(Photo by Jamie Clifton)
Look, Barcelona is wicked. We know, we built it. It’s got Gaudi, Messi, the Mediterranean and parties that go on all night, every night. We’ve basically built the perfect tourist honey-trap, but now we have to deal with the fact that they’ve turned up in coaches and trains and cruise ships and on skateboards and are clogging up our city’s arteries and making us xenophobic.
While we try to figure out how not to hate the rest of the world for ruining our paradise, here's how to avoid the crowds and offend as few people as possible as you leech off of Barcelona.
Jump to sections by using the index below:
– WHERE TO PARTY
– WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
– POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Catalan Independence | Street Rage
– WHERE TO EAT
– WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
– WHERE TO DRINK
– WHERE TO STAY
– LGBT BARCELONA
– WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
– HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
– HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
– PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
– TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
– A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
– VICE CITY MAP
(All photos by Alejandra Núñez unless otherwise stated)
WHERE TO PARTY
Fifteen years ago, Barcelona was synonymous with dreadlocks, Manu Chao and stupidly cheap Moroccan hash. A lot has changed since then but going out in Barcelona is still a fundamentally hippy experience. As much as the city is trying to re-brand itself as "Miami on the Med", you’re still more likely to end your night sharing a street beer in a doorway that stinks of piss than on a yacht under the stars. This is not an entirely bad thing though, as 95 percent of Barcelona was built by Gaudi and yachts are for pricks.
Spain has more public holidays than anywhere else in the universe, and Barcelona makes the most of them by throwing street parties constantly. Each barrio has its own celebration, and there’s always cheap beer, mojitos that come in litre glasses and free live music, which isn’t always as terrible as those three words together would suggest. The best of these takes place over an entire week at the arse end of August in Gracía. People decorate the streets and put on communal barbecues to lure in the kids and nans, then unleash the local crust punks and industrial noise artists on them. It's fucking great and one of the best stages is run by the guys behind Heliogabal, a bar that regularly puts on tiny, amazing gigs – it's the spiritual home of the best music Barcelona has produced in recent years, such as Za!, El Guincho and Mujeres.
In the unlikely event that you visit the city and there are no Saints to commemorate, public fireworks displays or amazing music festivals going on (you already know about Primavera Sound and Sónar, they're great, get tickets), there are actual nightclubs, too. Apolo and Razzmatazz draw decent international DJs and live acts every weekend. The crowd can be a bit tourist heavy though, especially midweek. Catalans like to party, but unlike their Spanish cousins, they also work.
Bar-wise, the go-to area is still Raval and Joaquin Costa is where everyone in Barcelona starts their night. Its proximity to the MACBA – the contemporary art museum in all those skate videos that made you want to come here in the first place – means that there’s a random mix of 17-year-old skaters dropping acid for the first time and art historians rolling up and down the strip from 10PM onwards. Despite having been open for a decade, Betty Ford's is still the street's best place to drink. Further down towards Paral-lel is Olimpia, a bar on the site of an old circus that’s tucked away from the Benidorm-style architectural nightmare of the main drag, and serves as a last-minute pitstop before Apolo.
Talking of architecture, everyone in Barcelona lives in apartments, apartment blocks have roofs, and roofs are perfect for parties. These are basically the city’s backstage area, and like backstages everywhere they’re a bitch to get into and not always as fun as you’d expect. When they’re done right though it’s like the party scene in that Sorrentino movie but without the bad dancing. You should also follow backstage etiquette: try not to gurn too hard, keep your voice down and don’t throw up.
When the sun comes up you have exactly 45 minutes before it’s too hot to think, so you'll want to head to an “after”. These are places that open at dawn and don’t close until the sun is higher than you are. If you’re by Apolo, the bar opposite, El Rincon Del Artista, will let you in if you knock on the shutter and are still capable of speech. It’s popular with clubbers, but also off-duty cops, so it’s best to be subtle if you’re doing anything that would make your father ashamed.
