Before choosing a hotel in Barcelona, it helps to know a bit about the various neighborhoods/areas within the city limits. The general ambiance of an area can influence whether or not you might want to stay, eat, or play there. Here is a glimpse at the major neighborhoods in this diverse and beautiful city.
Located in Barcelona’s Old Town, Barri Gòtic offers plenty of charm. If you enjoy pedestrian areas with loads of history, you’ll love strolling Barri Gòtic’s cobblestone streets. The labyrinthine web of streets is essentially the birthplace of Barcelona. The area is characterized by smaller squares like the Plaça Felip Neri with its lovely fountain and lush courtyards like the one found in the Frederic Marès Museum. Look up to see gargoyles perched on gothic towers, keeping watch. If you’re a fan of street performers, make your way to the area surrounding the Cathedral. And there are afternoon concerts throughout the week at Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol.
Bordered by Barri Gòtic and Barri del Raval, La Rambla is the most famous street in Barcelona. Strolling down La Rambla — amongst street entertainers, flower vendors, newspaper kiosk workers, cafe customers, and elderly Spanish couples walking arm in arm — is one of the purest cultural experiences one can have in Barcelona. La Rambla stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to the Columbus Monument and is actually comprised of five sections: Rambla de Canaletes, Rambla dels Estudis, Rambla de Sant Josep, Rambla dels Caputxins, and Rambla de Santa Mónica. Each section has its own particular flavor. Keep your eye out for the Columbus Monument (at the end of La Rambla), the Gran Teatre del Liceu (opera house), Centre d’Art Santa Mònica (art center) and the mosaic by Spanish artist Miró near the lively Plaça de la Boqueria.
Barri del Raval
Barri del Raval, Barcelona’s largest inner-city neighborhood, has seen quite a bit of revitalization in recent years (ever since the 1992 Olympic Games hosted by the city). Entire blocks of crumbling apartment buildings have been razed and replaced by sports centers, museums, restaurants, hotels, and open-air gathering space. Frequently referred to as the neighborhood with the greatest multicultural mix in Europe, El Raval has become a hipster hangout as well. Modern bars and small nightclubs, contemporary art galleries, record stores and yoga centers are nestled next to spice shops, fabric stores, specialty food shops and ethnic eateries. Major congregating spaces include the Boqueria market and the Rambla del Raval, a pedestrian walkway packed with bars and cafés.
Similar to Barri del Raval, La Ribera has experienced quite a bit of revitalization over the past several years. Whereas Barri del Raval has been gentrified, La Ribera, a historically wealthy area, has been rendered more hip and lively thanks to a recent influx of museums, galleries and first-rate eateries. A relatively small neighborhood, La Ribera is bordered by the Port Vell (Old Port) and the Parc de la Ciutadella. El Born is a popular subdivision of the La Ribera neighborhood, known for its medieval architecture and upscale shopping. The focal point of El Born is Santa María del Mar, a breathtaking Gothic basilica. Take a stroll up the Carrer de Montcada and take in the historic mansions, most of which have now become museums or gallery spaces. At the northern end of La Ribera is the site of the Mercat del Born, which was once the city’s principal wholesale market. It is now an excavation site and state-of-the-art archeological museum. Parc de la Ciutadella, located just behind Mercat del Born, features a man-made lake, lush walking paths and a series of smaller museums.
Located near the water, Barceloneta (“litte Barcelona”) is best known for its bustling Passeig del Moll de la Fusta. This waterfront walkway is the place to go for sit-down restaurants specializing in fresh seafood as well as more casual snack bar options. There are also a variety of facilities for public swimming. Those interested in maritime history and culture should go to the Reials Drassanes (royal shipyards) where the Maritime Museum is located. The Maremagnum shopping center and entertainment complex is located just across the wooden bridge.
Port Vell (Old Port)
Parallel to the Passeig Joan de Borbón and just to the south of Barceloneta is the upscale Port Vell (Old Port). The stylish yacht marina also has large green areas for recreational activities. A former fishing district (founded in the18th century), Port Vell is packed with maritime charm. All of its long, narrow streets end at Barceloneta beach, one of the finest urban beaches in Europe. Port Vell is the best place to go for high-end seafood restaurants and chic cocktail lounges near the water. The nearby Port Olimpic is home to the five-star Hotel Arts and Barcelona’s glitzy casino. Enjoy a beautiful walk along the Passeig Marítim (seafront promenade) and take it all in.
Eixample, the Catalan word for “extension,” is just that, an extension of the Ciutat Vella (old city). It is therefore, a bus ride away from the old city. Fans of Modernista architecture will be in heaven as they stroll Eixample’s wide streets and gaze upon the work of Antoni Gaudi and his contemporaries. Modernista architecture, the Spanish aesthetic equivalent of French Art Nouveau or German Jugendstil, is characterized by daring lines and bold colors. Antoni Gaudi is considered by many to be the father of the movement. Eixample’s Passeig de Gràcia is widely recognized as one of Barcelona’s most architecturally important streets. You can’t miss the Casa Batlló (on the UNESCO World Heritage register), one of the most impressive examples of Modernista architecture in Spain. One of Gaudi’s most famous structures is the Sagrada Familia, a striking Catholic church. Eixample is also Barcelona’s University district. To be expected, the nightlife in this area is quite lively. It is possible to find live music almost any night of the week in Eixample’s wide assortment of cozy bars and large nightclubs.
Located just southeast of Barcelona’s current city center, Montjuic is a neighborhood located on a large hill that overlooks the city. The area’s most impressive attraction is the imposing Montjuic castle that was built in 1640. Montjuic was also the site of the 1929 International Exhibition and the 1992 Olympics. Therefore, many of the area’s sites were created for or defined by these two major events. Some of the most famous “relics” of the 1929 International Exhibition include: the Palau Nacional (National Palace) which was the central pavilion of the International Exhibition and is now home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). In the plaza in front of the Palau Nacional you’ll find the large Font Màgica (Magic Fountain). It is especially lovely when illuminated at night. Some of the structures put in place for the 1992 Olympic games include the Olympic Tower, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, which served as the main communications tower for the Olympic Games. Several gardens were added for the 1992 Olympics, the most striking being the Jardí Botànic and the Jardins de Mossen.
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com