Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Visited July 2014

It's generally considered that metropolitan Barcelona is bordered by the Mediterranean, the 2 rivers north and south and the range of hills on which Tibidabo (please excuse spelling on map,but it is very time consuming to change) is most visible from the city. The airport is a relatively short distance to the south of the metropolitan area. I forgot to add a scale - it is 8km from the Tibidabo place marker to the Beaches place marker - metro Barcelona is compact. North of course is straight up. It is 120km in a north-east direction to the south-west Mediterranean French border.

Some places mentioned on this page.

 As said elsewhere, Barcelona claims to have the best big city beaches in the world and as a Beaches blogger I had to check this out.


Barcelona has 9 beaches over a 5km stretch from Sant Sebastia in the south to Llevant. Banys Forum further north is an enclosed swimming area with no sand but lots of other attractions. Note these beaches did not exist in their present form before the '92 Olympics - they were created to increase the attraction of the city. I've experienced Sydney post-Olympics: not too many initiatives have given a major long term benefit. But these beaches have for Barcelona, being heavily used by locals and tourists alike. The most accessible to visitors are the first 4 from the south, but very good bus and metro transport means any beach is no great stretch. Forget about the bus and metro - a good walkway runs in back of the beaches with plenty of restaurant/bars, workout areas and rest stops and its an entertaining stroll to do the stretch. This is people-watching paradise - bikini babes, hunks, jocks, naked people, fashionistas, joggers. in-line skaters, skate boarders, surfer dudes, volleyballers, basketballers, fitness freaks, beach-footballers, beach-tennis players, lovers, street entertainers, hippys/new-agers,/freaks and normal families.
I've added Placa Catalunya to the Goolgle Earth image because it is tourist central.
Lower image from Barcelona Yellow which is a pretty good general resource.

For some reason I only took one pic of Barcelona's beaches, so I pinched the lower one from Barcelona Yellow. Both give a good idea of the beach scene. Behind the people showering in the top picture is one of the Chiringuitos - beach bar/restaurants. Each beach features one or two of these and they are very popular. Naturally you will pay a premium, but prices are not over the top. I seem to remember 2.2 euros for a healthy glass of wine. 
Each beach has at least 2 fresh water showers - outsiders soon get used to semi-naked (or in the case of Mar Bella, completely naked) people splashing about under the spray. All beaches come with one or two lifeguard towers, access for the disabled, change/toilet blocks, water safety/quality posters and one or two have extras like workout equipment (how I miss the chin-up bars from my local beach when travelling), skating ramps, beach volleyball areas, wind surfing sections, equipment hire etc. 
All is not perfect - the "golden" sand is in fact yellow-brown, it is coarse grained (I personally don't mind this - much easier to clean feet after the beach), the water is not particularly clear and the surf in summer is crap, restricted mostly to wimpy shore breaks (winter storms probably bring good surf). A good point (probably) is that for some reason tidal range is tiny - seems to be a half-meter at the most. I liked the fact that the walkway behind the beach was patrolled by frequent police and the occasional first aid van.

This is Barcelona's official nude beach. It is the third beach north of the Olympic marina which kind of divides the beach strip into two parts. Mar Bella is easily reached by metro from Poblemou station about 2 blocks inland on the L4 line and by using the H16 bus which serves all the beaches every 12 minutes.
The nudists mainly stick to the area in front of the dunes but such was the crowd when I called by that they extended past this region which represents about one third of the total beach area. Note like all Spanish nude areas "textiles" are welcome - although there were fewer here than most other clothing optional beaches I visited. Mar Bella has the life guard tower, showers, beach bar/restaurant etc I've outlined higher on the page.
Barcelona Yellow's pic above is a bit misleading in that when I visited weekend days in high summer (July) the beach was absolutely packed. This was somewhat disconcerting to me because although I'm a longtime naturist and have visited many clothing optional beaches, my usual location back home is a 12km strip of country-area sand where the nearest people (maybe nude/maybe not) are usually at least 300m away. BTW the mixture of locals to tourists at Mar Bella seemed to be 80/20 - by the white patches on display quite a few travelers seemed to be keen to sample some all-bare sunbathing for the first time. Good for them.

So does Barcelona have the best big-city beaches in the world?
Depends. If you judge it on sand quality, water clarity and surf, Sydney for one kills it. I've never been to Rio, Perth, Durban or Cape Town but I have an idea they would trump it too. So possibly would quite a few others. But if based on facilities, ease of access and closeness to tourist and residential areas the claim is probably quite justified.

