Barcelona's Best Beaches

It's an unusual combination in Europe: a major metropolis fully integrated with the sea. Barcelona's miles of beaches allow for its yin and yang of urban energy and laid-back beach vibe. When you're ready for a slower pace, seek out a sandy refuge.

Since the early 2000s, Barcelona’s platjas (beaches) have been improved, now stretching some 4 km (2½ miles) from Barceloneta’s Platja de Sant Sebastià at the southwestern end, northward via the Platjas de Sant Miquel, Barceloneta, Passeig Marítim, Port Olímpic, Nova Icària, Bogatell, Mar Bella (the last bit of which is a nudist enclave), and La Nova Mar Bella to Llevant. The Barceloneta beach is the most popular stretch, easily accessible by several bus lines, notably the Nos. D20, 39, and the V15, and by the L4 metro at Barceloneta or Ciutadella–Vila Olímpica. The best surfing is at the northeastern end of the Barceloneta beach, while the boardwalk offers miles of runway for walkers, cyclers, and joggers. Topless bathing is common on all beaches in and around Barcelona.

Dress the Part

Barcelona is such a free city that in 2011, a law had to be created to prevent people from walking around the city in their birthday suits, as it made tourists feel uncomfortable. Being topless is allowed on any beach in Barcelona but full nudity is reserved to some beaches, like Marbella Beach in Poblenou and Playa San Sebastian in Barceloneta.

Platja de la Barceloneta

Just to the left at the end of Passeig Joan de Borbó, this is the easiest beach to get to, hence the most crowded and the most fun from a people-watching standpoint. Along with swimming, there are windsurfing and kitesurfing rentals to be found just up behind the beach at the edge of La Barceloneta. Rebecca Horn's sculpture L'Estel Ferit, a rusting stack of cubes, expresses nostalgia for the beach-shack restaurants that lined the beach here until 1992. Surfers trying to catch a wave wait just off the breakwater in front of the excellent beachfront restaurant Agua.

Platja de la Mar Bella

Closest to the Poblenou metro stop near the eastern end of the beaches, this is a thriving gay enclave and the unofficial nudist beach of Barcelona (but suited bathers are welcome, too). The water-sports center Base Nàutica de la Mar Bella rents equipment for sailing, surfing, and windsurfing. Outfitted with showers, safe drinking fountains, and a children's play area, La Mar Bella also has lifeguards who warn against swimming near the breakwater. The excellent Pescadors restaurant is just inland on Plaça Prim.

Platja de la Nova Icària

One of Barcelona's most popular beaches, this strand is just east of Port Olímpic, with the full range of entertainment, restaurant, and refreshment venues close at hand. (Xiringuito Escribà, overlooking neighboring Bogatell beach, is one of the most popular restaurants on this stretch.) The beach is directly across from the area developed as the residential Vila Olímpica for the 1992 Games, an interesting housing project that has now become a popular residential neighborhood.

Platja de Sant Sebastià

The landmark of Barceloneta’s southwesternmost beach (at the end of Passeig Joan de Borbó) now is the ultramodern W Barcelona Hotel, but Sant Sebastià is in fact the oldest of the city beaches, where 19th-century barcelonins cavorted in bloomers and bathing costumes. On the west end is the Club Natació de Barcelona, and there is a semiprivate feel that the beaches farther east seem to lack.

Platja de Gavà-Castelldefels

South of Barcelona (take the 45-minute L94 bus from the Estació de Sants or the Plaça de Catalunya) is Gavà Mar, a popular outing for Barcelona families and beach partiers. Gavà Mar extends 4 km (2½ miles) south to join the beach at Castelldefels; returning to Barcelona from Castelldefels allows for a hike down the beach to seaside shacks and restaurants serving calçots and paella.

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