Last updated 16 May 2021
Barcelona is renowned for being one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in Spain. There's tapas bars on every corner, great nightlife and a range of cultural attractions. It's also hugely popular with tourists, and getting a feel for the city beyond the tourist attractions can be a challenge. Like any large city, it can also be hard to choose which neighbourhood to stay in during your visit. Here are some ideas to get you started.
If you’re visiting Barcelona for the first time, medieval Barri Gòtic is in the middle of all the action. With winding, narrow streets, tapas bars, restaurants and shops, you'll find yourself in the midst of the busy centre.
This is where you'll see the Barcelona you see in photos and the major attractions are on your doorstep. There are also many good places to eat and many are surprisingly affordable - just avoid the options on La Rambla (you'll be find a block or two away). Go shopping along Carrer dels Banys Nous), relax in the squares and wander around around the wonderful La Boqueria food market.
There are some excellent boutique hotels in the area, along with numerous budget options and apartment rentals. You'll also be close to various museums, the old Jewish Quarter and, of course, the beach.
An elegant neighbourhood, Eixample was developed in the late 19th century and has wide, straight boulevards lined with trees and a range of luxury hotels. It also has one of the world's greatest concentration of urban Art Nouveau buildings in the world. This is where you can see Gaudi's most famous buildings, along with the iconic Sagrada Familia church.
For shopping, visit Passeig de Gràcia, a long street lined with boutiques. Eixample also has some great options for food and drink, with everything from traditional to more experimental institutions.
There are a range of luxury and boutique hotels in Eixample. Just be aware that it can be expensive and there aren't many cheaper options in this neighbourhood.
Bordering Barri Gòtic, El Born is a slightly quieter neighbourhood, making it a good choice for families. Stay in the northern part of El Born, near the zoo and Parc de la Ciutadella for less noise at night - and plenty of green space for the kids to run around. Take your time exploring the beautiful park, marvel at the distinctive architecture and watch the boats on the lake.
El Born is also in the Ciutat Vella (Old City), and has charming, narrow streets and a range of attractions a short walk away. It's also home to the Picasso Museum, the Museum of World Cultures and the European Museum of Modern Art. The beach is also relatively close and the area is pedestrian-friendly and dotted with cafe-lined squares.
If your family enjoys eating, there's a huge number of restaurants, tapas bars and cafes lining the streets of El Born. Head to Plaça Comercial for modern restaurants while you can sample traditional fare on Plaça de Santa Maria and Passeig del Born. boast some of the city's best tapas bars and restaurants.
For easy access to the major attractions and slightly more affordable accommodation, head to El Raval on the other side of Barri Gòtic. A little bit grittier than the other neighbourhoods, El Raval was formerly the Barcelona's red light district. Now it's known for its good food, quirky shops and artistic vibe, as well as some great nightlife options.
Fast becoming an edgy, artsy neighbourhood, El Raval is home to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. It also borders the famous La Rambla boulevard (watch out for pickpockets when you visit and pick a restaurant on one of the other streets in El Raval for dinner).
El Raval makes a great base for exploring the city and comes alive at night. There's a wide range of food from different cultures available - El Raval has been Barcelona's cultural melting pot for a long time. Stroll along Carrer del Dr. Nou, Carrer Pintor Fortuny, and Carrer Joaquin Costa and pick a spot for dinner - the food and drinks are delicious, and you're sure to find some interesting conversations. Just keep in mind that parts of El Raval are still a bit rough around the edges, so, as always, trust your instincts as you wander around.
For a snapshot of neighbourhood life on the edge of the city, try Gràcia, north-west of the Ciutat Vella (Old City). Originally a village which was swallowed up the city as it expanded, Gràcia still has its town-like atmosphere and a strong sense of its own identify.
With a slightly Bohemian feel and a range of great bars and restaurants, there's a lot to enjoy in Gràcia itself. Plaça del Sol is the centre of much of the local nightlife, although there's a number of pedestrian-friendly streets and leafy plazas in the area. It's a decent walk to the Old City, so plan on using the metro for sightseeing, although there are some local sites, notably, the famous Parc Güell, deisgned by Gaudi.