The Best Areas to Stay in Barcelona
I love Barcelona. What a great city. It’s expansive but its city center is compact, walkable, and an absolute delight to make your base for exploring the greater Barcelona area. Many of the best things to do in Barcelona are centrally located, but there are some that require a short metro ride, so your choice of neighborhoods to stay in will make a difference in what you see and how you get there.
Most of the best hotels in Barcelona and best family hotels in Barcelona are dotted around the upscale Eixample neighborhood, though central Barri Gòtic and El Born also have their share of 4 and 5-star accommodations. Gràcia and Poblenou both have a good range of family-friendly accommodation, though the two neighborhoods are farther away from most of Barcelona’s attractions. Poble Sec, El Raval, and Barceloneta all offer reasonably central midrange and budget accommodation.
Barri Gòtic is Barcelona’s historical and geographical center. A tangle of medieval streets and plazas, this part of the city has been inhabited since Roman times and is home to the city’s Gothic cathedral. Barri Gòtic is within a 20-minute walk from numerous attractions and most other neighborhoods of interest. This part of the city attracts the tourist crowds, and with good reason: it’s an all-rounder, with great dining, shopping, and numerous places to stay.
Barcelona’s most famous pedestrian thoroughfare, La Rambla, separates Barri Gòtic from the edgy, arty neighborhood of El Raval. Formerly one of the roughest parts of town, El Raval has shed most of its negative image through gradual gentrification, though its independent character is still very much on display, along with quirky stores, independent boutiques, and bars.
On the other side of Barri Gòtic is El Born, another maze of medieval streets with popular attractions of its own, ranging from the highbrow Picasso Museum to the family-friendly Chocolate Museum. There are plenty of tapas bars and boutiques in this area, as well as a vast park that separates El Born from the hip neighborhood of Poblenou.
Bordering the Old City to the northwest is Eixample: the expansive, upscale neighborhood whose bright, tree-lined avenues are a complete contrast to the Ciutat Vella’s dark and narrow streets. Here you’ll find most of Barcelona’s striking Modernist buildings, including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, as well as the most upscale shopping. At the southwestern edge of Eixample is the sub-neighborhood Sant Antoni, a foodie enclave, with contemporary tapas bars, fusion restaurants, and buzzy nightlife.
Further northwest, between Eixample and the hills, is Gràcia – a village within a city. A largely residential neighborhood populated with young families and arty types, it’s home to Gaudi’s popular Park Güell.
The trendy neighborhood of Poble Sec is adjacent to El Raval along the Avinguda del Paral·lel, lined with numerous upscale restaurants and lively bars, and stretches across the base of Montjuïc hill. Poble Sec itself has no attractions to speak of, besides a street full of tapas bars, but it makes an ideal base for exploring Montjuïc’s stellar art museums and hilltop fortress via cable car and on foot.
Montjuïc, meaning Jewish Mountain, is a gorgeous hilltop named for the medieval Jewish cemetery found here. The hilltop is relatively flat and mostly parkland filled with lush botanical gardens, art museums, a 17th-century fortress, and sweeping views over the port. There are few hotels and restaurants in Montjuïc; it’s a very quiet space. Most of the hotels and all of the restaurants are on the northern slope bordering Poble Sec.
From Montjuïc, a second cable car traverses Barcelona’s yachting marina, connecting to Barceloneta, a former fishing village, known for its seafood-heavy tapas bars and restaurants, as well as Barcelona’s liveliest beach. Barceloneta is also an easy walk from both El Born and Barri Gòtic, making it easy to combine sightseeing in Barcelona’s center with a day at the beach.
Further northeast up the coast and bordering Barceloneta is Poblenou – all cutting edge architecture, pumping nightlife, and beaches. (It has five.) Poblenou is quite far from the city’s main attractions, but ideal if you’re looking for a beach holiday combined with intensive clubbing.
The Best Places to Stay in Barcelona
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Sightseeing: Barri Gòtic, Eixample, Poble Sec
If you’re looking to lose yourself among medieval lanes and admire the city’s oldest architecture, then Barri Gòtic is the place for you. If you’re more interested in Barcelona’s Modernist masterpieces, such as the Sagrada Familia, then Eixample should be your destination. Lovers of contemporary and classical art may wish to consider Poble Sec for its proximity to the art museums both on Montjuïc and in El Raval.
