Barcelona is a hugely popular mini-break destination – drawing people from across Europe and the world to enjoy its unique combination of warm weather, beach-side location, and a seeming insatiable appetite for good times.
Here’s a quick guide to help you make the most of your visit.
Summer is an ideal time to visit Barcelona – immersing yourself in the beach-side beauty of the city. Barcelona’s beach is a long strip of golden sand, notionally divided into different sections or neighbourhoods – some parts more oriented towards families, some parts more oriented to getting your clothes off and working on your all-over tan. You can easily spend your days just hanging out on the beach and soaking up the sun.
At the city end of the beach, you can stroll along to the W Hotel and sip cocktails in their outdoor bar while the DJ spins some relaxed tunes.
At the other end is Mar Bella beach, which is the gayest bit of the beach, and clothing optional. There’s a really good beach bar in this section of the beach, serving up drinks and food and also offering sun-lounges and umbrellas to hire if required. The swimming here is also fantastic – you’re quickly out into water that’s deep enough to swim and the waves roll gently over you.
Public transport in Barcelona is pretty efficient and easy to navigate, but it’s important to choose your accommodation in a neighbourhood that will suit the kind of weekend that you’re looking for.
The Las Ramblas area gives you good access to the beach and the old town. If you’re going to be out at the bars and restaurants then the Eixample neighbourhood would be a good choice.
Spanish food is fairly amazing, and nothing beats sharing a few small plates of tapas while you’re having some drinks to get the night started.
Just off Las Ramblas is the Boqueria food market, which is a great spot to explore and grab some food at one of the small busy counter cafes. Bar Clemens is my favourite, but you can’t go too far wrong at any of the available options.
For a traditional Spanish feast then I love Taller de Tapas which dishes up big hearty plates of fantastic food.
For a special night out, try Mont Bar. This is modern Spanish food at its best.
For a relaxed meal with friends, Fàbrica Moritz is a good option. A big space in a working brewery, they do a beer-roasted chicken which is pretty tasty.
One of my favourite cafes is Granja Petitbo near the Sagrada Família.
If you’re going to head out and hit the town, then you’re going to need some stamina. Like most of Spain, the locals of Barcelona don’t go out until late, and then they stay out pretty much until the sun comes up. This is why a siesta each day is absolutely essential.
On a warm evening there’s nothing better than being able to enjoy a cocktail or three. One of the best places to enjoy a drink in Barcelona is the rooftop bar of the Axel Hotel – a small chain of hotels across Europe, specifically aiming for the gay travel market. Their Barcelona property is particularly good, with the rooftop bar providing spectacular views across the city.
It’s impossible to visit Barcelona and not have some sort of encounter with the brilliance of Antoni Gaudi – the Spanish architect whose vision has helped shape the city of Barcelona that we know today. The style of Gaudi’s work is quite unique – it’s described as Catalan Modernism, but it generally embodies the dark madness of neo-gothic art its best, with strong religious themes, realised with inherent drama and romance.
Gaudi is perhaps most famous for the Sagrada Família – a still unfinished cathedral in Barcelona that has become the most-visited monument in Spain. Gaudi began the project in 1915. After his death in 1926, numerous architects have continued its construction, continuing to bring Gaudi’s vision to life. The cathedral is definitely worth a visit, but make sure you book in advance.
Everyone will warn you to be careful about pickpockets in Barcelona. On my first visit to the city, I took no notice of all these warnings – I felt I was savvy enough to know how to keep myself safe in any city. On the first night of that trip, I was in a bar and had my wallet stolen out of my pocket. Losing your wallet or your phone can really kill your vacation buzz, so heed the warnings and be extra cautious of your belongings.
The Sitges side-trip
The beach-side resort of Sitges is a destination in its own right, but as it’s just a short train journey from Barcelona it’s also a great day-trip option.
There’s three gay beaches in Sitges, two of them clothing-optional. There’s also a huge range of bars and restaurants.