• Leslie

Hidden Gems in Barcelona Spain

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

panorama of Barcelona with a red cable car passing in front of the Columbus Monument

Here's my guide to ferreting out the hidden gems and secret spots in beautiful Barcelona Spain. With its incredible beauty and wealth of art and architecture, Barcelona's popularity as a tourist destination has burgeoned in recent years.

The Surrealistic city has almost gotten a little theme park-ish. In spite of what can be horrible crowds, there are still some less-feted hidden gems where you can avoid long lines, bicycles, and selfie stick wielding tourists.

Some of these fantastic hidden gems are even UNESCO sites and hiding in plain sight. You can visit Gaudí buildings where you won’t have to queue, admire spectacular city views, and gawk at sumptuous stained glass and decorative mosaic in recently opened Modernist works.

the facade of Casa Calvet

Hidden Gems and Secret Spots in Barcelona Spain

Here's my guide to the lesser known delights of Barcelona, sites that are often overlooked but shouldn't be.

1. Casa Calvet: Early Gaudi Home

Casa Calvet is usually overlooked by those on the Gaudí trail in Barcelona. It's not as curvy, crazy, or whimsically colorful as his more well known work. The upside? It's largely ignored and crowd free.

But it shouldn't be. It's a hidden gem among the other modernist standouts in nearby Passage de Gràcia. And a visit is essential to a full understanding of Gaudí's career and more famous UNESCO buildings in Barcelona.

Built between 1898-99, Casa Calvet was commissioned by Pere Calvet, a textile manufacturer. Casa Calvet was squeezed between two older buildings in a tony neighborhood.

this is what you see peering at you above the entrance

The double gabled building's ornamentation is classic Gaudí. It has bulging and curved balconies, that presage the mask-like balconies on Casa Battló. The wrought iron is highly stylized and similar to La Pedrera's twisting "seaweed" look.

Gaudí incorporated many mythological and natural symbols into Casa Calvet. Among other things, the front door sports original wrought iron door knockers in the form of a Greek cross. The knocker strikes against a bed bug, in an allegory of faith crushing sin.

Address: Carrer de Casp 48

Note: Casa Calvet is a private residence. You can only take pictures of the exterior.

Metro: Metro: L4 L1 Urquinaona

Casa Calvet Restaurant Hours: Mon–Sat: 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm


sculptural group on the facade corner that seems almost to fly off the wall

2. Palau de la Música Catalana: Barcelona's Pretty Concert Hall

Palau de la Música Catalana is a gaudy rose-covered wonderland and must see site in Barcelona. This magnificent concert hall was designed in 1905-08 by Lluis Domènech i Montaner -- an architect who was just as famous as Gaudi at the time.

You have to see it to believe it. Musicians love its acoustics. Tourists love its unique design. It's a veritable symphony of stained glass, mosaics, sculptures.

Palau de la Musica is located along a claustrophobic, densely packed street in the Gothic Quarter. Montaner countered the claustrophobia with color and levity. The arches and intricate mosaic columns draw your eye up to the roofline. Stained glass windows bring in the natural light.

the richly colored auditorium of the Palau de la Musica

the breathtaking ceiling of Palau de la Musica

You begin at the marble Lluís Millet Grand Staircase, named after a famous Catalan composer. As you as ascend, gaze up at the eye catching ceramic glazed ceiling. You’ll enter a waiting area, the Lluís Millet Hall, enveloped in massive stained glass windows. Parts of the panels are clear so you can see the dramatic mosaic columns outside by Sala Millet.

The auditorium is almost overwhelming. The piece de resistance is the intricate stained glass ceiling by Antoni Rigalt. Iron and glass chandeliers create a starry night effect. And sculptures curve up the sides of the stage, including a glowering Beethoven and Valkeries from Richard Wagner's operas.

Palau is now a UNESCO site. But it wasn't embraced initially. Josep Pla, a doyen of Catalan literature, condemned it as "horrible" for its theatrical excesses. Montaner himself was peeved. He skipped the opening ceremony because he hadn't been paid.

