I’m pretty sure that I’m the last person in the world to have visited Barcelona.
Having spent a weekend there I can totally see why everyone raves about it.
After a fairly shaky start to summer in the UK, my house-mate and I decided that we needed some emergency GBT (Gay Beach Time) and after a bit of price-comparison on the most likely gay beach hotspots, we booked a reasonably priced flights-plus-accommodation package through Expedia.
It was EasyJet out of London’s Southend airport (my new favorite London airport) and we were staying at the Hotel Barcelo Sants - right on top of the busy Estacio Sants train station. The hotel has been recently renovated - they’ve gone for a space theme for some reason, but it works. Clean and white, the rooms aren’t enormous but they’re cleverly designed to maximise space and light. The hotel has free wifi which was a bit shaky at times but generally pretty reliable. The location worked pretty well - there’s a direct train from Barcelona Airport to Estacio Sants, there’s also direct trains to Sitges Beach, you can catch the subway all over town and there’s plenty of taxis right on your doorstep.
Barcelona is famous for it’s Gaudi architecture, however I’ll be honest, we weren’t there for cultural pursuits - we were there for sun, and there was plenty of it. It was the last weekend in June and temperatures were solidly in the mid C30s (100 Fahrenheit). We borrowed some towels from the hotel and headed to the beach.
There’s something about a city with a beach on its doorstep - relaxed, casual, no one is in a hurry and there’s no point getting too excited about anything. I often think it would be fairly difficult to hold down any sort of office job or nine-to-five style employment, if the sun was shining how could you resist getting your kit off and hitting the water?
Our favorite part of the Barcelona beach was the area known as San Sebastian - clearly the gayest part of the beach and very much clothing-optional. The beach had a very relaxed vibe, not overtly body conscious and plenty of gay couples openly showing affection which was nice. After topping up our all-over tans we could wander the short distance to the W Hotel’s Salt beach bar for DJ-accompanied cocktails.
For a change of scene we did a day trip to the beach at Sitges. Feeling slightly hungover after a night of drinking and dancing, we caught the train from Estacio Sants for the easy 20 minute journey. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Sitges, but it pretty much defines the genre of gay beach resort. Rainbow flags everywhere, bars playing relaxed house music and loads and loads of guys - all ages, shapes and sizes.
However Sitges is also surprisingly family friendly and is clearly a popular destination for local families looking for a bit of beach time. The beach itself is really nice, not huge but golden sand and warm water, the gentle waves making the regular cooling swims good fun. After spending a good few hours working on our tans and critiquing the passing swimwear we wandered back into town for a massive mojito at the Sitges institution that is the Parrot Bar - watching the world parade by.
I was impressed by the food in Barcelona - we ate a lot of tapas, of course, fast becoming experts in the small plates of taste sensations. Wandering around the big and impressive Boqueria food market, just off the main hub of Las Ramblas, we had lunch at one of the busy small cafes which really was spectacular. Well-known restaurant Taller de Tapas was also a highlight - expecting small tapas-sized servings we ordered multiple dishes of sausage, chorizo, salt cod, mussels, and croquettes only to be overwhelmed by enormous mounds of food that was too good to waste.
We didn’t spend a lot of time shopping, but there is clearly great shopping to be had in Barcelona, and all easily walkable. The new Dirk Bikkembergs flagship store was particularly impressive - only open a matter of weeks it was cool, stylish and sexy.
Our visit happily coincided with the city’s annual LGBT pride celebrations, so at night the gay district of Eixample (referred to by locals as 'Gaixample') was nicely busy with visitors from around the world, all in party mode. Bars such as People Lounge (an older crowd); Bubble Boys (where the pole dancers worked up a sweat); Atame (and its drag queens); Black Bull (where the staff were friendly and the mojitos excellent); and dance clubs Metro and Arena were all good fun. The only downside is that a night out in Barcelona seems to start (and finish) quite late - which made relaxing on the beach during the day an even more attractive option.
The one thing that everyone had warned me about before visiting Barcelona was to watch out for pickpockets - the city is notorious. As an experienced traveller I was fairly dismissive of such over-protective advice, but still kept my hands in my pockets whilst being jostled by the busy crowds that pack Las Ramblas. However it was on our second night in Barcelona that my wallet was stolen - not really sure how, I was in Arena club and it was dark and busy. I felt pretty foolish.
Our final night in Barcelona was spent at the outdoor foam party held near Placa d'Espanya. This was a free, public event and it was a lot of fun. I’ve been to foam parties before, but this was my first outdoor foam party. At first it was hard to see how the two foam cannons mounted on the stage were going to generate enough foam to make much of an impact, but in no time at the expectant crowd were enveloped in clouds of white bubbles as the slippery streams of foam gushed over them.
Barcelona. Quality gay beach time.