’s most visited cities is ever going to be completely under the radar, I’ve tried to include places that your average tourist isn’t going to make it to on a weekend in Barcelona.
But, before we dive in to a few of the best non-touristy things to do on a weekend in Barcelona, here are a few of my top tips if you’re planning a visit to the city.
A Weekend in Barcelona | Top Tips
1 | Get yourself a Hola Barcelona travel card
You can purchase 2, 3, 4 or 5 day cards and they give you unlimited travel on public transport (so, metro, bus (TMB), urban railway (FGC, Zone 1), Montjuïc funicular, tram (TRAM), and regional railway (Rodalies de Catalunya, Zone 1) for the duration of your card. You can purchase your Hola Barcelona travel card online for a 10% saving off the normal price.
2 | Download a metro map and save a screenshot of it on your phone
Doing so means that you can access it quickly and easily at any time. This really helps with navigation on the move, and ensures that you get to where you need to be in the shortest amount of time possible. I used this one from Map Metro Barcelona on my weekend in Barcelona.
3 | Plan your itinerary in advance so that you can make best use of your time
Make a note of the location of all the attractions you’d like to visit (I plan mine out on Google My Maps), along with a selection of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. Doing this means that you can concentrate on exploring certain areas on certain days, and that you’re not spending too much time on public transport travelling between your chosen destinations on your weekend in Barcelona.
Non-Touristy Things to Do on a Weekend in Barcelona
1 | Fundació Joan Miró
I’m well aware that I’m starting this post with a Barcelona attraction that does attract its fair share of visitors. However, bear with me, because the Montjuïc neighbourhood (in which the Fundació Joan Miró is located) is an area of the city that feels so far removed from the crowds of downtown Barcelona. And, in spite of arriving at the Fundació Joan Miró just before it opened at 10 a.m., and finding myself at the end of a small entry queue, I barely encountered any other tourists as I wandered around the various exhibitions inside. I had a similar experience the last time I visited – for my birthday in June.
Montjuïc (also known as Montjuïc Mountain or Montjuïc Park) is one of Barcelona’s largest districts, located in an elevated position above the centre of the city. There are numerous gardens here, wide leafy boulevards and countless miradors (viewpoints) from which to admire the far-reaching sea and city views. So, whilst you may be sharing your space with hundreds of other tourists, it never truly feels that way.
Joan Miró was a painter, sculptor and ceramicist who was born in Barcelona in 1893. He liked to combine abstract art with Surrealist fantasy, and was known for his interest in the subconscious mind.
The Fundació Joan Miró was set up by the artist himself and opened its doors to the public on 10 June 1975. The building itself, designed by architect Josep Sert, is beautiful, and don’t leave without checking out the incredible mercury fountain, in the centre of the complex.
Some 10,000 of Miró’s paintings, drawings, sculptures, stage designs and carpets are now owned by the museum. On the roof top terrace (my favourite part), you can admire the artist’s colourful sculptures, together with some wonderful views of Barcelona.
Unfortunately, due to windy weather conditions, staff had closed access to the terraces when Stu and I visited, so the photos I’ve used here are from my previous visit to the city.
Opening times: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00-18:00 hours. Closed on Mondays.
How to get there: take the L3 (green) metro line to Paral-lel, and then jump on the funicular to Parc de Montjuïc. From there, it’s a five-minute walk to Fundació Joan Miró (see map below).
2 | Pavelló Mies van der Rohe
I first became aware of this place when I saw an Instagram post from visitbarcelona, and it immediately got added to the itinerary for my weekend in Barcelona.
Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich as the German national pavilion for the 1929 Barcelona International Exhibition, Pavelló Mies van der Rohe is a stunning building from a design perspective. It uses clean lines and angles, and incorporates glass, steel and four different kinds of stone. There are two masses of still water, with a small garden of trees and hedges to one side, which helps to create a sense of calm and solitude as you wander around.
The building you see today is not actually the original construction, but a meticulous reconstruction of the original — completed in 1986. The architects involved in the reconstruction took great care to ensure that the materials were sourced from the same locations as the original building, using marble from Rome, Greece and the Atlas Mountains.
My favourite part was the Georg Kolbe sculpture — simply entitled ‘Dawn.’ She stands at one end of a small rectangular pond, her curves contrasting with the strong geometrical design of the building itself.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00-18:00 hours (extended opening until 20:00 hours March – October)
How to get there: take the L1 (red) or L3 (green) metro line to Plaza España, or it’s possible to walk to it whilst you’re up in the Montjuïc neighbourhood.
3 | Jardí Botànic (Barcelona’s Botanical Garden)
Allow plenty of time to have a look around Barcelona’s botanical garden, because it covers a massive 14 hectares and is one of the largest parks in Barcelona.
Established in 1999, the garden is now home to around 1500 plant species from Southern Australia, the coast of Chile, California, South Africa, and the Mediterranean.
There are walking trails of varying lengths around the park, marked on a map when you arrive. This helpful resource allows you to chose a suitable route based on the time you have available, and ensures that you don’t simply end up wandering around in circles!
