‘Why is Barcelona so gay?’
Eloi, founder of Rainbow Barcelona Tours, suddenly asked me during a tour of Barcelona, his city.
He was taking us on a trip through time on the Modernism and Gaudi Tour and we had just stopped in front of one of Barcelona’s famous landmarks – Caso Batilo.
Seeing the baffled look on my face, he simply smiled and said proudly,
‘Barcelona is one of the ‘pink cities’ and one of the five biggest gay scene cities in the world.’
He went on to explain that since 1998, the first law in Catalonia supporting the gay community was accepted and in 2005, Spain was one of the first countries in the world to legalize gay marriage.
Acceptance is so high today that a disco in March 2014 was sued for not letting transsexuals entering the club. It really goes to show Barcelona is willing to fight for gay rights.
I was so intrigued about the history of gay rights. Luckily, Eloi didn’t stop there.
He went back to 1960s and 1970s, where thanks to a little small town called Sitges, 35 kilometres south-west of Barcelona, this is where gay rights in Barcelona started. Sometimes known for its film festival, carnival or its night life scene enough to call it ‘Ibiza in miniature’, it was actually a hot destination for gay and lesbian people. A bohemian place for writers, sculptors, architects and more to visit during the General Franco dictatorship, this was the place to be gay and see other gay people. Thanks to them, it’s now possible for gay people to hold hands and kiss in public without any backlash.
So as a Pink city, why do people visit Barcelona?
Eloi claims that at least 50% of gay tourists are closeted in their own country about their sexuality. So when they come to Barcelona, they realise they are free to do what they want however, they dress, party and do all the things that are considered normal here.
This is where Rainbow Barcelona Tours comes in.
Pretty sweet eh?
Since Eloi has established Rainbow Barcelona Tours, TripAdvisor soon tells you that Rainbow Barcelona Tours are the best option to use experienced gay tour guides who will give you the option to discover the most important monuments and places of the city at your own pace.
Not only that, they will also give you all the detailed information suited to your needs and the possibility to enjoy one of their activities whether it is a wine tour, bike tour or even a trip up to the mountains. But one tour that is readily acclaimed is the Gay/Lesbian Nightlife tour of Barcelona.
Don’t speak English or Catalan? Not to worry, Eloi has made sure he picks out people with multiple languages to be his gay tour guides. French, German, Spanish and Portuguese are a few of the many languages spoken.
One thing that Eloi stresses to me about his tour company us that, as a gay man, he feels that there should be an empathic relationship between the tour guide and the tourists as he wants them to be able to feel that they can talk about anything ranging from gay bars, information about the city, saunas and more. He feels that other companies are only concerned about what to see during the tour and walk away.
I decided to put him and his tour guides to the test:
Modernism and Gaudi Tour
This two and a half hour tour was led by Eloi and his partner in crime, Albert who also doubled up as the tour’s administrator. Between them, they encompassed an unique and valuable knowledge of Barcelona, most particularly the Modernism in the city and its chief architect, Gaudi. Starting in the Exiample district of the city, we were introduced to renowned modernist houses such as Casa Calvet, Casa Macaya, La Pedrera and Casa Batilo.
But let’s get something right here.
I hate talking about art. Wild horses couldn’t drag me into art galleries and I avoid national galleries like the plague. So you could understand why I wasn’t sure at first whether I was going to enjoy this tour.
I needn’t have worried.
This tour was an absolute blast!
I would be caught in rapt attention, listening to the tour guides reveal intimate knowledge of their love of the city’s architecture. Could this be the empathic relationship Eloi was on about?
Bit by bit, I grew to learn more about Barcelona and its revered resident Mr Gaudi himself. Making our way to the city’s most famous landmark and icon, the Sagrada Familia, we found out this church has been in construction for over 100 years using private donations only.
But it was Eloi who rather impressed me on what happened next.
On the exterior of the Sagrada Familia are rich decorated biblical scenes taken from the bible that emphasised Gaudi’s deeply religious nature. The stonework was rather intricate, each scene retelling a story.
But it was Eloi who stunned me:
‘I’ve never read the bible itself but I know what biblical stories there are thanks to Sagrada Familia.’
I challenged him and he didn’t disappoint. I confess I forgot about a few of the biblical stories from my Sunday School days and it was a pleasure listening to Eloi tell us those stories using the scenes etched onto the side of the Sagrada Familia.
This is where we would end the modernism and Gaudi tour (with a side of Barcelona’s gay history) and I confess I was a little disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to come inside the Sagrada Familia with us as I wanted to know a lot more.
However, they will happily organise your entrance fee to visit the inside of the church (15€ per person) and make sure you ‘skip the line’. (Let the tour guides know in advance as the queues are extremely long!)
So did Eloi connect with me? I’m glad to say that he did. I simply wanted to hang out with him and Albert a lot more but keeping it short and sweet, they said they would meet me later on for the nightlife they would want to show me.
So what does the tour include?
