When visiting Barcelona, the Eixample area, to the north and close to the heart of the city, is a must. This is an area of Barcelona split into two parts: the ‘left side’ and the ‘right side’, the sides referring to their position relative to the Paseo de Gracia, one of the city’s two most cosmopolitan avenues. The other is Las Ramblas, also running through Eixample. Traditionally popular with the rich and famous, the district also has a significant immigrant population.
The area was developed in 1859 to accommodate the increasing population of old Barcelona, situated between the old city and the districts of Gracia and Sants, and others that at the time of its development were outlying industrial towns. It is now a modernist commercial and residential area, originally designed by the progressive urban planner, Ildefons Cerda, to allow maximum ventilation and light in the dwellings and streets, while also offering easy transportation with its grid street pattern.
Architecturally, Eixample is famed for its modernist buildings, many designed by one of the world’s most original architects, Antoni Gaudi. His art nouveau architecture is exemplified the delightful Sagrada Familia church, started in 1882 and still not finished, and the entire area is rich in other ‘modernista’ work and a haven for lovers of architecture. You must also visit the Casa Mila, also by Gaudi, designed in the biomorphism style decades before the term was used for this style of architecture.
If you prefer shopping, then the Paseo de Gracia is one of the most important shopping areas in Barcelona, and also, incidentally, the most expensive in Spain for property prices. Practically every fashion house you can think of has a boutique here, including Chanel, Hermes and Yves-Saint-Laurent. The avenue itself is a joy to walk down, in the form of a wide boulevard lined with trees. With upmarket eating places, wonderful cafes and countless luxury hotels, the Paseo de Gracia is a tourist’s dream.
All that in addition to the fabulous architecture - but don’t drive unless you know the area well. You won’t be able to park in the streets, and you are liable to spend more time hunting for a parking space than enjoying what Eixample has to offer. Luckily, public transport is excellent, and the rail service can get you to the El Prat airport in 20 minutes, and the bus 30 minutes. There is also an excellent taxi service and a subway.
Talking of taxis, there is no fixed tipping policy in Barcelona - or Spain in general. The locals rarely tip, even in restaurants, and when they do it’s normally only 30 - 50 eurocents. Generally, however, tips are not expected in bars, restaurants and cabs although are welcomed when given. Most waiters and waitresses do not rely on tips although some illegals are now being employed on low wages. Keep an eye on restaurant bills because they don’t always include the VAT on menu prices, and though the menu should state so, you could get a nasty surprise when the bill arrives.
Restaurant prices tend to be expensive, and the majority serves Mediterranean or Catalan food. The Casa Calvet and El Principal are very good if you can afford it, but if you prefer sushi or sashimi, then head for El Japones on Passatge Concepcion. However, there are plenty of tapas bars and cafes dotted around where you can get very good reasonably priced meals.
Eixample is a bit Jeckyll and Hyde at night with some excellent bars and clubs, but many areas are also dead after 5 pm. The latter are obvious by the quietness, but if it’s fun you are looking for then head for the harbour, and check out the Maremagnum. This offers a mixture of techno bars, Irish pubs, tourist bars and a dozen cinemas, and it’s also a great shopping center during the day.
Port Olimpic offers a range of bars and clubs, and some great seafood to mop it all up. If you are looking for gay bars, you will find a great gay bar area around the Gayxample zone, round the Calle Comte d’Urgell and Rambla Catalunya area. You also will find a good selection of restaurants and modern clothes shops here. Arena, for example, is an excellent gay ambient bar offering a number of dance floors with fabulous music.
Although the hotels can be expensive in Eixample itself, it also offers a good range of reasonably priced vacation apartments, and there is reasonably price accommodation available in other areas of Barcelona. The city center itself is only a mile away and within easy walking distance, so nobody should visit this great Catalan city without visiting Eixample and drinking in the architecture and sheer opulence of the place.