At present, the Puerto Hurraco squat is the place to go for decent Sunday morning house sessions, but afters tend to start up and shut down quickly, so check it out beforehand unless you want to be wandering around deserted warehouse-lined streets for an eternity with no water and fewer functioning brain cells.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH DRUGS?
Barcelona’s cannabis associations have earned the city a reputation as the new Amsterdam. The pot cafes that do exist here exploit a legal-loophole by registering themselves as "private clubs", but in reality pretty much anyone can join them. A cannabis club can legally grow its own marijuana and members contribute towards cultivation expenses, which are usually around €20 or €30 a month.
A huge number of these clubs have opened in Barcelona in the last few months, with 200 of the 500 clubs in Spain located in the city. Anyone wanting to join one will need to find a member to vouch for them, but the people working the counter will nearly always be happy to do so. In theory, any weed bought in the club should be smoked on the premises, but nobody’s going to barricade the door if customers want to take some back to their respective hovels. In fact, carrying less than two ounces is not a criminal offence, though smoking up in public is punishable with a fine.
Tourists are likeliest to be offered other drugs – cocaine, ecstasy, acid – by street dealers or beer vendors near clubs, but as with most cities, many people out late on the street trying to sell stuff are basically scumbags with shit gear. Anyone who tries some of the region's famous blue ecstasy should be careful and prepare for something very intense, and then prepare for night terrors, crushing paranoia, sleep paralysis and that old favourite: waking up screaming in a puddle of piss and sweat.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Barcelona may have been part of Spain for centuries, but the locals still think of it as the capital of the old Kingdom of Aragon and Catalonia. This has led to an ongoing independence movement that is seeking to make Catalonia an independent state by booing Real Madrid and graffing as many walls as possible.
The economic recession and the government policies of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and previously José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, made even more Catalans despise Spanish rule. They don’t feel like their voice is represented in the capital, and they believe central government decisions usually go against their interests.
This could be an important year for those seeking independence. On the 11th of September it will be the 300th anniversary of the defeat that saw Catalonia surrender power to Madrid. In a ballsy move at the end of 2013, the Government of Catalonia declared that their would be a referendum on independence on the 9th of November this year, which will ask: "Do you want Catalonia to become a state?" and "In case of an affirmative response, do you want this state to be independent?" Because they’re hilarious, they didn’t bother to tell the central government about any of this, a decision which has left the suits in Madrid whatever the Spanish word for "narked" is.
Barcelona’s independence movement has some strong ties to the squat scene, which is still very much A Thing in the city. However, after years of operation, some squats have recently been shut down by the police.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND JUST HOW RACIST IS EVERYONE HERE?
Since the beginning of the economic crisis Barcelona has been kicking the shit out of itself. These days, it’s become pretty easy to spark a riot that leaves the whole neighbourhood in flames and everyone in hospital or prison. Every time there’s a political summit, a visit from the Prime Minister, a referendum, the closure of a squat or Barcelona win a football match, we all get together and try to overthrow the government by burning things.
This happens so frequently now that the media have taken to blaming shadowy "professional protesters", who it’s said come from all over the world to hooliganise us. Meanwhile, the Catalan Police have used the violent disturbances to demand better funding, so while the rest of the community has suffered cuts to health or unemployment benefits, the police have spent thousands of Euros on tear gas and rubber bullets.
If you’re in Barcelona and you find yourself in the midst of one of these protests, you’re probably best off getting out of the way and going home for a sleep. Or at least standing at the back. The police can be brutal, and probably won’t be checking passports before they fillet you with their horrible bouncing rubber bullets that can go round corners.
Immigration in Spain is pretty new, as a few years ago nobody in their right mind would come here to work. Back in the 60s and 70s, Spaniards were actually leaving themselves to seek work abroad. Nowadays, just like everywhere else in Europe, immigrants play a vital role in society and without them the country would simply collapse.
In Barcelona, immigrants mostly come from China, North Africa, India, Pakistan and Latin America. The government doesn’t make it easy for them, though. It’s common for them to have to wait hours, or even days, to get through various essential administrative procedures, such as requesting an ID card, and getting citizenship is a nightmare unless you’re called Diego Costa.
