Barcelona’s platges (beaches) have improved and multiplied in number from Barceloneta north to the Fòrum site at the northeastern end of Diagonal. At Barceloneta’s southwestern end is the Platja de Sant Sebastià, followed northward by the Platges de Sant Miquel, Barceloneta, Passeig Marítim, Port Olímpic, Nova Icària, Bogatell, Mar Bella, and La Nova Mar Bella (the last football-field length of which is a nudist enclave), and Llevant. The Barceloneta beach is the most popular stretch, easily accessible by several bus lines, notably the No. 64 bus (which runs all the way from Pedralbes at the top of the city) and by the L4 metro stop at Barceloneta or at Ciutadella–Vil.la Olímpica (for the northernmost beaches such as Mar Bella). The best surfing stretch is at the northeastern end of the Barceloneta beach, and the boardwalk itself offers miles of runway for walkers, skaters, bicyclers, and joggers. Topless bathing is the norm on all beaches in and around Barcelona. There are public toilet facilities, but people often stop into a nearby bar to use the facilities. There are showers (free) at the edge of the beach.
North of Barceloneta
Running north of Barceloneta, the first beaches are Montgat, Ocata, Vilasar de Mar, Arenys de Mar, Canet de Mar, and Sant Pol de Mar, all accessible by train from the RENFE station in Plaça de Catalunya. Sant Pol is a good pick, with clean sand, a lovely old town, and the gourmet restaurant Sant Pau (popularly called La Ruscalleda after its chef, Carmen Ruscalleda), one of the best restaurants in Catalonia (or, for that matter, Europe). Another beach with a top-notch gastronomical opportunity is Arenys de Mar, with the famous Hispania restaurant a minute’s walk from the beach across the NII road. Canet de Mar’s beach extends for 10 km (6 miles), and offers rental options for surfboards or windsurfers, as well as beach restaurants such as La Roca (in summer) or El Parador (all year). The farther north you go, toward the Costa Brava, the more pristine the beaches tend to be, though this rocky coast specializes in tiny calas (coves or inlets) rather than lengthy strands.
South of the City
Castelldefels. Eighteen km (11 miles) south of Barcelona is the popular day resort Castelldefels, with a long, sandy beach and a stretch of lively bars and restaurants. A 15-minute train ride from the Passeig de Gràcia RENFE station to Gavà or Castelldefels-Platja (be sure your train actually stops at these stations, or you'll go much farther than you intended; platja means beach) deposits you on a 10-km (6-mile) white sand beach. You can also take a bus from Barcelona. Summer or winter, the Castelldefels beachfront makes for a unbeatable walk: from November through March the sun sets into the Mediterranean, thanks to the westward slant of the coastline here. There are several good places in Castelldefels for lamb chops, calçots (spring onions), and paella. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; sunset; swimming; walking. Castelldefels, Catalonia, 08860. www.castelldefelsturisme.com.
Sitges. Sitges, 43 kilometers (27 miles) south of Barcelona, is a popular resort with fine white sand and clear water. There are in effect two beaches here, separated by the promontary where the church of Sant Bartolomé i Santa Tecla sits: the longer section, to the south, draws more of Sitges' substantial gay population; the shorter strand to the north is a favorite for family outings and impromptu parties. Trains from the Estació Sants or the Passeig de Gràcia RENFE station in Barcelona reach Sitges in about half an hour. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming; windsurfing. Passeig Marítim, Sitges, Catalonia, 08870.
Platja de Gavà-Castelldefels. The wide white sandy beach at Gavà, a 15-minute train ride south of Barcelona, is a particular favorite with late-night partiers and families on Sunday outings. The water is fairly shallow, the sea bed is clean, and the offshore breeze is just right for beginner-level windsurfing. Alighting at Gavà and returning from Castelldefels allows a hike down the beach to restaurants specializing in local favorites like calçots and paella. Amenities: food and drink; showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing. Passeig Marítim s/n, Castelldefels, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08860.
Platja de Sant Sebastià. Barceloneta's most southwestern platjas (to the right at the end of Passeig Joan de Borbó), Sant Sebastià is oldest and most historic of the city beaches; it was here that 19th-century barcelonins cavorted in bloomers and bathing costumes. Neglected (and a bit disreputable) during the Franco years, it's had a rebirth of popularity since the pre-Olympic redesign of the city's waterfront. Between the beach and the Torre Sant Sebastia cable car terminus is the Club Natació Atlètic de Barcelona; the Hotel W Barcelona is at the far south end. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; swimming. Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta s/n, Barceloneta, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08003.
Platja de la Barceloneta. Just to the left at the end of Passeig Joan de Borbó, this is the easiest Barcelona beach to get to, hence the most crowded and the most fun for people-watching—though itinerant beach vendors can be a nuisance. Along with swimming, there are windsurfing and kite surfing 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 Agua restaurant. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; surfing; swimming; walking; windsurfing. Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta s/n, Barceloneta, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08003.
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 (although clothed 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 Els Pescadors restaurant is just inland on Plaça Prim. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; nudists; swimming; windsurfing. Passeig Marítim del Bogatell, Barceloneta, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08005.
Platja de la Nova Icària. One of Barcelona's most popular beaches, this strand is just east of Port Olímpic, with a full range of entertainment and refreshment venues close at hand. (Mango and El Chiringuito de Moncho are two of the most popular restaurants.) The wide white beach is directly across from the neighborhood built as the residential Olympic Village for Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Games, an interesting housing project that has now become a popular residential neighborhood. Vendors prowl the sand, offering everything from sunglasses to cold drinks to massages. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming; walking; windsurfing. Passeig Marítim del Port Olímpic s/n, Barceloneta, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08005.