Barcelona Gay Guide
After Franco popped his zapatos back in 1975 a radical change took place in Spain. Right-wing Catholic conservatism was abandoned as Spain ushered in a new democracy and embraced liberal values with glee abandon. Starting in Madrid, but with echoes in Barcelona, Bilbao and Viga, a great movement took place in art and culture - La Movida - which was characterised by freedom of expression, the breaking of taboos imposed by the Franco Regime, use of recreational drugs and gay love.
To this day, along with Madrid, Barcelona remains one of the most liberal and gay-friendly cities anywhere in the world with many Spaniards relocating from the some of the more conservative areas of the country to live their life here to the fullest. It's very common to see gay couples holding hands and kissing openly in streets and bars without even a hint of approbation from the cosmopolitan locals. Thanks to the city's sensational architecture, cultural attractions, gay nightlife scene, beautiful people and nudist beaches, Barcelona has become a Mecca for gay tourists, comparable to the likes of Berlin, Sydney and San Francisco. And although the gay scene is more geared towards the boys, there are plenty of lesbian bars and clubs, not to mention hot homosexual girls, for everyone to have themselves a sizzling summer holiday.
Above: Letting it all hang out at Mar Bella beach
The heart of Barcelona's gay scene lies in the small corner of the vast sprawling Eixample district (which was thrown up in the 19th century when the city outgrew its medieval walls and expanded exponentially in a grid pattern reminiscent of New York). The blocks around Casanova street, above the Gran Via boulevard, are full of fantastic gay hang outs, stylish restaurants, trendy boutiques, sex shops, nightclubs and even the odd gay sauna. No wonder this little enclave has been dubbed by locals as "Gay-xample" (or "Gaixample" for the correct Catalan spelling). And, whereas you'll find a disproportionally high percentage of pretty boys in tight trousers, with finely-chiselled facial hair, out walking their twin Chihuahuas, in this particular zone of Barcelona, in fact the city is liberal enough that you never need feel penned to 'the gay district'. You can meet gays and lesbians at almost every cultural event, festival, party and club in the city and plenty of hip establishments are run by gay and gay-friendly folk all over town.
Of course it's also well worth pointing out that, just down the road from Barcelona, is Spain's premier gay beach resort, Sitges. This beautiful seaside town bustles with life all summer long, whilst in winter shiny happy people descend en masse for its world-famous carnival celebrations. Fancy dress is an absolute must, no matter how cold it is outside!
After all that preamble, time to get to the nitty gritty. Here are some recommendations for how to make the most of your time in Barcelona...
Gay Accommodation in Barcelona
Axel Hotels are the world's first gay hotel chain (they are not exclusively gay, rather wittily dubbing themselves 'hetero-friendly'), and the Barcelona Axel Hotel certainly warrants attention. Rooftop terrace with swimming pool and bar, wellness centre and great location on the edge of Gayxample make for a good package. Meanwhile Hotel Cram and Casanova Hotel are both stylish digs well-located in the gay district with a reputation of being very gay-friendly. More centrally there's always plenty of room at the Hotel California, which is such a lovely place located right in the heart of the Gothic Quarter. Obviously apartments offer you a greater degree of privacy and Barcelona being Barcelona you needn't worry about raised eyebrows from any of the apartment agencies in Barcelona we recommend.
Gay Tourism in Barcelona
By day gay tourists are naturally wont to do much the same as any other self-respecting tourists in Barcelona! Ie. visit La Sagrada Familia, stroll down the Passeig de Gracia for more Gaudi and high-end shopping, and leisurely meander the medieval streets of El Gotic and El Born districts. (Check out our Barcelona sightseeing guide for more suggestions!). Beaches-wise and the gay and lesbian crowd tend to prefer the more secluded Mar Bella and Nova Mar Bella to the boisterous Barceloneta, and here you'll find plenty of sexy (and not so sexy) nudists and even the odd gay chiringuito (ie. beach bar) for a post-tanning mojito or three. The rather obviously named Chiringuito BeGay being one of them!
Gay Nightlife in Barcelona
There are plenty of hip bars in and around Gayxample for starting the night, such as the popular Dietrich bar (C/Consell de Cent 255) or the chilled Ambiente del Sur (with free tapas and a neighbourhood vibe!). Meanwhile the excellent 7Sins, near Plac Universitat, has a mixed crowd and staff, killer cocktails (named after each of the deadly misdeeds) and tasty cuisine. With a dancefloor downstairs it's the perfect inbetween venue if you're on your way to an all night disco. Venture out of Gayxample and into El Raval, and you'll find the legendary El Cangrejo, where regular drag acts add to all round raucous party atmosphere. Some of the more famous gay clubs include Metro, a men-only disco with house music, posing contests and a dark room, whilst the fabulous Arena group boast a total of five venues, which include cafe bar Punto and three disco "salas", all closely located where you find raucous parties almost every night of the week... including foam parties, strip teases and other special events. One of Arena's five venues is Aire which is Barcelona's biggest lesbian venue, which is open Thursday to Saturday (although only 2:30am) and features classic hits with a touch of latin music. Boys are allowed, but only if accompanied by someone with XX chromosomes.
There are plenty of useful resources online for gay and lesbian tourists coming to Barcelona, such as Gaybarcelona.com and GayBarcelona4u.com, whilst Spanish speakers might want to check out Gaybarcelona.net. For a overview of the city by one of the world's most famous gay travel bloggers, check out this Hipster City Guide by Travels of Adam which, as you might expect, has a sizeable LGBT section amongst other tips.
For sexual health matters you can call in on BCN Checkpoint for confidential advice.