- Pick up service from your hotel
- Private tour guide (Woo, woo, Eloi!)
- Welcome Pack including bottled water, maps and other surprises… (wink, wink)
But make sure you have enough cash to jump on the metro as you will need to take it to see other monuments around the city.
Prices from the tour range from 26€ per person for a group of 6 people. Check out their website for more information.
Old Town Tour
On another day, both David of Two Bad Tourists and I were signed up to do the Old Town Tour of Barcelona. This time, the tour would be led by an interesting Mexican tour guide, Allan. He claims that Barcelona is the city he knows the best and calls home. And what’s more he loves to show the pleasures of the city, its secrets and hidden places to you as if you were a friend.
And you know what? He did.
This three hour tour would first start with the Arc de Triunfo and the Ciutadella Park. On this bright February morning, Allan soon launched into the history of the Ciutadella Park, which drew into the history of the rivalry of Catalonia against the rest of Spain. The whole place actually used to be a massive fortress but not to protect the citizens of Barcelona, but to stop them rebelling and control them! Luckily, by the mid 19th century, the fortress was by then demolished and a beautiful park was established. But along came the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition that left a huge legacy on the area. Amongst the beautiful walkway from the Arc de Triomf, you will find the Zoo, the Catalonian Parliament, the Castle of the Three Dragons and the Cascada Waterfall.
But gay mentions can be found within this park thanks to the monument in memory of gay, lesbian and transsexual victims of persecution and repression. The monument is a triangular shape measuring over four metres high and made from pink marble. Commissioned by Hereu, he explains that the shape is a symbol of persecution since the pink triangle was first used during the Second World War in the Concentration camps. But today, it is used as a ‘good-will statement from Barcelona’ and a reminder to those who should remember that ‘there are countries around the Mediterranean Sea where such ceremonies would not be able to be held.’ Of course, he expands that the City Hall in Barcelona is a place where gay, lesbian and transsexual people can get married.
So why in Ciutadella Park?
The Gay Liberation Movement of Catalonia explains that the place is appropriate for the monument as in 1991, a transsexual person was killed there in the bandstand next to Cascada Waterfall.
As such, as we approached the waterfall, we could see an inscription on the bandstand there.
Afterwards, we visited the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, the most ancient district that is 2,000 years old. First, we check out the Roman period within Museu Historia de Barcelona that showcased Roman remains within.
But it was the next period I was hugely interested in, the medieval times when old city walls sprang up revealing secret alleys that showed off its wondrous treasures within. But not forgetting the entrance to the Gothic Quarter, we check out the Cathedral of Barcelona first that is impressive but doesn’t stand out greatly, choosing to meld in with the Gothic Quarter. I liked this building.
Soon, Allan would be revealing secrets within the Gothic Quarter including one of the best cafes to have a drink or a quick meal at – Schilling Cafe. But it was the Jewish Quarter that grabbed my attention. Small streets and alleys made a cute view as I would happily be snapping pictures all day here.
But Allan would prove to be interesting himself. He told us his story as he walked with us, that not only he was just a tour guide but he was knowledgable in translation and interpreting, choosing to spend time in far flung destinations away from home to challenge himself. A hugely likeable guy, I couldn’t have chosen a better ‘local’ tour guide to show us the heart of the city.
Leaving us in the Jewish Quarter, the tour came to an end and I couldn’t believe that three hours had flown by. I really enjoyed this old town tour with Rainbow Barcelona Tours and I just wanted it to carry on.
What was included in this tour?
- Pick up service at your hotel
- Private tour guide
- Welcome pack including bottled water, city maps and more
- Ice cream
- Other surprises…
The prices for there Old Town Tour start from 26€ per person for a group of 6 people.
Gay Events in Barcelona
Even doing tours in Barcelona is not enough for them!
Rainbow Barcelona Tours is involved in the many LGBT events happening in Catalonia.
- Barcelona Gay Pride – 25th-28th June
- Circuit Festival – 5th-16th August
- OlaGirls: The Lesbian Mediterranean Getaway – 5-7th June
- Stiges Gay Pride – 18th-22nd June
If you would like to know more about LGBT events in Catalonia, Rainbow Barcelona will happily help you.
Verdict of the Tours
Throughout the two tours I undertook with Rainbow Barcelona Tours, I couldn’t help but wish I could have spent more time in Barcelona so i could go on even more tours. Perhaps I could take the Montjuic Mountain Tour or perhaps glamorously the Sitges Exclusive Sailboat Tour. But all I know is that I would be well looked after by the tour guides who by the end of the tours would become my friends.
So Eloi was right, it’s all the little things that makes or breaks the tour. And he’s hit a winning formula that tour guides should develop an empathic relationship with their tourists.
‘Isn’t it easy for gay tourists to fall in love with their gay tour guides in this relationship?’ I asked Eloi later on.
He simply winked and said,
‘Ah, it’s a beautiful thing to fall in love. After all, love is what makes Barcelona so gay.’
Rainbow Barcelona Tours Details