Barcelona: More than meets the eye
'The people who made Barcelona so beautiful, so special, they also wanted to make a show when they died,' says Josep Diaz, curator of the Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres. It's due to move to Montjuïc in the next few years, but for now the world's only museum of funerary ornamentation lies buried in the basement of the civic morgue. Given the location, it's perhaps not surprising that the authorities seem a little reluctant to promote its existence: ask at a couple of reception desks and you'll eventually be escorted downstairs by a guard, who'll unlock a few doors, turn on a few lights and follow you alone into the shadow of death. The experience justifies this portentous build-up - the museum is an extraordinary insight into Barcelona's baroque way of death, a black-plumed homage to morbid magnificence. The most compelling exhibits are the ornate horsedrawn hearses that ferried 19th-century notables on their final journeys to the dark side of Montjuïc. If the guard hasn't transmogrified or turned to stone, ask them to point out the black-curtained carriage that allowed a mistress to attend a funeral in respectful anonymity.
- Cementiri del Sud-Oest is open from 8am-6pm daily and can be reached by taking the funicular and cable car to Castell de Montjuïc (Carrer Mare de Déu del Port 56-58, Montjuïc).
- Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres is open from 10am-1pm and 4pm-6pm weekdays, and from 10am-1pm weekends (free; 00 34 93 484 1700; Carrer de Sancho d'Àvila, 2; Metro: Marina).
The only way is up
Other than a few glass towers on the reclaimed docklands and a token Gherkin-esque downtown phallus, Barcelona remains a pleasingly low-rise city. This explains why the Grand Hotel Central's ninth-floor roof terrace feels more like a helicopter pad atop Dubai's Burj Al-Arab. Butted up against the cathedral towers and construction cranes, the infinity pool beside the terrace bar exudes all the dizzying wrongness of a Dalí dreamscape.
In general, looking down on Barcelona means going up one of the peaks that girdle the city. The creaky attractions at the amusement park on Mount Tibidabo might seem underwhelming on paper, but even a modest Ferris wheel gets the pulse racing when it's 110 years old and perched on top of a 500-metre-high cliff. 'I've been to modern parks with big rides,' says Carolina Andreu, a student on a history field trip at Tibidabo. 'But this place feels for me more authentic, maybe even more dangerous!' Her favourite ride is El Avión, a giddying spin over the city in a wobbly period replica of the plane that plied Spain's first ever passenger route. The park is another legacy of that turn-of-the-century golden age and comes accessorised with a Gothicrocketship chapel, the Sagrat Cor, as well as a funicular railway that connects with the 'blue tram' into town.
Proud as they are of their hilltop vistas, the locals seem unaware of the unique 360-degree views available from the mid-town summit of the Parc del Guinardó. That might have something to do with access issues, as the park and its nearest Metro station are separated by umpteen flights of stairs. The gardens were laid out in 1913 by Jean-Claude Forestier - who designed the Champs-de-Mars behind the Eiffel Tower - then promptly forgotten. For anyone with the physical wherewithal, the pick of the park's prospects - amongst them the best view by far of the Sagrada Família - is down from the old Civil War-era anti-aircraft batteries atop the highest crest.