OTHER BEACHES. Note Barcelonans and visitors have a host of further beach choices. The coast for 50km or more both sides of Barcelona is a continuous string of beaches. Natural beaches and nice ones with good access out of Barcelona - train lines run along them. Plus 60-70km north gets you into the sheltered coves of the breathtaking Costa Brava.
Codolar beach, Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava

It's not my aim to do a travel guide to Barcelona - plenty of websites and books do this well. Instead I'll make a few observations and outline a few of the places I went.
Pluses: a compact city with excellent, frequent inexpensive transport. The T10 multi-transport ticket is great. Bicycle friendly if that's your thing. I am not a frequent big city visitor but it seems to me that there are more inexpensive tourist accommodation offerings than at most western touristy big cities. Not that the place is lacking in high end joints. I liked the abundance of street restaurant/bars with inexpensive food and drinks and usually the chance to sit at a pavement table for a slight premium. In my Australian state stupid liquor licensing laws sees a shortage of these type of places. Barcelona is tourist friendly with good signage and other services plus a wide range of attractions in a compact area (you could easily walk to most) and some very appealing destinations in the nearby hinterland. The locals are friendly. They seem careful drivers and are super attentive at pedestrian crossings.
The downside: Barcelona has been rated scam central in tourist surveys. One guy tried the bird-crap/pickpocket routine on me. Alerted by Wikitravel's excellent advice (see STAY SAFE at the end of this page) I told him to get lost. Unfortunately Wiki did not mention the short-change routine, probably because anyone with half a brain would not fall for this. On my first day a railways ticket seller took advantage of my unfamiliarity with fares and the currency to pull the slow change trick on me: handing out coins, with-holding notes until I gave him the look, and still with-holding one so I walked away short 5 euros. You may scoff at a 5 euro loss but I'm income low - there had to be a reason I stayed in a tent and several backpacker joints during my Spain visit. Anyway, I believe in karma - one day the sky will fall in on this spiv and he'll probably moan: WHY ME?. 
On the plus side acts of violence in Barcelona are reportedly rare (why am I thinking of violence right now?) and I must say I did not see one fight (try doing that for just an hour in central Sydney on a weekend night) or feel intimidated in the early hours in lonely areas.
My other criticism is that the metro underground tunnels and platforms were extremely hot - near 40 celsius by the feel. Plus there are too many steps without escalators which make lugging heavy bags around in the heat a hassle (I think if you walk a million miles you will usually find an elevator, so all is not lost for disabled people).

With limited time I figured one of the best ways of seeing the many attractions was by using the Bus Turistic. Frequent departures, multi-language audio commentary and 3 different routes make this hop-on hop-off service user friendly. If you purchase more than one route you can spread them over 2 consecutive days which is what I did. If you can only afford or have time for one route, check the online info to see what appeals - my feeling is the blue route is most attractive although if you visit the Sagrada Familia independently (which is dead easy - it is not a long walk from Placa Catalunya and there are closer metro stations) the red route may be better value.
A word of advice: before boarding ask if there are any changes to the route. My red route tour without warning completely skipped the Montjuic area which I considered the most interesting part of the trip. This was because a Harley Davidson convention that morning blocked the bus' usual access to the mountain. So we fanged down Parallel avenue and sat around on a bus stop at the port with our fingers up our dates for 20 minutes "to maintain schedule". When I asked why they didn't access the mountain by the many other routes they claimed they were too narrow for the bus. What a load of toss - I was staying in the access area and the roads were plenty wide enough with big trucks and tourist buses constantly passing thru. But it may have taken a few minutes more and Bus Turistic didn't want to upset their schedule (not that the schedules don't get off - you often seen 2 buses running nose to tail instead of at the 4 or so minutes interval).
Fortunately I had wandered around Montjuic a few days before and so have some info lower on the page. But I deliberately missed some sections because I knew the Bus Turistic did them.

I'm not a big fan of architecture and found Bus Turistic's overemphasis on the modernista buildings along the route slightly boring. But there is nothing boring about Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece above - it's gobsmacking. You pass by here fairly early on Bus Turistic's blue route and following advice I stayed on the bus, did the full route and then hopped off next circuit at whatever grabbed my interest. This certainly did - I spent a pleasant half hour+ going around all 4 sides. The biggest trick in the crowded area (this joint is stuck in the middle of a suburban region) is getting far enough away to get the whole structure in - and my camera has a reasonable wide angle lens.

I didn't go inside. Check the line of people. It is about 1000 (10am), reasonably early, yet this line went down the side of the block and around the corner - at least 300m. I hate queues. Now a whole bunch of online travel operators offer SKIP THE LINE Sagrada visits. But I'm a tight-wad. I didn't fancy paying a premium over the people in line's E17 to see the interior. A nice Brit lady on the bus to Tossa scolded me - she said the interior was way more mind blowing than the exterior and made the impressive interior of the Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter (see below) seem third rate. All the same - E17 or more buys a lot of beer.
And "SKIP THE LINE" seems cheating from my Aussie egalitarian point of view.

This is a pretty impressive area, partly because it is the only high area close to central Barcelona and partly because it contains many of the structures used in the '92 Olympics plus lotsa parks and gardens, older historical buildings and some key museums/galleries.

The harbour cable car arrival point is not the highest spot on Montjuic but has a pretty good outlook, The middle tower is near the World Trade Center at Port Vell and the starting point is a tower hidden behind (but easily seen in the shot below), near the beach at Barceloneta. I didn't ride on account I'd read of huge queues. There is another shorter cable car further up the mountain. You can also access the high area by tramway, city-bus, Bus Turistic (usually) and a funicular. I walked up which is good exercise. 
btw the beach strip starts backgroound shortly to right of frame and extends well past left of frame in the shot above and well past the distant high building in the shot below..

