Barcelona en Bici

 Bruce Robertson

Perhaps more than many global cities, Barcelona makes a very strong case for being a unique destination for travellers – and cyclists. After Madrid, and with a population of 1.6m, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain but far more importantly is the fiercely proud capital of Catalonia (or Catalunya in the native tongue). This is evident in the widespread display of the Catalan flag (never the Spanish one!) – often seen with the blue triangle and white star of the independence movement.
Although not necessarily a unique feature, Barcelona is a surprisingly good, and relatively uncelebrated, city for cycling. Despite being surrounded by hills, most of the city is fairly flat, which together with very manageable distances, makes it easily accessible by bicycle. Yes, the tourist buses are a quicker way of getting to the main sights but it is on a bike you get a true sense of the city between the tourist spots - and anywhere else you choose.
Whether or not you opt to use a guide is of course your preference - and there are plenty of options available either way should you not bring your own bike (which is not recommended - theft being a widespread issue). There are plenty of wide avenues and also narrow calles as well as everything in between. Virtually all the streets are one-way so don't get caught out - however you'd probably only need to go a block further to get the direction you want. The small lanes of the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) and the Ciutat Vella (Old City) are fortunately closed to cars (mostly!) but with the sheer number of pedestrians and tourists, on foot is probably the best way to explore these areas - unless you use a local tour guide - but even then most lanes are off limits or impractical.
Catalan flag on balcony   Las-Arenas.JPG

Using a guide is the best way to fit as much as possible into a limited time without missing any of the sights. My tour is a day tour with Barcelona Ciclotour that either covers all the major ‘must sees’ or lets you know how best to reach them. They also have a night tour that, apart from the obvious difference, has a similar itinerary except for the Sagrada Familia being replaced by the beautiful lights and sounds of the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, below the magnificent National Art Museum of Calalunya with it’s commanding presence and views over the city. Opposite this on the Plaça d'Espanya is the old bullring, Las Arenas which is now a trendy shopping centre.
Montjuïc (Mountain of the Jews) is a large area that also includes the 1992 Olympic Stadium. As well as the city it overlooks the large harbor with it’s many cruise ships and the statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea. There are also great bike paths up here with a wicked descent to the harbor you were looking down on.
Many Barcelona locals are out and about on their bikes, whether commuting, doing errands, spending time with friends or even just out for a ride. Helping to feed this demand is the excellent 'Bicing' scheme - similar to Paris' Velibs. However this bike share scheme is only available to locals and is actually considered part of the public transport network - the benefit for tourists being that infrastructure for bikes in general is pretty good and improving. Even when you’re not on one of the many bike baths (often separated from the road), you can ride on any footpath that is at least 4m wide - in many cities this would seem highly improbable but actually applies quite a lot in Barcelona.
The many wide boulevards cross crossing the city were created at different times (most notably for the 1992 Olympics) by removing whole streets of housing and deliberately opening up the city to more light and space. The Barri Gòtic and Ciutat Vella give you an idea of what the city may have looked like previously. Often this policy of light and space has transformed formerly decayed and run down neighbourhoods and somewhat gentrified them. There are also new buildings throughout so as your wander into yet another beautiful courtyard the ultramodern Contemporary Art Museum or Music Hall could be just ahead.
No discussion of Barcelona would be complete without referring to its architecture as this is a large part of the unique character of the city.. Famous architects that have put their stamp on the city include Joan Miró and Lluis Domenech i Muntaner, but the best known is Antoni Gaudi who has inarguably made the biggest impact with his unique Catalan modernist style. From the amazing Park Güell and the soaring tours of the still unfinished Sagrada Familia to private houses for the Battló and Mille families (the latter house better known as La Pedrera).
Casa Batlo Barcelona   Barcelona Goldfish

Park Güell is on the opposite side of the city from Montjuïc and has equally imposing views once you take your eyes off Gaudi’s stunning designs. However to explore the park you will need to leave your bike outside, although you still get a lot closer than by bus, metro or – heaven forbid – car (if you even find a parking space).  From the Park looking across the Sagrada Familia towards the beachfront you can just see the work of another architect – an American this time, Frank Gehry. The Gold Fish shimmers in the sun down at La Barcelonetta.
We stop for a well-deserved drink at one of the many bars up and down the beachfront – great for relaxing and indulging in a spot of people watching. The tour is hugely informative as well as fun and is ably led by our guide Flo (from Holland) supported by Liz (from New Jersey). My fellow ride participants increased the international feel, being from Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Australia and Argentina.
Once sated we ride along the hugely popular city beaches - from La Barcelonetta stretching north they are mainly artificial and were constructed for the 1992 Olympics.
An earlier upgrade to the city sprang from the 1888 World Fair, which was based at the Parc de la Ciutadella. As well as the park the legacy from this event includes the fantastical neo-gothic (but medieval looking) World Fair restaurant known as the Castell dels Tres Dragons, as well as the buildings of the Barcelona Zoo and the pompous Arc de Triomf.
These events brought a significant shift in the look and feel of the city, to the modern and vibrant metropolis it is today. However beyond that the city continues to evolve and has become one the great cycling cities of the world – but even if you don’t ride a bike there is plenty here for everyone.
The author was a guest of Barcelona CicloTour.