Barcelona may seem large and daunting at first approach, with its maze of windy cobbled alleyways; but after awhile, it suddenly feels like home. Streets untangle into a patterned network and neighborhoods (barrios) that once seemed remote are just a short walk away. From the Medieval and Roman history of the Ciutat Vella to the sunny squares in Gràcia and the grand avenues of the Eixample, every neighborhood in Barcelona is unique. Not only that, the city is easy to traverse by foot; but if you’re going a bit farther, or the weather has you on the run, public transportation in Barcelona is superb and simple to master.
We’ve listed the top 10 most iconic and visit-worthy below, along with a comprehensive description of each. But for those with very limited time in Barcelona, the first three neighborhoods listed (collectively known as the Ciutat Vella) are a must-see, as they retain the core spirit of the city. After getting your fill of narrow alleys and gothic churches, do yourself a favor and head out of this beautiful, yet tourist-clogged, area to explore the other side of Barcelona – the one that the locals call home. Click to read our Barcelona Gourmet Guide. (El Gòtic photo by Sam Zucker)
Perhaps the most seminal of all of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, the Barri Gòtic is thus named for its multitude of impressive Gothic structures, from the Catedral de Barcelona to the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi. At the heart of this compact part of the city are the remnant of Barcelona’s beginnings — the Roman settlement of Barcino. In addition to enchantingly-narrow and labyrinthine streets, towering churches, lively plazas and Roman ruins, the Gòtic is home to the busiest shopping avenue of the city (Portal del Àngel) and many great restaurants. Enjoy a glass of garnatxa in a small wine bar tucked into the Medieval Jewish quarter just steps from the City Hall, snack away on heaps of crispy fried anchovies down by the port or enjoy a gourmet coffee at some of the coolest spots for brunch downtown.
Restaurant: Bar La Plata
Brunch: Federal Cafe Gòtic
Coffee: Satan’s Coffee Corner
Wine Bar: Zona d’Ombra
Shop: Raima 1986 stationery
Museum: Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA)
Five Star Hotel: Hotel Mercer
El Born has always been a nurturing, safe haven for artisans. The first to spring up outside of the Roman wall nearly 1000 years ago, this neighborhood is rich with both local and foreign influences. It’s a romantic hideaway, rich with Gothic architecture, novel-inspiring churches like Basílica Santa Maria del Mar, and some of the best cocktail bars in the city! If you need something more cultural, check out the El Born Centre Cultural (a former fresh market turned archaeological wonder), a wide range of restaurants and cafes, and countless artisan workshops, ranging from clothing and ceramics to fine leather and shoes. Click here for the El Born Gourmet Guide! (El Born photo by Sam Zucker)
The Raval, on the south-western side of Les Rambles, is the most ethnically diverse part of downtown Barcelona. With a large community of Pakistani, Indian, and Filipino immigrants, this neighborhood has two distinct faces. By day, you find the local and foreign residents going about their lives among El Raval’s humble narrow streets and plazas. By night, however, this area comes alive with students, locals, and expats eating and drinking on the cheap. The Raval has its offer of upscale dining too, but by in large, you’ll find packed dive bars, kebab shops, and sandwich joints. The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) museum is a popular hangout for the crowds of skateboarders who flock here 24 hours a day, and the Rambla del Raval is a sunny place to relax with a drink and recharge.
Market: La Boqueria
Brunch: Flax and Kale
Restaurant: Bar Cañete
Cheap Bar: 33 | 55
Gift Shop: Grey Street Gifts
Museum: Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)
Vintage Shopping: Carrer de la Riera Baixa
Historically, one of the most industrial areas of Barcelona, Poble Nou (“New Town,” a sub-district of the area known as Sant Martí) has been given fresh life thanks to the steady growth and expansion of the city’s tech industry. On the border of the “22@ Innovation District” — a burst of construction that brought many new, modern buildings and jobs to the neighborhood starting in 2000 — Poble Nou has modern architecture, converted warehouses, co-working spaces, creative agencies, and office buildings all sharing plots with crumbling smokestacks and overgrown lots that serve as graffiti artists’ playground. Many consider Poble Nou the most up-and-coming area of Barcelona, with new restaurants, developments and companies bringing young life and energy to these quiet, post-industrial streets. Flanking the coastline and more space than in the old city center (plus a charming pedestrian rambla of their own, the La Rambla de Poble Nou), more and more people are choosing to live, work and play here.
A small neighborhood bordered on the top by Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, on the right by the Ronda de Sant Antoni and the Ronda de Sant Pau, and on the left by the Avinguda del Paral·lel, Sant Antoni has long had its own unique identity. Anchored by the impressive, antique Mercat de Sant Antoni (an ornate, cross-shaped building from 1882 that is currently being restored to its former glory and will reopen as one of the city’s largest fresh markets in 2017), this barri is full of locals. Especially on the weekends, the temporary market at the base of Ronda de Sant Antoni is packed with Catalan families and seniors doing their shopping, while at the same time, the trendy street of Carrer del Parlament is teaming with the younger breed of local hipsters enjoying brunch — or a vermouth aperitivo — at one of the many bars and bodegas that populate these busy three blocks.