Address:C/ Palau de la Música, 4-6, 08003 Barcelona

Hours:10:00 am to 3:30 pm, 9:00 am to 6:00 pm in August

Entry fee: Guided tour €20, Self-guided tour €15.

Metro: Urquinaona, line 4

facade of Casa Lleó Morera

3. Casa Lleó Morera: the Mulberry Mansion

Lying at the at the intersection of Paseo de Gracia and Consell de Cent is a true Spanish treasure, Casa Lleó Morera. The Art Nouveau mansion is often overshadowed by its showy neighbor Casa Batlló.

But it shouldn't be. It's lovely and vastly under appreciated. When the tourists clamor to Gaudi's other master works, you can come here and feast your eyes on beautiful art and architecture.

On 1902, Francesca Morera i Ortiz commissioned Montaner -- the same architect of Palau de la Musica -- to completely renovate the exterior and interior of the building in an Art Nouveau style.

facade of Casa Lleó Morera with an elongated curved balcony

Sadly, Oritz died in 1904 before the mansion was completed. Her son, Albert Lleó i Morera, moved in with his family, bestowing the current name on the house. Lleó Morera means the "Lion and Mulberry Tree House."

The most striking thing is the beautiful curved balconies with ornate floral designs and lions. The ones on the second floor are elongated. The ones on the third floor are rounded. The fourth floor has a set of gallery windows. The overall effect evokes a convent cloister.

Location: Passeig de Gràcia, 35

Metro: Plaza de Catalunya or Passeig de Gràcia


the exterior of Gaudi's Casa Vicens

4. Casa Vicens: Gaudi's First Gaudy House

Gaudi’s work dominates the streets of Barcelona. But you may have missed Casa Vicens. North of the city center in the sleepy village of Gràcia, Casa Vicens is one of Gaudi’s lesser-known works. It's his first home and a UNESCO-listed site.

The vivacious Casa Vicens splashed onto the Gaudi tourist circuit in November 2017. After 130 years of private ownership and a massive renovation, Casa Vicens opened its Orientalist doors to the public. The building's exotic, an intense burst of vibrant color and marigold tiles.

Casa Vicens is a must see sight in Barcelona for those who love architecture and all things Gaudí. Even if you don't love architecture, you'll be hypnotized by the showy building. It's likely like nothing you've ever seen before. And it's gloriously off radar because it's so new.

wrought iron balcony on the lower level of Casa Vicens

The wealthy industrialist Manuel Vicens i Montaner commissioned Gaudí in 1877. He wanted a summer house, an escape from the city. Now, of course, it's in an arty bohemian district within the city.

Casa Vicens was designed in a Neo-Mudéjar style that was once popular in southern Spain, at Seville's Royal Alcazar and Granada's Alhambra. Like those UNESCO sites, Gaudi intended Casa Vicens "to evoke a caliph’s pavilion set in an oasis.”

the blue "smoking room" in Casa Vicens with its elaborate restored ceiling

The main floor consists of the dining room, smoking room, and covered porch. The bedrooms are on the first floor, full of exuberant leafy decor. The second floor has a display on Casa Vicens' history.

Address:  Carrer de les Carolines, 18-24, 08012 Barcelona 

Entry Fee: 16 €, discounts available. Entry is free with the Barcelona Pass. There is a discount with the Barcelona Card.

Hours: Open daily Monday to Sunday 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, last admission 6:40 pm. In the winter, open until 7:00 pm, last admission 5:40 pm.

Online ticket options.

Passes: Free with the Barcelona Pass, 3 House Combo Pass, Modernista Pass. Discount with the Barcelona Card


the gorgeous facade of Casa Amattler

5. Casa Amattler: Say Yes To Modernista Chocolate

Casa Amattler is a hidden gem in plain sight. It suffers in obscurity because it's right next door to Gaudí’s flashier Casa Batlló. It may not be as revolutionary in design, but it's quite lovely and actually furnished. Plus, you're given chocolate at the end of your (much less crowded) tour.

