Barcelona is one of Europe’s coolest and most creative cities—a hotspot for great food, beautiful beaches and amazing people. Located right on the Mediterranean sea, the city is a mix of cultures with the particular influence of both Spanish and Catalan heritage. Immortalized in our collective memory by the artistic genius of Gaudí, Barcelona offers visitors its unique personality: colorful, rich in flavors and styles, modern without forgetting its’ roots. While the city is composed of all the things for contemporary life, like co-working spaces and alternative trendy bars, the nature in and around the city is equally breathtaking. You can climb Monte Tibidabo and have a wonderful view from above, or you can just wander around its famous parks like Montjuïc or Güell. For those who love art and architecture, for those who love gastronomy and fashion and for those who live for the intense emotion of soccer and sport, Barcelona is the ultimate destination.
While many tourists only come to Barcelona to have the wild experience of bars and discos in the summertime, locals are frequently protesting this nightlife-tourism, preferring to protect their culture. This is why you need to travel to Barcelona with a hand in your heart: be ready to embrace the culture of tapas, learn a couple of words in Catalan and be nice, because Catalonians are without-a-doubt one of the friendliest and most welcoming people in Europe.
The city is small enough for a day trip, but I’m completely sure that you’ll need at least four or five days to have a real experience of Barcelona. Here, this hipster guide is the basic tips you need to explore one of my favorite destinations, including the well-known reasons to visits—like Picasso, Gaudí or Miró—as well as my secret and alternative spots for avid travelers. Be ready to wander the streets of Barcelona with this guide, and let yourself be inspired by this fascinating city.
Know Where to Go
The best way to explore Barcelona is to step out of the way. Yes, we all have heard that the city is dangerous and that you have to take care of your belongings, but that doesn’t mean you have to play safe. Be ready to explore the hidden streets and the lonely alleys, but don’t take unnecessary risks. In my frequent trips to the city, I’ve discovered that the weirdest streets often take you to the most wonderful places. If you know where to look in the city, you’ll find unique things like a maze (hint: Parque del Laberinto) or great LGBT bookstores and amazing, international restaurants. For the budget-conscious, you can act local and buy your fruit and drinks in a market, to then spend your afternoon with a book on the beach—a hot summer picnic.
From Spanish movies like Pedro Almódovar’s Todo sobre mi madre and Hollywood’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona by Woody Allen to the hot and sensual location of the video Slow by Kylie Minogue, Europe’s most beautiful neighborhoods, swimming pools and restaurants are all here. Barcelona’s ambiance is one that invites you in, it helps people to create and transform the beauty of the environment into something else—your own art or ideas. There’s a reason so many artists have captured the city on film, and why so many others have moved here to live. With the right attitude, Barcelona can be a life-changing experience.
- La Barceloneta — This small neighborhood is one of the most famous places in Barcelona. Its’ origins are related to the marina and the sailors, and it was founded around 1753. With their rows of houses and the hanging clothes going from window to window, you can feel the wind and enjoy the palm trees while walking toward the beach. The Barceloneta has a fusion cuisine with tapas bar and unique venues like Argentinian burgers at BRO. The Mercat de la Barceloneta opens every day and it’s a tradition in itself. The Barceloneta beach is a common point of encounter for young people, both during the day and the night, summer and winter alike. It includes areas for jogging and skating, a designated place for (sexy) body-building and the beautiful Passeig Maritim, where you can walk and enjoy the view of the Mediterranean sea.
- Gracia — Gracia is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Barcelona, and it has become a synonym of great bars, good restaurants and cool street life. You can wonder the streets at night and head toward the Plaza del Sol. This small square is frequented by locals, many of them students, who buy their beers in the bars surrounding the Plaza and sit on the square to talk and to enjoy each other’s company. Small restaurants offer snacks and pizza for just 2€ takeaway. The perfect place for meeting new people and networking with locals, Gracia is a great spot for chilling out in the heart of Barcelona.
- L’Eixample — Located next to the old city, L’Eixample is characterized by long straight streets following a grid pattern. The church of the Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces is maybe the best reason to walk around during the day. Catalonia has sucessfully struggled against the infamous bullfighting “art”, and L’Eixample hosts one of most beautiful buildings dedicated to this controversial activity, the former Plaza de Toros Monumental, which is inspired in the noucentisme style, a cultural movement rejecting modernism. The Plaza has become a famous venue for concerts and performances, and it also host the Bullfighting Museum, which includes a large collection of vintage posters, old photos and matador costumes.