There is also a Jardí Botànic Històric in Montjuïc Park (don’t confuse the two!), which is much smaller, but still worth a quick look around if you’re passing. There’s a typical Catalan farmhouse located there, whose construction predates the garden itself. You’ll also find a small sensory garden, along with an organic garden, which has been designed to preserve and promote the cultivation of vegetables that typically grow in the Catalonia region.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00-19:00 hours.
How to get there: walk there from Fundació Joan Miró (see map below).
4 | Castell de Montjuïc (Montjuïc Castle)
Built atop Montjuïc Hill, 173 metres above Barcelona’s port, Montjuïc Castle is is an old military fortress, with roots dating back to 1640. It came under Royal ownership in 1652, and then, some 50 years later, it was one of the key defence points in the War of the Spanish Succession.
After the war, the castle was in need of some major restoration work, so its present appearance dates from the middle of the 18th century. The castle was used as a military prison until 1960, but is now the property of Barcelona City Council.
There’s a small museum inside the castle, but the main appeal for me was simply wandering around the grounds and taking in the panoramic views of the city below.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00-18:00 hours November to February | 10:00-20:00 March – October
How to get there: walk there from Barcelona’s Botanical Garden (see map below). Alternatively, you can hop on the cable car close to the Parc Montjuïc metro station. We walked to the castle and caught the cable car back down to the centre of the city. It’s a journey I can definitely recommend. However, it’s important to note that the cable car is not classed as ‘public transport,’ so the fare is not covered by the Hola Barcelona card.
5 | Gaudi’s Bellesguard
Most visitors to Barcelona will know Gaudi’s most famous piece of work, the Sagrada Familia, and many will also be familiar with Parc Güell, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. I’ve visited them all, and can thoroughly recommend each and every one of them. However, if you want to escape the crowds on your weekend in Barcelona, you will most definitely not be able to do so at any of these!
To find one of the lesser-visited (but, still very beautiful) Gaudi creations in Barcelona, you’ll need to head to the Sant Gervasi neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city, close to the foothills of mount Tibidabo. Bellesguard (Catalan for ‘beautiful view,’ owing to its elevated location and the views it affords across the city) was designed and built by Gaudi between 1900 and 1909, but only opened its doors to the general public as recently as September 2013.
Although Stu and I had only paid for the visit with an audioguide (€9, at the time of writing), we ended up having our own private guided tour of Bellesguard, because we were the only two people there. Audioguides can sometimes overwhelm (read: bore!) you with an unnecessary amount of historical detail, but our guide really brought Gaudi’s creation to life, by helping us to spot details that we probably wouldn’t have done, had we wandered around by ourselves, solely with the assistance of the audioguide.
Opening times: Tues-Sun 10:00-15:00 hours (last entry 14:30).
How to get there: take the L6 (navy blue), L12 (lilac) or Catalan regional train line to Sarrià. You will then need to walk for around 20-25 minutes uphill to reach Bellesguard (see map below).
6 | Parc del Laberint d’Horta
Parc del Laberint d’Horta is a historical garden in the Horta-Guinardó district in Barcelona, and was one of my favourite non-touristy things to do on my weekend in Barcelona. Up here, you’ll completely forget that you’re in a city that sees over 30 million visitors a year. In Parc del Laberint d’Horta, there is a very tangible sense of peace and solitude that is otherwise incredibly difficult to find in Barcelona (even in low season!).
Formerly the estate of a prominent local family, Parc del Laberint d’Horta was gifted to the city of Barcelona in the 1960s. It opened to the public in 1971, and has since been carefully restored and protected.
The main attraction here is the maze at the centre of the park. An actual bonafide maze, made from approximately 750 metres of cut Cypress hedge, that you can get wonderfully lost in.
As someone whose favourite childhood film is Jim Henson’s ‘Labyrinth’, the prospect of attempting to find my way through said maze filled me with a level of excitement that left Stu rather perplexed to begin with. That is, until he agreed to join me in my quest of getting to the centre of the labyrinth. Unfortunately, we didn’t meet Ludo or Hoggle along the way (if you haven’t seen this iconic 80s film, make sure you rectify that now!), but we definitely had a lot of fun.
My second favourite part of the park was my walk up the stone steps at the back of the maze, to reach the Neo-classical pavilion and basin. Most people who visit the Parc del Laberint d’Horta come here for the maze, so if you head along any one of the shaded tree-lined trails that branch away from the maze, you’ll more than likely find yourself alone.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00-18:00 hours
How to get there: take the L3 (green) metro line to Mundet (destination: Trinitat Nova). You will then need to walk for five minutes to reach the park (see map below).
7 | Recinte Modernista Sant Pau
Built between 1902 and 1930, Recinte Modernista Sant Pau is an Art Nouveau masterpiece and one of the most important works of Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
It was home to the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau from 1916 to 2009, and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.
Although Recinte Modernista Sant Pau is located very close to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, it sees far fewer visitors than its significantly better known neighbour. In fact, you can rock up at Recinte Modernista Sant Pau without a pre-booked ticket and you probably won’t even need to join a queue to enter. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon in March and walked straight in!
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 10:00-18:30 hours April to October | 10:00-17:00 hours November – March
How to get there: take the L5 (mid-blue) metro line to Sant Pau Dos de Maig, and walk for three minutes (see map below).