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Nightlife: Poblenou, Barri Gòtic, El Raval, El Born, Eixample
There isn’t a single best area in Barcelona for nightlife; instead, several neighborhoods cater to the city’s night owls. If you’re into serious clubbing, head out of the center to Poblenou and its beachside superclubs that party until sunrise. Eixample is locally nicknamed ‘Beerxample’ for its proliferation of craft beer bars, and there are plenty of upscale tapas bars and cocktail bars as well. El Born, Barri Gòtic, and El Raval all have clusters of lively tapas bars that cater to any taste and stay open until the wee hours of the morning, as well as cocktail bars.
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Food and Restaurants: Poble Sec, Poblenou, El Raval, Barri Gòtic, El Born, Barceloneta, Eixample
There’s excellent dining to be had all over Barcelona. Eixample is particularly good for Michelin-starred restaurants and fine dining, especially in the southwestern part called San Antoni, a veritable a mecca for gourmets, with a Michelin-starred tapas bar owned by Ferran Adrià and several other fine dining restaurants. There are plenty of wallet-friendly options, too, particularly along Carrer del Parlament, with its traditional tapas bars and hipster cafes. Poble Sec and Poblenou have foodie streets, dense with tapas bars and restaurants. Barceloneta is the place to go for great fish and seafood. Barri Gòtic and El Born have a good mix of lively tapas bars, both traditional and contemporary, as well as more upscale fusion offerings, while El Raval has a number of hip restaurants, including a number of vegetarian ones, as well as some great tapas bars.
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Families: Barri Gòtic, El Raval, Gràcia, Barceloneta
Barri Gòtic appeals to families because it’s very central, very walkable and close to many attractions. El Raval is similar in that respect, with the added bonus of having the Parc de la Ciutadella next door, with the city’s zoo and open spaces for the kids to run around in. Barceloneta is great if you want to be near the beach and the attractions in the heart of Barcelona, while Gràcia is a quiet neighborhood in which you can mingle with local families in the many tiny parks and plazas – and its Park Güell is particularly fun for kids.
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona to Stay for First Timer: Barri Gòtic, Eixample
If it’s your first time in Barcelona, then you probably want to base yourself near the heavyweight attractions. For Modernist architecture, including the incomparable Sagrada Familia, Eixample is your best bet. For exploring the heart of the city, Barri Gòtic is ideal, especially since it’s an easy walk to El Born, El Raval and Eixample, and a short metro ride to attractions further out on Montjuïc and Gràcia.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood in Barcelona: Barri Gòtic
There are several contenders in Barcelona for the city’s most romantic neighborhood. Montjuïc is ideal if you’re looking for romantic isolation, great views, and hilly, landscaped gardens to wander around. Eixample, with its strollable wide boulevards, lined with beautiful Modernist architecture and home to some of Barcelona’s most luxurious hotels, is another great pick. But if you’re looking for tiny, atmospheric, dimly lit streets, beautiful plazas to sip a drink in, cozy boutique hotels, and medieval splendor, Barri Gòtic’s your best bet.
- Best Neighborhood in Barcelona for a Local Vibe: El Raval
Dynamic, bohemian, and ethnically diverse, El Raval is Barcelona’s counterculture neighborhood with a highly independent character. Notorious as the city’s former red light district, it retains some of its former edginess, though these days it’s more known for its art, youthful vibe, and independent shops.
- Best Neighborhood in Barcelona for Walking: Barri Gòtic
This maze of tiny lanes and streets, a number of them closed off to cars, is a real joy to explore on foot and get lost in, with much of Barcelona’s beautiful, centuries-old architecture to discover along the way. That said, El Born, Barri Gòtic’s neighbor, is another extremely walkable part of the Old City.
- Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Beaches: Barceloneta, Poblenou
Barceloneta has the closest beach to the center of Barcelona, within easy walking distance from La Rambla. It’s also Barcelona’s longest beach, and popular with families. Poblenou, further northeast, has a string of five clean beaches, separated by breakwaters; these are further away from the city’s other attractions, though.