- Gothic Quarter — Considered one of the best attractions in Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter is all about getting lost between humid Roman and Medieval buildings and tiny narrow streets. It’s in itself a labyrinth, with small squares, old churches and neo-gothic facades. The La Seu Cathedral is located in this neighborhood, and you can easily visit La Plaça del Rei to get a glimpse of former royal life in ancient Barcelona. Given its architectural and isolated nature, the Gothic Quarter is also known to be a place for pick-pocketing, but what is Medieval life without robbers and vandals and treasure-hunters? El Call, the Jewish quarter, with its Sinagoga Mayor and a Jewish Museum, are part of this interesting travel through time.
- Poble Sec – Home to some of Barcelona’s cheapest bars, the Poble Sec neighborhood is one of the best places to hang out late at night. With its’ fun and fashionable atmosphere, the neighborhood even has its own hashtag: #poblesex ;-) While the area used to be run-down and seedy, today it’s got the reputation of somewhere cool, fun and chill. It’s on the edge of some of the more expensive areas of the city, so restaurants and bars in Poble Sec tend to cater to young adult crowds, rather than tourists—making it a great place to get that truly local experience in Barcelona.
- Raval — Next to the famous Las Ramblas—a street corridor crowded with small souvenir stores, street performers and hundreds of tourists—the Raval is a center of fun and excitement. There are cabaret bars and lovely squares, including the Rambla del Raval, where a huge cat by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, grins at you like if you were Alice in Wonderland. Indeed, you can walk around this neighborhood and explore all the tapas bar with their “eat me” and “drink me” labels and wake up the next morning wondering: what happened yesterday in the Raval? The Universidad de Barcelona is located in this area, and students are frequently crowding the cafés and restaurants, as well as the open squares, with their discussions about philosophy and capitalism.
- El Born — Located between the Barceloneta, the Gothic Quarter and the Parc de la Ciutadella the Born is blooming as a spot for shopping and fashion, with trendy stores offering designer products and stylish boutiques. After your shopping spree, you can visit the Picasso Museum, or you can walk through the Parc de la Ciutadella and visit the Arc del Triomf, a magnificent triumphal arch built as a gate in 1888. Many cafés and restaurants are located in this area, and the Parc de la Ciutadella also hosts the life-size sculpture of a mammoth and a really impressive fountain inspired by Rome’s Trevi Fountain: the Cascada or waterfall. The Museu de la Xocolata is also located near El Born, if you feel in the mood to experience the history and production of chocolate.
Cafés & Desserts
Coffee is one of the products that Catalonians are crazy about, and the caffeine kick is welcomed in this city, which is small but full of life. You’ll find a lot of opportunities to enjoy a great cappuccino and expresso, and new coffee-only bars are opening all over the city. The sweetness of Barcelona is not only found at the end of your coffee mug, though, but also in the traditional desserts of Barcelona. The options are overwhelming and you’ll have to choose between your churros and xocolata and your Catalan cream. For those in search of healthier options, natural juices, smoothies and drinks contribute to the tropical experience of Barcelona and help you to stay hydrated under the Mediterranean sun.
- Satan’s Coffee Corner – Owner Marcos Bartolomé comes from a family of coffee makers. Creating all his own blends which he changes up each season, he gives each one a rock star name so that customers can easily remember which they like. Rumored to be the best coffee in Barcelona, you can also find food like steamed mussels, sandwiches, and cured meats available. The reason to come here is the coffee, though. And keeping with that tradition, the café purposefully doesn’t provide wifi.
- Molika Cafe – This peaceful and heavenly spot with exposed white brick walls, marble table tops, and rust iron chairs is the perfect spot to grab a coffee and have breakfast. Recommended are the freshly baked croissants, carrot cake and banana bread.
- Granja Dulcinea – Come to this cafe for their traditional hot chocolate, complete with churros and whipped cream. With coffee, teas and pastries, this is another great breakfast spot. For the lactose intolerant out there, try the horchata, a milk-like drink made from ground almonds, tiger nuts or rice. Also go for the catalan crème, the Catalan version of Crème Brûlée.
- Eyescream & Friends – If you need your fix of gelato, visit Eyescream & Friends. Ordering one of their shaved gelatos is fun and kind of silly. You start by picking a tray, selecting your favorite flavor (like mango or cheesecake), and finish off with your choice of two toppings. The ice creams are all cutely named with monikers like Sad Tom, Wild Willy and Miss Fancy.
- Bobibar – A bubble tea place just off La Rambla, this cafe serves up refreshing bubble tea concoctions in a fun setting, complete with K-pop music playing in the background. Formerly situated at Tallers, they’re in the process of setting up in a new location. Watch their Facebook page to see when they post their new address details.
- Press & Reset – This juice bar in La Barceloneta specializes in cold pressed juices. With 16 different freshly made juices available, sample the Kiwi Express with kiwi, apple, and cabbage or the Black Lemonade with lime, activated carbon, water, and cayenne. If you can’t get enough of their juice, you can also order online.
