by Carter Harrington
During my time in Barcelona, I have enjoyed spending time in various neighborhoods in the city and experiencing the culture and people in those distinct areas. My favorite neighborhoods, albeit for very different reasons, are Gràcia and Barceloneta.
Gràcia is a true gem in this city and the Catalan spirit that continues to remain strong today among its residents struck me. The Catalan flag flies proudly from windows, while donkey bumper stickers, widely known as Catalunya’s unofficial national symbol, can be found on many cars in Gràcia. Gràcia was actually a separate municipality from Barcelona for hundreds of years before it eventually became incorporated into the city Barcelona in 1897 during Barcelona’s urban expansion. There are currently over 120,000 residents who call Gracia home. It is the smallest neighborhood geographically, but the second-most densely populated in Barcelona.
Gracia does not have any major tourist attractions, which makes it feel very different from other parts of Barcelona. Vintage clothing shops and small world food cafes line the streets; high rises are nearly nonexistent. Gràcia’s residents are primarily young professionals, artists of all varieties, and a growing older population. Gràcia does not feel nearly as touristy as many other parts of Barcelona, which adds to its overall charm. Nightlife is great here with lots of live music performances from rock to jazz to solo artists. Strolling through Gràcia is a great break from the popular tourist areas around Barcelona and a place I always look forward to visiting for its laid back vibe.
At the other end of the spectrum is La Barceloneta, Barcelona’s pride and joy situated on the Mediterranean Sea, La Barceloneta, along with Barcelona’s other beaches compose a vastly different area filled with the non-stop pulsating energy of the city. In the years prior to the 1992 Olympics, La Barceloneta was transformed as public baths, old restaurants called xiringuitos, and warehouses were torn down to make way for a new and expanded beachfront. The Barceloneta currently features a beautiful, sandy beach that eventually joins with stretches of other world-class beaches that extend into different neighborhoods. La Barceloneta is also studded with restaurants, cafés, retail stores, and walking and bike trails that run from one side of the beach to the other.
On a sunny day, there is no better place to be than the Barceloneta. It is a feast for the eyes as all shapes and sizes flock to the beach to gather with friends, lay out, jog, bike, swim, play volleyball, soccer, or just lazily read a book. The beach is laced with casual dining and cocktail spots, many even built out over the sand.
On any given day, free live music concerts play to the public and the vibe is upbeat, happy, and expressive. Some of my favorite ALBA gatherings were at La Barceloneta with a group of students just laughing and enjoying the incredible views of the sea while sprawled out on the sand.
The great thing about this area is that it really doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, the only criterion is if it’s a nice day, locals and tourists will hit the beach in droves. Americans do not embrace this same mentality. The beach is appreciated, but mainly on Saturday or Sunday. You will rarely find crowded beaches midweek in the US. On the other hand, Spaniards hold a true affinity for the beach and can be found there on any given day, soaking up the sun.
I love the sites, smells and feel of this lively and happening area. La Barceloneta is a jewel within the great city of Barcelona and residents are rightfully obsessed with this stretch of a fabulous beach.