Considered to be the biggest LGBT+ Pride celebration in the Mediterranean, with over 200,000 people taking part in the celebrations each year, Barcelona Pride is a wonderful time to visit the city. This cosmopolitan beach city hosts one of the least corporate and most inclusive Pride celebrations I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. Plus, it’s also one of my top 5 places to visit, so you are guaranteed an amazing weekend full of beaches, good food and fun bars – plus all the events, exhibitions, parties and parade that form the Barcelona gay Pride programme. I’ve detailed below all the information you need to know for the next Pride celebration plus a look at the history of Pride and my own experience of it below.
Barcelona Pride will next take place from 19–26 June 2021, with the parade happening on Saturday 26 June. For further information about the itinerary, please check Pride Barcelona’s website.
Where to stay
If you want to stay as close as possible to Av. Maria Cristina, where Barcelona’s Pride village is (including the main stage – so basically where all the big outdoor parties happen) then you really can’t do better than B-Hotel. Located on the opposite side of the Plaça d’Espanya roundabout, it is a 5-minute walk from both Pride Village and Rocafort Metro station. I stayed here about 12 years ago on my first trip to Barcelona and the rooms are very stylish and sexy.
When I visit Barcelona these days, I prefer to stay in the edgy El Raval/Sant Antoni area of the city – which is also a short walk from Pride Village and gay bars like Madame Jasmine and La Federica. I’ve stayed at the Market Hotel, which is quite sexy (watch my video review) and a really great mid-range option, and Leonardo Hotel Barcelona Las Ramblas, which I also have a detailed review for. This area also has some of the best brunch options in Barcelona and generally a young/fun vibe about it.
Barcelona’s gay area is Eixample – or ‘Gaixample’ as it is generally called. If you’re more West London than East (or more Manhattan than Brooklyn) then this is the area for you, as the bars and shops are a little more upscale than El Raval. In the heart of this district is Axel Hotel, which describes itself as ‘hetero-friendly.’ This gay hotel has 105 rooms and a rooftop bar complete with a pool, sun-lounges and hot tub. For a slightly more dramatic room design, try the boutique Room Mate Anna Hotel, while if you prefer a chic black and white stripe, I highly recommend Europark Hotel, which I loved staying at during my 2009 trip.
Barcelona has many amazing hostels and while there aren’t any exclusively “gay hostels”, there are some great gay-friendly places for your stay during Pride. If you want to stay around El Raval/Sant Antoni, Pars Tailor’s Hostel is a fantastic option. This beautiful property is styled like a 1930s tailor’s workshop and has both mixed and female-only dorm rooms. Just across Gran Via in Eixample is the TOC Hostel – one of the most luxe hostels you’ll find in Europe. With chic interiors and a rooftop pool, you can still feel 5-star on a budget here. Or why not head further north to the Gracia district to try the glam Casa Gracia hostel, which is where Mariah Carey “stayed” recently. If you’re after a male-only dorm room, you can find one in Gracia at the well-reviewed Hostel Casa Kessler.
What to expect
I was lucky enough to visit Barcelona during Pride 2018. Whilst Pride does run for a couple of weeks, with a programme of events, exhibitions and mini-festivals, I came for the last weekend for the iconic Parade and parties.
I was quite surprised when I was walking around the city on the Thursday that there was so little visibility on the streets about the fact that it was Pride. Perhaps this was because I was staying in Sant Antoni rather than ‘Gaixample,’ but I didn’t really feel like this city was in the midst of a Pride celebration at the time. There were very few banners around the streets for example, so it felt like it could have been any other weekend. Plus, I didn’t clock many other queer people on the streets – but again, as I said, this was probably because I wasn’t in the heart of the gaybourhood.
Playa de la Mar Bella, the amazing nude/hipster/gay beach in Barcelona’s Poble Sec district, was busy as usual. I expected that the city would be overrun by other tourists visiting for Pride but really it was just the locals, which was actually really nice. As a city that has really struggled with overtourism since the advent of Airbnb, it was nice that Pride weekend didn’t appear to be that much of an issue for the city.
