When travelers think of hitting Europe's beaches, images of quiet coastal towns and revered beach resorts normally come to mind. Wouldn't it be great to have the beach option coupled with the culture and sightseeing that a big European city has to offer? Visitors to Barcelona can have their urban sightseeing and big-city fun, with a little beach time thrown in on the side. And after a day of traipsing around town to take in the best of the city, what better way to unwind than on the beach?
Here you'll find is a wide stretch of coarse sand packed with hip 20-somethings and teens strutting along the beach in the tiniest bikinis. You can also expect to find clean sand and clean water (tested daily). In Barcelona, the most popular urban beach is Platja Barcelona at Vila Olimpica, the home of the 1992 Olympics. Another nearby beach is Platja de Sant Sebastian. Both beach areas have lifeguards to watch over swimmers, areas for the kids to play and showers where you can clean up before heading to a nearby restaurant for some tapas. A trip to Platja de la Mar Bella might get you more than you hoped for: this is the city's nude beach. Even while relaxing on the beach, it's important to keep in mind that you're in the city and not at a small beach town -- be mindful of your personal belongings and don't leave your stuff unattended.
If you're looking for a quick escape from the city's more hectic pace, these beaches should do the job. If you're looking to get farther away, hop on the train and head out of the city to try some of the other beaches along the coast. The most popular coastal town nearby is Sitges, which is just 30 minutes south of the city. A bohemian, artsy beach town, Sitges is a favorite getaway with the young, partying crowd. The welcoming atmosphere welcomes the gay community and the let-loose vibe is reflected on this town's nude beaches, making this hot spot not the greatest for visiting families.
Nearest Major International Airport: Barcelona's airport, El Prat de Llobregat, is about 7 miles outside the city. From there, visitors can grab a cab into the center of town or hop on a train to Barcelona's Estacion Central de Barcelona-Sants. Direct flights from North America are hard to come by, and a layover in Madrid is common.
Ground Transportation: The city's metro service is clean, efficient, fast and, most importantly, it can get you just about anywhere you want to go in the city. Trains run until 11 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. on the weekends. Other transportation options include the city's bus system, private taxis and even a funicular, a sky-ride option that gives a great panoramic view of the city below (with limited seasonal hours).
Barcelona summers can be hot and humid, the temperatures hovering around 81 degrees F, making this a perfect time for the beach but maybe not the best time to be wandering around the city. The spring and fall are milder, but not ideal sunbathing weather.
Hotels by the water tend to be pricey, as you're paying for direct access to the beach and harbor -- an amenity most of the city's hotels cannot offer. The snazzy Hotel Arts Barcelona in the Olympic Village is just 100 yards from the beach, and rooms offer a choice of sweeping views of the ocean or the city. This hotel is run by the Ritz Carlton, so travelers can expect the best in luxury and some of the highest prices in the city. Just 5 minutes from the beach is the lower-priced Marina Folch in the Barceloneta neighborhood ("Little Barcelona").
The Olympic Port is packed with crowded restaurants where big pitchers of sangria and big plates of food are easy to find at any price. One of the most unique restaurants in the port is Talaia Mar, where the chef serves Catalan cuisine and some of his own inspired concoctions, like bacon ice cream. Can Costa, in Barceloneta, is one of the oldest seafood restaurants in the city and has a great view of the water and even better paella. Why eat near the beach when you can eat right on it? Budget travelers can pick up picnic fixings -- a fresh loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and some smoked sausage or ham -- and enjoy a casual meal outside.
In most European towns and cities, it seems like everyone takes a holiday in August. This means that the touristy spots are more crowded than usual.
While You're There
Get off the beach and get some culture. Many of the best things to do in Barcelona still involve being outside. Spend a morning taking in the works of Barcelona's favorite architect, Antonio Gaudi. His fantastical designs can best be enjoyed at Parc Guell. Walk through the crooked streets of the Gothic Quarter, or stroll along Les Rambles and take in the shops, sights and street performers. Finally, end the day like the natives do -- with lots of food, even more wine and some dancing at the clubs.
To Fake That You've Been There
Invite some friends over for paella and brag about your lack of tan lines from Barcelona's beaches.
Linking for a Better Vacation
For more information, visit Turisme de Barcelona.