- Safest Areas of Barcelona
Barcelona’s safest areas tend to be the more affluent neighborhoods, such as Eixample, Poble Sec and Poblenou. Though many of Barcelona’s neighborhoods are generally safe to walk around at any time of day, it’s a good idea to watch out for pickpockets in particularly crowded places.
- Unsafe Areas of Barcelona
Parts of El Raval, and the Sants area around the train station, north of Montjuïc, can be a bit sketchy at night. It’s also best to avoid tiny, deserted streets in Barri Gòtic and El Born late at night, and stick to well-lit streets with more people. Opportunistic pickpockets operate along La Rambla and the La Boqueria food market, and parts of Barri Gòtic, El Born, and El Raval can get really lively in the evenings with drunken bachelor and bachelorette parties.
The 9 Best Neighborhoods in Barcelona for Tourists
1. Barri Gòtic
If you’re looking to stay in the heart of Barcelona, you can’t get more central than the medieval Barri Gòtic – the city’s historical heart. Amidst the Gothic Quarter’s narrow, maze-like streets, you’ll find a dense concentration of tapas bars, restaurants, small boutiques (particularly along Carrer dels Banys Nous), charming plazas, such as Plaça Reial, and beautiful landmarks, such as the Pont Gòtic on Carrer Bisbe – and remnants of Roman ruins peek out from beneath Baroque and Gothic buildings. The Gothic Quarter is bordered to the southwest by La Rambla – Barcelona’s most famous (and largely pedestrianized) boulevard, perpetually crowded with locals, visitors, street performers, and vendors. There are plenty of mediocre tourist traps here, with the exception of tapas stalls around the popular La Boqueria food market, but there’s excellent food just a block or two off La Rambla, from simple tapas bars to sophisticated, contemporary dining. The Gothic Quarter’s main draw is its ambience; other attractions include the impressive Gothic cathedral, the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona, and several appealing churches. There are some excellent boutique hotels here, along with numerous budget options.
2. El Raval
Adjacent to Barri Gòtic, El Raval is an up-and-coming melting pot of a neighborhood that’s done a lot to shed its seedy reputation as Barcelona’s former red light district – though it still pays to watch your wallet. These days El Raval attracts bohemian types, artists, and foodies, and is home both to the MACBA contemporary art museum and Palau Güell, one of Gaudí’s lesser-known buildings. For the best vintage fashion boutiques and quirky arts and crafts shops, head for Carrer Tallers and Carrer de Riera Baixa. El Raval is also known for global cuisine, hip tapas bars, and vegetarian restaurants, with the densest dining clusters around Carrer del Dr. Nou, Carrer Pintor Fortuny, and Carrer Joaquin Costa. El Raval has some of the best-value accommodation in central Barcelona, along with one-of-a-kind boutique hotels and a couple of luxurious options.
3. El Born
El Born is part of the Ciutat Vella (Old City), separated from the Barri Gòtic by the Via Laietana. It consists of a maze of tiny streets that are a little quieter than its neighbor, but not at all short of attractions. The Picasso Museum is here, as is the Museum of World Cultures, Chocolate Museum, and the European Museum of Modern Art – as well as the stunning modernist masterpiece of Palau de la Música Catalana. It’s a shorter walk to Barceloneta’s beach than from Barri Gòtic, though its streets are still dense with tapas bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and vintage fashion boutiques. The area around Plaça Comercial is your best bet for contemporary dining, while Plaça de Santa Maria and Passeig del Born are better for traditional restaurants and bars. To the northeast, El Born is bordered by the zoo, lakes, and fountains of the vast Parc de la Ciutadella. Accommodation is a mix of imaginative boutique hotels, family-friendly mid-range options, and several good cheap hotels.
