Barcelona’s appeal as a laid-back beachside city brimming with architectural elegance and easygoing charm is now well documented. From its Modernist masterpieces to its thriving bar and restaurant scene, and its location on the Mediterranean coast, the city is hard not to fall in love with.
But where exactly in Barcelona should you stay? Whether you’re on a weekend anniversary break with your loved one or a ten day exploration of Catalonia’s finest cultural offerings, here’s our run-down of the city’s neighbourhoods and what makes each one special.
For history, romance, and atmosphere, look no further than the ancient Barri Gòtic. Home to the remains of Roman Barcelona, this central neighbourhood is full of evocative neo-Gothic architecture. Think winding streets, archways and peeling wooden shutters. Check out the gloomy Gothic grandeur of the Barcelona Cathedral 77 with its many gargoyles and great views of the Old City from the roof. Get your fill of ornate churches with the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi 86, and the Basilica dels Sants Just i Pastor. Find a seat under a palm tree in Plaça Reial 81. Stroll down Las Ramblas 78 or head to Mercat de la Boqueria 77 with its fresh food stalls. This neighbourhood hums with activity in the daytime but is quiet at night, making it ideal for those wanting to get a daily dose of culture, retire early to bed, and make the most of the following day.
This former red light district has grown into a lively and dynamic neighbourhood. Here you’ll find the MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona 88, the city’s main modern art gallery, also a popular spot for skateboarders. There’s also the Filmoteca and the Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona 80, making El Raval a fabulous neighborhood for art lovers. Rapidly gentrifying, El Raval also has some great little boutiques as well as Indian and Pakistani-run markets, contributing to its bohemian and multicultural vibe. Make sure to visit Gaudí’s Palau Güell 87, a whimsical mansion that is over 100 years old, and catch a show at the Gran Teatre del Liceu 86.
Find out why Barcelona is considered one of Europe’s hottest cities of culture with a stay in diverse El Raval. TripExpert recommends Hotel 1898 87. Fodor’s says, ‘Overlooking La Rambla, this imposing mansion, once the headquarters of the Compañiá General de Tabacos de Filipinas, couldn’t be better located.’ There’s also the futuristic Barcelo Raval 83, ‘A hip Barcelona sleep near La Rambla with a rooftop bar and pool and panoramic city views’, according to Jetsetter.
Like the Barri Gòtic, El Born is full of medieval relics. And like El Raval, it has a trendy buzz. What really sets El Born part from the other two neighbourhoods are its relaxed plazas and lovely parks, which include the charming Parc de la Ciutadella 76, 280,000 square meters of peace, palm trees, and parrots. Rent a rowing boat here, or pay a visit to Barcelona Zoo. Don’t miss Mercat Santa Caterina 76, a great alternative to the crowded La Boqueria. Art aficionados will want to make a stop at the Picasso Museum. Less high-brow but highly entertaining is the Museu de Xocolata – it’s hard not to like a museum devoted to chocolate. When night falls, head out on an exploration of this neighbourhood’s buzzing restaurant scene. Don’t be confused if you hear this area referred to as La Ribera. It’s original name was actually Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera.
For historic architecture, edgy shops, and a cool vibe, El Born fits the bill. TripExpert recommends staying at Grand Hotel Central 87, which CN Traveller describes as, ‘hip without the attitude.’
Much of Barcelona’s charm lies in its seaside location, and so staying close to its sandy shores is an appealing choice. If you’re after easy breezy beachside living, the old fishermen’s neighbourhood of La Barceloneta is ideal. This area has a lovely village-like vibe and a laid-back atmosphere. Stroll the old centre with its small distinctive houses, narrow balconies, and blue and yellow flags – the ancient heraldic symbols of the neighbourhood.
Enjoy good seafood, go for morning jogs along the Passeig Marítim promenade, and kick back with a beer and watch gorgeous sunsets over the ocean. Kids will love visiting L’Aquarium de Barcelona 80, one of the biggest in Europe. You’ll also find an IMAX movie theatre in this neighbourhood – in the unlikely event of rain. And, of course, there are four different beaches to choose from. At the beach of Sant Sebastià you can take a cable car up to an observation platform near the Miramar hotel. Then there’s the beach of Barceloneta, the beach of Sant Miquel with its L’Estel Ferit sculpture, and lastly, the beach of Somorrostro.
La Dreta de l’Eixample
Barcelona is famous for its Modernist architecture. For those who want to explore what makes these buildings so unique and worthy of their UNESCO status, a stay in La Dreta de L’Eixample is ideal. Located on the right of Passeig de Gràcia, the area is home to Gaudí’s Casa Milà - La Pedrera 78 and the iconic Basilica of the Sagrada Familia 91, a magical reinvention of the traditional Gothic cathedral. Pay a visit to the Illa de la Discòrdia for a full-on pageant of Modernism with five creations by the three leading architects of the day: Casa Batllo 90 by Antoni Gaudí, Casa Lleó Morera by Domènech i Muntaner and Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Amatller 85 . You’ll even find Modernist grocery shops and pharmacies in this neighbourhood. This is a wealthy and upscale area, deserving of its nickname, ‘Quadrat d’or’, or ‘The Golden Grid.’ Peruse the shops along Passeig de Gràcia or relax in a bar on Passeig de Sant Joan.
For high end glamour and Modernist masterpieces, book into a hotel in Eixample Dreta. TripExpert recommends the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona 94. Afar Magazine says the experience is ‘100 percent deluxe.’ There’s also the Sir Victor Hotel 90, which CN Traveller describes as a celebration of ‘Nordic Zen’.
If you fancy escaping the tourists and traffic of central Barcelona for somewhere authentic, there’s no better place than Gràcia, with it’s arty and alternative vibe and proudly independent spirit. You’ll find chic boutiques, great restaurants, and even a few Modernist buildings, including Hotel Casa Fuster and Casa Vicens 79. Most significantly, however, this neighbourhood is home to Parc Güell, a Modernist wonderland with a mosaic dragon and Hänsel and Gretel-inspired gatehouses. Enjoy this neighbourhood’s slower pace, taking the time to enjoy a beer in one of the many peaceful plazas such as Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia or Plaça del Sol. Time your visit to coincide with the Festa Major de Gràcia to experience street decorations, fireworks, and parades.
L’Esquerra de l’Eixample and Sant Antoni
To the left of the Passeig de Gràcia, you’ll find Eixample Esquerra, an affluent neighbourhood with an intellectual edge thanks to its proximity to multiple university campuses. Head to Parc Joan Miró, also known as the Parc de l’Escorxador, with its pines, pergolas, and statue by Joan Miró called the Dona i Ocell – or Woman and Bird. Catch a concert in the University of Barcelona gardens or explore the up-and-coming area of Sant Antoni, a bohemian corner of the city full of young urban creatives, edgy street art, and a vibrant bar and restaurant scene. There’s also a beautiful market of the same name.