Written by CJ Marino


 


Barcelona lies on a plain extending from the mountains to the sea. The municipal area has a population slightly over one and a half million people, and is Spain's second largest city. Barcelona has sometimes been called a northern European city in a southern Mediterranean country. The Barcelonese know how to combine the joy of living with a passion for festivals and traditions. In terms of tolerance, openness, and live-and-let-live attitude, Barcelona is fast surpassing Paris and Amsterdam as a center for gay living and gay culture. Gay rights are fully protected and enshrined in law. This isn't just lip service to gay culture... this is how it should be!

A city of cities, Barcelona is a collection of diverse quarters, each with something different to offer. It's not a surprise really. Barcelona is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and experiences. From the preserved historic gothic quarters and beautiful boulevards, to the urban planning of Eixample and its grid-like layout and courtyard gardens, Barcelona is a city that provides a feast for every sense, something to discover around every corner.

The main gay area is around Eixample (pronounced eshaumplay), or "Gayexample", as it is known locally. This is the heart of the gay scene, although it's not exclusively a gay area. Eixample is a beautiful and relatively modern and trendy district in the centre of Barcelona, with all you could need in the form of bars, clubs and accommodations for both the gay and straight communities. On my last visit to Barcelona, I stayed at Hotel Cram, a ten minute walk from Plaza Catalunya. It features a rooftop pool and Michelin-starred restaurant.

The best place to watch people go by, to stroll, or to simply relax is 'Las Ramblas', a pedestrian street with dozens of outdoor cafes. Here you'll find flower stands, book kiosks and small market stalls where merchants sell birds and small animals. You'll also find an endlessly fascinating stream of jugglers, singers, dancers, puppeteers, sidewalk artists, living statues and assorted oddballs on parade. Nearby is 'Placa Real', with plenty of bars and restaurants, and 'Palau Guell', built by the Catalan architectural genius Antoni Gaudí in his undulating art-nouveau style. Gaudi's works are very distinctive and in a class of their own. His architecture appears within the framework of the modernist period, but the unique character of his creations set Gaudi apart from the rest of his contemporaries.

Through the narrow winding streets of the 'Barrio Gotic', the medieval Gothic quarter, you will find interesting tapas bars and cafes. A place not to be missed is Picasso's old hangout, 'Els Quatre Gats', which has been renovated without losing its bohemian charm. Located on the waterfront, Barceloneta is a working-class area, once slightly rundown and scruffy-looking, now packed with paella restaurants. The new beach area, which runs from Barceloneta to the Olympic village, is much cleaner than the old beach area. Although some believe that it has been cleaned up considerably, it might be a wise idea to stay out of the water. Fortunately, the beach is a feast for the eyes (and ears), with its huge and roaring waves.

A city obsessed with the latest styles and fashions, today's gay Barcelona hot-spot can become tomorrow's after-thought. The battle for the Pink Euro is fiercely fought. The result? You will find some of the most contemporary "fashion-conscious" designer gay bars tucked right next to the oldest traditional tapas bars in Barcelona. Your night out can begin with relaxing in an outdoor cafe with a refreshing Cava before you decide on where to dine. People eat late in Barcelona. (Eating at 10pm is considered early). Afterwards, it's on to one of the many "musical bars" featuring disco music, guest dj's, strippers or drag shows. As the night winds past 3am, it's on to one of the many night clubs and late parties. As Barcelona is home to some of the biggest gay clubs and promoters in Europe, expect plenty of choice in terms of musical style and theme.

Another area that is very popular with the gay community is Sitges, which is just a short train journey away from Barcelona. Sitges is one of the most beautiful towns along the Barcelona coast, and was an artists' colony in the late 19th century. (Sitges is where Miro was born and Dali spent his holidays.) It is no surprise that it has become a very popular gay beach resort, with the gay population accounting for almost 30% of summer tourism. The bars and discos are mostly centred around Calle de San Bonaventura, humorously translated as the street of good adventure!

Accessible by air, rail, road and sea, Barcelona is a "must-see" for travelers. Many cruise lines visit the port. Whether it is a one day visit as a port of call on a cruise, or a destination on its own, Barcelona will definitely make you feel welcome. The wealth of its architectural and artistic heritage attracts over three million visitors each year. Don't let that statistic scare you - the many roads and beautiful squares provide plenty of space for you to enjoy your vacation.