8 | Palau de la Musica
Constructed between 1905 and 1908 by the modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner (yep, the same guy who was responsible for the Recinte Modernista Sant Pau), as a home for the Orfeó Català (Catalan Choral Society), Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica is now a world class concert venue that earned itself UNESCO World Heritage status on 4 December 1997.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit the Palau de la Musica unless you join a guided tour or purchase a ticket for one of the concerts hosted there. So, in order to avoid the crowds as much as possible, I booked myself a place on the first tour available on the Sunday morning, hoping that most people would still be in bed following an evening of over-indulgence the night before.
As luck would have it, I was joined by just five other tourists (perhaps my theory worked?). What I loved about the guided tour at Palau de la Musica was that, following the educational video detailing the history of this stunning venue, we were all given an earpiece to wear. This meant that we could wander around snapping photographs and still hear the guide’s commentary as we did so. Genius! I wish more tourist attractions offered this.
Once the 50-minute tour had finished, I joined Stu for a nice, chilled Sunday morning coffee at Café Palau. The reception clerk at our hotel had informed us that it’s one of his favourite coffee spots in Barcelona. As the café is separate from the concert hall, you can pop in to admire the impressive modernist decor and stained glass windows without having to buy a ticket for the venue itself.
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 09:00-15:30 hours for guided visits. Café Palau Monday – Sunday 10:00-23:30 hours.
How to get there: take the L1 (red) or L4 (yellow) metro line to Urquinaona, and then walk for three minutes (see map below).
A Weekend in Barcelona | Useful Info For Your Trip
Getting to the City
I try to take all my holidays from Birmingham airport, as it’s the closest airport to where I live and is therefore the cheapest one for me to get to by train. Fortunately, I was able to fly to Barcelona with Jet2 from Birmingham airport, but you can find Barcelona flights with Jet2 from numerous other airports in the UK. I travel solely with hand luggage as often as I can (as it saves queuing at the check-in desk on the way out and waiting at the baggage carousel on arrival at your destination), and I’m pretty sure Jet2 have the most generous hand luggage allowance of all the airlines I’ve flown with in recent years.
For no extra charge, you can bring a cabin bag on board that weighs a maximum of 10kg and measures up to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm (including wheels and handles). Compare this to Ryanair’s 40cm x 20cm x 25cm allowance and you can see how much of a good deal this is. Jet2 also allow you to bring a handbag or laptop bag with you on board (as long as it fits under the seat in front of you), completely free of charge.
I took my 28-litre Cabin Zero backpack with me on this particular trip, as I do on most of my long weekends away.
Where to Stay
If you’re anything like me, you probably won’t spend a lot of time at your booked accommodation during the day, because you’ll be out and about exploring. When I’m looking for somewhere to stay, my priorities are having a safe, clean and comfortable bolthole to return to at the end of the day, and for it to be centrally-located and close to public transport links (for getting around the city and to/from a bus or train station).
My hotel, Catalonia Magdalenes (bookable through Jet2holidays), ticked all of these boxes. The bed was super comfortable, the room was warm, and it was lovely and quiet at night, so sleeping was not an issue at all. On top of that, the location was spot on. The hotel is within a 5-minute walk from both Catalunya and Urquinaona metro stations; the former is a major interchange station, so I could jump on to most metro lines from Plaza Catalunya.
I usually advise people that it’s not necessary to book somewhere that includes breakfast when you’re on a city break, because you quite often have a huge array of eateries on your doorstep that are both affordable and generally serve better quality food than the standard hotel offerings. However, owing to how expensive Barcelona can be, loading up on food at your hotel’s breakfast buffet can save you a lot of money. And I’m gonna stick my neck out here and say that the breakfast on offer at Catalonia Magdalenes is one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever experienced! Everything you could possibly want to eat for breakfast (savoury and sweet) is available here, buffet-style and cooked to order.
Stu and I usually started with a cooked-to-order omelette (so that we could specify what ingredients we wanted in it), accompanied by some seeded bread (toasted), smoked salmon, and local cheeses, followed by fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola. There were a couple of healthy, tasty blended juices available (one with spinach, kiwi and mint and the other with carrot, apple and ginger), which we loved, and the fresh coffee was also delicious.
And, if you fancy a bit of a swim at the end of a busy day of sightseeing on your weekend in Barcelona, you’ll be pleased to hear that the hotel has a roof terrace and pool! We didn’t see anyone up there when we visited in March, but I imagine it gets pretty popular in summer.
When to Go
To benefit from a combination of reasonably good weather and fewer crowds, I would totally recommend visiting in early Spring or mid-late Autumn. I visited in March, when temperatures were in the late teens to early twenties (Celsius) and days were generally sunny. Whilst there were still plenty of tourists milling around the streets of central Barcelona, numbers were a lot more manageable than they would be during the summer months. I would not even entertain visiting Barcelona during July and August.
Prices are also lower off-season. So, whether you choose to visit Barcelona with Jet2CityBreaks or book your flights and accommodation separately, you’ll get a better deal if you travel when most other people aren’t doing so.