It is perhaps very fitting that my first blog on Barcelona should be about its beaches.
Not three hours after my arrival in Barcelona, I found myself taking a short walk to the shore( 4 minutes from my flat in Poblenou). Within another 2 minutes I was sitting at a “chiringuitos” pronounced chee-ring-geet-toes enjoying my first glass of white wine, the lovely April sun and a breeze off the sea. Life is great in early April on a Barcelona beach!!!
The Beaches in Barcelona, and there are many of them, 9 in all, are magnificent!! On the Mediterranean border they stretch for almost 5 kilometres. Each beach has a name and all have the EU blue flag of excellence for water quality and services. It seems even the National Geographic gave its approval naming Barcelona as the best beach city in the world. I would agree.
Every morning I get up and have a long morning walk along the beaches and then enjoy a cup of coffee in my favourite chiringuito. These small beach bars are dotted along the beaches providing libations as well as lounges to bask in the sun. I can imagine in the height of the summer they would be very full.
When I return in the afternoon for a little sun time, the sailboats, pleasure yachts, windsurfers, swimmers, sunbathers are out. Volleyball courts dot the beaches and impromptu soccer games take place. Entertainment along the boardwalk on weekends.
At Mar Bella the kite surfers come out late afternoon when the wind picks up. It is incredible to see them fly across the sea and perform their tricks. There is no end of people watching available from early morning till late evening.
I understand that millions of people visit the city beaches every year. I expect in the height of the summer season the beaches are incredibly crowded—not my thing. But at this time of year they are really enjoyable. I have read that the city makes a big effort to keep the sand clean and the seawater clear and already I see signs of the cleaning routines that attest to this. Every morning city people are out washing down the boulevards and all day long beach cleaners walk up and down the beach removing trash.
Garbage bins are prominent for all to use. They even have divers in the winter do an annual cleanup of the seabed.
In Spanish the beach is called ‘Playa’, but here in Catalunya they go by ‘Platja”. Mar Bella Platja is the beach I frequent. It has a dedicated nudist beach which I came across one afternoon by accident on one of my strolls along the beach…. But not too many visitors yet at this time of year yet.
I was curious about the beaches and was surprised to discover that up until the 1990s, the seafront had no resemblance to what I am experiencing here. The shores of Barcelona were dotted with factories( textiles here in Poblenou) , fishing ports and even shanty town slums. All this changed with the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The 5 kilometers of beach front, boardwalk, cycling and walking paths, and green space was constructed along with the Port Olympic and Olympic villages. Sculptures, including Frank Gehry’s Peix and modern architecture make the beach walk engaging for full 5 miles. Remarkable!!! Today the Barcelona beachfront remains as an exemplary of Olympic infrastructure spending at its best!! Providing to the city beauty and economic wellbeing.
However, now more than 20 years later, some cracks emerge. Being a popular tourist destination has its downsides. Residents struggle in the height of the season to get to work, do their daily shopping and the number of flats rented ( like mine) to visitors impacts the real estate prices making local housing less affordable for the locals.
The recently elected Barcelona mayor Ms Colau, is talking about setting a limit on the number of annual visitors by freezing hotel construction or tightening up the rental of flats. Looking at pictures of the beach or the pedestrian La Rambla in summer, I can understand her concern. Apparently Barcelona has 1.7 million inhabitants. It sees over 7.5 million tourists a year… that’s quite an imbalance. Apparently the tourist numbers doubled in just 13 years.
The city has already taken some measures.
To ease mobility for residents the popular pickup bike that you find in almost all European cities ( and now even in Toronto in the summer), are generally available to tourists as well as residents. In Barcelona the system operationally supports residential use. Fees are only provided on an annual (47 euros) basis, no shorter term fares available and one needs a Spanish credit or bank card and a local address to sign up for the system. The system has in fact been put in place to work alongside the local bus and metro system to enable people to get to work in the busy tourist season. I guess if there are 4 tourist to every local, weighting in favour of locals makes some sense.
In the height of the season large tour groups are barred from the famous La Boqueria market enabling local residents to shop for their daily food…. Getting your meat or fish and veg and fruit on a daily basis is still common here. Within the first week I have adopted this pattern.. shopping for my fresh fish, bread fruits every day… its great!!
When we visited Park Guell you have to book on line for a ticket and are assigned a time to enter. I was quite happy that visitors were restricted to 400 per hour and understand the requirement for a fee. I don’t think I would have enjoyed my ramble through Gaudi’s park if there were no restrictions on the numbers in the park.
Bottom Line April is a great time to visit Barcelona beaches.. sunny, warm, not too crowded and clean