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In the latest of our City Insider series of blog posts, we asked Duncan Rhodes of Urban Travel Blog to give us his tips on experiencing the authentic side of Barcelona’s nightlife. A veteran of both the Catalan capital, and of partying, here is what he had to say…
Barcelona’s nightlife is a rich and complex entity, made up of many different scenes, peoples and styles of going out. It can be an extremely rewarding world if you find what you’re looking for, or an equally frustrating one if you don’t know where to search.
At its best you could, for example, find yourself dancing al fresco on a leafy hill side at dusk, drinking spritz and surrounded by hip young things who look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of ID magazine…
At its worst you could find yourself queuing up for hours outside an internationally indistinguishable “upmarket” club on the Port Olimpic just for the privilege of paying €20 for a cocktail and then teetering around on a dancefloor of bored-looking posers (okay, it could be even worse… you could find yourself turned down from said club and be forced to resort to drinking on the Moll Mestral, a strip of bars and clubs so dire that they make Magaluf look classy by comparison).
To help you steer clear of party purgatory, and get a bit closer to nightlife nirvana, here are three suggestions of mine for exploring nocturnal Barcelona:
Barcelona is not a one district town… in fact no matter how far from the centre you travel, there is something going on at night. By stepping out of the Old Town districts, and ignoring the Port Olimpic altogether, you’ll get a much better flavour of how local people really party and enjoy themselves in BCN.
One area that has been touted as up and coming for so long that we can now safely consider it just as “up” is Poble Sec. At its heart is Carrer Blai a long street packed full of tapas bars, bodegas and local joints that is perfect for pub crawling (with snacks), with barely a tourist in sight. Clubbers should finish the night at Apolo, where long running nights such as Nitsa have championed the electronic music scene in the city.
On the other side of town Gracia is a “secret” that is very much out, but with dozens of picturesque plazas where you can pull up a pew at a cafe/restaurant, scores of great bars on virtually every street, and a strong Catalan identity, this is a great place to enjoy a cerveza without the circus.
Festa Major is Catalan for “big festival” and almost every district in Barcelona throws one some time between May and October (most are in July to September, however). Typically stages are erected in several squares and other public spaces around the district so that local bands can play until the early hours of the morning, whilst bars set up kiosks selling cheap beer, sangria, mojitos and tinto de verano. Everyone from toddlers to grandparents attend, although naturally it’s the youngsters that party the hardest and longest.
The Festa Major de Gracia (in the aforementioned Gracia district) is the most famous, mainly because the residents take pride in decorating their streets in different themes using recycled materials, adding a lot of fun to proceedings.
La Merce meanwhile is the Festa Major of the entire city, and takes place in September. As well as dozens of free concerts (including by international bands) there’s also wine tasting, street theatre, workshops and – of course – the somewhat dangerous Catalan traditions of Castellers (human castles) and Correfocs (fireruns).
Whilst there are some good clubs in the city, the best parties in Barcelona tend to be special events… that’s certainly when the Catalan capital’s cool kids deign to put their glad rags on and have a big night out. Major contemporary music festivals include, in order of greatness, Primavera Sound (May), Sonar (June) and Cruilla (July), all of which provide an epic opportunity for mayhem.
For a couple of years now Piknic Electronik has hosted a weekly Sunday gathering up in the leafy environs of Montjuic mountain with DJs, drinks and a bring your own food policy (for those who wish to take the “Piknic” aspect literally). It’s a fantastic addition to the scene and runs from June to September (they also organise some Brunch Electronik events during the colder months).
Otherwise, full moon parties on Marbella beach, vintage/second hand markets with DJs, scores of free concerts and festivals, the Sitges carnival and the aforementioned Festes Majores all provide great hedonistic potential that tends to be more authentic and more fun than another night of dubious allure down at the Port Olimpic.