It may be Spain’s second-largest city, but part of the enduring appeal of Barcelona is the ease with which visitors can wander between neighborhoods from its string of golden-sands beaches to its buzzing shopping districts via the likes of Las Ramblas and Antoni Gaudí Modernist masterpieces.
From cool, vegan restaurants and Japanese patisseries to honey-combed cobblestones and century-old shops, each district gives visitors something different to discover. Here's our guide to the six top neighborhoods to stay in and explore in Barcelona.
Best neighborhood for trendsetters
Once an independent municipality from Barcelona itself, Gràcia is now the neighborhood with the strongest personality in the city. Considered the city's coolest district, Gràcia is filled with local designers’ workshops, vegan restaurants and even Japanese patisseries. As well as all the organic food stores and yoga studios, traditional Catalan culture still thrives, as evidenced in the language, local folklore and popular events that take place in the neighborhood.
Markets still abound in Gràcia, and the streets are filled with several squares that are meeting points for people of all ages who gather over drinks each evening starting around 7pm. Packed with all types of restaurants, from local tapas joints to Michelin-star restaurants, Gràcia is also a great neighborhood for strolling, bar-hopping and soaking in the local atmosphere. You can also find architectural gems designed by Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí, such as Casa Vicens and Park Güell. Being well-connected with downtown, Gràcia is a strategic location for those wanting to be close to the city center but farther from the hustle and bustle.
Best neighborhood for beaches
A year-round vacation spot, Barceloneta ('Little Barcelona') is the preferred neighborhood for tourists thanks to its glorious necklace of beaches. Originally a traditional fishing neighborhood founded in the 18th century, Barceloneta later became a working-class district. As industrial expansion around the city harbor grew, so did the neighborhood, and you still get a sense of the industrial roots as you stroll along the narrow lanes of this historic neighborhood.
While the area's buildings lack the patrician facades that characterize other parts of Barcelona, they have kept their own unique character and today house a wide array of tapas bars and nightclubs. Though most stay in Barceloneta for late-night parties or beach action, Barceloneta has plenty of spots for families to enjoy. Stroll around Port Vell (Old Harbor) and along the animated promenade. Kids will also like L’Aquàrium and the Museu d’Història de Catalunya.
3. El Born
Best neighborhood for sights
El Born competes with Gràcia for the title of Barcelona's trendiest neighborhood, but instead of vegan restaurants and urban gardens, El Born is home to concept stores, art studios and a distinctly international vibe. Formerly a craftsmen’s district, El Born is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Barcelona. There's lots to do for free here. Look for century-old shops such as Casa Perris (a grocery store that sells in bulk) and some of the most important landmarks in the city, including Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic church from the 14th century, and Palau de la Música, a music hall and one of the best examples of Modernist architecture.
If your budget allows, El Born has a wide range of fine-dining restaurants, mostly offering Mediterranean and Spanish cuisine. For those on a budget, you can also find plenty of international fast-food eateries and an endless supply of bars. El Born enjoys a prime location between Barceloneta and the city center and is within walking distance of most city landmarks, making it one of the most popular neighborhoods for accommodations.
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Best neighborhood for Gaudí architecture
L'Eixample, which means the "expansion district" in Catalan, is a neighborhood built between the 19th and 20th centuries that was constructed as Barcelona expanded beyond the Old City. Its strict street grid pattern that's crossed by wide avenues makes it easy to navigate – and popular for aerial photos. L’Eixample is typically divided into Left Eixample and Right Eixample, which are separated by Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona's most exclusive avenue. Here you will find Gaudí-designed buildings such as La Pedrera and Casa Batlló.
Concentrated in Right Eixample are important historic sites, such as Gaudí's still unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família, and the Modernist Hospital Sant Pau, a Unesco World Heritage site. The neighborhood is well-connected and has the most extensive range of accommodation options in the city.
5. El Raval
Best neighborhood for bars
El Raval is the most vibrant of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, and it's where everything is happening. Part of the Old City and located southwest of La Rambla, this neighborhood is home to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona, as well as Mercat de la Boqueria, the busiest local market in Barcelona, where stall-holders cook with some of the best quality ingredients in the city.
El Raval is also the most multicultural neighborhood in Barcelona, making it an area of huge contrasts. If you fancy a more local party vibe than in Barceloneta, check out El Raval’s bar-hopping scene. Stop into Bar Marsella, a late-night institution known for being the oldest continuously open bar in the city.
6. Barri Gòtic
Best neighborhood for history
The historic center of Barcelona is Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter). Featuring the oldest buildings in the city, most are neo-Gothic, the result of a massive 19th-century restoration project. Fine examples of original architecture to seek out include the interiors of La Catedral and La Llotja de Mar. For history buffs and first-time visitors to Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter is a must-visit.
Even if you've been to Barcelona before, you're bound to find new-to-you bars, restaurants and historic squares hidden down the narrow alleyways. Rambling the labyrinthine lanes is a delight. Being right in the city center, Barri Gòtic is within walking distance from most tourist attractions. Some parts of the Gothic Quarter are known for late-night parties, so keep this in mind when looking for the right neighborhood to stay in.