There has probably never been a more fascinating time to visit the beautiful city of Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalan district. While the Catalonian people are making their stand for independence, the artists of the city are expressing their passion and political position through a vibrant modern scene that is well worth exploring.
The Catalan capital has always been a key destination for art and culture lovers, with its stunning Gaudí architecture, Picasso Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of National Catalonian Art. And while these are all still great places to visit, if you want to get to the heart of this modern, bustling city, then you’ll need to put your guide book away and search out some of the city’s contemporary hidden creative gems.
Here is my guide to the key exhibition spaces and galleries only the locals know about, and where the real Catalan culture of the twenty-first century is being expressed.
Ever since the deposition of the Spanish dictator Franco, artists have flocked to the Catalan city to express themselves freely. It was as early as 1975 that this artistic freedom began to be – quite literally – painted on the city’s streets.
Known as the ‘graffiti capital of Europe’, the city has always attracted leading street practitioners including the Parisian AKA C215 and Keith Haring. Haring famously painted an AIDS awareness motif in the notoriously drug and needle-strewn Barrio del Chino neighbourhood back in the 1980s, a work considered so important that it has since been moved to the Contemporary Art Museum.
Although local government has tried to stem the tide of street graffiti with fines and removal, they have also realised the work’s importance. As a result, you can find specific open areas within the city where it is encouraged. These spaces are now great places to go and see what is happening in this scene today.
In recent years artists such as Pez, Xupet Negre and Btoy Andrea Michaelsson have all helped to keep the city’s reputation as the graffiti capital alive. Today, there are walking tours which take in some of the most famous works, but one of the best ways of discovering what’s new is just to wander around and keep your eyes open.
Galleries and Exhibition Spaces
Of course, not all contemporary art takes place on the streets in Barcelona. In the last ten years there has been an explosion of creative, contemporary spaces throughout the city where challenging, alternative practitioners can show off their work.
If you want to discover the very latest talent, and maybe even invest in a work or two, then head away from the crowds on the Ramblas and visit Galeria Artevistas in the Passatge del Crèdit.
It can be hard to spot this small gallery, hidden down a covered passageway, but once you walk through its door you’ll know you’ve arrived as you are confronted by walls of vibrant colour, edgy works and a welcoming, friendly staff.
The Poetry Brothel
This is a uniquely ‘alternative’ Barcelona experience. In fact the Prostibulo Poetico (Poetry Brothel) is so ‘alternative’ that it can be fairly hard to track down.
Made up of a group of poets specialising in erotic, exotically indulgent poetry, the group holds events several times a year in venues which are only announced close to performance times (although you should be able to find them in local listings if they coincide with your visit).
Thought of as “private lap dances of poetry”, the listener is taken in to a private room, where the poet will seduce you with their verse. As well as poetry, these events tend to include live music and dramatic performances, in what is a thoroughly indulgent, debauched creative adventure.
To discover the latest experience of gallery viewing, visit the contemporary Àngels in the Raval district. Some of the world’s leading cutting-edge practitioners exhibit here in a space designed to show the latest in abstract installations, visual creations and film and video works.
Artists shown here have include British talent Richard T Walker, Joan Fontcuberta with her conceptual work, and the experimental documentaries of Harun Farocki.
How to Get to Barcelona
There are regular flights to Barcelona Airport from across the UK with a range of budget and premium providers. The city is great for weekend breaks because the airport is just half an hour’s drive from the city centre. So, book yourself an economical shared group transfer with Shuttle Direct online before you leave home and you’ll give yourself more time to explore.
Where to Stay
Residencia Universitaria Campus del Mar – University residences can make a great, cheap accommodation option, often at the heart of the place you’re visiting. The stylish Residencia Universitaria Campus del Mar is just a few minute’s walk from the beach in the vibrant Barceloneta neighbourhood. Each room has its own kitchen area and there is a games room, library and laundrette downstairs.
Generator Hostel Barcelona – The chic, stylish Generator Hostel Barcelona is in the heart of town, just a short walk from the Passeig de Gracia Avenue, and two metro stations. There’s a choice between private rooms and dormitories (women-only dorms are available). Wi-Fi is available in the communal lounge downstairs.
Yeah Barcelona Hostel – Set close to the lively Gracia district, the Yeah Barcelona Hostel has its own bar and restaurant, perfect for getting to know and hanging out with other guests. The rooms all have private bathrooms with a shower and Wi-Fi is available throughout.
About Shuttle Direct
Shared group transfers with Shuttle Direct offer a safe, economical way of getting from the airport to your final destination. Book online before you set off and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your transport will be waiting to take you where you want to go for a pre-agreed price. Shuttle Direct is the major provider of airport transfers across Europe and northern Africa.