The heady allure of the Mediterranean permeates the city and a dip into its azure waters is only ever a few metro stops away. The city’s beaches were once hidden behind an industrial wasteland, but things changed radically in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. The plan was to create a city oberta al mar (open to the sea); the result is phenomenal. Tons of sand were transported to create miles of beaches from Barceloneta to Port Olímpic and beyond. Palm trees were planted, water cleanliness standards implemented and contemporary sculptures erected. Nearby Port Olímpic now throbs with scores of bars, clubs and restaurants, while a section of Poblenou, designated 22@Barcelona by a city council keen to bring in new technological and design business, has been transformed over the last decade.
Pl Pau Vila 3 • Open 10am–7pm Tue–Sat (to 8pm Wed), 10am–2:30pm Sun • Adm; free last Tue of the month (Oct–Jun) • www.mhcat.cat
Housed in the Palau de Mar, a renovated portside warehouse, this museum (see Museu d’Història de Catalunya) offers a broad, interactive exploration of Catalonia’s history since prehistoric times. Kids especially will have a ball with the engaging exhibits, such as a Civil War-era bunker and a recreated Catalan bar from the 1960s with an ancient futbolín (table football) game.
Moll d’Espanya • Maremagnum: shops 10am–10pm daily, restaurants until 1am daily
Saunter along the Rambla de Mar, a floating wooden pier that leads to the flashy Maremagnum mall. It is open every day of the year, which makes it particularly popular with shoppers on Sundays.
If you fancy a splash in the Mediterranean, head down to the end of La Rambla, wander along the palm tree-lined Moll de la Fusta, and down the restaurant-packed Passeig Joan de Borbó where the sea beckons. More than 7 km (4.3 miles) of blue-flag beaches stretch north from Barceloneta to Port Olímpic and beyond. The seawater quality can vary, depending on the tides. Facilities are top-notch, including showers, deck chairs, lifeguards and beach volleyball courts. Convenience, however, means crowds, so finding a spot among the masses of oiled bodies can be a challenge, particularly during the summer.
Moll d’Espanya • Open from 10am daily; closing times vary from 7:30pm to 9:30pm depending on month and day • Adm • www.aquariumbcn.com/en
Come face to face with the marine world of the Mediterranean at the largest aquarium in Europe (see L’Aquàrium de Barcelona). The highlight is an 80-m- (262-ft-) long underwater tunnel, with a moving walkway that transports you through the deep blue, while sharks glide menacingly close. A huge hit with the kids is the Explora! floor, where interactive exhibits allow you to experience the ecosystems of the Mediterranean.
A portside warren of narrow streets, small squares and ancient bars, this traditional neighbourhood of pescadors (fishermen) and mariners (sailors) seems worlds apart from the mega-malls and disco lights of nearby Port Olímpic. A refreshing foray through this tight-knit community yields a glimpse into the Barcelona of 150 years ago. Older couples still pull chairs out onto the street to gossip and watch the world go by, and small seafood restaurants serve a menú del dia of whatever is fresh off the boat. Running the length of Barceloneta’s western edge is the Passeig Joan de Borbó, which is lined with restaurants serving mariscs (shellfish) and paellas.
Moll de la Fusta • Open Apr–Oct: 10am–8:30pm Tue–Sat; Nov–Mar: 10am–5:30pm Tue–Sun • Adm
Bobbing in the water at the Moll de la Fusta (Timber Quay) is this restored three-mast schooner, originally christened Carmen Flores. It first set sail from Spain in 1918. On journeys to Cuba, the ship used to transport textiles and salt, returning with tobacco, coffee, cereals and wood. In 1997, the Museu Marítim bought and restored the ship as part of a project to create a collection of seaworthy historical Catalan vessels.
Telefèric: from Torre San Sebastià • Las Golondrinas: Portal de la Pau • Approximately every 30 mins from 11:15am • www.lasgolondrinas.com • Orsom: Portal de la Pau • For timings call 93 441 05 37 • www.barcelona-orsom.com
Observe all the activity at Barcelona’s bustling port area from a different perspective, either from the air or the sea. The Transbordador Aeri cable cars offer sweeping bird’s-eye views of Barcelona and its coast, while the old-fashioned Las Golondrinas “swallow boats” and the Orsom Catamaran make regular sightseeing trips around the harbour, the beaches and the port area.
This 60-m- (197-ft-) high column was built between 1882 and 1888 for Barcelona’s Universal Exhibition and commemorates Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas – it was in Barcelona that Columbus met Ferdinand and Isabel on his return. Columbus himself stands proudly on top of the column (see Monument a Colom), pointing out to sea, supposedly towards the New World but actually towards Italy. A lift swooshes up the column to a viewing platform located just below Columbus’s feet, which offers fabulous 360° views.
The increasingly fashionable Poblenou district is home to a burgeoning number of trendy cafés and shops, as well as old industrial warehouses and buildings that are being restored and repurposed. One contains BD Design, the city’s most prestigious design showroom, while the Palo Alto complex houses the studios of big-name designers. It also hosts popular craft and design markets one weekend a month.
Pl Leonardo da Vinci 4–5, Parc del Fórum • 93 256 60 02 • Open 10am–7pm Tue–Sat (to 8pm Sun) • Adm; free first Sun of the month, every Sun after 3pm • www.museuciencies.cat
The main site of the Museu de Ciències Naturals occupies a raised triangular building constructed by Herzog & de Meuron for Barcelona’s Forum 2004 event. This is a great, family-friendly place, with an appealing mix of contemporary exhibits and old-fashioned cabinets full of stuffed animals. The main exhibition is a “biography of the earth”, with interactive audiovisual displays about the origins of the world. There is a special area for the under-7s to learn about science, plus a library and café. The venue also includes Jardí Botànic.
