Areas of Barcelona


The centre of Barcelona is a compact area, made up of three barrios (or neighbourhoods) – Barri Gotic, El Born and El Raval - which, before the expansion of the city in the 1800s, made up the total living and working space of the city.  While these areas have everything you need in terms of Restaurants, Bars, Sights and Clubs, the area surrounding it, Eixample (literally translated from Catalan, “Extension”) is well worth exploring, even on a short trip and the more adventurous may also want to experience the more “village-like” feel of Gracia, to the north of the city.

To see how the city is made up, go to the Barcelona Update barrios map.


Barri Gotic

El Raval

El Born

Barceloneta

Eixample

Gracia

Montjuic
 
 
Barri Gotic
 

The beating heart of Barcelona, the Barri Gotic (literally “Gothic quarter”) is where it all started for Barcelona back in Roman times.  As the original walled city part of Barcelona the residents were crammed in making it necessary to create as much living are from the limited space as possible.  Hence the narrow streets, high buildings and overall oppressive “gothic” feel to the barrio.

Over the years space has been created in the Barri Gotic by literally bulldozing large areas, resulting in squares like the fabulous Italiatine Plaza Reial and the Plaza Sant Jaume where local council and regional Government buildings face off against each other across the square.

For the traveller the Barri Gotic is an ideally central launching pad for exploring the best that the city has to offer, from the amazing Gothic and Modernista architecture to the restaurants and beaches.  See our guide to choosing a hotel for the ideal areas to stay here.

Highlights:

  • The fabulous space, restaurants and bars of Plaza Reial
  • The most Gothic of all Cathedrals, Le Seu
  • The myriad of winding streets surrounding Le Seu and at the harbour side of the Barrio

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El Raval
 

Raval has always been considered the seedier and less safe sibling of the Barri Gotic (the south side around Drassanes still hosts what is left of the red light district), but facelifts in recent years have brought it more to the fore and it is now seen as more “up and coming” than dangerous. 

The same gothic, high buildings are there throughout, but are more poorly kept here than Barri Gotic and this, along with the poorer, immigrant population still puts some people off visiting it.  For us, El Raval offers some great new restaurants, bars and cafés which still retain some of their local “edginess” that has now been lost from many of those in the other central Barcelona areas.  Like the centre of any big city, proceed with caution – don’t flaunt your electronic goodies and cash and avoid late night sorties there completely on your own – but to miss it would be to miss out on real local central Barcelona.

Highlights:

  • Quite possibly the best food market in Europe:  the magnificent Boqueria
  • The restaurants and bars along Rambla de Raval, Carrer de Carme and Carrer de l’Hospital
  • The MACBA Museum of Contemporary Art

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El Born
 

Before the expansion of the city in the 19th Century, this was among the more upmarket areas of Barcelona – although up until 10 or so years ago the area of Born didn’t really exist – that is, it was there, but just a part of the less than salubrious Sant Pere area.  Nowadays, the area around Passeig del Born and Santa Maria del Mar church has made a break from the area to the far side of Carrer Princesa, which is still a little run down (although, like Raval, on the way up).

The area is now one of the coolest areas in the city, rivalling the Barri Gotic for numbers of bars, restaurants, cafés and museums – but all with a slightly more authentic feel to them.  The wide open space of Passeig del Born houses a set of lovely cafés which catch the sun most of the day in summer (and a good part in winter too) and are an ideal place to kick back and plan your day or take in lunch, while the late night bars that line the sides and surrounding streets are among the hippest in the city.

Highlights:

  • The ever-popular Picasso Museum
  • The wonderful Santa Maria del Mar church
  • The ornate and awe-inspiring Palau de la Musica Catalana

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Barceloneta
 

Barceloneta was created in the 18th Century to house the less well off residents who had been displaced when the Madrid Government built the Citadel where the Park de la Ciutadella is now.  It is made up of tall, thin, often oppressive streets, hemmed in on one side by the port and the other by the beach.

Traditionally the place where the fishermen lived, the area is famed for great seafood restaurants, although the tourist flooding to the beach have also attracted many cheap and cheerful places, especially along Passeig de Joan Borbo.

Of course, the beach is real pull here.  The Barceloneta section is an odd mix of local residents and tourists and is among the more lively and crowded sections.  See the Barcelona Update Beach guide for more details.

Highlights:

  • The beach, beach bars and beach-side restaurants
  • The new Barceloneta fish market

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Eixample
 

The Eixample area was created in the early 19th Century to provide the ever-growing population of the old central areas with space to expand (hence the name – literally in Catalan “the Extension”).  It was build to a planned grid and effectively joined up the old Barcelona with the surrounding villages of Gracia, Sants, Sant Gervasi and others, making them all one big city.  The grid plan, made up of square buildings with corners cut off and a central hole to provide light, makes the area easier than elsewhere to navigate, although the large area (almost 3 miles across and a mile deep) means taxis, buses and metro are often needed to get across it.

The architecture of the Eixample is eclectic – ranging from many of the fabulous Modernista buildings like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo to monstrous new office blocks – and often even adjoining each other on the same block.

The area’s central streets, Rambla de Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia are among the best shopping in the city – Passeig de Gracia housing many of the top brand names like Chanel, and Burberry that most of us can only window shop in.

Eixample also has a wonderful range of restaurants and bars, often a bit classier and better value than those in the more tourist oriented old town.

Highlights:

  • The amazing Sagrada Familiar church, still unfinished after over 100 years
  • Towering and ornate modernista architecture everywhere you look
  • Shops, restaurants and bars where the locals go!

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Gracia
 

Gracia was originally a village outside the walls of Barcelona and in many ways it still retains that small community feel, especially during fiesta periods.

Although a little further out than most visitors reach, Gracia is worth visiting if only for the lovely laid back squares where you can kick back and relax in the sun, sipping a cold cerveza and nibbling tapas.  The squares to head for on sunny days are:

  • Placa del Sol – a little bit tourist oriented these days, but still some great cafés
  • Placa de Ruis i Taulet (Renamed in April ’09 Placa de la Vile)
  • Placa de Virreina

Outside of these squares the narrow streets are also worth a wander to find the are masses of little local bars and restaurants that fill it.

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Montjuic
 

Montjuic is the traditional mountain stronghold of Barcelona, where the city can defend itself from sea attacks and, more often the case, finds itself bombarded from by Castille and other enemies.

Only the lower reaches of the mountain are lived on – to get to the good stuff you will need a steep climb or a trip on a bus or cable car.

Highlights:

  • The magic fountains
  • The Palau National
  • The 17th Century Montjuic castle and military museum

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A map of the city barrios
 


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