With its rehabilitated gothic buildings, hydrogen bus pilot program, and liberal use of solar power, Barcelona is one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world—and one of the most stylish. The approximately 113,000-square-foot solar panel located on the Forum Esplanade (below right) is the perfect symbol of the city’s unique blend of aesthetics and sustainability: The architectural jaw-dropper supplies enough electricity for the public utility system to reduce carbon emissions by 440 tons per year. Check out what else Spain’s natural sweetheart by the sea has to offer. 


Casa Camper is a quirky boutique hotel opened by the eponymous, eco-friendly shoe line. The hotel claims to be the first in the world to install solar panels for heating water and to offer a water-recycling system in every room. It also supplies hammocks and free bikes for guests. Be sure to notice the cheeky signs placed throughout: Use the Stairs, Recycle, Stop Smoking, Slow Down, Conserve Water, Use Condoms, and Just Go for a Walk. For those who prefer a more plush setting, Neri Hotel & Restaurante is a restored eighteenth-century palace that retains period décor, including a lounge/library overlooking the Gothic Quarter—but the solar panels on the roof are quite modern.


Barcelona is one of the most walkable cities in Europe, so it’s easy to get around with nary a drop of gasoline. For a pedestrian introduction to the city’s boho charm, stroll under canopies of trees, starting from the ocean-view end of Las Ramblas (above), a street where artisans sell their wares and mimes entertain passersby, and then head up to Antoni Gaudí’s great, unfinished Sagrada Família basilica. Afterwards, catch the sunset at his nearby psychedelic hilltop garden of mosaics, Parque Güell (below left). (Gaudí was a big fan of preserving natural light in his structures because of its positive effect on the spirit.) Or traverse the city by bicycle. Barcelona’s spacious avenues allow an extensive system of bike lanes to accommodate Bicing, a public bike-sharing system started last year. It’s currently only available for residents, but you can rent your own bike for around 25€ a day from Bike Rental Barcelona. Too weary for biking or walking? Hydrogen buses are on the way. After successful trial runs, the city plans to expand its hydrogen fleet. (For now, you can take an ordinary public bus for 1.25€.)


The city has a hopping market scene with plenty of food vendors to inspire its nouveau Mediterranean cuisine. The Mercado de la Boqueria (above), which opened in 1840, is the city’s oldest market; its 250 stalls offer a wide array of produce, meats, and fish. You can also grab a bite or a beer at one of the ten restaurants inside. Fresh, organic foods can also be found across town at the new Mercat de Santa Caterina, which features an undulating roof of colorful tile and wood designed by the city’s hottest architects. Barcelona is reputed to have more than half of Spain’s vegetarian restaurants, too. One of the most popular, La Báscula, is a hippie-chic, co-op café located around the corner from the Museu Picasso. Order an organic caña (beer) and check out the progressive flyers in the front hall as you wait for your table. For a trendy take on the ovo-lacto-veggie menu (there are vegan options as well), head to Sesamo in the Raval eighborhood, where you can listen to ambient music while sipping natural fruit juice.


Barcelona’s city dwellers are both stylish and eco conscious to the max. Visit La Manual Alpargatera for a pair of traditional Catalonian espadrilles made with natural vegetable-fiber (hemp, jute, esparto grass) soles and cotton or linen uppers. They’re heavenly for both street and beach walking. Or take home a cool messenger bag from Demano (the name means handmade, see below). The patchwork pop art design is comprised of recycled materials like PVC polyester from banners promoting cultural events. Everyone in Barcelona—where refashioned design is called “trashion”—has one. One person’s trashion is another person’s killer souvenir. 

Story by Adriana V. Lopez. This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008