Casa Amattler was the home of chocolate magnate, Antoni Amattler. Completed in 1900, it was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, another prominent Catalan modernist. It was renovated in 2009-14 and opened as a museum in 2015.

a close up of the facade with etched plaster decorations, almond blossoms details, and beautiful wrought iron

cute little sculptural animals on the facade off Casa Amattler

Casa Amattler's neo-Gothic facade is gorgeous, with etched plaster designs and almond blossoms galore. The name Amattler means almond tree in Catalan.

The facade features symbols of the Amattler family, their chocolate business, and their promotion of the arts -- dragons, knights, and other mythical characters. Even a rat with a camera. Eusebi Arnau and Alfons Juyol sculpted the unique and playful decorative pieces that populate the facade.

the dining room of Casa Amatller

Inside, it's more castle-like. You can visit the main floor. The walls are covered with etched plaster decorations, French wallpaper, and elaborate tile work. As with the facade, there are humorous sculptures throughout the house. The dining room is gorgeous with beams and a spectacular chandelier with hanging stained glass discs.

The nice thing about visiting this house, unlike most others, is that the original furniture is preserved. The highlight is the beautiful stained glass skylight. Top your visit off with a cup of Amatller's world-renowned hot chocolate.

Address: Passeig de Gracia, 41, 08007 Barcelona

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Entry fee: 19

Metro: Passeig de Gràcia

Pro tip: You can save 15% booking tickets online.

Gaudi's Torre Bellesguard in the Sarria neighborhood of Barcelona

6. Gaudi's Torre Bellesguard: A Castle Home in Sarrià

Torre Bellesguard was commissioned by Maria Sagués in 1900. She loved Gaudi's Modernist architecture. Bellesguard was constructed on the ruins of the medieval castle of Martin of Aragon, the last king of the Catalan dynasty.

Gaudi lead the construction for nine years. But then he dedicated himself exclusively to creating his opus, Sagrada Familia. Bellsguard was completed by Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, who created the colorful mosaics that give a pop of color to the mud colored building. But the symbolism, curves, and nature motifs are pure Gaudi.

Gaudi was obsessed with the myth of St. George and the Dragon. His more famous home, Casa Batlló, is created in the image of a dragon. At Bellesguard, Gaudi repeated the theme, conjuring a roof with a built in dragon face and angled rocks that double as dragon scales. It's topped with a tower-sword.

the mosaic seats at the entrance to Bellesguard

gorgeous stained glass window in Torre Bellesguard

On either side of the entrance door are brightly covered seats, which symbolize the Golden Age of Catalonian rule. The interior is a mix of brightness and tranquility. White walls are juxtaposed with blue and yellow tile and stained glass chandeliers and windows. The chandeliers are similar to those at Casa Amattler.

Address: Carrer de Bellesguard, 20, 08022 Barcelona

Hours: 10:00 am to 3:00 pm

Entry fee: 9 € audio guide tour or 16 € for 1 hour guided tour

Metro: Take metro line L7 from the station, Placa de Catalunya, to the sixth stop, Avenida Tibidabo.

Pro tip: It's an hour walk from the city center. Here's how to get there using public transport.

entrance to the Administrative Building at the Hospital de Sant Pau

7. Hospital de Sant Pau: Barcelona's Theater-Like Hospital

Barcelona isn't just regal museum-homes built for wealthy families. At the Hospital de Sant Pau you'll find a former hospital outfitted with beautiful Art Nouveau architecture and decoration. The hospital is also known as the Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul. It takes up 10 city blocks.

Never were patients so well tended. More theater than hospital, the unique building is an ode to the curative effects of beauty. Here, patients could heal their souls as well as their bodies.

ornate dome of one of the pavilions at the Hospital de Sant Pau

Opened in 1930, and just a short 15 minute walk from Sagrada Família down Avenida de Gaudi, the Hospital de Sant Pau was built as an optimistic and philanthropic gesture by Pau Gil, who commissioned the very popular architect Montaner.

In 1997, the hospital was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It functioned as a hospital until 2009.

In 2014, Hospital Sant Pau underwent restoration and reopened as a museum and cultural center. Like Casa Vicens and Casa Amattler, it's one of Barcelona's newer tourist attractions.

stained glass ceiling of Hospital Sant Pau, very similar to the ceiling of Palau de la Musica

The building is gorgeous, inside and out. The 27 ornate and beautiful tiled pavilions are seemingly independent, like little cities within a city. But they're connected by underground tunnels, which you'll see on your visit.