Similar to Sant Antoni, Poble Sec (Dry Town) has a very local vibe. Full of steep streets running uphill from Avinguda del Paral·lel to the foot of the Montjuïc park, Poble Sec is not often explored fully by short-term visitors to Barcelona. Seemingly simple at first glance, Poble Sec is home to some of the best, authentic places to eat, drink, and party in the city. From the “tapas hopping” heaven of Carrer de Blai and the numerous, wine barrel-lined bodegas peppered throughout the neighborhood, to the new boutique hotels and one of the city’s most famous nightclubs, locals have long known that Poble Sec has a lot to offer. After visiting the Castle of Montjuïc or the gardens of the Teatre Grec (A beautiful Greek theater replica from the 1920s, home to a famous theater festival every July), make your way down through the green, wooded paths into Poble Sec and explore these tree-lined streets and plazas before settling in for a delicious meal. (Montjuic photo by Ryan Opaz)
Cheap Tapas: Blai Tonight pintxo bar
Lunch: Quimet i Quimet
Vermouth and Wine Bar: Celler Cal Marino
Fine Dining: Pakta
Dinner: O Meu Lar
Nightclub: Teatre Apolo
Historic Sites: Jardins del Teatre Grec
Boutique Hotel: Hotel Brummell
Eixample (The Extension) is home to the most emblematic examples of Modernist architecture in Barcelona. With Passeig de Gràcia at its core, this expansive area is divided into the Dreta de l’Eixample (Right Side) and Esquerra de l’Eixample (Left Side). With wide avenues, sun-filled, chamfered intersections, beautiful buildings, upscale shopping and diverse dining options, Eixample is a vast neighborhood that plays a key role in every visitor’s stay in Barcelona. From Gaudí’s Casa Milà and La Pedrera to the picturesque Rambla de Catalunya, this sprawling district serves as a monument to the late 19th and early 20th century; a true golden era in the history of the city.
Cocktail Bar: Slow Barcelona
Lunch: Cuina d’en Garriga
Wine Bar: Mont Bar
Shop: Colmado Quilez
Vermouth: Morro Fi
Dinner: Bar Mut
Historic Sites: Casa Milà
Craft Brew Pub: Garage Beer Co.
Boutique Hotel: Casa Bonay
Once its own little town of Vila de Gràcia, the expansion of Barcelona that began in the 1860s, stretching out from the Medieval city center up towards the hills of the Collserola, transformed it into the Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona. Artistic, creative, lively and local, Gràcia often seems worlds away from the city center (though it’s only a few stops on the metro). Full of large plazas that offer countless cafe terraces, and many quirky shops, boutiques, and restaurants, Gràcia easily earns the loyalty of those who live there, often resulting in the sentiment that one never needs to leave. Indeed, those who live in Gràcia tend to stay there, considering a trip “downtown” as a much farther journey than it is in reality. The same goes from those in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) — Gràcia seems far removed until you realize it’s an easy ride (or walk) into the heart of this emblematic neighborhood that provides visitors with a new insight into city life. (Gràcia photo by Sam Zucker)
Teaming with tourists, but still holding many treasures and lesser-known gems, the beachside barri of La Barceloneta has long been the home of the working-class and fishermen of the city. However, after the massive renovations leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics, the Barceloneta is primarily geared towards tourism now, with countless restaurants, bars, rental apartments, and beach bars along the busiest strip of sand in the city. Though the street of Passeig de Joan de Borbó and the promenade along the Barceloneta beach are inundated with people from June until October, head just a few blocks in towards the center of the Barceloneta and you can find narrow streets with old-school seafood restaurants and vermouth bars that haven’t changed decoration in what seems like a century. These bars “de toda la vida” (life-long) are still popular with the locals who grew up enjoying leisurely weekend meals near the seashore. Though there are also new and trendy spots throughout the Barceloneta, the best places are those that are often labeled by locals as “bueno, bonito y barato” (good, pretty, and cheap), of which there are many.
An amalgam of former villages that merged in the late 19th century, then later became one of the largest Barcelona neighborhood 1927, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is known by many as one of the wealthiest areas of the city. This is where the true “old Catalan money” resides. It is a highly-residential neighborhood, with a quiet aire that gives you the feeling of being removed a bit from the hectic city life. Boasting multiple green spaces built with elegant refinements, such as the Parc del Turo del Putget and the Jardins de Portlà, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi stretches from the Avinguda Diagonal all the way up to the foot of the Collserola mountains. With its fair share of boutique shopping, artisanal bakeries and pastry shops, and renowned restaurants, this is a part of Barcelona that very few visitors take time to explore. Though it is not as exciting as the city center (and more costly), take a stroll through these tranquil, hilly streets and be rewarded with a breath of fresh air, a glimpse of the good life and views of the city that are unrivaled. (photo by Sam Zucker)
Barcelona is a stunning, vibrant and dynamic city to explore, and with luck, you’ll now be a touch more confident diving in. That said, if you need a little guidance, or a customized tour of the city, don’t hesitate to contact us! Whether you’re hunting for a gourmet cooking class, a historical walking tour or a geeked out wine course, we’re happy to customize the perfect experience for you!
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