- Happy Pills – One of the most adorable candy shops ever, Happy Pills doles out jelly beans and other sweets, much like a pharmacy hands out pills. You can buy different sized bottles of “pills” and even, a little mini-case to showcase your candy purchase.
- Betahaus – Betahaus is a coworking venue that brings together entrepreneurs and creative types. Their modern designed space spans 2000 square meters, including six floors and five terraces. While Betahaus is exclusive and requires a membership, it’s possible to buy day passes to get work done and enjoy their cafe. It’s often a good place for entrepreneurs or digital nomads to meet.
Tapas Bars & Restaurants
Barcelona tastes as good as it looks. Walking the small alleys of La Barceloneta, or the medieval roads in the Gothic Quarter, it’s hard not to be entranced by the smells of Mediterranean food floating in the air. Tapas, a small plate that comes with your beer, are a tradition in Spain, but the proximity of the sea seduces you with all sorts of delicious calamari and prawns. However, as Barcelona becomes more of an international mecca, you’ll find foreign restaurants offering both fusion and very classical versions of their own cuisines. The only way to discover all these flavors is to forget your diet and give it a try, because the Barcelona weather is perfect and, anyways, if you’re really watching your figure: you can always go out for a run on the beach to burn all those extra calories you’re consuming.
And for those looking for a quick taste and sample of some of Barcelona’s best restaurants, there are some great food tours through the city. I took a tour with Barcelona Eat Local through Sant Antoni and Poble Sec neighborhoods. The area (once a working class area) is now home to some of Barcelona’s best restaurants–both traditional ones and modern hipster restaurants. Highly recommended if you’re time is limited and you want to eat well in Barcelona!
- Veg World India – This vegan food restaurant in Gracia serves up fresh and healthy vegan options. Casual and affordable, the staff are friendly and make your dining experience fun. Especially popular are the homemade tandoori bread, Masala Dosa and Samber Idly. For dessert, try the Mango Lassi or have the Rose Kulfi ice cream. Food is authentically Indian and the fact it’s all vegetarian or vegan makes it that much more special. Afterward, check out some of the trendy hipster bars in Gracia—all within walking distance.
- Cat Bar – It’s about vegan burgers and craft beer at this hip establishment! Another one of the few vegan places in the city, Cat Bar is a small bar and restaurant whose menu also includes homemade cakes an daily wheat and gluten-free specials.
- Mexcla – Combining traditional Mexican with Spanish Mediterranean flair, this restaurant in Gracia is one of the best tapas spots in Barcelona. Try one of their more unusual dishes like the mouth-watering hard shell duck tacos, with duck confit, pasilla chili sauce and brown sugar or go for their more standard fare that includes different types of ceviche, enchiladas and fajitas. Highly recommended are their margaritas (obviously!). As this is such a hotspot, it’s advisable to make a reservation.
- Fàbrica Moritz Barcelona – Home to the local brew Moritz, this microbrewery and restaurant serves excellent tapas (great for groups!) alongside their selection of Moritz beers. The beer is strictly “Catalan” and is based on recipes from over 150 years ago, plus the restaurant’s menu includes local Catalan and Andalusian food specialities. If you’re looking for a Catalan tapas experience, start here.
- Bar Jai-ca – This low-key, authentic tapas restaurant in the Barceloneta neighborhood has been open since 1955. A bit like a greasy dive bar, locals swear by the place. Expect a lot of fried things, such as fried cod balls, battered mussels, cuttlefish, etc. Indulge in the good food and worry about your waistline later. An average meal, complete with a beer, will run you around €10.
- Pizza Circus – Eat in their colorfully decorated restaurant or order take-out, Pizza Circus has a huge menu of delicious pizzas at very affordable prices. Portions are generous, with pizzas measuring 33 centimeters. Munch on their Pizza Catalana, with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil, ham, bacon and mushrooms or Pizza Campagnola with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil, sausage, gorgonzola and spinach.
- Makamaka Beach Burger Café – Makamaka describes themselves as a beach burger cafe and a “70’s-inspired watering hole for locals and travelers to share burgers, cocktails and plenty of besos.” With a cosy interior bar and a large outdoor patio (heated in colder months), it’s a great place in Barceloneta for a burger. For a vegetarian option, try the Greenzilla with a mushroom patty, baked tomato, avocado, red chard, wasabi sauce and a sesame cereal bun. Complement this with one of their innovative cocktails like the Sunset Boulevard with dill infused vodka, mandarin syrup, egg white and lime. The atmosphere here really does feel like a beach bar.