The main entrance and highlight of the complex is the gorgeous Main Hall, featuring vaulted ceilings, stone carvings, stained glass, and colorful mosaics and tiles. Every detail of the interior is worth admiring.

Address: Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167, the entrance is on the corner of Carrer Dos de Maig

Hours: Nov to March 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, April to Oct 9:30 am to 7:00 pm, Sundays and holidays only open until 3:00 pm

Entry fee: Self-guided visit 15 €, Guided visit 20 €, Audio guide: 4 €

Metro: Sant Pau, line 5

courtyard of Pedralbes Monastery

8. Pedralbes Monastery & Gaudi Dragon Gate

Barcelona's medieval Pedralbes neighborhood boasts leafy green boulevards and elegant mansions, backed by the green hills of the Collserola Natural Park. On your way to the Pedralbes Monastery, make a pitstop at the Pavellons Güell and clap your eyes on by Gaudí's exquisite Dragon Gate with its intricate curls of wrought iron.

Gaudi's ornate Dragon Gate in the Pavellons Guell

At the top of Avinguda Pedralbes, you’ll find the the Gothic Monestir de Pedralbes. It's one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Barcelona.

The Pedralbes Monastery's tucked away behind a stone arch down a picturesque cobbled street. It's also known as the Royal Monastery of St Mary of Pedralbes. Founded in 1327, the monastery features three stories of arched cloisters with a garden courtyard.

The cloister is in fairly pristine condition, given its age. The highlight is the Chapel of St. Michael with ancient frescos from the 14th century. They were just restored in 2018 and now shine with color.

1346 frescoes painted by Ferrer Bassa in the Chapel of St. Michael

Address: Baixada del Monestir, 9

Hours: Apr 1 - Sept 30: Tue-Fri 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Sat 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, & Sun 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Oct 1 - Mar 31 Tue-Sat: 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, Sat & Sun 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry fee: €5, free with the Barcelona Card.

Getting there: It's on the HOHO bus route.

Joan Miró Foundation, one of the best museums in Barcelona

9. Joan Miró Foundation, Art with a Whimsical Touch

The Joan Miró Foundation is one of Barcelona's best museums. In this fabulous single artist museum, you'll find the world's largest collection of Joan Miró paintings. Miró founded the museum himself in 1975. Located on Montjuïc hill, the museum's housed in a light-filled gleaming white building from the 1970s, designed by his friend, Josep LLuis Sert.

The museum is crammed with seminal Miró works, from his earliest sketches to his later years. There's 220 paintings, 180 sculptures, and over 8,000 drawings.

Miró was born and raised in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, where he began studying art at 14. In his 20s, Miró was attracted to the Surrealism. When his work was initially mocked in Barcelona, he fled to Paris. He became life long friends with Picasso.

Joan Miro, Woman Dreaming of the Evasion, 1945

Joan Miro, Gold of Azure, 1968

Miró's most associated with the Surrealists. But he was a renegade. His work is characterized by constant experimentation and a decided love of the dream-like abstract. Like his friend Salvador Dalì, Miró balanced the spontaneity and automatism of Surrealism with meticulous planning and precision edges.

Address: Parc de Montjuïc 08038 Barcelona

Hours: Nov to Mar 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Apr to Oct 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, Closed Mondays

Entry fee: 13 euros, under 15 free


view of Barcelona from Bunkers del Carmel

10. Bunker del Carmel: Sunset and Views

The neighbourhood of El Carmel sits just above Gaudí's famous Park Güell. Bunker del Carmel used to be a locals only secret. But, like all good things, in recent years it's become somewhat more popular.

That's because it sports one of the best views in Barcelona. If you're willing to hike to the top of Turó de la Rovira, you'll have splendid views over the ocean to Montjuïc and Sagrada Familia. It makes a great sunset spot.

Address: Carrer de Marià Labèrnia, s/n, 08032 Barcelona

Getting there: Take the V17 bus to the last stop

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