During the week around Pride, we went along to a couple of the exhibitions that formed part of the festival programme, including the LGBTI Erotica exhibition at Filippo ioco Studio & Gallery (2022 UPDATE: now closed) in Poble Sec and the Queer History archive at MACBA in El Raval, which were both really great.
On the Friday evening, we opted to visit the smaller “alternative” Gaixample Stage on C/ Enric Granados which is the perfect place for checking out some of gay Barcelona’s more alt/queer performers and clubs, such as the wonderful Pluma. The crowd was small and chilled, with much more of a local vibe about it. There was also quite a good drag market with clothes and accessories you could buy. I don’t think there was a bar there so everyone was simply drinking cans they have bought from nearby shops.
We then went on to Pluma’s club night nearby at Culture Club, which is where Robyn and I were performing drag shows alongside some amazing local performers including Raven Tadytha and the hosts, Jono Kitchens and Dino Real. This is such a great queer party that happens every month in Barcelona – definitely worth checking out no matter when you’re visiting the city.
Alternatively, on the same night at the main stage in Pride Village, there were loads of amazing things to watch and do, including the iconic High Heels race, the drag queen catwalk plus performances by Eurovision winners Conchita Wurst (she of the beard and beautiful voice) and Loreen (of Euphoria fame). So, this would also have all been amazing too.
The Pride parade didn’t start till 5pm which was great as we were still very hungover from the night before. We are arrived late (because we had to get back in drag lewks, of course) and had planned to march with our friends from Pluma but figured that we wouldn’t be able to get through. Having been to Sydney Mardi Gras and London Pride before, which are both heavily marshalled with barriers and huge crowds, I was expecting Barcelona Pride to be the same. However, there were no barriers and only a few marshals, as the crowds were large enough to line the whole route but not so massive that you felt overwhelmed or unsafe.
This was actually really nice because, having marched in both of the LGBT+ demonstrations above, it felt less like a whole bunch of people coming to “watch the freaks” as the crowds can sometimes feel and more like locals and less exhibitionistic visitors wanting to celebrate Pride. So, thankfully, we were able to slip into the parade and join our friends without issue.
Barcelona’s Pride parade starts at Parc de les Tres Xemeneies and then proceeds up Parallel to Plaça Espanya, where Pride Village is located. The parade took only 2.5 hours for everyone to march and both participants and observers to file into the Pride Village. I was so impressed by this because I’ve sometimes had to wait that long to even be able to start marching.
I was also impressed by how much trans visibility there was on the march. There was a whole family marching in front of us in support of their trans daughter, with everyone wearing Trans Pride flags as capes. I later saw many more groups like this at the party, so it was wonderful to see so much love and diversity in the parade. I was also happy that there were so many lesbians at Pride and that it wasn’t a totally male-dominated event.
I was also really impressed by the leather daddies marching behind us, all still in full attire despite the 30-degree heat. Some of my friends commented that the ‘lewks’ were much bigger at Sitges Pride a couple of weeks earlier but having seen some of the outfits at the party later and in photos on Instagram, I think we also only saw a small selection of fab outfits on show.
We marched straight into Pride Village, which is the beautiful boulevard that leads up to the Magic Fountain and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The party was free and there was ample room for the thousands of revellers filling the outdoor party. It felt amazing to be outside in the warm evening air, surrounded by so many amazing LGBT+ people. The party was really well organised with a huge stage and screen situated at one end of the boulevard which was visible from anywhere in Pride Village.
There was a long row of bars and port-a-loos on one side, which were both always busy, but thankfully you never had to queue for that long for either. However, the bar didn’t take cash or cards – you head to queue up to buy drinks vouchers from the booths nearby. This was kind of annoying as you couldn’t be sure how long you would be at the party for/how much you would drink. I would recommend making a beeline for these booths when you first arrive to ensure that you grab a couple of drinks vouchers before the crowds arrive.
