A Local’s Guide To Barcelona’s Best Neighborhoods
December 23, 2016
One of the secrets of Barcelona’s popularity is that it is both very compact and very diverse. It is amazing that a city of just above 100 sqkm can pack such a wonderful mix of experiences. So, what are Barcelona’s best neighborhoods?
Barcelona is densely populated, and feels relatively crowded, with lots of stuff going on. Ok, its is now Hanoi or Delhi, but you’ll see what I mean if you compare it to other main European cities.
Crossing a street can bring you to a completely different neighborhood with different architecture, people, and dynamics.
Discover The Real Barcelona
Most tourists do not even leave the old town (with the possible exception of the Park Guell or Sagrada Familia). Nothing wrong with it, but that is not Barcelona, it’s the Barcelona tourist park.
OK, it is true that the old town has some of the best sights (here a guide to the top 5) and it is easy to walk around. But it is not enough.
In fact, most locals avoid the city center and only go there to do some shopping or go out with friends. Prices there are inflated and it’s full of tourists everywhere. A nightmare.
So, what to expect and where to go?
The Old Town: Gothic, Born, & Raval
Barcelona’s historical neighborhoods are considered “the center” of the city. These are the Gothic, Born, and Raval.
You can easily find the old town area in a Barcelona map by locating Pl Catalunya.
Tourists and tourist-related activities like awful souvenir shops have populated the old town. However, the Gothic is gorgeous, the Born is very cool and fun, and the Raval is modern and colorful.
Gothic & La Rambla
Tourist Factor 10/10
Metro: Pl Catalunya (L1 red, L3 green), Urquinaona (L1 red, L4 yellow), Liceu (L3 green), Drassanes (L3 green)
Popular Sights: Pl Catalunya, La Rambla, Cathedral, Colon
Shopping: Portal de l’Angel
Local favorites: Pl Sant Felip Neri, Call (Jewish Area)
GOTHIC is the more historical neighborhood, with very narrow labyrinthic streets and a mix of residents and hipster Erasmus students who frequent the abundant bars and cafes. Also full of new terrible souvenir shops with bright lights and FC Barcelona t-shirts on display. Easy to reach from Jaume I, or Pl Urquinaona, Pl Catalunya metro stations.
Born aka La Rivera
Tourist Factor 8/10
Popular Sights: Catedral de Santa Maria del Mar, Parc de la Ciutadella
Shopping: Nice shopping area near Sta Maria del Mar
Museums: Picasso Museum
Local favorites: Pl Sant Felip Neri
BORN (aka La Rivera) is nearby Gothic, on its Eastern side, and a very atmospheric walking area, also full of nice cafes and increasing number of artisan shops and alternative fashion retailers. The main areas are around the Sta Maria Cathedral, near Jaume I metro (L4, Yellow).
Tourist Factor 7/10 – but some areas remain very underground
Metro: Parallel (L2 purple), Liceu (L3 green), Pl Urquinaona (L1 red, L2 purple)
Sights: Palau Guell, street life
Museums: MACBA, CCCB
Movie Theaters: Filmoteca, Cinemes Malda, Renoir Floridablanca
RAVAL is the most colorful, and adventurous of the central areas. A formerly very conflictive working class district has become the new mecca of the international hipsters temporary residing in Barcelona. With over 50℅ of foreign residents, mostly Moroccan, Pakistani, and Filipino it feels clearly different from the more affluent nearby Born or any other neighborhood in the upper city. Raval has main tourist attractions like the contemporary art museum (MACBA) and Filmoteca. Also full of cheap places to eat some good falafel and stuff. A bit dodgy at night for the lone traveler – don’t get lost while you’re drunk as hell. Best subway stops: Pl Universitat, Pl Catalunya, Liceu, Drassanes, Parallel.
Other cool areas: Barceloneta & Gracia
Tourist Factor: 10/10 near beach, 6/10 in some small streets
Metro: Barceloneta L4 (yellow)
Sights: Barceloneta Beach Promenade, W Hotel, Beach
Local tips: buy some picnic stuff and relax on the beach. Watch your stuff, as pickpockets abound.
Barceloneta used to be a classic fisherman’s neighborhood. Fairly problematic, poor, and dynamic. Then tourism started kicking in – and flooded the area. Nowadays the area feels like the marine version of las Ramblas, very cool if you know where to go – otherwise annoyingly touristy.
Tourist Factor: 10/10 near beach, 7/10 in some small streets
Metro: Joanic L4 (yellow), Fontana (L3 green)
Sights: Pl Sol, Casa Vicens, Mercat de la Llibertat
Local tips: get lost in the old village streets
Gracia is possibly one of the last bastions of local Catalans in the city – save for the preppier districts North-East of the Diagonal. A former independent village until annexed to Barcelona in 1897, it remains distinctly compact and Catalan with a few areas now colonized by festive Erasmus and a bunch of Expats.
Explore and discover your own barcelona. What are your favorite areas?