- Before the 1992 Olympic Games, the area now known as Vila Olímpica (the Olympic Village) was part of the industrial heartland of Barcelona, alongside its neighbour Poble Nou. It was regenerated beyond all recognition in the run-up to the event, however, and was purpose-built as a model environment for the Olympic athletes. Over the last 20 years, the 200 buildings (in 200 different styles) have gradually been sold on, creating an area with modern and generally spacious accommodation.
Twin skyscrapers herald the entrance to the district, which is laid out in the familiar ‘chess board’ pattern, with the master architects taking inspiration from the success of L’Eixample’s layout. With a couple of parks, access to several beaches, designer apartments and a swanky marina, it’s easy to live the jetsetting life in this area.
Know your neighbours
Over the last 20 years, as the district of Vila Olímpica has become more established, it’s gained a name as one of the most sought-after places to live in Barcelona. Its modern apartments come with hefty price tags, thanks to the area’s beachside status and high-quality properties. Many families live here, no doubt attracted by the idea of a quiet, residential spot that’s also right by the beach. The long esplanade down by the Hotel Arts is also a popular spot with residents, whether it’s to go for a stroll with the dog or enjoy the entertainment by the marina.
This definitely isn’t the area for you if you’ve got visions of splashing the cash in Barcelona’s designer shopping boutiques. There is a small shopping centre, called El Centre de La Vila, which houses a branch of the Consum chain of supermarkets. If you’re after a much more sophisticated mall-style venue, then hop on the metro or tram to Diagonal Mar, a little further along the coast. Otherwise, you’ll be very close to the district of Born, which abounds with quaint, one-off boutiques as well as the standard tourist souvenirs.
Getting the metro is simple in Vila Olímpica – there’s only one station, Ciutadella Vila Olímpica, on the yellow line 4. From here you’re four stops away from the Passeig de Gràcia, which is the one to get off at to see Gaudí’s La Pedrera. Barcelona’s tram line also stops in this area. Several bus routes, including the Tourist Bus, also service the area, and you’ll see plenty of people getting around on two wheels, whether cycling or rollerblading. Or, for the lucky few of you who’ve pitched up in style, there are over 700 yacht berths in the marina.
- As you might have guessed, most of Vila Olímpica’s social life centres around the bars and restaurants clustered around the seafront, all watched over by the huge bronze sculpture aptly titled ‘Peix’ (fish). Sampling some local seafood complemented by Cava at one of area’s open-air restaurants should definitely be top of your list.
Bring your water wings
If you’re a water sports enthusiast, you’ll be in paradise here. Try your hand at sailing or windsurfing from the marina out to the Med, following in the footsteps of the Olympic competitors. The beaches on either side of the wharf are Barceloneta, which is usually packed with locals and tourists alike, and Nova Icària, which is more family-oriented. But there are also a couple of other options if you somehow manage to get bored of the beach.
See some quirky sculptures
Frank Gehry, the architect behind Bilbao’s famous Guggenheim Museum building, was commissioned to produce the sculpture that has come to dominate Barcelona’s waterfront. Inaugurated for the 1992 Games, the glinting copper fish sits beside the Hotel Arts, reaching 35 metres high. With gills of gilded steel, the fish is one of the city’s best-loved landmarks.
Enric Miralles, he of Scottish Parliament fame, together with Carme Pinós, contributed the pergola walkway on Avenida Icària. The street’s underground waste site meant that planting trees here wasn’t an option, and after a lot of debate, pseudo trees of steel and wood were given the green light. A more colourful sculpture stands at the entrance to Port Olympic Park. This bold homunculus was designed by Robert Llimós, and was named ‘Marc’ in memory of the artist’s son. He made his debut in 1997.
Catch a film
The Icaria Yelmo Cineplex (granted, not the catchiest of names) is a relatively small complex in Vila Olímpica. It remains popular thanks to its showing of ‘version original’ films – ones where you can hear the actors actually speaking in their own voices. Spain has a tendency to dub everything to within an inch of its life, which can quickly become wearying. Here, however, you can catch up with the latest blockbuster and follow the dialogue in Spanish subtitles, if you’re so inclined. You can also bring along your own 3D glasses, rather than being obliged to purchase them at the cinema.
Your pick of parks
The Parc del Port Olympic sits just behind the twin towers. It’s a pleasantly green spot to sit and read the paper, as well as ponder some of the legacy of the Games – there’s a list of names of the gold medallists up on display, as well as a bronze statue of Cobi, who was the official mascot.
The wonderful Ciutadella Park is also on your doorstep from Vila Olímpica. Wander round the zoo, work on your rusty rowing skills on the boating lake, or just lie and sunbathe on the numerous grassy verges. A great alternative for getting away from the beach.
Eating and drinking
There are dozens of outdoor bars and restaurants that line the seafront, including several international fast-food joints. To find somewhere decent to eat, have a good look at the clientele inside – local residents are pretty discerning here when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff.
Seafood restaurants abound on the streets along the wharf, such as Moll de Mestral and Moll del Gregal. One example is Tapas Locas, which serves good-quality tapas cooked to order and never fails to live up to expectations when it comes to friendly service. Another welcoming spot is El Túnel del Port, whose terraces offer fantastic views over the surrounding seaside. On the ground floor of the Hotel Pullman Skipper Barcelona you’ll find the Blend Lounge & Bar, which would be a good dinner choice for a special occasion. The restaurant specialises in Mediterranean-inspired flavours, and you can opt to eat al fresco on the terrace. Alternatively, just sit back and sip a cocktail. For a totally different drinking experience, check out Barcelona’s Ice Bar. They also have a beach terrace, if arctic climes aren’t quite what you had in mind from your Mediterranean holiday.
Late nights and early hours
Vila Olímpica is heaving with nightlife. It’s home to some of BCN’s coolest beachside clubs, which fill up quickly as the bars close in the early hours. Or, if you’re feeling lucky, you might want to head to Barcelona’s Grand Casino, which sits underneath one of the twin towers (in the Hotel Arts). Ideal for losing lots of money.
The upmarket Opium Mar is perhaps the best-known nightclub – occupying a prime location right on the waterfront – and is a favourite of Barcelona’s beautiful people. It’s a slick (some might say pretentious) place, with fantastic seafront terraces, whose license allows it to stay open till six in the morning. Another trendy venue is Shoko, an oriental-inspired bar, restaurant and club close to the Mapfre tower, while Catwalk’s two floors offer up a mix of hip hop, RnB and techno music. Dress to impress if you’re thinking of heading to any of the Port Olympic clubs – the door staff are known to be a bit picky.
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