Fortunately, far-right and racist parties in Spain are not as strong as they are in other parts of Europe, but there is a sort of glass ceiling that immigrants find hard to break, leaving them stuck, for the most part, in low-income jobs.
(Photo by Jamie Clifton)
WHERE TO EAT
This is the place to find traditional food at a good price. Classic local dishes like grilled sole, artichokes coated in batter and roasted chicken are all done well and served at decent rates. You can expect to pay around €12 per person. The same waiters have been there since it opened, which means it’s either a great place to work or a terrifying place to quit.
Home to probably the best veggie burger in Barcelona, Cat Bar is the place to go for vegan food, local beer and good music. Unlike that stupid place in London, though, it doesn’t have any cats in it. (Which frankly is good because they can give you something gross called toxoplasmosis and they’ve all got an attitude problem.) Fuck cats; long live Cat Bar. LINK
Bacoa & El Kiosko
Burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers, burgers. Generation burger. Fucking burgers. Everywhere, burgers. That said, these are kind of the best burgers in the world, so you should go there, eat a milk-fed lamb one with a homemade bun and ketchup and then never eat a burger ever, ever, ever again. LINK
So you say your city lives in the middle of a series of motorways and beneath a flight path? That's good. We’re by the sea. The ocean. And all we do is sit around with our hot friends eating seafood, mostly at Jaica. Located next to the harbour, it’s where the healthier, happier, more tanned versions of you meet every weekend for vermut (Spanish brunch) of fried seafood and tapas. Go with a big group, and expect to spend around €20 each, roughly the same as a nice scarf, which we will never, ever need.
Who even knew what Venetian food was until this place opened? Now, it’s a favourite. Genuine Venetian waiters know exactly what to recommend, but you’ll pay €50 for the first-class food. Still, it’s kind of worth it, especially if you've come to the end of your week-long piss-up in our city and fancy leaving your spare Euros behind so we can keep our hospitals open.
(Photo by Lizzy King)
WHAT DO LOCALS EAT?
Bread with a Tomato
You want the Mediterranean diet? This is the Mediterranean diet.
Butifarra con Mongetas
Catalonia’s favourite sausage is the butifarra. It’s made with pork and spices, and while most people take the conventional route and eat it in a baguette, if you really want to eat like a local order it with white beans, which are called “mongetes” in Catalan. Sausages and beans, you can stretch to that I reckon, it's not like we're asking you to eat dog dick.
All Saints Day on the 1st of November is a big day in Spanish culture, a national holiday that involves doing the rap bit out of "Never Ever" and eating these things called panellets. If you’re in Barcelona in October or November, hit one of the city’s bakeries to try this pastry with sugar, almonds, egg and lemon zest. Like everything else on Earth, you can also get it with chocolate.
A calçot is a very glamorous vegetable that tastes a bit like an onion mixed with a leek. You grill them over a flaming barbecue, and dip them in romesco sauce. They’re so popular here that they’ve got their own barbeque feast, between the end of winter and the beginning of spring, which is called “calçotada”.
A word of warning: make sure that you get real paella from a restaurant where they cook it on-the-spot. Frozen paella sucks and dickheads keep trying to sell it to me.
WHERE TO DRINK
The nearby Apolo is one of the city’s most popular venues and an institution on Barcelona’s nightlife scene, and this is where everyone hangs out before and after the shows. Don’t be embarrassed by the fact that the people who run it decided to call it "Psycho" or that it refers to itself as a “rock n roll” bar – you’re abroad, don’t be a dick.
The relatively sedate El Born neighbourhood is the place to head for a quiet drink on a sunny afternoon. Almost all the bars around here are pretty great, so just roll in and marvel at how crap your quality of life is back home.
If you’re the sort of person who thinks music peaked sometime around 1968, this is your joint. They play vinyl by the likes of Little Richard, you play on The Who-themed pinball machine, and legends of the Barcelona music scene hang out by the bar. It’s like punk never happened, never mind dubstep.