- La Fabrica – La Fabrica whips up homemade Argentinian empanadas like no other. Sample spicy chicken, spinach, eggplant, the four cheese blend, beef with raisins and more. You get two empanadas and a drink for just €4,50 or twelve empanadas and three drinks for €20. You’ll usually see a queue out the door on busy nights.
- Quimet & Quimet – What looks like a wine shop from the outside, is also a famous tapas place in Barcelona’s Poble Sec neighborhood, offering tasty treats like mussels, cheese and an open faced sandwich with smoked salmon, greek yogurt and truffled honey. Pair your meal with one of their many Spanish wines. It’s a tiny place with standing-room only, so be prepared for a wait. There are lots of great bars in the nearby area for after-dinner drinks.
- Negro Carbon – A burger joint with handcrafted Argentinian burgers, located in the La Barceloneta area. In addition to the burgers, you’ll find salads, traditional tapas, veal steaks and a wide selection of barbecued Argentinian steaks. If you can fit in dessert, try their brownies, cheesecakes or pancakes.
Art, Museums & Culture
Culture and creativity have found a home in the small Barcelona and this is a place where tradition frequently meets modern tendencies and produces something totally new. Picasso, Miró, Gaudí—all these big names were producing art here, inspired by hundreds of years of a fusion and mixture of styles and techniques. You can see it in the paintings hanging on the walls and in the facades of the buildings. Catalonian art has its own ideology, politically-oriented goals and personality, but Barcelona also offers a view into other less political forms of art. You can discover art everywhere, including many sculptures and fountains located in streets and parks around the city, or even on the sidewalks (watch where you step!). Keep your camera ready and wonder around the streets…
- Citadel Park – One of the greenest spaces in Barcelona, the large 70-acre park has its own lake accentuated by a grand fountain and waterfall known as Cascada. For fun, you can even rent a rowboat and spend your time leisurely paddling around the lake. Notable highlights of the park include a zoo, the Catalan parliament, a greenhouse and several museums like the Museu d’Art Modern, Museu Blau, and Museu de Geologia. Dotted throughout the park are a bunch of playful statues like a giant wooly mammoth. The park is ideal for long walks, sleeps under the sun and having a picnic with friends.
- La Boqueria – Along La Rambla is one of Barcelona’s most well known and popular markets, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, or La Boqueria for short. A foodie paradise, go there hungry so you can stuff your face with delicious food on the spot or buy your fill of groceries to make a meal of your own. There’s everything you’ll ever need like fresh fruit, meat (think jamón ibérico!), live fish, cheese, vegetables and more.
- National Art Museum – The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) houses 19th and 20th century Catalan art, as well as modern art, and boasts an impressive collection of romanesque church paintings. The museum hosts regular exhibitions and even film screenings. Outside of the museum is Parc de Montjuïc, a park set on top of a hill in the middle of the city which offers panoramic, Instagram-worthy views of Barcelona.
- Joan Miró Foundation – This museum contains the work of Joan Miró, a local artist, and features his modern artwork spanning from his early career sketches, to tapestries, bronzes and the paintings he completed during his last years. One of the rooms has photographs of the artist himself and the library is full of books from Miro’s personal book collection. Outside the museum is a garden, filled with sculptures, making it the perfect rest stop for a bit of artistic inspiration.
- German Pavillion – Designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the modern and iconic German Pavillion is constructed of glass, steel and rather lavish materials including marble and onyx. Now host to regular architectural exhibitions and lectures, come to admire one of the most influential buildings in the modernist movement.
- Picasso Museum – With one of the most extensive collections of Pablo Picasso’s artwork in the world, the Picasso Museum is situated within five large Gothic town houses. With over 4,000 pieces in their collection, visit to see Picasso’s brilliant art, come to understand him more deeply as an artist and enjoy the atmospheric setting of the Gothic architecture. As this is such a popular tourist attraction, expect to wait in a queue to gain entrance to the museum. It’s well worth the wait.
- La Sagrada Familia – Anyone visiting Barcelona absolutely needs to experience this weird and wonderful church designed by Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882 and still continues today, long after Gaudi’s death. Current architect Jordi Fauli reported in October 2015, that their work was 70% complete and they expect to finish around 2030. The church combines both Gothic and Art Nouveau styles of architecture and Gaudi’s particular style is reflected throughout. With 18 spires, intricate facades, and a fantastical interior with brightly colored stained glass windows and columns designed to look like tree branches, this is a site that can’t be missed. Expect long lines and steep entry fees, at €15 for adults.
