Who hasn’t experienced the excitement of arriving in a new city, looks at their list of “must-see” and then immediately feels overwhelmed? That was me visiting Barcelona. It was a bit daunting at first. The city seemed incredibly large with its maze of winding cobbled alleyways; but after a while, it suddenly felt like home. Streets untangle into connected neighbourhoods (or barrios), all within walking distance of each other, and all very unique. So how do you know which ones to explore – stay, dine or visit? Hopefully, by breaking down each neighbourhood, it will help you to discover the best of what this city has to offer.
The Gothic Quarter (or Barri Goti)
Probably the most well-known neighbourhood of the city. It stretchs from Las Ramblas to Via Laietana. It is a maze of narrow, cobble-stoned streets with buildings from medieval and roman times. It’s mostly pedestrian, and is filled with bars, cafes and restaurants scattered in and around its many squares (or Placa). And, it really comes alive at night. This neighbourhood, along with El Born and El Raval is considered part of the old city (Ciutat Vella) and is the heart of Barcelona. It is where you will find many culturally and significant architectural structures including Barcelona Cathedral, Placa Reial, Placa de Sant Felip Neri.
La Ribera (or El Born)
This is a picturesque and trendy neighbourhood that falls between the Gothic Quarter and the beautiful Ciudadela Park and is only a 10-minute walk to the beach. Locals used to claim that this was the roughest part of the city 20 years ago, but all of that has changed. Today, you will find hip restaurants, nightlife and designer shops (check out Calle Flassaders for shopping). The Santa Maria Basilica stands strong in the center of it all. Built in the 13th century this is one of the most iconic and must-see buildings. Other highlights include the Picasso museum, Palau de la Musica Catalana and Mercat Santa Caterina (second largest market in Barcelona).
This area claims a certain notoriety for being dangerous and grimy compared to other areas of the city. It is where all ethnicity moved into the city so it does have a unique urban feel in comparison to the rest of Barcelona. Walk along Rambla del Raval and you will see that diversity come to life through its bars, restaurants and street art. This is also where you will find Park Guell, one of Antoni Gaudi’s spectacular pieces of architecture, and now UNESCO World Heritage site. Lastly, one of Europe’s oldest (and best) markets, La Boqeria, is definitely worth a visit.
Once the old fisherman’s neighborhood, this little area lies between the Old Port and the sea. Because of the beach, it really does cater to tourists. While some may be drawn to this area to have close proximity to the beach and experience the sea views, I personally would not look to stay or dine in this area. But there are four beautiful beaches to enjoy, Sant Sebastia, Barceloneta, Sant Miquel and Somorrostro. A definite highlight is to take the cable car tour from La Barceloneta to Montjuic where you can take in the panoramic views of the city and water.
If you continue heading south from the Gothic to the El Raval to Sant Antoni, you will find yourself in the unassuming neighborhood of Pobe Sec. It is where the ratio between tourist and locals reverts. There are no real monuments to boast of, but it does offer some lovely inclined streets and treed squares. This is because it sits at the foot of Montjuic. This neighbourhood is home to some of the best, authentic places to eat and drink. The hopping restaurant lined Blai street is definitely worth a visit, where you will find locals enjoying great food and drinks.
Architecture is what brings everyone to this neighbourhood. You will find many of Antoni Gaudi’s buildings and other modernists structures here. With Passeig de Gracia at its core, this area is divided into a left and right side. With wide avenues, lined with trees and beautiful buildings, this area offers upscale shopping and dining. Placa Catalunya and Diagonal Avenue house the most exclusive shops and where you find the most impressive monuments, such as, Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.
As a holidaymaker...
The Eixample neighbourhood was our home base for the week, and after experiencing all the neigbourhoods we knew it was the right choice for us. I loved being surrounding by the amazing architecture, great restaurants and it was less touristy. Which neigbhourhood would be your favourite?