Come for the tapas and dreamy modernista architecture; stay for the openness and acceptance. Solidly committed to diversity and inclusion, Catalonia’s bustling capital city, Barcelona, is a top destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.
Visitors can marvel Gaudi’s iconic edifices by day and choose their own adventures of shopping, dancing and drinking by night, spoiled for choice by a surfeit of gay-friendly hangouts. With a booming bar scene, an edgy arts scene, picturesque walkable neighborhoods, plenty of tasty eye candy and year-round sunny weather, Barcelona is arguably Europe’s ultimate LGBTQ evergreen.
But while gay tourism has been out of the closet here for decades, the city wasn’t always the welcoming place it is today. Beyond the persecution, prosecution, and imprisonment that Barcelona’s gay community endured during the Franco regime circa mid-20th century, there were the police raids, erasure, and violence that came post-dictatorship.
Back in 1977, on the busy thoroughfare of Las Ramblas, Barcelona held its first pride. Some 4,000 LGBT people and their allies showed up, loud and proud, only to be forcibly dispersed by the police and prohibited from celebrating future events by the local government.
But that didn’t stop Barcelona’s queer community. They persisted, fighting against the anti-homosexual laws that harmed them, demanding that LGBT organizations be legally recognized and publishing gay-focused periodicals. They faced ongoing and sizable setbacks, starting with a series of government-sanctioned police raids of gay bars in the early‘80s, including complete closure of suspected gay bars to “present a better image to visitors” as host city of the 1982 World Cup.
Then, in 1991, while battling the spread of AIDS in the community, Barcelona hosted another tragic first for Spain: murder of a transgender individual as a hate crime. Sonia Rescalvo, a trans woman, was kicked to death by a group of skinheads in Ciutadella Park, a popular gay cruising point in the city at the time. Today, the gazebo where she died is named in her honor, standing as a powerful reminder of how prejudice has harmed LGBTQ+ people in Barcelona and beyond.
Progress and positive change came to the movement in the latter half of the 90s and early 2000s. The Catalan government finally recognized civil partnership rights for gay couples, later granting them the right to adopt. Small clusters of gay bars grew into the village of LGBTQ+ life that would become Barcelona’s first gay neighborhood, Gaixample. Barcelona finally re-launched its official pride celebration, PRIDE Barcelona in 2008, 31 years after the city’s initial celebration.
Now a charming twenty-something, Gaixample is the vibrant, thriving heart of Barcelona’s gay scene. Full of traditional bourgeois Catalan apartment buildings and block after block of gay-friendly restaurants, bars, and shops, the area is also within easy walking distance of Gaudí must-sees like Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, as well as a replica of Keith Haring’s AIDS mural next to MACBA, the city’s contemporary art museum. If the weather cooperates—and in Barcelona it generally does—Gaixample is the locale for a terrace crawl. Don’t miss the chance to kick back like a queen at Priscilla, a health-conscious café with drag shows. Or sip your favorite tipple in the company of local cuties and saints at La Chapelle (c/Muntaner, 67)—the walls are decorated in religious paraphernalia.
Thankfully, Barcelona’s gay-friendly mantra extends far beyond Gaixample. Ditch the map and explore hidden plazas crammed with cute restaurants in the historic Gothic quarter (special mention to Caelum, known for its Crema Catalana Tart, monastery-made traditional candies, and Trappist beers). Check out the hipster and vintage-styled bars in Poblesec and bare it all at the clothing-optional Platja de la Mar Bella beach at the northern corner of the city’s long skinny seafront. No matter where you go, you’ll discover a city where gay life is now integrated into everyday life.