Barcelona - Around Town - Port Vell, Barceloneta & Port Olímpic (part 1)

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The heady allure of the Mediterranean permeates Barcelona, and a dip into its azure waters is only a few metro stops (or a brisk walk) away. Barcelona’s beaches were once hidden behind an industrial wasteland, but things changed radically in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. The rallying cry was to create a new Barcelona oberta al mar (open to the sea); the result is phenomenal, as is the presence of large crowds seeking sun and sea. Tons of sand were transported to create miles of silky beaches from the fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta to Port Olímpic and beyond. Palm trees were planted, water cleanliness standards implemented and, this being design-obsessed Barcelona, numerous contemporary sculptures erected. The city’s first two skyscrapers, the Torre Mapfre office building and the five-star Hotel Arts, punctuate the port’s skyline, while the nearby Port Olímpic throbs with the highest concentration of bars and clubs in the city.

The rooftop café at the Museu d’Història de Catalunya has sweeping views of the city, the port area & Montjuïc.

Sights & Attractions
  1. Beaches

    Fancy a splash in the Mediterranean? Trot down to the end of La Rambla, wander along the palm tree-lined Moll de la Fusta, down restaurant-packed Passeig Joan de Borbó, et voilà, the sea beckons. Over four km (2.5 miles) of blue flag beaches stretch north from Barceloneta to Port Olímpic and beyond. Facilities are top-notch, including showers, deck chairs, beach volleyball courts and lifeguards. Convenience, however, means crowds, so finding a spot among the masses of oiled bodies can be a challenge, particularly in the summer.

    Barceloneta beach
  2. Museu d’Història de Catalunya

    Housed in the Palau de Mar, a renovated portside warehouse, this museum offers a broad, interactive exploration of Catalonia’s history since prehistoric times. Kids especially will have a ball with the engaging exhibits, such as a Civil War-era bunker and a recreated Catalan bar from the 1960s with an ancient futbolín (table football) game.

    • Pl Pau Vila 3, Palau de Mar

    • Open 10am–7pm Tue–Sat (until 8pm Wed), 10am–2:30pm Sun

    • Adm €4, free first Sun of month

    • DA

    Museu d’Història de Catalunya
  3. Rambla de Mar

    Saunter along the Rambla de Mar, a floating wooden pier that leads to Mare-magnum, a flashy mall that has many shops, restaurants and bars. Nearby the giant IMAX® cinema shows 3-D films on mega-screens generally on nature-, adventure- and sports-related topics.

    Moll d’Espanya


    • shops open 10am–10pm daily; restaurants until 1am daily; bars and clubs until 4:30am daily

    • IMAX: shows from 12:20–10:25pm daily

    • Adm

    • DA

    Swing Bridge, between La Rambla & Moll D’Espanya
  4. L’Aquàrium

    Come face to face with the marine world of the Mediterranean at Barcelona’s impressive aquarium, the largest in Europe. The highlight is the 80-m (262-ft) long underwater tunnel, which has a moving walkway that transports visitors through the deep blue unknown, while sharks glide menacingly close. A huge hit with the kids is the new Explora! floor, with interactive exhibits that allow you to explore the ecosystems of the Mediterranean.

    • Moll d’Espanya

    • Open Jul–Aug: 9:30am–11pm daily; Sep–Jun: 9:30am–9 pm Mon–Fri (to 9:30pm Sat–Sun)

    • Adm

  5. Barceloneta

    A portside warren of narrow streets, small squares and ancient bars, this traditional neighbourhood of pescadors (fishermen) and mariners (sailors) seems worlds apart from the megamalls and disco lights of nearby Port Olímpic. A refreshing foray through this tight-knit community yields a glimpse into the way Barcelona was 150 years ago. Older couples still pull chairs out onto the street to gossip and watch the world go by, and small seafood restaurants serve a menú del dia of whatever’s fresh off the boat. Running the length of Barceloneta’s western edge is Passeig Joan de Borbó, which is lined with restaurants serving mariscs (shellfish) and paellas.

    Street scene, Barceloneta
  6. Boat & Cable Car Trips

    See Barcelona’s port activity from a different perspective, either from the air or the sea. The Transbordador Aeri cable cars offer sweeping bird’s-eye views of Barcelona and its coast, while the old-fashioned Les Golondrines boats and the Orsom Catamaran sweep you around the port area.

    • from Torre Jaume I & Torre San Sebastià

    • Adm

    • Les Golondrines, Portal de la Pau

    • roughly 30 mins from 11:30am

    • 93 442 31 06

    • Adm

    • Orsom Catamaran, Portal de la Pau

    • Call 93 441 05 37 for times

    • Adm

    • DA

  7. Pailebot Santa Eulàlia

    Bobbing in the water at the Moll de la Fusta (Timber Quay) is this renovated, three-mast schooner, originally christened Carmen Flores. It first set sail from Spain in 1918. On journeys to Cuba, the ship used to transport textiles and salt, and return with tobacco, coffee, cereals and wood. In 1997, the Museu Marítim bought and restored the ship as part of an ongoing project to create a collection of seaworthy historical Catalan vessels.

    • Moll de la Fusta

    • Open noon–7pm Mon–Fri (to 7:30pm Sat & Sun)

    • Adm

  8. Submarine Ictíneo II

    In 1859, Catalan Narcís Monturiol invented one of the world’s first submarines, a replica of which stands on the Moll d’Espanya. Hard to believe, but in an earlier version of this wooden, fish-shaped submarine, powered by two internal steam engines, Monturiol made a number of successful underwater journeys. He invented the submarine as a means of gathering coral; later, he tried to sell it to the army. However, he finally sold his invention in parts and died penniless.

    • Moll d’Espanya

  9. El Centre de la Vila-Port Olímpic

    This shopping complex offers a slew of shops, cafés and fast food restaurants. Best of all, it houses the cinemas of the Icària Yelmo Cineplex, one of the largest cinemas in town to show VO (non-dubbed) films.

    • Salvador Espriu 61

    • Mall shops open 10am–10pm Mon–Sat

    Yachts, Port Olímpic

    Yachts & skyscrapers, Port Olímpic
  10. World Trade Center

    This massive, circular structure is home to offices, convention halls, a five-star hotel and the top-notch restaurant Ruccula. There are also several gift shops, including Galería Surrealista, featuring souvenirs inspired by Dalí and other Surrealists. In the central courtyard is a “rhythmic” fountain that spurts out streams of water at differing velocities. Nearby, you can board cable cars and soak up splendid views from the top of Torre Jaume I.

    • Moll de Barcelona

    • DA

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