By Julie Sheridan
If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona, chances are you’re honing a hit list that includes hitting the beach. And to that I say: you’re doing better than I did on my first two trips to the city. The first time I managed to make it here for a long weekend without realising there even was a beach, before bypassing it altogether on a flying visit with work the second time around.
So throughout my last year living here, I’ve been making up for lost time. In fact, the allure of azure seas was one of my main considerations when deciding where in Spain to settle. Madrid has its charms, but the oppressive heat that overwhelms the city every summer made living there a non-starter. Cut to the Catalan capital, though, and the prospect of cooling off in the Mediterranean after work was too good to pass up.
Barcelona gets Botox
But Barcelona’s beaches (there are seven, eight, or nine of them, depending on who you ask), haven’t always been so appealing. Back in the days before the 1992 Olympic Games, the city’s waterfront was a sad legacy of abandoned wharves and ramshackle buildings, which locals made every effort to pretend weren’t there. Getting things ship-shape for a worldwide Olympic audience meant that tonnes of white sand were imported in to landscape the shores, which to this day are a source of civic pride. Most locals – joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, skateboarders, surfers and sun-worshipers are converts.
The sands are manicured morning and night by 200 people in nifty sand-combing machines (for want of a better noun), getting the beach ready to receive all-comers at all hours. Yes, the sands may be ersatz, but I can’t say it’s ever bothered me. In fact, when it comes to facilities, the 4.5km city coastline is remarkably well equipped. In high season, from April to September, it’s decked out with Red Cross lifeguards, showers and public toilets (although these are a bit thin on the ground, it has to be said). There are always plenty of sun loungers for hire or you could just do as the locals do and stake your claim on a beach towel.
Which beach to choose?
Most tourists plump for the beach that’s most accessible from the city itself – Barceloneta. Heady and hedonistic, this is the spot for you if you like the feeling of being corralled into a corner and subjected to endless wails of “massage!” and “beers!” from the wandering vendors. You won’t be bored on Barceloneta beach – then again, you won’t get any peace, either (also, watch your bags here!).
As you get further away from the city centre, heading up towards the Forum area, the beaches become less crowded (and less picturesque). Catch the yellow metro line to Poble Nou and head for the beaches of Bogatell or Mar Bella for a more tranquil experience. On the other side of Gehry’s bronze ‘Fish’ sculpture, you’re still within easy walking distance of the glitzy Port Olympic complex, which is a great spot to enjoy a fresh seafood meal overlooking the marina.
Chipirones and chiringuitos – baby squid and beach bars
As the sun begins to set, Barcelona’s urban beaches take on a totally different atmosphere. A chilled vibe kicks in, and the city’s chiringuitos (open-air beach bars) really come into their own. Groups of friends gather to crack open a beer and sample the standard chiringuito fare, which typically includes tapas, seafood, sandwiches and other snacks. It can be a little on the pricey side, but given that there’s often a resident DJ, tiny tea-lights and the mellow sound of the waves, it’s not a bad way to end an evening or even gear up for the night ahead.
Julie made the move to Barcelona from her native Scotland in Spring 2011, after 10 years living under Scotch mist in Edinburgh. Out of an innate love of making things difficult for herself she deliberately chose a part of Spain where she knew no-one and couldn’t speak the local language. Her blog focuses on the social and cultural differences between Scotland and Spain, Caledonia and Catalonia.Guiri girl in Barca is her site.