This place has a skate ramp in it, so it basically looks like what your mum thinks cool bars look like, and mother knows best. Turn up, listen to grunge, drink €1 beers until 10PM, fall down a skate ramp, bad mouth rollerbladers – it’ll be great.
Gran Bodega Saltó
The Poble Sec neighbourhood has changed a lot in the last few years and is now one of the city's most lively areas. There are a handful of great bodegas around here and Saltó is the one we all actually drink at. So come and hang out with us.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb is currently entering the last days of its Wild West era. Right now you can basically organise orgies and commit crimes in an endless list of strangers' living rooms – but like all good things, that won’t last for long. In Barcelona, the city council has recently come under pressure from the beleaguered hotel industry to stamp out what they see as unfair competition. It’s still hugely popular, though.
The city has a host of youth hostels, but Barcelona Central Garden Hostel (€25 a dorm) is one of the best. It’s located in a central spot in the Eixample neighbourhood, and everyone who stays here ends up falling in love with the owners and staff. Because I’m Spanish and I have a home, I’ve got no idea why, but honestly, they really do.
If you have some cash and don’t mind being part of Europe’s dispiriting war on the poor, Villa Olimpic (€120 a room) is located in a rapidly gentrifying old industrial neighbourhood. It’s got designer rooms, great customer service and fuck it, you’re a tourist, you've got your own city to save from yuppies.
If you’re A Rich Person then a) what are you doing on this scummy website? and b) check out the Hotel Casa Camper (€240 for a room) and let me know what it’s like. Camper is an old 19th-century Gothic tenement that has been restored by the architect Jordi Tió, they’ve got a former top chef from El Bulli running the restaurant and frankly it looks pretty great.
In recent years, Barcelona has become a truly gay-friendly city, so you shouldn’t be scared to walk down the street hand-in-hand with your partner and even kiss them if you want to. You might still find the odd clueless guy who will gawp at you, but that could happen anywhere, even sunny San Francisco.
Very close to Barcelona is the town of Sitges, which is basically the Brighton to Barcelona’s London. You’ll see plenty of rainbow flags being flown here, and it’s just a short train-ride away. It’s an especially good place to visit in summer or during their amazing fantasy film festival, when camp B-movie actors no-one straight has ever heard of mingle with the residents.
If you’re looking for gay bars in Barcelona, head to "Gayxample", which is part of the Eixample district located roughly between Gran Vía, Balmes, Aragó and Urgell streets. Another well-known hangout is the nudist beach at Mar Bella, although it’s not exclusively gay.
Even bigger and better than the annual Gay Pride parade in June is the world-famous Circuit festival in August. Thousands of men visit the city for a party that lasts 12 days – we have no idea where they get their stamina.
At any time of year, it’s worth checking out the various venues run by the Arena franchise, and be sure to stop by El Cangrejo, which is hands down one of the most fun bars in town, whatever your orientation.
(Photo by Elektra Kotsoni)
WHERE TO HANG OUT WHEN YOU'RE SOBER
Hangar is one of the most innovative and interesting places in Barcelona’s contemporary art scene. It’s an old industrial space that has been redesigned to encourage the creative process. You should check out Hangar's calendar as soon as you get to Barcelona as there’s a pile of great events going on there. If you’re in town for a bit longer, they also run some courses on how to be an artist, and the teacher is Picasso. It’s got 15 studios, video equipment, two sound stages and various bits of kit available to hire. Basically, it’s great.
Raval is the area where the city’s versions of you hang out. It’s full of struggling Catalan writers and artists trying to pull each other instead of getting on with their art.
This is where they make brunch. Brunch sounds like it’s for wankers, but since you’re on holiday you can just call it breakfast. Breakfast with quinoa.
The best movie theatre in the city also has the distinct advantage of being the cheapest one. It offers a selection of documentaries, restored classics and a really great bar, for when you just want to get tanked up on the pints and stuck into some Almodovar.
Dead Moon Records
The best independent music shop in Barcelona, bar none. They have a great vinyl collection that covers minimal, noise, dark wave and a whole lot of punk.