- Parc Guell – Get your free fill of Gaudi at Parc Guell, another popular hotspot in Barcelona. The master architect built three kilometers of pathways, steps, a plaza and two gatehouses. on this hillside park. The gatehouses, near the park’s entrance, contain a small exhibit that features his work, as well as a brief history of the park. Walking up the steps, you’ll encounter a mosaic fountain of a dragon, before entering the 88-columned Doric Temple. On the top of the temple is a large terrace with long curving benches where you can rest and take in the grandeur of Gaudi’s work. Closeby is the Gaudi museum, located in a house where he lived for 20 years. Walking along the colonnaded pathways, flanked by beautiful columns, is yet another treat.
- Casa Batlló – Set in a stunning modernist building re-designed by Gaudi in 1904, this museum shows off some of the best work of the master architect. Locals call it the House of Bones, as the facade closely resembles the skeletal frame of a dragon. The roof was designed to look like the arch of the dragon’s back and is even covered with shiny scales. The interior of Casa Batlló is something else to behold and you can tour the entire building with an audio guide. For some unique and memorable souvenirs, check out their online store.
- La Rambla – At 1.2 kilometers long, the wide pedestrian boulevard, La Rambla, is Barcelona’s most popular street. Always crowded with a blend of locals and tourists, you’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants, and other cultural landmarks, including La Boqueria. Note, this heavily trafficked area is a prime target for pick-pockets, so be alert and keep your valuables safely stowed.
- Arts Santa Mònica – A public art space featuring regular exhibitions of contemporary art from local and international artists. Admission is free and you can even opt to take part in creative workshops.
Shopping & Style
The main attraction of Barcelona shopping is the coexistence of big brands and alternative designer products. While many chains are located in the center of the city, particularly near the Plaça de Catalunya, you can opt for unique, craft products created and designed by locals in small ateliers. In terms of prices, you can find everything according to your budget, but sometimes tossing some extra coins and bills mean supporting a local artist instead of a corporation, or to get a product that you really love and not a mass-designed item that you can find in any other store. For those in search of thrift and vintage, classy shopping adventures, these places should guide you to the right areas of Barcelona.
- To Be Concept – This spacious concept shop features the very best in contemporary design from local Spanish artists. Operating with the motto “Made in Barcelona”, you’ll find both new and vintage items, ranging from purses, to pillows, to chairs, sunglasses, lamps and even kitchenware.
- Vicenç Moretó – A trendy barbershop for men looking for a premium level haircut, towel shave or beard trim and grooming. The staff are well trained and pay close attention to what they’re doing, especially when it comes to beard treatments which they consider their speciality. Some services even come with a scalp massage and the salon only uses high-end hair products like Paul Mitchell, American Crew and V7 Hombre.
- Cyclotie – In a commitment to sustainable development, the designers behind Cyclotie, upcycle bicycle inner tubes and transform them into stylish bow ties for men. Every bow tie is unique and made by hand. Visit one of their two locations or place an order through their online store.
- Maremagnum – Close to the water’s edge is a large shopping mall where fashionistas can get some serious shopping done. There are tons of shops inside, including popular (and budget-friendly) Spanish fashion chains like Mango and Jack & Jones. Not far from the mall is the Barcelona Aquarium, where you can indulge in shark cage diving, scuba diving with sharks, and even sleeping with sharks.
- Moska – A small jewelry shop situated in the hip area of El Born, it’s owned by designer Maka Abraham. Expect to find unique, handcrafted, heirloom pieces that borrow on ancient history from the times of the Greeks and the Romans. Maka, with degrees in history and anthropology, personally selects all of the materials used in the making of her jewelry.
Bars & Nightlife
Nightlife in Barcelona is taken very seriously. In the summer months, you’ll find foam parties happening in the streets, live music outdoors and the beach bars with bonfires. Promoters have a habit of hanging out on the Barcelona beaches every afternoon hunting for tourists to invite to various parties or bar-hopping tours. If you’re a solo traveler looking for a truly hipster experience through Barcelona’s nightlife, try the Friday-night Hipster Bar Crawl (25€ including one cocktail) with Tapas and Beers tours.
The Raval and Gracia neighborhoods offer a more chill-out atmosphere and venues for the perfect conversation, while combining the experience of drinking with live music and small performances. If you’re in the city during the classic soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, prepare yourself for a loud experience of public drinking and hectic streets, and don’t forget to support the local team.
- El Ciclista – Situated in Vila de Gracia, El Ciclista is an intimate, mood-lit, minimalist space, designed with cycling fanatics in mind. Decorated with a plethora of reused cycling materials, you’ll find bikes hanging on the walls, spoked wheels converted into tables, and door knobs made from handlebars. Popular with locals, people flock to this bar for their cocktails, local craft beer (they have Moritz Epidor on tap), and most of all, their €5 gin and tonic selections. El Ciclista also frequently hosts live music events and various readings.
