Six Secrets of Barcelona


Once you’ve “been there, done that” and seen Barcelona’s major tourist draws, it’s time to get off the beaten path and experience the Catalan capital’s hidden gems. Escape the tourist masses and uncover these six “secret” sights - plus a special bonus at the end, for good measure!  

Six Secrets of Barcelona

#1 Mercat Santa Caterina

Although not as grand as the famed La Boqueria, this market has a distinctly local feel, fewer crowds, and a great selection of produce, cheeses, olives, and of course bacalao (a Spanish staple, salted cod). Before venturing inside, stand on tip toes to admire the exterior roof lines, a perfect representation of Barcelona’s spirit, with undulating lines of the sea and multicolour shapes reminiscent of Gaudí mosaics. Don’t miss the archeological remains of the market’s namesake: the Santa Caterina convent. This market’s location offers a virtual layer cake of Barcelona history, from the original 19th century market, to the much older Santa Caterina convent, to an ancient Roman necropolis, and even a Bronze Age settlement.

Mercat Santa Caterina. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

#2 Laberint D’Horta

A bit outside the city center lies the Laberint, Barcelona’s oldest public garden and a relaxing respite. Built in the late 1700’s, as its name suggests, it features a “laberint” (maze) of cypress bushes. Stay a while and discover the park’s hidden nooks, sculptures, fountains, and waterfalls. Locals come here to picnic, stroll, and celebrate kids’ birthdays. How about your own picnic in the park? Pack a lunch (courtesy of a visit to #1, the Mercat Santa Caterina) and enjoy this oasis.

#3 Turo de la Rovira

If you’ve managed to find your way out of the cypress maze of Laberint d’Horta (or if you’ve just visited nearby Parc Güell) check out one of Barcelona’s best lookout points, perched high in the sky at 850 feet. Admire the 360 degree views of the Catalan capital, a spot from which Barcelonans once defended the city from Francisco Franco’s air assaults during the Spanish Civil War. On good days you can see about 15 miles up and down the coast.

Turo de la Rovira. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

#4 Monestir de Pedralbes

Just outside of the city stands the 14th century Monestir de Pedralbes, one of the city’s best examples of Gothic architecture. This one’s a favorite among architecture buffs for its grand three-story cloister encircling a peaceful courtyard with orange trees, palm trees, and a lovely well and fountain. The church features soaring ceilings and stained glass, and art lovers delight in beautiful murals and the monastery’s centuries-old museum collection, filled with treasures collected through the ages by the monastery’s nuns. (Call before visiting, as the monastery was recently undergoing renovations.)

Monestir de Pedralbes. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

#5 Temple of Augustus

The ancient remains of this Barcino temple (“Barcino” was the Roman name for Barcelona) dedicated to Augustus Caesar may not compete with Spain’s Roman remains in Mérida, but what merits inclusion on this list is the “secret” location. Half the fun lies in tracking down the four Corinthian columns, located just behind the Catedral de Barcelona, at Number 10 Carrer del Paradis. These ancient columns, ensconced inside a medieval courtyard of the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, have somehow stood the passage of time. Hint: Along Carrer del Paradis, look for the sign “Temple Roma D’August,” and one just near it marking “Mont Taber,” the highest point in the Ancient Roman city.

Temple of Augustus. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

#6 Palau de la Musica Catalana

This glorious structure itself isn’t a “secret.” However, experiencing a concert at the Palau is a thrilling event that too many Barcelona tourists miss. Described as one of the world’s most beautiful concert halls, this spectacular example of “Modernisme” architecture (Barcelona’s version of Art Nouveau) is truly a “palace,” adorned with a kaleidoscope of stained glass, mosaics, and sculpture. It attracts world-famous musicians from a variety of genres, including flamenco, for which Spain is famous, and even has special programs for kids.

Palau de la Musica Catanala. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

Bonus: Sagrada Familia Magic Squares

What is the Sagrada Familia, Spain’s number one tourist attraction, doing on a list of Barcelona’s secrets? Antoni Gaudí would certainly wonder at the number of visitors, eager to check the cathedral off the “to see” list, who overlook the multitude of intriguing architectural oddities of this masterpiece.

One of the most interesting mysteries surrounds its magic squares. Magic squares have a long history, first popping up in China long before the birth of Christ. Here’s the “magic” of the squares: add up the vertical lines, the horizontal lines, and the diagonals to find that each line equals the same number. Test for yourself on this one from the cathedral’s Passion Façade.

Sagrada Familia Magic Squares. From Six Secrets of Barcelona

(Another one, in gold, hides in the lines of doorway text.) The magic number in Gaudí’s square equals Christ’s age when he died upon the cross: 33. However, many speculate the magic square concealed another meaning, one related to Gaudí’s supposed connection to the Freemasons, since the highest (and most secret) rank of Freemasons is the 33rd Degree. Only the architect knows the true meaning of the magic squares for sure, and he’s resting in peace inside the Sagrada Familia.




Catherine Aragon is the creator of the Scavenger Hunt Adventure series, a series of kids’ travel books taking young travelers through the famous sights of cities and engaging them with fun (and educational!) scavenger hunt activities. Current destinations include Barcelona, Paris, Rome, London, D.C., and New York. For more info, check out




Image Credits:
-Sagrada Familia: Flickr cc: Wolfgang Staudt
-Santa Caterina: Flickr cc: Rick Ligthelm
-Turo de la Rovira: Wikimedia Commons: Brenac
-Pedralbes Monastery: Flickr cc: Free Cat
-Augustus Temple: Wikimedia Commons: J Irigoyen
-Palau: Flickr cc: wikimapa
-Magic Squares: Flickr cc: Tony Hisgett