The music and the acts were overall really great. The highlight of the night was definitely Eleni Foureira, Cyprus’ answer to Beyonce who really should have won Eurovision this year. The best thing about this Pride party was there was lots of room to hang out, sit down, chat with friends, dance, make new friends, do whatever you wanted to do. You didn’t have to watch the performances at all if you didn’t want to.
Overall, I found Barcelona Pride to be a really lovely weekend and amazingly positive but also quite chilled experience of the city. I would definitely recommend it as a great weekend away here, especially if the other Barcelona LGBT+ festivals like Circuit/Girlie Circuit aren’t really your cup of tea. For me, it was yet another reason to love Barcelona.
The history of LGBT+ rights and Pride in Barcelona
The first LGBT Pride march took place in Barcelona on 26th June 1977 and, like so many other Pride celebrations around the world, it started out as a protest.
In the decades prior to this, Spain was ruled by the dictator Franco, who came to power in 1939 with the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War and whose regime only ended with his death in 1975. During this era, trans and gay Spaniards were brutally oppressed, with homosexuality being declared illegal in 1954 with a reformed Vagrancy Act. This law was replaced by the Law of Dangerousness and Social Rehabilitation in 1970, which extended the powers of the state over LGBT+ people to include up to 3 years imprisonment and “rehabilitation” in special prisons known as “galerías de invertidos” (“galleries of deviants”), which saw most of those arrested – primarily cis gay men and trans women – being subjected to torture and electric shock treatments.
During this time, many LGBT+ people from the Catalan region took refuge in Sitges, the tiny seaside town 35 kilometres southwest of Barcelona. For artists, free thinkers and those oppressed by the Spanish state, it was a countercultural haven from the military dictatorship that ruled the country. This is why, decades later, Sitges remains an iconic destination for LGBT+ locals and travellers (as it’s an easy day trip from nearby Barcelona).
In response to the change of law in 1970, the first public LGBT+ activist group, Movement for the Homosexual Liberation (MELH), was formed in Spain but their actions were quickly suppressed by the Franco regime. Following the dictator’s death in 1975, these activists reformed as the Catalan Front for the Gay Liberation (FAGC) – whose offices can still be found today in the Gracia district of Barcelona (they throw great parties during the Festes Major de Gracia every August). Despite Franco’s death and the movement towards changes across the country, his laws remained and were still enforced, with police regularly raiding gay bars. Around 600 LGBT+ people were arrested and imprisoned during 1976-77.
On the 26th of June 1977, some 4,000 people marched up Barcelona’s main boulevard, Las Ramblas, to demonstrate against LGBT+ oppression. Gay and trans people were joined by libertarians, trade unionists and allies, who gathered in Plaça de Catalunya to protest. They were brutally attacked by police, who used batons and rubber bullets to suppress the protest. However, their use of force only empowered the movement and more marches appeared across Spain the following summer.
These original Pride marches led to the Law of Dangerousness and Social Rehabilitation being repealed in 1979 and the decriminalization of homosexuality. Nearly a decade later, Spain recognised transsexuality in 1987 by allowing people to change their gender on official documents without having to undergo surgery. The following year, the Catalan Parliament passed a Law for Established Partnership Unions, the first of its kind in Spain.
In 2005, Spain became the third country in the world (after the Netherlands and Belgium) to legalise same-sex marriage and gay adoption. This was incredible considering it was the first predominantly Roman Catholic country to do so – the Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had to face heavy opposition from the church in order to allow marriage equality in Spain.
In 2014, the Catan government passed the Act Against Homophobia to protect equality and formally legislate against discrimination, and in 2016 Spain topped an international poll as the country whose citizens were most supportive of transgender rights.
Despite, all the progress in the past 40 years, hate crimes targeting LGBT+ people still exist and, according to local authorities, have increased in Spain over the past couple of years. This means the struggle towards LGBT+ visibility and equality is still very real, making Pride a hugely important event both in Spain (and around the world).
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