Once you’ve ticked off all the typical tourist sights that Barcelona has to offer, you might be at a loose end for what to do next. Julie Sheridan talks us through some lesser-known museums that might be exactly what you’re looking for.
By Julie Sheridan
The Dalí Museum in Barcelona
Google ‘Dalí Barcelona’ and the chances are you’ll find nothing but references to the museum in Dalí’s home town of Figueres. So much so that the presence of Dalí, the arch-meister of surrealism himself, is at risk of going unnoticed in Barcelona. Which is a shame, because nestled at the heart of the Gothic quarter is the ‘Museo Real Círculo Artístico de Barcelona’ – a collection of Dalí’s works which is touted as a private exhibition of the artist’s sculptures.
Hmm, sculptures, I thought. I adore Dalí (in fact, I think the man controls most of my dreams), but to be honest, the thought of traipsing around a sculpture exhibition isn’t enough to jolt me out of bed of a Sunday morning.
Thank the surrealist gods that I bothered. This place, just across from Barcelona’s Cathedral, is a labyrinth of the unexpected. Accompanying the 44 original sculptures are a hoard of the great man’s paintings, broaching those typical surrealist subjects – women, eroticism, religion, horses – that may well compel you out of your bed. ‘Exit’ it says, more than once, only to find yourself in another cavernous lair shrouded behind demure velvet curtains and home to a plethora of surrealist treasures. In short – well worth getting out of bed for.
Address: C/Arcs 5, Barcelona Tel: 933 181 774
Shoe Museum (Museu del Calçat)
First things first. ‘Calçats’ (Catalan for ‘shoes’) should not be confused with ‘calçots’ – bulbous spring onions that are typically chargrilled and eaten with Romesco sauce. Glad we’ve got that cleared up.
The other possible misunderstanding here is that you’re about to walk into a gallery stuffed from floor to floor with Manolo Blahnik peep-toes. Nope. This quirky little museum (effectively one large room with white painted walls and long oak beams) houses cabinets of shoes from the 1700s to the 21st century. It’s run by a shoemakers’ guild which has existed since the 13th century (am I the only one picturing elves at this point?). From Rococo-style stitched ladies’ slippers, Sherpa shoes, clown boots and ‘70s platforms to the slippers of a Smurf, this diminutive museum manages to cover it all.
Perhaps a disappointment for fetishists but a pleasant way to spend 20 minutes on the equally charming and historic square of Sant Felip Neri. Tip: look out for the oversized wooden clog at the entrance, which was used as the mould for the bronze shoes of the Columbus monument down at the port.
Address: Plaça Sant Felip Neri, 5, Barcelona Tel: 933 014 533
Museum of Chocolate (Museu de la Xocolata)
If chocolate was our current currency, would the whole Euro-zone project be in the dire state it’s in? These are the sort of thoughts that occur to you as you wander around the carefully laid-out edible exhibits of Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum. From Asterix and the Romans to Don Quixote and even Parc Güell’s famous salamander, there are few characters from Spanish tradition that aren’t represented in this bright and airy building. Your 4.30€ entry fee also buys you a chocolate bar, making you feel as if you’d just inadvertently entered a Willy Wonka competition.
Opened in 2000, this Born museum is a mouth-watering celebration of all things cocoa (cocoa defined as “a tropical tree for satisfying gods and people”). With explanations in Catalan, Spanish, English and French, there’s no excuse for not getting your knowledge of cocoa bean history up to speed. Barcelona, it turns out, was the gateway of chocolate into the Old World, as the Spanish conquistadors stowed back their precious cargo from the Americas. The first shipment left Mexico and arrived in Spain in 1520, just one year after Cortés landed in Mexico. (At that time, a rabbit cost 10 beans – as did the favours of a prostitute – and a slave cost 100. As I said, it makes you think.)
And it also makes you salivate. The exhibits really are good enough to eat, with a particular focus on the Catalan tradition of ‘mones’; the traditional chocolate sculptures that dominate cake shop windows at Easter time. You’ll also find a trove of tools and equipment from traditional Catalan chocolate factories. Plus, if you’re visiting with kids, you’re in luck – the museum specialises in children-friendly workshops where the little ‘uns can get elbow deep in the dark stuff while adults look on from the viewing area. If the kids’ efforts aren’t up to scratch, you can always console yourselves with the choice in the gift shop outside. The only problem is deciding what not to buy.
Address: Carrer de Comerç 36, Barcelona Tel: 932 687 878
Julie Sheridan made the move to Barcelona from her native Scotland in Spring 2011, after 10 years living under Scotch mist in Edinburgh. Out of an innate love of making things difficult for herself she deliberately chose a part of Spain where she knew no-one and couldn’t speak the local language. Her blog focuses on the social and cultural differences between Scotland and Spain, Caledonia and Catalonia. Check her out at GuiriGirlinBarca.com.