HOW TO AVOID GETTING RIPPED OFF AND BEATEN UP
The most likely way you’ll get stung as a tourist in Barcelona is that someone will lift your wallet. Everyone knows this, so don't expect any sympathy if you're stupid enough to stagger around Las Ramblas pissed at night hugging strangers without zips on your pockets. Be aware on the metro or in any other crowded place; Catalan pickpockets dress like ordinary tourists but are basically all David Blaines of thievery.
Be especially wary if you see a group of girls approaching you with folders, asking you to sign in support of some kind of vague cause. They don’t really want your signature. They want to distract you while they relieve you of your wallet, credit cards, passport and dignity, and steer well clear of the crowds of people gambling at Las Ramblas. They’re all chiefs and they're all trying to diddle you. Las Ramblas is pretty intense, it was there that I once saw a tourist getting attacked by a homeless guy using a dead pigeon as a weapon.
Oh, and I’m not really sure how to counter this one, but another favourite tactic for Barcelona’s thieves is to target the bag you’ve left on the beach when you go swimming. Urm, get a waterproof bag?
(Photo by Clémence Polès)
HOW NOT TO BE A SHITTY TOURIST
Barcelona is filled with incredible history and architecture, but we sold it all to tourists to pay off our debts. These no longer belong to the locals: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral; Parc Güell; Las Ramblas; the port and the Picasso Museum – they all now belong to cruise ship wallies. So, if you want to get along with the locals, either sink a ship or just sit in your hotel until dark apologising for existing.
PEOPLE AND PLACES TO AVOID
Street Beer Sellers
It might seem like a good idea to buy a drink from a guy who is grinning at you at 4AM with his hands full of cold beer cans. If you weren’t so drunk you’d have noticed that he just took those beers out of a sewer. As a rule, don’t drink anything that’s been in a place where rats go to die.
Prostitutes at Las Ramblas
They’re fucking terrifying.
As terrifying as the prostitutes, but instead of vaginas that cost money, they have weapons and special cars. It’s best to just smile and keep walking.
If you see a big group of people following someone holding an umbrella, you should avoid them at all costs. There are hundreds of cruise ships arriving in Barcelona every year and they have to carry the brollies because locals urinate on them from their balconies.
Tapas Bars for Tourists
If the tapas place you’re looking at seems suspiciously trendy, with brand new furniture, it’s probably a scam for tourists. The food will invariably be expensive and terrible, and you’ll only have yourself to blame.
La Baguetina Catalana
This chain of baguette and cake shops is open till very late. That probably sounds like a good thing. It isn’t.
Designer Gin and Tonic Bars
For some reason, gin and tonic bars became a really big deal in Barcelona a few years ago. Suddenly loads of them were opening up in a city where traditionally the cocktail culture has been only slightly smaller than the cricket one. Everything was bound to go wrong, and it did, but some are still hanging grimly on.
Bars at Las Ramblas
I’m not saying that the food in Las Ramblas bars is really bad or excessively expensive. I’m just saying that once I saw a man die in one of them and I fear it was because of one of these two reasons.
Barcelona has only a few decent Chinese restaurants. All the others serve identical dishes, none of which bear any relation to food that’s been anywhere near China.
TIPPING AND HANDY PHRASES
In Barcelona, there are no strict rules about tipping. In fact, waiters, taxi drivers, usually won't expect you to tip them anything. They tend to have fixed salaries and their pay packets aren't filled out by tips, as in other countries. So don't worry, you can basically be as big a cheapskate as your conscience allows you to be.
Hello – Hola
Goodbye – Adiós / Hasta luego
Please – Por favor
Thank you – Gracias
I would like to have a beer / coffee / wine / whisky – Querría una cerveza / un café / un vino / un whisky
I want to kiss you – Quiero besarte
Useful Insults: gilipollas, imbécil, idiota, anormal, payaso, guiri de mierda
A YOUTUBE PLAYLIST OF QUESTIONABLE LOCAL MUSIC
Here are some songs that reflect the tastes of the local DJs rather than the tastes of us at the VICE office.
VICE CITY MAP
– VICE Spain