- Betty Ford’s – A Raval neighbourhood establishment that’s gained a lot of notoriety, even cult status, amongst Barcelona locals over the years. The small dark bar is always packed to the brim, with the crowd even spilling out into the street on many nights. Filled with more locals than tourists, the bar is fun and even better, gay-friendly. Retro film projections and erotic cartoons often play, while hip hop and soul music blare in the background. Betty Ford’s drink menu covers the usual gamut, from a wide selection of foreign beers to giant cocktails, all at affordable prices. If you need a nibble, get a hamburger cooked to order, along with a side of fries.
- Beirut 37 – Another local watering hole in the Raval ‘hood is the hip Beirut 37, a bar and restaurant serving up Lebanese and international tapas. Featuring food from the opposite side of the Mediterranean, it’s a great spot for a bite to eat. The venue regularly features live music events, like reggae concerts, art exhibitions and more.
- Olympic Bar – The Raval location of Olympic Bar was extensively renovated and turned into an uber hipster spot that attracts an eclectic group of locals and tourists. TimeOut describes it as “an old-man bar that people are going mental for.” With more than 60 different items on their menu, you can order fresh fruit juice, appetizers, tapas and salads. Highly recommended is their house patatas bravas. Drinks come cheap, with a local craft beer only costing €1,20.
- Madame Jasmine – A favorite along the bustling La Rambla is Madame Jasmine, a dive bar known for their good music with DJs regularly spinning their tunes, fun dance parties and classic cocktails.
- Moog – This two-floor dance club just off La Rambla is open 365 days a year to party goers. The small, dark club features electro pop and 80’s disco upstairs, while the lower floor caters to those who love techno and house music. Go late when the crowds actually show up.
- Brewdog – The Scottish brewery has several locations throughout Europe, including Barcelona. Located in an old bank building, the sprawling bar on La Rambla is laid out over two floors and has 20 craft beers on tap, sometimes including their famous “No Label” transgender beer.
Spain is one of Europe’s most LGBT-friendly destinations, and Barcelona is at the heart of it—often competing with Madrid. While both cities have their own charms, Barcelona’s warm Mediterranean beach climate, a year full of gay events and a thriving culture of food and arts, makes it especially charming for the LGBT tourist.
For more gay Barcelona tips, check out the useful guide of recommended hotels, clubs, saunas and more on Travel Gay Europe.
Big annual events include Bear Pride in March, Barcelona Gay Pride in June, Circuit Festival in August, and the International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival held each October. You’ll find many (but not all) of the city’s gay bars, restaurants and shops located in the Eixample district (affectionately labelled Gaixample), with other cool hotspots spread throughout the city. The world’s largest gay hotel chain, Axel Hotels, has a handful of different properties in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood—each with their own bars and shops.
Barcelona is only a quick half-hour train ride away from Spain’s other famous gay destination, Sitges—great for a gay day trip. Alternatively, make Sitges your base with its countless gay-friendly hotels and gay beaches and instead use Barcelona as a cultural stop on the way to and from. You’ll find Barcelona with a lot more hipster things to do and see, but Sitges is great for its LGBT offerings, especially popular for Sitges Gay Pride in June.
Regardless, with a warm climate, Spanish tapas, clothing-optional beaches, a plethora of cultural offerings, and a well established, friendly LGBT community, Barcelona is a year-round gay destination. There are over 30 different gay (or queer) bars throughout town, but, as is common in gay-friendly Spain, you’ll find yourself comfortable in most areas of the city. Use this as a guide to get situated and look out for one of the free gay maps of Barcelona available at many of these shops and bars.
LGBT Shops, Culture, and Activities
- Antinous – A gay and lesbian bookstore in the Gothic Quarter, Antinous has an extensive collection of books, magazines and DVDs for sale. There’s all sorts of books ranging from comics, to photography books, travel guides and books filled with poetry. With a bar & café onsite, sit back with a drink while reading up on the best in LGBT literature.
- BCN Checkpoint – This community center provides rapid HIV checks and also tests for other sexually-transmitted diseases amongst men who sleep with men. Located in Barcelona’s gay neighborhood, it’s a friendly place for getting help when and if you need it. Their website is also available in English.
- ES Collection – A high-end fashion label with locations throughout Spain and Europe, they sell men’s underwear, swimwear and other clothing (check out some of their sports fetish gear). All items are made and designed in Barcelona and their sexy collection makes for a great souvenir.
- Addicted Store – Another one of Barcelona’s local fashion labels, Addicted sells one of my favorite underwear. Their shop has everything you could imagine from bottomless jock straps to tank tops and sportswear. Located just blocks from the beach, you can pick up a new sexy swimsuit to strut your stuff like the locals.
- Boyberry – It’s Barcelona’s sexiest gay shop where you’ll find condoms, lube, sex toys and all manner of dirty things alongside pride flags and rainbow-adorned goodies. For the sexually adventurous, there’s a dark room on site as well.
- Mar Bella Beach – Barcelona’s “gay beach,” it’s a clothing-optional beach on the edges of the city center, but still easily accessible from downtown. While all of Barcelona’s beaches are going to be LGBT-friendly, the Mar Bella Beach is especially so, and it’s beach bar caters to mostly gay men.
Gay Bars & Clubs
- La Federica – Owned by two men, both of whom are named Albert, La Federica is a new LGBT friendly bar in Barcelona. The bar maintains the previous owner’s retro-modern decor but there’s a definite gay vibe in the place. Enjoy great quality cocktails, beer, or wine, plus a changing variety of tapas are available to satisfy your munchies. The bar and restaurant also holds fun themed parties with DJs onsite twice a month. There’s an unofficial dress code at the bar: bearded boys.
- Botanic Bar Cafe – Located in the Gaixample neighborhood, it’s a casual and cozy gay bar open seven nights a week. The outdoor courtyard in the back provides just enough romantic atmosphere to make it easy to meet others.
- Arena Club(s) – Barcelona’s largest gay clubs are all owned by the same organization, Grupo Apollo. The Punto and Arena clubs are open every day of the week. On Thursday, the Aire club opens and on the weekend the Arena Classic opens up. It’s confusing as there are literally two clubs called Arena, but if you get a ticket to Aire or Punto, that often includes entrance to their other clubs as well. Expect go-go boys dancing in cages, cheap drinks, sloppy dance floors and make-shift dark rooms. Watch out for pick-pockets in these clubs, especially in the dark rooms as it’s quite easy to get distracted and lose an iPhone while your pants are around your ankles. A lot of guys go between the clubs on weekends repeatedly, moving wherever the better DJs are for that hour.
Where to Stay
Barcelona has a number of world-class design hotels, plus backpacker-friendly budget accommodation. For hotel and hostel options in Barcelona, check Agoda.com for special discounts & good rates. While locals frequently organize protests and meetings fighting corporations like Airbnb, some hostels and hotels are a great option to have a fancy holiday, a great view of the beach and even a Gothic adventure in the middle of Barcelona. As a summer destination, prices go all the way up during the hot months, but low season is also perfect to visit, particularly because the cold weather is surprisingly enjoyable. However, the Mediterranean sea during winter times is beautiful but only to be admired from the distance, so be sure that your hotel includes a pool or is located near a public one.
- Hotel Claris – This stunning five-star property is located in a former 19th century palace in the heart of Barcelona on a street filled with boutique shops just over 1 km from La Sagrada Familia. This art hotel, with over 124 rooms and suites, took time to furnish each room with one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork—some even have gold leafed ceilings and pre-Columbian art. Rooms are soundproof, have flat screens TVs with over 70 channels available, free wi-fi, minibar, robes and more. More luxurious suites have marble bathrooms, saunas and are spread out over two floors. If you’re hungry, room service is available 24 hours a day and a buffet breakfast is also offered. There’s also a swimming pool, cocktail bar, high-end restaurant and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views over Barcelona. Room prices from 200€ per night.
- Hotel Arts – A towering structure, this stylish and luxe hotel is not only close to the beach, but is also known for its fish shaped Frank Gehry sculpture “Peix” and its’ glass and exposed steel facade. With 43 floors and 483 rooms, all the rooms offer up fantastic views of the city, as well as the sea. There’s over five different restaurants to choose from, from the two Michelin-starred Enoteca restaurant to the terraced Arola’s overlooking the Mediterranean. If you’re looking for a little TLC, book time in the luxurious spa or take a swim in their outdoor swimming pool. Room prices from 425€ per night.
- The Serras – Set along another famous street in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, Passeig de Colom, is The Serras. A small hotel with just 29 rooms, it’s intimate and a designer’s dream with its’ black and white palette and modern art throughout the historical building, dating from 1846. The rooms have ample space with wooden floors, are sound proofed, and some even have balconies. One of the suites is even set in Pablo Picasso’s former studio. The rooftop terrace is the perfect place to eat a meal, go for a dip in their infinity pool or just to gaze out over the beautiful city. Room prices from 225€ per night.
- University Rooms – Book a room at one of the many student residences around Barcelona. This budget friendly option is akin to staying in a hostel, so you can expect dorm rooms, a common area, shared kitchen and bathrooms. You can opt to pay more for a single room as well. Most of the locations include Internet access, but weirdly, not always wi-fi. In some cases, you’ll need to physically hook your laptop up to get access to the web.
- Alternative Creative Youth Hostel – Located just around the corner from the University, this budget backpacker hostel is a cosy and comfortable place to lay down your bags and chill out in the city for a while. Its’ location is super convenient to all of Barcelona’s major attractions, plus it’s walking distance to some of the best nightlife and cheap student bars & clubs. The colorful hostel itself is pretty basic, but lovingly attended with a sociable common area. Dorm prices from 14€ per night, changing by the season/month.
- Hipstel – One of the more affordable places to stay in central Barcelona is Hipstel. Their website says it all, “If you consider yourself an adventurous traveler who seeks quality, classy, yet affordable fun, then this is your hostel.” It’s set in a townhouse, offering dorms and private rooms, some of which even have balconies. There’s a basic buffet breakfast which you can eat on their sunny terrace, free wi-fi, 24 hour reception, and free coffee. The Barcelona hostel also offers all sorts of fun events including walking tours, flamenco nights, pub crawls, hiking trips and group dinners. It’s a pretty basic hostel but has a friendly atmosphere—plus it’s within walking distance to Plaza Catalunya and Barcelona’s gay neighborhood in X’iample. Private rooms from 50€ per night.
- At the beach, you’ll come across vendors who are all too happy to sell you drinks, both bottled beers or even cocktails (go for the mojito!). They’re usually €5 but if you want to save money, head to one of the nearby convenience stores where you can buy your own beer for just €1.
- As you wander around Barcelona, you’ll find plenty of free wi-fi in various public areas. You’ll just need to register and will be required to sign in every now and then. It works well enough for data intensive apps like Grindr, Tinder, Instagram, etc.
- You can take the Aerobus into the city from the Barcelona airport for €5,50. The bus has free wi-fi and it only takes 20 minutes to reach the city center, arriving and departing at Plaza de Catalunya.
- Unfortunately, there’s a lot of pick-pocketing in Barcelona. The city is very safe, but be very alert and watch your valuables, especially in the more touristy areas like La Rambla or when you’re taking public transit. Whenever you leave your hotel, hostel, Airbnb etc, leave one or more of your cards and some cash in a safe place as a backup plan. Only carry as much cash and plastic as you need.
- For a fun way to explore Barcelona, try a bike tour. Steel Donkey Bike Tours offers an alternative tour of the city, sampling the best patatas bravas in Barcelona as well as insider tips on things to do and see.
- The metro is really easy to use, but sometimes it’s cheaper, healthier and faster to walk from one place to another. Barcelona has terrible traffic, mostly due to the narrow streets and the frequent crowds. Take your time to organize your journey or rent a bike. You can be almost anywhere within 20 minutes, but if you are planning to visit the outskirts of the city (like some beaches or Monte Tibidabo), you better double-check the timings and transport services.
- Book tickets in advance, particularly at the Picasso Museum. During the summer time, a long line is expected to visit many museums and art galleries. You can save time by booking online. If you really want to enjoy Las Meninas by Picasso, a series of drawings and studies based on Velázquez’s masterwork, be there early. The Picasso Museum is frequently overcrowded and you will have trouble to really appreciate the works during most afternoons.
Local Blogs & Resources
Barcelona can be a tricky city to navigate as a tourist. Luckily, there are more than a few English-language resources, blogs and websites that focus extensively on making Barcelona enjoyable for tourists.
- Urban Travel Blog Barcelona – An in-depth, long weekend guide with things to see and do in Barcelona. The Urban Travel Blog has a number of great stories and tips for Barcelona, plus the creator is the one behind some of Barcelona’s coolest tours such as Tapas and Beers and Steel Donkey Bike Tours.
- The Local Spain – The Local features Spanish news in English, as well as other quirky articles about local culture across the country. It’s a great resource for finding out the latest news, as well as information about the latest openings—whether restaurants, clubs or cultural institutions.
- Foodie in Barcelona – Expat blogger and former resident of Berlin, Suzy now reviews various cafes, delis, restaurants, and shops around Barcelona. Her site includes an interactive map of all her Barcelona restaurant reviews – very helpful!
- Miniguide Barcelona – You can find this monthly magazine in many bars & cafés throughout the city. The magazine covers art and culture, fashion, food and drink, and also contains easy-to-understand neighborhood guides. Look out for their LGBT Barcelona tips as well, updated regularly.
- Visit Barcelona – The official tourism website helps you plan your trip, advises you on how to move around, lets you buy tickets to events, and more. Check out their directory of Barcelona mobile apps for even more resources on things to do and historical facts about Barcelona.
View more Hipster City Guides from TravelsofAdam.com here.