Sunny, in climate and in disposition, Barcelona is an absolute pleasure. Christian Taylor explores this seductive city and falls in love in the process.
“Have you ever been to Spain before?” I’ve been asked a few times over the years.
“I guess so,” I’ve often replied. “I went to Ibiza once for a few days… but I’m not sure if that really counts.” This is usually met with agreement.
“No – you have to go to the mainland. It’s a totally different experience.”
Now that I’ve been to Barcelona, I can see what they all meant. When I flew out of Ibiza, I was certain that I’d never return. Upon leaving Barcelona, I found myself saying ‘I’ll live here someday’.
I fly into Barcelona from nearby Prague. It’s easily 15 degrees warmer, not to mention bright and sunny – an instant mood lift. After a swift airport transfer into town, I see Catalan flags waving from practically every balcony. I’m reminded of the cultural and political landscape here: Catalonia is a region with its own traditions, cuisine, culture and language, and it wants independence from Spain. Meanwhile, Spain refuses to allow the referendum that could permit it. ‘In Catalonia, we’ve always done things a little differently,’ I’m told by a fellow passenger.
It’s clichéd, but Barcelona really does have something for everyone. Gay travellers will love the lively, sometimes sleazy bars and clubs of Eixample. Foodies will be spoiled for choice with the city’s many wonderful cafés and restaurants. Beach lovers will enjoy a stroll or a dip at Barceloneta (but don’t expect big waves!). History buffs will spend hours in the Gothic Quarter. Architecture aficionados will be blown away by the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and the National Museum of Art.
One of Barcelona’s simplest delights is allowing yourself to become lost in the narrow, winding streets of the gothic quarter. There’s a surprise around every corner – from crafty shops to funky bars and restaurants. Benedict Bar – if you can find it – is a great place to kick back and rest your weary legs. The decor is creative and colourful, the wine delicious and the staff warm and friendly. The hours will just fly by.
Kylie fans must pay a visit to the Montjuïc Municipal Pool, which not only boasts jaw dropping views of the city but was also the location for her 2003 video ‘Slow’. The pools were built to host the diving events for the 1992 Olympic Games and are open to the public in the summer for less than €7 each – bargain.
The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc is another highlight and yes, it is as camp as it sounds. Operating Thursdays to Sundays (weekends in autumn and winter) on the impressive steps of the National Museum of Art, this fountain combines impressive water pressure and colourful lights with an eclectic musical selection. Don’t miss their tribute to the hits of the 80s (no, really).
A day spent in Park Güell is essential. Wander through the winding, leafy paths and enjoy wonderful views across Barcelona and striking architecture from the prestigious Antoni Gaudí. If you’re on a budget, bring a picnic lunch – there are plenty of places to sit and relax. Be sure to take some water with you – it can get hot up there! And if you’re in the market for some souvenirs, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy some here.
When the sun goes down and you’re ready to take things up a notch, Eixample (pronounced Eishampla) is full of gay bars and clubs. Metro Disco has been around the longest and still attracts large crowds, while Arena is so popular that they now run 5 venues, each with a different vibe.
Where to stay
Located in the heart of the old town, Grand Central Hotel ticks all the boxes. This grand 5-star hotel is luxurious without being pretentious – the rooftop pool and bar has sweeping views across the city’s rooftops and the suites are spacious and well-appointed. Once you swish through those revolving doors, you’ll feel transported.
The hotel rooftop has been included in TripAdvisor’s top 10 list of the world’s best, and when you get up there you will see why! The infinity pool gazes over Barcelona’s tangled skyline and out to sea – there’s no better way to beat the Spanish heat. If you prefer to stay dry, there are plenty of sofas and sun loungers on which to relax, while you sip drinks that cost half as much as you’d expect. The rooftop is open only to hotel guests until 8.30pm daily, which means you can swim and watch the sunset in peace. After dark it becomes a bustling, fun nightspot with great cocktails and tapas.
I stayed in a corner suite, which looked over the nearby roofs and into the charming streets below. The bathroom was spacious, spotless and even came with a pair of branded thongs that I could take home with me. Large windows let in plenty of light but kept the city noise at bay. Highlights: individually controlled air-conditioning, a Nespresso machine, premium linen and a bed to make you melt.
The hotel’s common spaces are welcoming – calm, dimly lit corridors are pleasantly punctuated with colourful bowls of sweets and even the buzzing foyer offers cosy corners to curl up in.
Breakfast is definitely worth waking up for – it’s nothing short of a banquet, complete with bottles of champagne (go on, you’re on holiday – treat yourself).
The location is perfect – the intriguing, narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter beckon from nearby, Barceloneta beach is a short stroll away, as is the Metro. You’re only 10 – 15 minutes away on foot to popular destinations such as Passeig de Gràcia and La Rambla. Or, if you feel like staying in, why not spend a few hours on the wellbeing floor, which offers massage treatments, a fitness centre and a thermal suite.
Always buy a T10 ticket for the Metro – it gives you 10 single rides and is by far the best value. Yes, you can share it with someone else too.
If you’re on a budget, ask for the ‘menu del dia’ at restaurants – it will normally be 2 or 3 courses, including a drink, and is often cheaper.
Don’t be confused by the cable cars here – there are two totally different cable car systems and they don’t connect (although they almost intersect – you can walk from one to the other in about 5 minutes). The Port Cable Car (or Transbordador Aeri del Port) will take you from Barceloneta beach over the marina to Montjuïc Hill. Grab a drink at the open air bar next to the station – incredible views!
From here, take a short walk to the other cable car system – the Montjuïc Hill cable car (Telefèric de Montjuïc). (This short walk takes you right past the Kylie pool too!) This car takes you to Montjuïc Castle right at the top of the hill. More incredible views ensue. Keep an eye on the time and make sure you know when the cable cars stop running!
Photos: Flickr Creative Commons: Christine Espino, Ronel Reyes, BCNBits.