Wondering where to stay in Barcelona? Famous for its architecture, football, tapas, and nightlife, Barcelona is a charming seaside city that’s part of the region of Catalonia in northeast Spain. It’s a city where you can admire captivating modernist architecture as easily as you can wander Medieval streets and Gothic Cathedrals or visit the galleries dedicated to some of the world’s greatest artists like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Antoni Tapies. A proud city, be prepared to see the Catalan flag hanging everywhere. One of the best ways to enjoy this dynamic way of life is to relax in one of the Plazas with a beer and watch the world go by.
Where to stay in Barcelona for first time travellers - Contents
Where to stay in Barcelona
And why pick it over Madrid?
Barcelona is a smaller city than Madrid but it’s easy to become overwhelmed when choosing a place to stay. It’s no secret that the neighbourhoods are very different and your experience staying in the Gothic Quarter or the Ramblas will be a stark contrast to staying in Gracia or Eixample. Well connected by metro, it’s easy to get around the city so choose the spot that suits you best and work your way around to see how varied life here can be. During our time in Barcelona, we decided to stay in El Born, a wonderful centre with plenty to do for all type of travellers.
El Born - Central historic area with lots to do
Why stay in El Born
The heart of the old city and one of the most popular places to stay in Barcelona. Narrow alleyways provide perfect spaces to wander and capture the unique vibe of the area including some of the best street art in the city. There’s no shortage of things to do within walking distance; some of the best craft beer bars in the city are located here; local shops full of handmade ceramics, jewellery, and clothes; lots of hip cafes and restaurants, and the gorgeous Gothic Quarter. Art fans will be very happy to be near the Picasso Museum which showcases his most famous works but also some lesser-known pieces. The area is split into Lower El Born which is busier and more touristy as it’s near the Santa Maria Del Mer church and most of the nightlife scene. You can also choose Upper El Born which is quieter and more residential.
Why avoid El Born
One of the more touristy and busier areas of the city, it may not be what you’re looking for if you’ve visited Barcelona before or are looking to get down with the locals a bit more. Prices are more inflated in this area and the accommodation is on the more expensive end.
Where to stay in El Born
Gothic Quarter - Medieval area to get lost in
Why stay in the Gothic Quarter
Unlike any other part of the city, this is the medieval area also known as Barri Gòtic. The architecture here is infamous and the narrow streets are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, it’s certainly one of the easiest places to get lost in the city (literally and metaphorically!). There’s a mix of old and new buildings and the area is enjoyed by both tourists and locals for the sheer beauty and excellent shopping, you’ll find everything from big name brands to local independent shops here. The best place to people watch is Plaça Reial situated off Las Ramblas and features the beautiful Fountain of Three Graces. Architecture lovers will also have a lot to do since the Barcelona Cathedral is based here and the Bishop’s Bridge is just around the corner. There’s a real mix of accommodation options here so there’s something for everyone in this busy area.
Why avoid the Gothic Quarter
Staying here could get exhausting, it’s the most popular part of the city for tourists and can often feel like staying in Disney Land rather than a Gothic neighbourhood – yes it’s that busy. It’s also a notorious hub for pick-pocketing (particularly Las Ramblas) due to the number of tourists so it’s an area where you really need to look after your belongings.
Where to stay in the Gothic Quarter
Barceloneta - Authentic way of life and a beach lovers paradise
Why stay in Barceloneta
If you’re in Barcelona to relax and work on your suntan, then this is the area for you, wherever you stay you won’t be more than ten minutes’ walk from a beach. The proudest Catalonian neighbourhood in Barcelona (which you’ll notice from all the flags), it’s also one of the least touristy neighbourhoods in the city as the locals take care and have fought to generally keep tourism low here. That doesn’t mean it’s off limits, in fact, if you’re looking for an authentic experience then this makes it ideal. It’s just an area where you need to be more respectful of the people who live there by keeping quiet at night and getting dressed when you leave the beach. A small price to pay for some of the most beautiful ocean views in the city. It’s also well suited to budget travellers, for now, while it’s still off-the-beaten-path somewhat.
Why avoid Barceloneta
If you’re looking for a tourist style stay, understandable if it’s your first time in the city, or if you want to be close to the attractions and in the centre of the exciting nightlife Barcelona is known for. The area is generally more residential and laid-back than other areas on offer.
Where to stay in Barceloneta
Eixample - Upscale vibe with famous architecture spots
Why stay in Eixample
A great spot for first-time visitors since the architecture that has many people desperate to visit the city like the Sagrada Familia and Gaudi’s other most famous modernist works are based here. It’s the late nineteenth-century extension of Barcelone, an upscale neighbourhood where the roads are wider and brighter, the streets are tree-lined and lined with boutique shopping and fine dining. There are myriad museums and art galleries, and it generally feels a lot more spacious here than some of the older parts of the city like The Gothic Quarter. Some of the finest accommodation choices in the city are based here.
Why avoid Eixample
If you’re looking for authentic Barcelona living, you’re less likely to find it here due to the inflated prices and it being one of the more touristy areas. Likewise, if you’re on a budget yourself than this is one of the more expensive parts of the city and is generally geared towards the high spender.