The castle/fort is at the highest point, is huge and impressive. But there was an admission fee which this tightwad didn't want to pay. In background is the port area which extends several km towards the airport.

The exterior of the Olympic stadium. Looks older than a 90's structure on account it was built for the games in the 30's which were transferred because of the Spanish Civil War. Interior was all new in the 90s. Many other Olympic facilities nearby.

There are some grand old buildings on Montjuic. This is the Museu National d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) which is one of several galleries and museums in the area. 

The outlook north from MNAC is pretty impressive. You are looking down the avenue de la Reina Maria Cristina towards Pl Espanya which is a second tourist/transport focus after Pl Catalunya. 
The high point in the backgroundnd is Tibidabo which is considered the inland extent of Barcelona. It is less than 9km from the coast - as I said, Barcelona is a pretty compact city (although the conurbated towns stretching up and down the coast make it appear a hell of a lot bigger from the air and increase Barcelona's city population of 1.5m to over 5m).

Just about all metropolitan Barcelona can be seen on the above pic. Montjuic is far left background. Note my elcheapo Olympus doesn't stitch these panoramic shots together all that well, but you can get a fair idea. Panoramic shots usually click-expand nicely.

There are a church, communications tower and an amusement park on top of this 512m mountain. The area is popular on weekends. You can drive and bicycle right up but public transport is pretty good - the L7 train from Pl Catalunya, followed by either the historic blue tram or an adjacent city bus, both of which take you half way up the mountain thru some pretty swish housing areas and drop you at the funicular for the final half. I felt like a trek and so walked the final stage - stroll up the road for 10 minutes to a car parking clearing on the left. Take the dirt track from here. If you stick to this track you can go 30km north-west so take the first uphill branch. After a half-hour or so this reaches the road again (you have short-cut a considerable distance) and it's another 15min to the top. There are no heartbreaking slopes although it is a good workout. You will see other trekkers and a few mountain bikers. Plus road bikers on the tarmac sections - a good workout for the keen rider.

Looks like fun.

Barcelona's walking boulevard starts at the Columbus monument adjacent Port Vell and runs north-west for about 1200m to Pl Catalunya. It is the place take a stroll from early evening until late - half the tourists in town and a lot of locals tend to be out and about. People watching is great: all those types I mentioned when describing the beaches' walkway can be seen with the exception of bikini babes and naked people. Fashionistas and street entertainers are present in greater numbers. No shortage of trendy places to eat and shop along the way. Take care - La Rambla is ground zero for pickpockets and scammers (image Barcelona Turisme)

Barcelona's old quarter of narrow lanes, oldest buildings etc is adjacent La Rambla on the north-east.

This is an area of narrow pedestrian lanes (um, this image seems stretched - dunno how that happened)....

.....A few slightly wider roads although no-one tried to get a vehicle thru here when I passed by at abt 2000 one week evening. The Gothic Quarter is a tourist magnet with lots of trendy shops, restaurants, bars, accommodation. It is a desirable place for locals to live: Sophie, one of the delightful staff at Parallel One Backpackers' was excited she was moving to a new flat here.

The old quarter also has a few open spaces. This is the area in front of the cathedral. 5 minutes stroll south is a similar square lined with restaurants and bars.

Barcelona Cathedral is no Sagradia but to me is a pretty impressively arranged heap of stone and glass. And the thing has been finished for over 600 years.

The interior doesn't hurt the eyes either. A top point for meanies like me - entry is free.

I had 5 days in Barcelona coming into Spain and 4 going out. I spent both periods in the Sants-Montjuic area, the region just to the city side of Monjuic, partly because its narrow streets have a host of inexpensive accommodation and bar/restaurants and because it is relatively close to most things. A few minutes walk got me to 2 metro stations or onto Monjuic mountain; the closest part of La Rambla was a little over 10 minutes; the big station at Pl Espanya was about 15 minutes; so too was the nearest beach (Barceloneta) and Pl Espanya was about 20 mins. Frequent citybuses run up and down Parallel av, its northern border.
Coming in I stayed at Pension Piero aka Atlas Hostal (a hostal is not a hostel - but equivalent to a pension) a very quiet clean good value place 2 minutes from Parallel metro station; going out at Hostel One Parallel, a backpacker joint which has won several awards including Europe's best backpacker a few years ago and World's most social backpacker this year. I can attest it deserves such awards, largely due to the hard work of host Angel and his fabulous staff. Only complaint was that facilities for hand washing clothes were poor, something common in big city backpackers.

There are so many, I won't try to list them - take a look at a trip-provider like viator.

I took one trip with Viator, to the Pyrenees. 

With public transport being so effective I self-catered for 3 other day trips....

- to fabulous Montserrat (image Only-   PAGE DONE

-to the beach areas of Stitges.......

....and L'hospitalet de L'Infant



No comments: