An inside guide to Cataluña’s cultured capital
With fantastical architecture, golden beaches and world-class restaurants, Barcelona ranks among Europe’s top city break destinations for good reason. Particularly as, whether it’s your first or fifteenth visit, there’s always more to see. To help you unlock the city for yourself, here’s our guide to some of the city’s diverse neighbourhoods – along with the best hotels in Barcelona to explore them from.
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi: peace and Quiet
Between the city centre and the mountains, this former medieval village has kept something of its small community feel. Its peaceful plazas and leafy parks mean Sarrià is made for laid-back days sampling local life.
Hop between artisan bakeries such as L’Obrador and chocolate shops selling delicate, handmade truffles. Or search for designer collections in independent boutiques.
This well-heeled neighbourhood claims to cook the best patatas bravas in the whole city. Delicious, golden fried potatoes with a rich and spicy tomato sauce. Catalan tapas bars including El Canalla are good places to put them to the test.
The contemporary design of ABaC Restaurant & Hotel is right at home in chic Sarrià-Sant Gervasi. It also hosts double michelin starred chef, Jordi Cruz, who serves up innovative gastronomy.
Gràcia: secret gardens
Just a few streets up from hectic Passeig de Gràcia, Gràcia feels like a world of its own. Gaudi’s Parc Güell may be the main draw, but stick around longer to discover a young, arty neighbourhood with a welcoming café culture. If you have more time to spare, go north to Parc del Laberint d’Horta – a hedge maze wrapped in a romantic 18th-century garden. The terraces and trees frame views across the city to the Mediterranean.
Eixample: modernisme chic
This 19th-century ‘extension’ of Barcelona is home to some of the city’s most treasured buildings. Dominating the skyline is Gaudi’s masterpiece, Sagrada di Familia. Although the number one tourist sight, it is a jaw-dropping achievement that gets more impressive as the years go by. Try to visit either first thing in the morning or later in the evening to beat some of the crowds. Or, for a quieter option, take in the intricate stained-glass windows, colourful tiles and peaceful gardens of Hospital de Sant Pau, another modernist gem.
El Gotic and El Born: history and culture
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a maze of narrow streets and hidden plazas – and one of the best ways to experience it is by simply folding up your map and getting lost. But if you’d like help picking out unexpected features – from statues with a story to little-visited Roman ruins – a tour with an in-the-know local is the way to go.
There’s far more to neighbouring El Born than Parc de la Ciutadella and Museo Picasso. Just down the street from this packed gallery is El Xampanyet, a Champagne bar serving crisp local Cava. In the evening, pay a visit to the Palace of Catalan Music to hear Spanish guitar, opera and classical concerts in a mesmerising Art Nouveau hall.
El Raval: urban art and craft cocktails
El Born may have the Museo Picasso, but in El Raval, you’re as likely to see art on the streets as on the walls of the superb MACBA gallery. Murals, street performers and cafés that spill out onto the pavements give this slightly rough-around-the-edges neighbourhood an energetic feel.
The pace only picks up as day turns to night. Locals gather around La Rambla del Raval for drinks and tapas, while visitors hotfoot it to the bars on Calle Joaquin Costa. For something a little different, head to rustic Sésamo for vegetarian dishes that taste as good as they look – along with a heady selection of Spain’s favourite ruin, gin and tonic.
Barceloneta: seafood on the seashore
If you want to take a break from the city, spend a day at the beach in Barceloneta. Then dive into the narrow grid of streets in search of the day’s catch. Splash out on seafood platters the size of surfboards at fine dining restaurant Botafumeiro. Or join the queue of Barcelonans outside Can Mano for simply prepared, super fresh fish.