- A cutting-edge concept…
Diagonal Mar, where the city’s longest avenue meets the Mediterranean, is one of the most distinctive districts in Barcelona. Urban planners transformed what was previously an industrial wasteland into a modern complex of luxury high-rise apartments, top-class hotels, office blocks, conference centres, a ‘starchitect’-designed park, a massive mall and a brand spanking new beach. Only a 20-minute metro ride to the heart of Barcelona’s old town, it feels like a different world entirely.
The popular Spanish saying ‘renovarse o morir’ (‘renovate or die’) comes to mind as you walk the streets of Diagonal Mar. It’s the latest in a long line of massive infrastructure projects to change Barcelona’s cityscape, following the two International Exhibitions of 1888 and 1929 and the legendary Olympic Games of 1992. The triangular Fòrum building jutting out into the sea is the legacy of a huge international symposium held in 2004. Nowadays it serves as a hub for corporate events and conferences. It’s also the venue for some of the world’s biggest music festivals – such as Primavera Sound – together with year-round exhibitions.
…and considerable controversy
The Diagonal Mar development hasn’t been without its critics. Detractors have called it an urban planning disaster, complaining that it’s devoid of a social life and community spirit. It’s true that the zone seems rather anaemic compared to the traditional barrios of Barcelona, but what the area lacks in charm, it makes up for in carefully designed facilities.
Know your neighbours
As a new and planned community, Diagonal Mar has seen some hefty hikes in real estate values. No surprise then that it has a fairly private atmosphere, with middle and higher-earners in the majority. Many Catalan families also choose to stay in this district, drawn by the wide streets and attractions of Parc Diagonal Mar and the nearby beach. The district’s modern apartments tend to be spacious and luxurious, with killer views over the park and shore.
Despite the area’s proximity to the sea, Diagonal Mar isn’t full of sun seekers, tourists and kids on skateboards (in other words, it’s not Barceloneta). Llevant beach is more of an artificial add-on, much quieter than Barcelona’s other beaches, although it does have a full range of facilities such as volleyball courts, showers and sun loungers. You’re bound to come across some locals if you choose to spend an afternoon sunbathing and swimming.
As malls go, the three-storey Diagonal Mar shopping centre is pretty swanky, as well as being the largest such centre in Spain. High-street fashion stalwarts like Zara, H&M, Miss Sixty and Desigual are complemented by an 18-screen cinema on the top floor, a massive Alcampo supermarket in the basement, and countless restaurants (mostly fast-food eateries) dotted throughout. And the whole complex is connected to the plush Hotel Princesa next door at number one Diagonal Avenue. The main area of the mall is closed on Sundays, as is the norm in Barcelona, although the restaurants and leisure facilities on the top floor stay open.
Although it’s a good bit further out from the city centre, the Diagonal Mar district is well connected by public transport. On the metro, the yellow line 4 is the one to take – any of the three stops of Selva de Mar, Maresme/Fòrum and Besòs Mar will take you into the heart of the district. Several bus lines, including 7, 36, 41 and 141 all reach here too. There’s also the T4 tram line, taking you directly to the end of Diagonal Avenue.
If you’re coming by car, you’ll have an easier time of it here than in the rest of the city. Arriving from the airport, you will take the Ronda Litoral motorway, which runs the length of Barcelona’s coastline (take exit 24). If you’re driving from the city centre, you will be on the Avinguda Diagonal itself. The main shopping centre has 5,000 parking spaces, with free parking for up to three hours.
In terms of finding your way about on foot, it couldn’t be simpler. Developers followed the tried and tested example of L’Eixample, and stuck to the grid-like layout that makes getting lost practically impossible. There are also plenty of walkways and cycle paths within the main park, where you’ll get peace to go for a stroll.
- Diagonal Mar is not the area to choose if you’re after a thriving cultural scene or boozy nights out. It is great, though, if you want a peaceful place to stay and don’t mind getting the metro or tram into the city centre. For local entertainment, your options are the massive mall and its multi-screen cinema, heading down to Llevant beach, or relaxing in the area’s landscaped park. Future developments include an aquatic zoo and new marina, but these still look to be some way off.
In 2011 the Fòrum building became the new home for Barcelona’s Museu de Ciències Naturales (Natural History Museum), where you could easily while away a couple of hours. Epitomising Barcelona’s obsession with energy-saving measures is the dramatic Plaça Fotovoltaica, a huge structure of solar panels, which is now a familiar feature on the city’s skyline. But the Parc Diagonal Mar is the dominant attraction, and the one people tend to gravitate towards.
Designed by the same Catalan architect behind the Scottish Parliament (the late great Enric Miralles), the park covers 15 hectares, and follows in Barcelona’s innovative tradition of successfully mixing nature and architecture. It’s made up of seven different areas, and is full of water features, coils of aluminium tubes that function as an irrigation system and a children’s play area. All in all, an interesting spot to sunbathe, read a book or let the kids run amok.
Eating, drinking and socialising
It has to be said that Diagonal Mar is not exactly the social butterfly of Barcelona’s barrios. Once shoppers retreat at night-time, it tends to go back to being a quiet residential neighbourhood.
For nightlife, you could either head into the city centre on the metro (or a taxi), or else target the well-known bars and clubs in Vila Olímpica, slightly along the coast. There are plenty of modern bars and restaurants in the shopping centre, although these tend to be franchises and part of a chain. A decent restaurant within the shopping complex is the Basque Sagardi, up on the third floor. The concept is based on a traditional Basque cider house, and guests are invited to serve their own cider from the oak barrels. For a more romantic atmosphere, you could try L’Escola, which gives cookery-school students a chance to show off their talents. Service is friendly and the food represents very good value for money.
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