Where to stay in Eixample
El Raval - Food and drink hotspot with an artistic flair
Why stay in El Raval
El Raval is the perfect spot to eat and drink to your heart’s content. With a gritty past in terms of prostitution and crime, it’s now a charming, diverse neighbourhood with more bars than any other area of Barcelona. The food and restaurants here and excellent due to it being a uniquely multi-cultural area in the city and you get anything from local food to Chinese, and South American delicacies. The area will be well-known to Hemingway fans since he used to frequent the bars here often including the Bar Marsella absinthe bar (also a favourite of Picasso). The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is located here as well as some of the architect Gaudi’s earlier works and the famous cat statue on the palm-tree lined street Rambla del Raval. This alternative area will suit people looking to be based in a lively hub who need not look further for their bar and restaurant needs. It’s also situated within walking distance of The Gothic Quarter
Why avoid El Raval
Despite being far removed from its history, there are still some relatively unsafe areas in this part of the city and pickpocketing is quite high. It’s generally very safe and a tremendously popular but a good thing to be aware of. Due to the drinking culture here, it can get rowdy and perhaps isn’t an area suited to families.
Where to stay in El Raval
El Poble-Sec - Food and drink hot spot with a local feel
Why stay in El Poble-Sec
Is it possible you’re in Barcelona for the Tapas? If so, then El Poble-Sec is the perfect neighbourhood if you like a peaceful space to wander and local food. The area comes alive at night with clusters of tiny tapas bars (including one of the most famous in the city Quimet & Quimet), particularly around the pedestrianised Carrer de Blai area. The food is cheap, delicious and easily washed down with some vermouth from one of the nearby bars. It’s an area that’s well connected to the rest of the city by public transport and near a beach and some an excellent hike to the castle of Montjuic which provides an excellent way to work off all the tapas! This is an ideal option for budget travellers, foodies, and people who want an authentic slice of Catalan life.
Why avoid El Poble-Sec
There are no major attractions here so you’ll be on public transport a lot if you’re hoping to see the major sights. It’s also a very local area so not suited to those wanting to be in the centre of Barcelona or anyone looking for a luxury stay.
Where to stay in El Poble-Sec
Poblenou - Alternative, laid-back arty area
Why stay in Poblenou
Poblenou used to be Barcelona’s industrial area and there are still disused and old factories in the area which only adds to the overall artsy vibe. The city’s hipster area, Poblenou has a lot to offer while still being a very traditional low-key part of the city. It’s still relatively off the tourist track and provides a charming place to stay with a lot to do in the area. Poblenou is famous for street parties which it throws often but for two weeks in September, you can attend the Festa Mejor del Poblenou which is a real celebration of culture including live performances, food, and music. The famous design museum La Plataforma is based here as well as other art galleries and performance spaces. The neighbourhood is well known for being a hub for local artists, enhanced by the abundance of street art in the area which you can find at every turn. It’s also a coffee hot spot with hip cafes and baristas who really know their stuff. Suited to mid-range and budget travellers who love alternative, laid-back vibes.
Why avoid Poblenou
If you’re looking for a high-end stay or want to be close to the main tourist attractions without the need for public transport, then best to avoid Poblenou. It’s quite a quiet area at night so maybe not suited to people coming to Barcelona to party.
Where to stay in Poblenou
Gracia - Bohemian neighbourhood with undiscovered gems
Why stay in Gracia
A unique and peaceful spot if you love small town charm, it has a similar vibe to Montmartre in Paris and is full of undiscovered gems in terms of cafes, restaurants, and local shops. You’ll also find some of Gaudi’s lesser known works here but also his famous park, Parc Güell. You’re also within walking distance of The Bunker which offers a 360-degree view of the city. Once its own village, the locals still consider this area separate to Barcelona and the difference is obvious the moment you set foot in Gracia, it’s bohemian and relaxed. This makes it a lovely place to spend your time in the evenings once you’ve finished sightseeing or if this isn’t your first time visiting Barcelona and want something different. Head to Plaça del Sol, get a drink (try Spanish style gin at Bobby Gin) and enjoy the atmosphere.
Why avoid Gracia
There’s a good range of accommodation here in terms of budgets but there isn’t as much here as in other parts of the city so book early if you’d like to stay here. Also, it is quite far to the tourist attractions (around 30 minutes) so if you are in Barcelona for the first time, you may not want to spend so much time on the metro.
Where to stay in Gracia
Sant Antoni - Quiet residential area for an authentic stay
Why stay in Sant Antoni
Part hipster neighbourhood and part quiet residential area, this is a modern hub in the old city. If you love Spanish desserts then the bakeries here are particularly excellent and the range of bars, upscale restaurants, and small eateries here will mean you won’t struggle to find somewhere to eat at night. It’s a great (and cheap) area if you want to live like a local and enjoy a relaxed pace of life.
Why avoid Sant Antoni
There are very few major hotels in the area, due to the lack of tourist attractions, and it is mostly made up of apartment rentals. It’s also quite far away from the major parts of the city so not ideal for first-time visitors to Barcelona.
Where to stay in Sant Antoni
Barcelo Raval - Central area with open spaces and child-friendly activities
Why stay in Barcelo Raval
This is a great place for families to stay or anyone looking for a central location that doesn’t require being on the metro too much. It’s close to many of the cities attractions and children will be particularly happy as there are lots of parks and open spaces to enjoy, the Parc de la Ciutadella being the most popular, and the Barcelona Zoo. It’s quite a gentrified area so you’ll find independent boutiques and vintage stores to explore, as well as small eateries, bistros, cafes, and bars. There’s a lot of choice in terms of accommodation in the area and all budgets are catered for.
Why avoid Barcelo Raval
If you’re looking for the famous Barcelona nightlife, then this may be a little quiet for you. Similarly, if you’re looking for a high-end stay, the aesthetic of the area may not be what you’re looking for as well as the lack of high-end shopping and dining.