Type street art into any search engine and Banksy shows up, then Shepard Fairey and a host of others but there’s one name that is woefully absent.
Granted, his work counts more as architecture but in it’s own context, it really is street art of the highest calibre.
Pretty much everything there is to love about the Mediterranean (and also that which you dont) can be found in Barcelona from the relaxed pace and endless sunshine to the incredibly addictive food and contemporary design culture. It has been compared by many as ‘Venice by the sea’ and no more prominent an example of this cultural embrace is there than Gaudi’s buildings. And they’re everywhere.
By far one of the most important of them is Casa Batlló, an apartment block, dramatically remodelled by Gaudí in the early 1900s and today is mostly open to the public, letting all who enter appreciate his swirling interiors and woodwork including the roof terrace. Tickets can be bought online to avoid the queues.
Casa Milà is another fine example though it’s more commonly referred to as ‘La Pedrera’ (The Quarry). Also open to visitors, there’s nary a straight line to be found here with twisting columns and undulating wrought-iron balconies, it’s like a super-charged Art Nouveau. Within this building is the Espace Gaudí – an exhibition of the architect’s life and work.
There are countless apps, maps and walking tours for the Gaudi buildings, some better than others, it just depends on how much time and energy you have.
Once you have spent the day admiring his buildings there are seven beaches located within the city with which to relax while partaking in one of the many family-run Tapas bars or Michelin-starred restaurants this city is famed for. One such establishment where the breathtaking view alone is worth the bill is Barraca, where the Mediterranean fills the panoramic windows as you dine on your red prawns sautéed with garlic and parsley, or perhaps a bomba; a traditional deep-fried potato croquette filled with savory beef. NOTE: everything starts late in this city so try and adjust your inner timetable. In general lunch is not before 2pm and dinner not before 9pm or so.
Famously, the Barcelonians only ‘discovered’ the beach after the 1992 Olympics, having been fairly neglected for many years but cleaned up for the tourists and now long, lazy days on the platja are an essential part of summer. Do your research though as the beach in the shadow of the W hotel has an unofficial nudist area. Barceloneta is always noisy and crowded while Mar Bella is popular with gays and lesbians, and has an official nudist part. Families tend to like the slightly less busy Nova Icària.
Beaches aside, the 1992 Olympics has also brought worldwide exposure to a wide range of industries in Barcelona, setting off a chain reaction culminating in the recent explosion of fashionable hotels, bold restaurants, and cutting-edge boutiques. This city has a very strong identity, one the Barcelonians are proud and protective of it having been the inspration behind artists such as Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso. But not all the city has been sanitized.
Of course the sun has to set and so I make my way to Barri Gòtic, the hexagon-shaped heart of Barcelona, once protected by a Roman wall. It has quite a challenging labrynthe of narrow streets and alleyways not unlike Venice minus the canals and throughout the summer, open-air cinema is a regular occurance and quickly becoming tradition. The screenings on Montjuïc hill in the shadow of the castle are well established on the outdoor calendar and Cinema Lliure a la Platja (Foreign films are subtitled into Spanish and vice versa)is on the beach, runs until mid August and is free.
Other summer festivities are the Vermuts musicals which are kind of a cabaret where various performers and musicians entertain but it’s not uncommon for the entertainers to take it out onto the street. Gran Bodega Saltó is godfather of vermuts musicals and Poble Sec’s raucous festival runs from 18-26 July if you need another excuse to visit the barrio.
Barcelona, for the most part, is quite walkable and scooters are plentiful, but if you’re planning on using much public transport, invest in a T-10 (pronounced tay-dayoo), which is a pass costing €9.95 allowing 10 journeys,can be shared between two or more people and lasts for a year. Continuing to the grittier part of the city known as the Raval district, just off La Rambla, west of the Barri Gòtic, this colourful hub of the city’s urban culture where there is a wide array of world class (modern) Street Art as you would expect from such a creative city. For the last couple of years it’s been the setting for Ús Barcelona, where a whole street – including parked cars – is transformed by artists over a weekend in May. Food vans, DJs and bands add to the fun. This is also an area where many a pickpocket lurks between the brothels and drag shows so keep your wits about you.
Also right near La Rambla is Moog, a long-time bastion of dance music in the city and is most famous for having been open every single night for 21 years though Barcelona’s biggest (and certainly most diverse) club is Razzmatazz located in an industrial part of El Poublenou. With five separate rooms, it caters for Techno, Pop and Indie with world class acts such as Felix da Housecat, Ben Benassi and St Germain scheduled to play here this year.
Being stuck inside a bass-filled building however isn’t what most people (myself included) come to Barcelona for, it’s for the laid-back and this city does that in style. Rooftop bars are very much a thing with me; it’s one of the first things I check for in any city and the cocktail bar at the top of the waterfront W hotel is sublime. There’s not the strictest of dress codes, though it is still a cocktail bar so sandals of any kind are out.
After a scout around, I can say without question that Barcelona has one of the best rooftop bar scenes I have experienced though with a geography and climate such as this it’s hardly surprising. The terrace at the top of the Grand Hotel Central is a shining example of this and also fairly affordable by rooftop bar standards. It gets pretty busy around 8-9 and access is limited after 8.30 so being early is advised.
Another must is The Pulitzer Terrace at Hotel Pulitzer, an urban oasis. The restaurant is outstanding with acoustic guitar sessions on wednesday nights from 7.30pm. The best venue I found however was La Isabela with a 360-degree view across Barcelona. Located on La Rambla with an outdoor pool it’s all class.
Seeing as I arrived on a weekend, it only seemed logical I should head straight for the wine and song so it’s s only a mere matter of time before I’m back for the museums.
Melanie Hewson is a recruiter from London and is a
lifetime devotee to the weekend getaway