What's it really like?
Barcelona has a rich history, unique culture, iconic architecture, a lively and varied nightlife, beaches, and exceptional weather. Few European cities have so much to offer to their visitors, so it’s incredible that it also succeeds in being one of the world’s top gay cities as well.
Prepare for your days to be filled with eating, drinking, and shopping around the city’s sunny streets, which remain busy and full of life well into the night. If you need to cool down, Barcelona’s urban beaches make a dip in the sea incredibly easy, while an endless array of bars and cafes spill their tables onto the sidewalk for an ice-cold beer or sangria at any time of the day.
Then, of course, there is gay Barcelona. Clustered around the “Gaixample” in the bustling Eixample area of the city, Barcelona’s gayborhood has a great variety of bars, clubs, saunas, hotels, and shops. There are a few other gay highlights around the city, including a nudist gay beach right in the middle of the city and a small selection of low-key gay venues in El Raval. Pride comes to town in a big way every summer, as well as other LGBT culture festivals throughout the year.
In terms of culture, Antoni Gaudi’s inimitable design can be found throughout the city, particularly in the insanely colorful houses he created for Barcelona’s elite and in his as-of-yet-unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia basilica. Football fans can’t miss a visit to Barcelona FC’s Camp Nou, while foodies will have to be dragged away from the offerings at La Boqueria food market.
Barcelona’s main gay area is in the neighborhood known as the Eixample, which is why, when you talking about gay Barcelona, the delightful term Gaixample is likely to come up.
The Gaixample area is rich in gay nightlife, with dozens of bars, clubs, saunas, and shops to choose from. Gaixample also happens to be very close to most of Barcelona’s main sights, such as Gaudi’s architecture, the Ramblas, and the old town. This makes it a favorite area for gay travelers, however, it’s not the only option. Some gay visitors choose to take advantage of Barcelona’s city beaches (and in particular its gay nudist beaches) and stay closer to the sea, while others will go a little bit north of Eixample to Gracia, near the iconic Sagrada Familia.
As a whole, Spain is a very tolerant country of homosexuality. In fact, a 2013 study found it to have the highest rate of homosexual acceptance (88%) of all countries polled. Despite having only recently emerged from a troubled history of fascism the country developed progressive gender and sexuality laws very quickly, and is now amongst the best in the world for LGBT rights.
Barcelona itself is particularly liberal and progressive, so openly gay visitors are not likely to be noted or discriminated against.
Most of the nightlife of gay Barcelona is concentrated in the Gaixample. It is not an exclusively gay area, but a large portion of the businesses are gay and it is quite easy to figure out which ones. It is possible to spend a great evening just visiting bars at random, but a few locations to watch out for include Moeem, Atame, and Nightberry. The latter is one of the few bars in the city with a dedicated dark room for cruising.
For clubbing, Metro was the biggest and most well-established gay club in town, however it has been reported closed. Arena Madre is another popular hotspot nearby, with a younger crowd enjoying techno beats and striptease shows.
Although gay Barcelona is still very much focused in Eixample, a smaller grouping of gay bars and venues has developed in El Raval, Barcelona’s seedy yet emerging district. This includes El Cangrejo, a friendly bar dedicated to drag acts and everything 80s (there is another location in Eixample), La Casa de la Pradera, and La Penultima. The bars in this area provide a more low-key and relaxed alternative to the Gaixample crowd, ideal if you are looking to meet some new people over beers rather than dance the night away on a sweaty muscle-filled dancefloor.
Nightlife in Barcelona, and in Spain overall, doesn’t really start until quite late. Most Spanish people don’t sit down for dinner until at least ten, so don’t expect to find local guys in the bars and clubs until midnight at least. The party then goes on until the early hours of the morning, with most bars closing at 3 am at the bigger clubs at 5 am. That is not to say you can’t go for a few drinks earlier on, but you may find more a touristy and international crowd during the first few hours.
Barcelona has a small but high-quality selection of gay saunas, all of which are clean, modern, and well-maintained. Most of them are owned by the same company, Pases, which manages four saunas in the Eixample and surrounding area: Sauna Casanova, Sauna Barcelona, Sauna Condal, and Sauna Thermas.
All of them offer top-of-the-range sauna facilities such as jacuzzi, pool, steam room, dark room, labyrinth, bar, and lounge. All the Pases saunas are 24/7, and there is a focus on safe sex, with complimentary condoms and lube and reception. Check out their website for news on themed parties. While the Pases saunas welcome an international selection of younger guys, the city’s only independent sauna, Sauna Bruc, caters to a more mature and local crowd.
The easiest place to get tested in Barcelona is BCN Checkpoint, which is conveniently located in the middle of Gaixample.
The service offers free and quick (under 30 minutes) HIV checks for gay and bisexual men. You can book an appointment by calling them on +34 933 182 056 or at the clinic.
Eixample – L’Eixample is where many of the city’s top tourist attractions are located, particularly along the leafy Passeig de Gracia. This is where you can visit Gaudi’s most famous works, such as the Sagrada Familia and the two houses he designed for wealthy Barcelona families, Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. These are some of the most exceptionally unique buildings you are likely to see, and while the visits aren’t cheap they are extremely well put together.
To the gay tourist, however, L’Eixample is home to the city’s gayborhood, affectionately nicknamed the Gaixample. It sits approximately between Carrer Viladomat to Passeig de Gracia, and contains a great selection of gay bars, clubs, shops, and hotels.
La Rambla – La Rambla is a long strip running from Placa de Catalunya to the Mirador de Colom (Columbus Monument) at the waterfront. It is arguably Barcelona’s most iconic street, filled with stalls, merchants, tourists, sidewalk cafes, and tapas restaurants. It also runs by the Mercat de la Boqueria, a large food market filled with more fresh produce and restaurant-quality meals than you’ll know what to do with.
Barri Gotic – The “Gothic Quarter” of Barcelona is its old town. It is home to the city’s traditional cathedral, as well as to many pleasant city squares and quaint narrow alleys, making it a wonderful place for a leisurely stroll. You will also find some good nightlife options in this area of the city, from casual bars to high-end cocktail lounges.
El Raval – A more run-down area of the city located behind the Mercat de la Boqueria. El Raval is considered the sketchiest part of Barcelona but is up-and-coming, with a trendy hipster crowd moving in. There is not much to see here during the day, but the area comes to life at nighttime with a mix of long-established traditional bars and newer additions to the scene.
El Born – Another old and traditional part of the city, made up of a winding network of streets and alleys. El Born is known for great shopping and great food, as well as for a few tourist highlights like the Picasso Museum and Santa Maria Del Mar cathedral.
Montjuic – A city hill mainly famous for the beautiful Palau Nacional (National Museum) and its “magic fountain”, which features light and music shows several times a week. The main attraction of the area, however, is the great view of Barcelona you get once you make it to the top.
Poble Sec – An area with few tourist attractions but a strong local life, making it perfect for tourists looking for a quieter budget accommodation that is still close to the city center.
Beaches and La Barceloneta – La Barceloneta is a small peninsula that contains most of the city’s beaches as well as the pleasant Olympic Port promenade and a good selection of places to drink and have a few tapas. Casal Lambda near the zoo is a gay cultural and information center, and can be a good place to swing by to find out more about LGBT parties and events during your stay.
Barcelona’s urban beaches are exceptionally convenient, but not particularly pretty or pleasant. As a gay visitor, chances are you’ll be visiting nearby Sitges, so you could leave your beach-going for then. If you do fancy enjoying the beach in the city, Platja de la Barceloneta and Platja de San Sebastià are the largest and busiest, but Platja de Sant Miquel just south of these turns into an all-male gay nudist beach in the late afternoons.
Barcelona has a simple grid layout across most of the city center, making it an exceptionally easy city to navigate on foot. Walking is the best way to explore individual neighborhoods, but you will end up relying on public transport for longer distances – particularly if you want to get away from that boiling summer afternoon sun.
From El Prat Airport – The easiest way to get into the city from the airport is the A1 or A2 Aerobus (depending on which terminal you land in) that runs straight to Placa de Catalunya through several other key locations in the city (€5.90, approximately 35 minutes). There is a train that runs into town (€2.50, 25 minutes to Passeig de Gracia) from a station near Terminal 2 (about 5 minutes walk), and a shuttle bus connecting both terminals if you land at T1. You could also get a taxi for about €25.
Metro – Barcelona’s metro system has decent coverage across 11 lines, and is particularly useful for covering long distances. It is easy to use for tourists, and a one-way ticket costs a standard rate of €2.20.
Bus – The city has a widespread network of buses, which can be more useful than the metro depending on your destination. A series of nitbusos (night buses) run in the evenings, all passing through Placa de Catalunya.
Tram – There are a few tram services around the city, but few are of particular interest to tourists as they tend to serve the industrial, shopping, and residential areas on the outer edges of the city.
Bicycle – One of the best ways to get around the city since an extensive network of cycle paths was installed throughout the city. Hire a bike for your stay in one of the city’s many bike hire shops, or check whether your hotel offers the service. You can take bikes into the metro, except for during rush hour on weekdays.
Taxi – Taxis are plentiful and easily recognizable, with a yellow and black design. You can either hail them, call them, or catch one at a taxi rank. The minimum fare for hailing a taxi is €2.10, and then it’s €1.10/km or €1.30/km on weekends and between 8 pm and 8 am. There may be supplements for luggage, public holidays, and call-outs. Cabify is the largest taxi app in Barcelona.
Cable Car – A cable car service runs from the waterfront at Barceloneta up to Montjuic, which is ideal if you do not have the energy to make it up the hill on foot. Yet another cable car takes you up to the castle at the very top of the hill, offering some of the best views of Barcelona available.
Train – Trains run regularly from Barcelona to other cities across the country, as well as to other destinations near the city such as Sitges and Port Aventura theme park.
Car Rental – With traffic and expensive parking, there is no reason to rent a car and drive in Barcelona. A combination of walking, public transport, and bike rental will get you anywhere you need to go in the city and around.
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