Begin your port passeig (stroll) with a visit to the Museu Marítim, where you can sense Barcelona’s status as one of the most active ports in the Mediterranean. From here, head towards the Monument a Colom and stroll along the Moll de la Fusta to admire the Pailebot Santa Eulàlia, which has been immaculately restored by the museum. Saunter down the Rambla de Mar, an undulating wooden drawbridge that leads to the Maremagnum mega-mall. At the start of the pier, take a boat ride on the Orsom Catamaran (see Accommodation), where you can grab a drink and a snack. Soak up the sunshine and the port skyline while sprawled out on a net just inches above the water. Back on land, stroll down the Moll d’Espanya and turn towards the traditional fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, an atmospheric pocket of narrow streets and timeworn bars. Get a real taste of old-style Barcelona at the boisterous tapas place, El Vaso de Oro (C/Balboa 6). Wedge yourself in at the bar and savour some tasty seafood morsels.
Head to Passeig Joan de Borbó and the beach. Douse yourself in the Med, then siesta in the afternoon sun. Pick yourself up with sangria at the beachside Salamanca xiringuito (at the end of Pg Joan de Borbó), where you can bury your feet in the sand and watch the waves lap the shore as the sun dips below the horizon.
Espigó de Bac de Roda 1, Platja Nova Mar Bella • 93 225 01 00
This restaurant, cocktail lounge and beach club offers drinks, tapas, live music and DJ sessions.
Pg Marítim de la Barceloneta 32
Right by the beach, with a terrace to relax on, this is a restaurant that becomes a club after dinner. Guest DJs feature every week.
C/Ginebra 13 • 93 268 32 65
The television blares and kids race around in this relaxed neighbourhood favourite. Delicious tapas and good wine are on offer.
Ramón Trías Fargas 2–4 • Adm • clubcatwalk.net
One of the hottest clubs in town, this has two floors – one for chilling out, the other for dancing to techno, deep house or mainstream sounds – along with a terrace bar.
Pg Marítim de la Barceloneta 36 • www.shoko.biz
Doubling as a Japanese restaurant during the day, this club by the beach provides all kinds of music in a great setting. Can get very crowded.
Av Litoral 62, Platja de Bogatell • 93 221 07 29
A beach bar right on the sand open for breakfast, tapas, light meals and excellent cocktails made with fresh fruits and premium spirits.
Platja Nova Mar Bella • Open summer only
Head to one of the xiringuitos (beach bars) on Barcelona’s hippest beach and enjoy the DJ sessions.
W Hotel, Pl de la Rosa dels Vents 1 • 93 295 28 00
The spectacular bar on the 26th floor of the W Hotel (commonly known as the Hotel Vela) offers magnificent views of the city. Smart dress code.
Hotel Arts, C/Marina 19–21 • 93 483 80 90 • Open Thu–Mon
A luxurious, summer-only poolside bar at the plush Hotel Arts, the Arola has huge white beds covered with silk cushions, DJ sessions, and a range of perfectly-mixed cocktails.
C/Almogàvers 122 • The Loft: C/Pamplona 88 • Razz Club and Loft: closed Sun–Tue
Concerts, from rock to jazz, feature several nights a week at this trendy club (see Razzmatazz), which has five spaces offering a range of musical styles, including the Razz Club and the Loft.
Pg Isabel II 14 • 93 319 30 33 • €€
Founded in 1836, this legendary city institution serves some of the finest Catalan cuisine in the city, including a variety of paellas.
C/Balboa 16 • 93 310 78 80 • Closed Sat, until 1pm Sun • €
Tuck into tasty tapas from grilled cuttlefish to patates braves at this stylish, modern spot, which also serves more substantial rice and seafood dishes.
C/Reina Cristina 12 • 93 802 55 65 • €€
A spacious restaurant with sleek, minimalist design, Green Spot serves some of the best vegetarian and vegan food in the city.
C/Sant Carles 11 • 93 225 00 10 • Open 1pm–midnight daily • €
This chic restaurant serves a daily changing Catalan menu prepared with fresh ingredients. Relaxed ambience and decor.
C/Maquinista 33 • 93 319 94 45 • Closed Wed • €
This traditional Catalan bar, very popular with locals, offers a wonderful glimpse of life in Barcelona before the tourists arrived. The house speciality is the bombas, deep-fried balls of mashed potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce. Be prepared to wait for a table.
C/Almirall Cervera 34 • 93 221 50 33 • €€
This may feel like a tourist trap at first, but the food is top notch. There are plenty of meat dishes on offer.
Pl de la Barceloneta 4–6 • 93 252 84 49 • €
An old-style, family-run tapas bar that has been serving fresh seafood tapas to locals for decades.
Pl del Mar 1 • 93 221 90 82 • Closed Sun D in winter, Mon • €€
Decorated with fishing nets, Kaiku is known for seafood, especially the arros del xef (chef’s rice).
Pg Joan de Borbó 65 • 93 221 62 33 • Closed Sun D, Mon (except D Apr–Sep), L in Aug • €€
This family-run gem serves excellent arroz de barca (rice in broth, with seafood) and suquet (seafood and potato stew).
Pg de Joan de Borbó 58 • 93 221 21 27 • Closed Tue • €€
This light, bright restaurant near the sea serves modern fare with an emphasis on seafood, including monkfish with wild mushrooms and artichokes, and paella. The weekday set lunch menu is great value.