Barcelona neighborhoods reflect the impressive history of the city, including its medieval roots and its modern renaissance. Traverse through Barcelona’s winding streets and you’ll be transported to a whimsical world of hidden cafes, shops and galleries. Explore turn-of-the-century architecture in L’Eixample, relax in neighborhood cafes in Barri Gòtic or relax in the sun in Port Vell.
Also called El Born, La Ribera is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, lying directly to the north of Barcelona’s cityside beaches, and just west of the Parc de la Ciutadella. La Ribera began as a settlement outside of medieval Barcelona’s walls, and became a prime trade community from the 13th century to the mid-1800s. Sadly, development and growth in the early 1900s destroyed many of the neighborhood’s incredible medieval artifacts. In the last hundred years, La Ribera has reinvented itself. Today, La Ribera’s streets house a heady mix of cute shops, upscale boutiques and hip galleries and museums.
Hard to believe, but up until the end of the 19th century, Gràcia existed as a separate village from Barcelona. Just north of L’Eixample, Gràcia is peppered with lively plazas, engaging nightlife and hip boutiques and shops and has a rep as the “real” Barcelona—where many of the city’s artists and musicians make their home. Sure, it’s a bit sleepier than jumpy El Raval or the Born, but it’s definitely worth checking out on your way to and from the city’s premier outdoor park and sculpture garden, Park Güell. And Gràcia does occasionally heat up—during the latter half of August the weeklong Festa Major de Gràcia takes place.
Just steps from Las Ramblas lies Barri Gòtic—the spiritual and civil center of old Barcelona. Its old medieval streets are dotted with impressive government buildings and soaring cathedrals, and some consider it the most impressive collection of Gothic buildings in Europe. While visitors wander through Generalitat and Catedral de la Santa Creu by day, at night, the neighborhood transforms into hip hang out, populated by breezy outdoor cafes and bars, serving wine, beer and absinthe. But beware: Pickpockets and thieves skulk around the Barri Gótic’s winding lanes, preying upon unwitting travelers.
Shade-lined modern boulevards mark this upscale neighborhood, which plays host to some of the city’s finest hotels and restaurants. L’Eixample is one of Barcelona’s largest neighborhoods, and its hundred or so blocks house some of Gaudi’s finest works, from the Sagrada Familia to La Pedrera and Casa Batlló—which is why it’s known as the home of the “modernista” style. To get a feel for L’Eixample, wander down the Avenida Diagonal to the “Quadrat d'Or (Golden Triangle) which include streets Bruc, Aribau, Aragó. You’ll see some of the best examples of turn of the century architecture.
Port Vell and La Barceloneta
We should all be so lucky to live in a cosmopolitan city with a large swath of glorious beachfront property. Barcelona’s La Barceloneta neighborhood was once the city’s run down port area, but in the last thirty years has been transformed into a spiffy harbor zone, replete with restaurants, shops and great beaches. Port Vell, situated at the end of La Rambla, is peppered with long wooden piers where Barcelonins enjoy a snack and bathing in the sun. Directly to the east of Port Vell lie some of Barcelona’s most desirable beaches, Platja de Sant Sebastià and Platja de Sant Miguel. And when you find yourself sufficiently sunburned and waterlogged, hop on the Transborador Aeri. It will take you from La Barceloneta to Montjuïc and provide you with a bird’s eye view of the city.
La Rambla and El Raval
Some might argue that the centerpiece of Barcelona is La Rambla—a wide pedestrian boulevard nearly a mile long dotted with cafes, street vendors and charming nooks. Yes, La Rambla is a street, but it’s not simply a passageway. Instead it’s the throbbing center of Barcelona—a bustling byway for both locals and tourists, and one of the major social centers of the city. Just off to the east of La Rambla is El Raval, a poorer neighborhood that’s experienced an upgrade in recent years, thanks in part the new Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). MACBA has done a lot to draw young bohemians to El Raval’s cobbled streets, which are now littered with cute cafes and hip clothing shops—and one Barcelona’s most famous sculptures—El Gato del Botero (The Cat of Botero), found on the Rambla del Raval.
Montjuic and Poble Sec
Located in the southwest corner of the city, Montjuic, and its adjacent neighborhood Poble Sec are somewhat less visited than other areas of the city. That’s in part because steep Montjuic, dominated by a large hill, is difficult to reach. Best accessed by funicular or cable car, Montjuic is home to several of Barcelona’s top cultural institutions, including the Castell de Montjuic, the Fundació Joan Miró and the city’s top archeology museum. Poble Sec, just down the hill from Montjuic, remains one of Barcelona’s seedier neighborhoods, though not without its charms. This working class neighborhood contains great bars and restaurants that are primarily inhabited by locals—and is a mellower alternative to the adjacent boisterous El Raval neighborhood.