El Ingenio

The Top Ten (Alternative) Best of Barcelona!

Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015
Barcelona Port Dawn, #1. Barcelona, 2015


A caveat…What this is NOT: A list of must-see tourist sights as you pass through town on your way to your 3,000 passenger Mediterranean cruise ship. No…Sagrada Familia, the Picasso Museum, and Park Güell will not be mentioned here.

You can get plenty of information about these and other popular and well-known sites and sights in Barcelona simply by asking la Sra. Google.

Instead, what follows are places you could visit once you have ticked off the standard tourist attractions–or, if you are simply interested in seeing Barcelona one layer down, a bit below the obvious and well-trammeled.

These are some of the unusual little places, most not-so-well-known that, for me, give Barcelona such depth of personality. Most will not be seen by your average tourist unless they happen to serendipitously bumble upon them…

In no particular order, we have:

Pastisseria Barcelona, Aragó, 228 (original) and a new locale at Via Augusta, 166 – The desserts here are authentic works o’ fine art which you will definitely want to photograph before you bite into them. You might even find yourself getting a little teary-eyed and emotional as you watch the running videos above the counter of the talented Josep Maria Rodríguez Guerola as he creates them, so delicate and sensitive is he with his myriad specialty tools and delicious materials. He won the World Cup Pastry Competition in 2011 with his dessert art–the first time anyone in Spain had ever earned that award–and he was a mere 25-years-old or so when he did it. He is now a new and proud father.

El Ingenio, Carrer d’en Rauric, 6 – This unique place was almost no more in 2015/2016, but managed to survive thanks to last-minute efforts by a family member. Their website says: “El Ingenio (the “Creative Genius” maybe?) is an icon of popular culture. It is an establishment with 179 years of uninterrupted history in the heart of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona dedicated to creating and selling giant heads, masks, stage props, circus articles, and a long list of products related to play, games, and the dramatic arts.” Go there and buy something–keep them in business and revel in the Catalan “Big Head” tradition! 

Casa Beethoven, La Rambla, 97 – This small store has been selling sheet music, musical scores, musical instruments, and other related gift items since 1880. A must-visit for the musician in the family. You’ll find it right next to the Palau de la Virreina / Centre de la Imatge (worth visiting in its own right), between Metro stops Plaça de Catalunya and Liceu as you stroll back and forth among the hordes, flowers, and human statues along La Rambla.

Granja La Pallaresa, Carrer de Petritxol, 11 – Established in 1947, they have the best chocolate and churros in town! On a chilly winter’s eve, this is mo-definitely the place to warm up! The chocolate they give you for dipping your churros into is so luscious and creamy-thick the spoon darn near stands up vertical in the cup all by itself…and whipped cream on top o’ that…aaahhhh, this is definitely the place for the choco-cream addict! There is another, similar, place just down the alley at Petrixol, 2. It’s called Granja Dulcinea, established in 1941. It is probably just as good but I can’t personally vouch for it. So, hey…maybe try them both!?

Gavineteria Roca, Plaça del Pi, 3 – Since 1911, this shop has offered up all manner of cutting tools, knives, scissors, shaving gear, and so on, as well as other kitchen gadgets. If it cuts, they have it. If they don’t, it doesn’t exist. Their storefront catches the eye of nearly every passerby and this facade alone is certainly worth a long pause, perusal, and photograph or two.

La Basílica Galería, Passeig de Gràcia, 26 – A new location–they were in the Gothic Quarter until recently. This shop is basically a museum of contemporary art. As their website says: “The Basílica Galería is a cabinet of curiosities. In addition to contemporary jewelry, photography, art, and accessories…it is also the largest perfume exhibit in the world with more than a thousand fragrances.” A unique and sometimes bizarre display of pretty things that is worth a long browse.

Museu de l’Eròtica, La Rambla, 96 bis – This one is actually fairly well-known, so maybe it should be on some mainstream tourist list rather than on my “alternative” list? That is, unless you are a frigid and guilt-ridden Puritan…or Catholic…or Jew…or Muslim…or adherent to any number of the world’s guilt-inducing philosophies or religions. OK, rant over. Since you will likely visit the wonderful and way over-crowded market, La Boqueria, along La Rambla anyway you might as well stop in here, too, as it is just across the street. From their website, the museum is… “a passionate voyage through the world of eroticism and its representation in art, as seen in the 800 plus pieces which make up our collection. Sensuality, sexuality, provocation… Fun! The museum you can’t miss.” 