North of El Raval, Barri Gòtic, and El Born is the expansive, elegant Eixample neighborhood; its wide, straight boulevards lined with some of the city’s best luxury hotels and Barcelona’s most impressive Modernist architecture. Gaudi’s most renowned buildings – La Pedrera and Casa Battló – are found off the main thoroughfare, Passeig de Gràcia, while the iconic Sagrada Familia church is a couple of blocks north of Avinguna Diagonal. Beside Gaudi’s works, other Modernist masterpieces worth seeking out include the Castell Dels Tres Dragons by his contemporary, Lluís Domènech I Montaner. Nicknamed “Quadrat d’Or” (Golden Square) for its high-end shopping; Eixample is home to many designer stores along the Passeig de Gràcia. Accommodation leans towards luxury and boutique hotels, with few budget options.
Rising above the port and the sea, ‘Jewish Mountain’ has been the symbol of Barcelona since ancient times. The fortress at the top of the hill is a superb lookout point with tremendous views over the city, and Montjuïc’s landscaped parks and gardens are ideal for hours of wandering. Also on the hill are the Olympic stadium and two of the city’s heavyweight art museums: Fundació Miró and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – the latter housed inside the impressive Palau Nacional. The fortress, parks, and Fundació Miró are easily reachable via funicular and cablecar from Paral·lel metro stop, though the main approach to Montjuïc is from Plaça Espanya. Grand buildings from the 1929 International Exhibition line the pedestrian boulevard that leads to the Magic Fountain; in the summer months, there is a sound-and-light show here in the evenings. Beyond, escalators take you up to Palau Nacional. There is only one high-end hotel on Montjuïc, in a scenic spot near the final stop of the cable car that takes you over Barcelona’s harbor.
Once a separate village, Gràcia eventually became part of Barcelona, though it retains a low-key, bohemian vibe. This quiet neighborhood, home to young families, artists and new arrivals in Barcelona, sits between Eixample and the hills to the north of the city. Gràcia’s biggest attraction is Parc Güell, one of Gaudí’s biggest Modernist works – an imaginatively landscaped, hilly park full of colorful tilework creations. Gràcia is also known for its independent fashion stores, many of them clustered along Carrer de Bonavista, while Carrer de Asturies and the adjoining Carrer del Torrent de l’Olla are lined with hip bars, ethnic restaurants and quirky shops. Accommodation consists largely of budget-friendly hostels and hotels.
Formerly the old fishermen’s quarter, Barceloneta sits a short walk away from the southern end of La Rambla, south of El Born and next to the marina filled with yachts of the global glitterati. This largely working class neighborhood manages to maintain its down to earth vibe, and its narrow streets are lined with low-key neighborhood tapas, bodegas, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the city. Barceloneta’s big attraction is its wide, sandy beach that stretches for miles, its bustling promenade always busy with families, joggers, and rollerbladers. The Barcelona Aquarium, next to the marina, is popular with families and schoolchildren, and the cable car that crosses Barcelona’s harbor to reach Montjuïc departs from near the beach. Accommodation in Barceloneta is limited to a handful of budget and midrange hotels, with one excellent high-end hotel at the south end of the beach.
8. Poble Sec
Spead along the foothills of Montjuïc and across Avenida de Paral·lel from El Raval and Sant Antoni, Poble Sec is a young and trendy neighborhood. It’s ideal for visiting attractions on the hill and has an excellent dining scene and nightlife, with a high concentration of live music venues and tapas bars lining the leafy Carrer de Blai. Hotels here are mostly in the mid-range category, with a few budget spots.
Just north of Barceloneta, along the coast, Poblenou is an old industrial district where the decrepit warehouses have given way to sleek office buildings, contemporary design hotels, industrial-scale nightclubs, and trendy beach bars. Poblenou has the city’s best and cleanest beaches, and is particularly popular with businessmen and night owls looking to party. Poblenou is Barcelona’s best neighborhood for clubbing, with many clubs found along Carrer dels Almogàvers. The main thoroughfare is the pedestrianized boulevard of Rambla de Poblenou; the streets jutting off it is where you’ll find a mix of traditional restaurants and cafes, as well as hip cocktail bars, specialist coffee shops and contemporary fusion eateries. Poblenou’s one downside is that it’s quite far from most of Barcelona’s attractions. There’s a good range of family-friendly mid-range and high-end hotels, as well as a few budget options and a couple of 5-star hotels here.
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