Note: This is the unedited and unabridged version of a feature I originally wrote for Expedia UK.
For most people Barcelona evokes images of luxury city living, of tapas feasts on sunny restaurant terraces and the majestic sites of Gaudi’s Modernist architecture. But when I moved here all those years ago, I discovered that it is also an extremely active city, a city that really makes the most of its prime location on the blissful Mediterranean coast. It attracts uncompromising individuals – myself included – who want the big city experience as well as the outdoors lifestyle.
It’s a city that has that “Californian beach” vibe thing going on, but also the culture and history of a 2000-year-old city (yes, Barcelona is seriously old). Down at the beach, from sunrise to sundown, you’ll see neon flashes of runners and cyclists as they traverse the palm-lined promenade. You’ll see groups of yoga fanatics loosening up on the golden sands and skaters carving up the boardwalks. It’s constant movement, constant energy, constant stimulation. And of course, with the warm waters and inviting weather conditions, it’s also a dream destination for for those who want to get a little wet and wild whilst on their city break.
Walk down to the city beaches – Barceloneta, Mar Bella and Bogatell – and you’ll find hoards of bronzed surfers riding waves, as well as SUPers (stand up paddle boarders) cruising the coast, and kitesurfers floating up into the sky.
The conditions vary from season to season and the biggest waves and strongest winds can typically be found during the winter and autumn months (it is the Mediterranean after all). But for those looking to try something new, the warm and forgiving conditions of spring and summer are simply unmissable.
SUPing (Stand Up Paddle Boarding) in Barcelona
With the warm and typically flat ocean waters, not to mention the stunning city skyline and the true-blue Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop, Barcelona is quite possibly one of the world’s best spots for learning to SUP. It’s also a relatively easy watersport to get into, which makes it popular with all sorts of people, including children and those who have zero watersports experience.
Miquel Roigé, SUP instructor at the Molokai SUP Centre at Barceloneta beach, agrees, and told me that: “It’s a great sport for everybody, regardless of age, gender or physical condition. And compared to surfing, paddle surfing is much easier to get into. With the help of an instructor, it doesn’t take long before most people are up and paddling around confidently.”
Frank Gramage, a local SUP fanatic and community manager of the SUP! Barcelona Facebook group says: “Barcelona is the perfect SUP destination – you have a tranquil coastline that’s perfect for cruising, working out (yoga SUP, cross fit SUP, etc.) and wave riding when the swell picks up in the winter months. There are also beautiful coves along the coast where you can snorkel and see discovering beautiful fish, such as doradas (gilt head fish).”
And his favourite spots for SUPing in BCN?
“One of our favourite outings is to go from Barceloneta beach to the W Hotel. On the coast you have several options, like Sitges and the fantastic little coves by Port Aiguadolç.”
And when asked about the best way for visitors to get involved in SUPing in BCN, Frank told me that, “There are rentals along the whole stretch of beach,” which makes it really easy to find a place to hire equipment and book lessons.”
Kitesurfing in Barcelona
Kitesurfing is one of the world’s fastest growing sports and the scene is huge in Barcelona. There are multiple kitesurf schools that can show you the ropes and get you carving up the the water (and sky) in no time.
I asked Monique, who owns the Kitesurf Barcelona school, what makes Barcelona so well-suited to kitesurfing.
“It has many different beaches with many different conditions, both within the city and also within a short drive from city centre, so you can always find a good spot. Also, the beaches are sandy and don’t have rocks or strong currents, which makes it very safe for kitesurfing.”
And the best spots for kitesurfing in BCN?
“Any of the city beaches are good, although the beaches farthest away from Barceloneta are quieter and there are less buildings to interfere with the wind. One of the most popular spots for kitesurfing in Barcelona is Castelldefels beach, which is about 10 miles south of the city centre (20 minutes by train).”
Surfing in Barcelona
The Mediterranean isn’t known for its surf, but as a surf veteran myself I can verify that there are indeed waves to be surfed here in Barcelona, especially during the winter months. The sandy shore breaks can reach head-height on a good swell and you always know when “it’s on” because the metro suddenly fills with wetsuited locals carrying waxed up boards.
But for those who want to try surfing for the first time, the gentle waves and warm waters of the spring and summer months are ideal. You can rent wetsuits and surfboards from one of the many surf/skate shops that line the beach, and many of them also offer lessons if you’d prefer to head into the water with an instructor.
Where to go? Head towards the Forum building and the beaches of the Poblenou area for quieter waters and bigger waves. There’s also a good spot right next to the W Hotel at the far end of Barcelona beach.
So whether you’re in Barcelona for a fiesta-filled fortnight or a double dose of culture and sightseeing, make sure you find time to grab a board and get in the water. This is the place.