The Ice Bar, Paseo Marítimo, 38 A – This is right on the beach. Take the Metro, yellow Line 4, and climb out at Ciutadella/Vila Olimpica, then walk 5-10 minutes toward the sea. Bring your jacket–or they will hand you one! It’s like walking into the guts of a glacier, but with bartenders and lots of the beautiful people. Currently, it will cost an adult 17.50 Euros to get in, kids between 5 and 12 are 8 Euros, and tots under 5 are free. This price includes jacket and gloves. Check out some of the pics and their FAQs at their website: Icebarcelona.

Montjuic Cemetary, on the SW side of Montjuic, the hill by the port – A most interesting place to stroll and pensively peruse the tombstones and plaques. There is no cost to enter. Photography is technically not allowed, but it is hard to resist when no one is about and you come across a gloriously ornate and decorated gypsy tomb. Some famous folks are buried here, like the artist Joan Miró, the urban planner (Eixempla) Ildefons Cerdà, and the politicians Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys (and my mother-in-law, Carme Fusté). Check in at the information station at the entrance for advice on what to see. You can peruse more info, cemetery hours, and so an at their website HERE

The Bunkers of Carmel, in the hills above Barcelona – Dating from the Spanish Civil War, this is the place to go to see the remains of an anti-aircraft site and troop barracks, as well as to get a wonderful and romantic panoramic view of the city and the sea. Movie scenes and commercials have been filmed here (Tengo Ganas de Ti). It certainly won’t be as crowded as Park Guell. In fact, you might find yourself surrounded by more locals than tourists. Bring a sandwich (entrepà), a camera, and have yourself a sunset picnic with your significant lover. To get there, you’ll need to hike uphill a few minutes in the vicinity of the Parc del Guinardó. Let Google Maps be your guide and search for “Búnquers del Carmel Barcelona“.  There is no fee or entrance station of any kind–it is always accessible.

Two bonus sites to make this an even dozen, if you have the time: the Chocolate Museum/Museu de la Xocolata and the Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum. For lovers of these kinds o’ things, or the merely curious.

Gegants i Capgrossos, and the lamentable closing of El Ingenio

Heads at El Ingenio. Barcelona, 2015
Heads at El Ingenio. Barcelona, 2015


Gegants i Capgrossos…that’s “Giants and “Big Heads” in Catalan. You’ll see them at various festivals, most recently at the Les Festas de la Mercè here in Barcelona (a huge event each September).

There has been, for many, many years (since around 1835-1838!), a shop in Barcelona (El Ingenio) that made and sold these HUGE humorous noggins along with slightly smaller versions (as above). You could pick from quite a variety and be fully up to snuff for even the best of local festivals. Indeed, today, you are sure to find El Ingenio gegants or capgrossos in festivals all over Catalunya.

On the shelves, you could also feast your wide, childlike, eyes on unusual and very traditional puppets, strange and classic old-time toys, costumes, all manner of magic props and tricks, and so on and on and on. It was a shop stuck in the 19th century and full of titillating treasures–all articles not easily found anywhere else under the Mediterranean sun. A definite Dennis the Menace or Dora the Explorer paradise!

Unfortunately, the shop is closing and is selling off their entire inventory. Here is the kicker: they are closing after over 175 years in business! [See december, 2016 UPDATE below!!!]

Imagine that, 175 years (though not always the same family-owner, apparently). When the store first opened in 1838, Martin Van Buren had just succeeded Andrew Jackson as the U.S. President, and Isabella II was the child Queen of a monarchical Spain!

The relevant details in case you can get there before the doors shut for good sometime this fall:

El Ingenio, Carrer Rauric 6, 08002 Barcelona, Tel: 933 17 71 38

[UPDATE, December, 2016: The shop will NOT be closing after all! Another specialty shop, El Rei de la Màgia, has apparently purchased this long-standing and unique business and will continue it in the same tradition, preserving the ambiance and customs of the the original place. If you read Catalan, you will find an article explaining the details of the transfer of the business HERE. Another nice link, in Spanish/Castellano, which includes a short video tour and interview with the last owner, is HERE. For those limited to English, try THIS LINK, for a summary of what the shop was all about. Wonderful news and I am happy that this beautiful Catalan  tradition will continue on!]


Take care! Near the shop, you may run into some strange folks along the ancient narrow streets.

Tintin, maybe…

Tin Tin in Red. Barcelona, 2015
Tintin in Red. Barcelona, 2015


Or Betty Boop…

Betty Boop. Barcelona, 2015
Betty Boop. Barcelona, 2015


Or even Pablo Picasso himself…

Pablo Picasso. Barcelona, 2015
Pablo Picasso. Barcelona, 2015