By Nancy Todd
Overwhelmed by coming to big Barcelona and wondering where to wander? Seeing a city by neighborhood is a cool way to experience diversity. Here are my top destinations:
With a long history of bohemian influence, it holds true today with small theaters, galleries that come and go, and poetry readings in bars. Plazas are filled with loud jabbering, guitars are strummed, one gets high on whiffs of pot, and kids dangle on jungle gyms. Dogs play and lap in fountains. Gracia: real neighborhood life without the tourists. August is Festa Major de Gracia (Gracia Festival) month with stages throughout, lots of drinking and homey decorations. Dates of the festival vary. Two great indoor food markets: Mercat de l’Abaceria, Mercat de la Llibertat.
The Eixample means ‘the expansion’ which occurred in the late 1800s when the old city walls were torn down. Passeig de Gracia is the main drag with designer stores and pricey bars. Stroll right or left of this street and be awed by thousands of Art Nouveau buildings. Stained glass, frilly iron balconies, elaborate huge doors, and stone heads on buildings will captivate your camera. The famous Gaudí buildings are in this neighborhood and there are plenty of great restaurants to enjoy in the area. Many people visiting the city choose to stay in L’Eixample and there are lots of apartment rental companies such as ApartmentBarcelona.com that are popular in this neighborhood. Streets are laid out in a grid with chamfered corners. These odd corners were designed to allow room for the trams to turn and to aid in circulating air from the sea. L’Eixample to the left of Passeig de Gracia is rocking with lots of gay bars.
La Ribera or El Born
Mainly pedestrian only streets, walking is easy and less polluted. The Born is trendy with expensive boutiques and cool bars. Once an old warehouse district, it has become gentrified much to the consternation of many. Lanes are skinny, huge arched doorways allowed for commerce. The famous Picasso Museum on Carrer Montcada is here and comprised of three palaces. Stay off small side streets at night. Lots of theft. Close to the beach. Check out Santa Maria del Mar, a glorious church with dark smoke marks on the ceiling from fires set by the anarchists during the revolt against Franco.
Small old ‘hood with streets in a grid pattern. It was built as ‘project housing’ for fishermen and their families when they were moved to create Ciutadella Park. Becoming more popular all the time but locals still crowd bars and restaurants. Laundry flaps on lines, kids jump rope in plazas. Older people gossip in front of their buildings on hot nights. La Barceloneta is on the crowded Barceloneta Beach, a marina flanks another side of the ‘hood. Great seafood restaurants, the W Hotel looms in the distance. Head back into La Barceloneta away from the sea and marina for a more authentic look at neighborhood life.
Rough and tumble, young people, and oldsters whose families have lived here for generations. Art Nouveau bars, absinthe bars, Galician bars with great seafood. Some pedestrian-only streets and tiny food markets with odd vegetables. Barber shops with old cane seat chairs. Home for many immigrants new to the city. Old guys chatting on benches. Great graffiti and people watching. Stick to the main streets at night. Home of MACBA, the Musuem of Contemporary Art of Barcelona. Fascinating neighborhood. I love meandering here. My fav bar: El Almirall.
Roman ruins tumble about, as well as hundreds of medieval buildings. Home of the Barcelona cathedral. Fun walking as tiny plazas pop up to surprise. Diverse shopping in all price ranges. And of course, loads of bars. Many pedestrian-only streets, tiny lanes with amber glowing street lights. Home of the ancient Jewish quarter. My fav place? Plaza Felipe Neri which is circled by a school, The Shoe Museum, and a hotel. Shell marks on the walls of this plaza were left by a bomb from Franco’s boys. Quiet plus a lovely fountain to counter the horrors of war.
Off the tourist path, El Poblenou was once an industrial village, now a residential area with tasty seafood and less crowded beaches. An authentic neighborhood feel with people waiting in line for bread like they were buying tickets for a rock concert. Old folks sit on benches, faces creased with lean years under Franco. They take time to select the best ham in the market. Babies in strollers sucking pacifiers. Many buildings have been torn down and replaced by architectural monstrosities. However, you can get a feel for old neighborhood life by heading to the center and walking Rambla del Poblenou. Good basic food served in the many restaurants.
There you have it, my top seven neighborhoods in Barcelona. What have your experiences been in Barcelona hoods?