12 (nocturnal) hours in Barcelona

Can you really get a sense of the city in half a calendar day? We give it our best shot



ut some yoghurt on it,” heckled one Catalonian on the metro, as we trotted back to our apartment in Grácia – the chilled, bohemian area in north-eastern Barcelona – after a solid day of lounging on La Barceloneta beach.

We’d been ferociously frazzled while the sting of the midday sun masqueraded behind a cool Mediterranean breeze. Over the course of the day, it slowly transformed us into what can only be described as a couple of pieces of pork crackling.

While contemplating our situation on a slab of shade, guzzling a pitcher of water, we came to terms with the fact that we’d lost a whole day in Barcelona to beachside burning. We pledged to make up for our remaining hours at night, exploring some of the city’s unique nocturnal offerings.

SEE: Sagrada Familia

Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia. Photo: Clare Hand
At around 6pm we set off for Gaudí’s architectural masterpiece. It’s a little more peaceful at this time of day: selfie-yielding tourists aren’t as plentiful when the temperature’s slightly dropped. We nabbed a bench and an ice cream in Plaça de Gaudí, a tranquil park flanking a pond, bordering the unfinished basilica of “God’s own architect.”

From our perch we admired Gaudí’s most distinguished creation, which he started back in 1883, spotting the mouldings of saints and biblical scenes etched next to cherubs, lizards and seashells. During his life, Gaudí devoted himself to its creation, days spent meticulously sketching the details in his workshop and pulling stunts like hoisting a donkey up the church’s façade to see if it needed to be sculpted into the nativity. (Oh, and rocking up to a hospital to watch someone die, so he could capture the moment the soul escaped the body to “join the holy family.”)

After his own death – which came at the age of 73 when he was hit by a tram, his scruffy aesthetic leading people to believe he was homeless – swathes of architects, each armed with Gaudí’s original blueprints, attempted to continue his life’s work.

The new additions are visibly less intricate than those constructed during his lifetime. After all, he worked onsite, altering plans and constantly, organically tweaking segments, which shifted in accordance to his inspiration. Although unable to be the same ad hoc creation, it’s good they’re working towards its completion in 2026, a centenary after Gaudí’s death. Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013

EAT: La Pepita, Tapas

Calamari at La Pepita. Photo: Clare Hand
No, we aren’t as free-wheeling as our Spanish siblings: we get hungry earlier because we’ve got ourselves into the dweebish English routine of eating at 7pm. Bellies rumbling, we made haste to La Pepita at a reasonably European 8pm.

This tapas joint frequently tops the city’s list of cool, quality eateries and is only a 15-minute walk from the Sagrada. A small line of locals and tourists trailed out its front door when we arrived, a queue typical any night of the week.

Still, the wait wasn’t long and we soon nabbed a bar stool, sandwiching ourselves between a lone local artist sipping a glass of red, and a honeymooning Californian couple.

Lean pork legs hung from the ceiling, while exposed light bulbs illuminated walls that had been tastefully laced in the graffitied jottings of previous diners. The service was ridiculously slick: charming waitresses manoeuvred around the packed restaurant, dropping meticulously presented small plates off along the way.

Tender fried squid came in an air-light batter, its crunchy coating smothered in a delicate kimichi mayo. Hunky slices of seabass came on a silky mattress of spinach, paired with fresh slices of strawberry, seared pine nuts and drizzled in a sweet balsamic sauce. The most moreish plate of patatas bravas oozed in a deep maroon tomato puree: rich and treacly it was offset with a zingy spicy mayo. More info. Carrer de Còrsega, 343, 08037

DRINK: Mi Pais, Latin bar

Mi Pais’s interior. Photo: Clare Hand
After dinner we popped on the metro (at Diagonal station), which runs all night on a Saturday. We headed straight to El Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) where we meandered down narrow medieval streets. Crammed with people spilling out of bars and restaurants, music and chatter ricocheted off the area’s ancient stone walls.

Barcelona has a large South American population, the streets thick with Peruvian accents and vivid Colombian football shirts. Mi País sits on one of El Gòtic’s quieter cobbled streets and is clearly a cultural hub for the Latin cohort come nightfall. Mariachi bands pumped accordions while a dancefloor teaming with salsa and banchata dancers swelled to the point of overflow as the evening progressed.

The energy was electric in the neon lit bar that’s lined with trinkets, murals and an extravagant homage to Frida Kahlo. The bar has fast gained a name as one of the hottest cocktail stops in town, each including a Latin twist: Collins de Guayaba (guava with rum), Colombian Mules (ginger beer and gin) and Batida de Mango (cachaça with mango and fresh lime).

It pumps until the wee hours, with festivities fuelled by the endless streams of aguadiente bounding around the building. Best slurped straight from a shot glass, it’s an aniseed spirit that literally translates as “firewater.” A couple of those and you’ll be flamenco dancing with the best of them. More. Carrer d’Ataülf, 18, 08002

STREET ART: El Gotic & Eixample

Political messages in El Gòtic. Photo: Clare Hand
Back to the concrete corridors of El Gòtic where more drunken cackling and obvious drug peddling fill the streets the later it gets.

The area’s walls are tinged with the orange glow of intermittent streetlights, spotlighting the political messages coating the Catalonian capital. Obligatory ‘Fuck Trump’ tags are splattered on several surfaces: everyone’s favourite political villain is seemingly as likely to get middle-fingered in an alley in Barcelona as a promenade in Washington.

Most noticeably, the streets are smothered in spray-painted yellow ribbons. These have been popping up since October last year, when Catalan independence activists started using the symbol to show solidarity with Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, two imprisoned secessionist leaders.

On our twenty minute stroll northwards the streets widened as we left the old town, entering the tree-lined roads of Eixample. Every other balcony hosted a Catalan flag, gently flailing in the evening wind.

LGBT+: Arena Sala Madre

Party people at Arena. Photo: gaybarcelona4u.com
Eixample is home to the majority of the Barcelona’s LGBT+ bars. Following earlier advice from a man on the beach donning a pair of unfathomably tight speedos, we headed for Arena Sala Madre. According to one regular, “the lesbians rule the roost until three, and then it’s only gay men left after that.”

The place was rammed once the clock struck one, with nine – count ‘em – disco balls twirling on the roof. All drinks were free-pour; filling half the glass and making our Anglo-shots look like thimbles in comparison. And while the music selection didn’t exactly leave us wailing for one more tune did we not mention how alcoholic those ratios of mixer were? More. Carrer de Balmes, 32, 08007

CLUB: Apolo

The nose-less bust of Apolo. Photo: Clare Hand
Blurry-eyed and still standing, it was time to wander 25 minutes to Apolo, a cavernous concert venue that doubles up as a club, with four rooms dedicated to the hedonistic appreciation of sound. Upon entry into the first room there was a nose-less bust, spray-painted neon pink; it succinctly summed up the tone of the place.

Saturday is a heavy-duty techno night. DJs surveyed the crowds from podiums covered in ivy, ecstatically orchestrating the energy as such. When 6am struck, Apolo staff swiftly ushered everyone out, ready to greet the dawn of the fledgling day.

Our twelve hours were up. Knackered, we hopped on the metro back to Grácia. Here, we sat alongside a combination of elderly Catalonian women heading to the market and fishnet wearing twenty-somethings finally and reluctantly calling it a night. More. Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 113, 08004

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For accommodation options and more info on Barcelona see barcelonaturisme.com

Main image: dusk in Barcelona. Photo: Clare Hand

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