I’ve noticed that many people use their favourite search engine to search for information on the best areas to stay in their chosen destination.  This is a very good question and independent advice is quite tricky to come by without exhaustive searching.  So, I have written a small description of each area of Barcelona along with some general travel advice for holidaying tourists.

I have remained as open and impartial as possible and try not to be judgmental about certain areas, but I do understand the preoccupations of many tourists with regards to straying into the wrong areas etc.  Barcelona has a reputation for petty theft.  Let me assure you that if you pay attention to some small details (more like common sense) Barcelona is perfectly safe.

Brief but essential advice for Holidaying Tourists

Rule number one: Do not wear your expensive camera around your neck: I cannot stress this enough, and I’m sure it doesn’t just apply to Barcelona.  Buy a non-descript hold-all and carry it in there, out of sight.
An extension of this hold-all rule is also to take care not to put all your essential documents and valuables in one place.  Spread them out around your person and persons.

Guide to the Best Areas of Barcelona (or, Know your Area)

The “best area” is a vague term to enquire about, as each person will have his or her preferences and the “best area” can differ.  Of course, we all understand that, in general, when people are looking to stay in a strange city the “best area” usually means “the safest” and “the closest to the main attractions”.  Of course it can also mean “the best places for the beach” or the “best places to eat”, “the best area for bars” etc.

I’ll try to cover all these.  And I’ll do it, “barrio” by “barrio” as the Spanish call each area of the city.  I’ll order the list by popularity and size.

The Barri Gotic (The Gothic Quarter)

The Barri Gotic is probably the most popular area of Barcelona and is habitually crammed with Tourists.  It is generally a maze of narrow streets and small squares, some more desirable than others.  It is filled with quaint bars and restaurants and it contains the oldest architecture of Barcelona.

Now, before this turns into a typical guide, I’ll get to the point.  Is this the “best area” of Barcelona? Well, it’s very central.  You couldn’t ask for anything more central.  And generally you will mingle along with the other tourists and be generally “safe” in numbers.  On the other hand, there are many side streets which are inadvisable to venture into.  How can you tell which streets are fine and which are not?  You can generally tell because you will notice the “dodgy” side streets are empty and look fairly dingy.  My advice is, stick to the masses.  Go where everyone else is going, you will see enough narrow streets this way and will avoid getting lost.

By night:  This area is generally safe by night.  Again, don’t go wandering off down dark-looking alleys.  The main areas are well-lit and popular and you will be fine.  The Barri Gotic contains innumerous great bars and restaurants and you could probably enjoy a short break in Barcelona simply strolling around this area.  Although there is a lot more to see, like…

Eixample

I mention this area next because it is large, architecturally beautiful, safe, central, and has great bars and restaurants.  I, personally, would always recommend this area to tourists wanting to stay in the “best area”.  Pay attention, however, because as I said, this area is large and so being also “central” really depends on where you are.  In general, stay in Eixample and find somewhere relatively close to Plaza Catalunya (which is the main square).

A few more words on this area:  By night it is just as safe as the daytime.  There are plenty of great bars and restaurants here, although they are more dispersed geographically.  It is not as “touristy” as the Barri Gotic and you will mingle more with the “natives”.  The natives in Eixample being the 25-45 age group rather than the younger groups strictly in the centre and The Raval and Gracia (explained later).

As a sidenote, Eixample can be clearly distinguished by its large avenues, grid-like design and art-nouveau style facades.

The Raval

The Raval used to be the Chinese quarter but they have since moved uptown.  It is mainly an immigrant based community who live there now, and as such, has ethnic flavour.  Before I go any further, this area is not the safest!  That sounds like a stark warning, it’s not that bad.  It is one of the poorer areas of the centre and as such carries its own burdens.  If you dress normally and don’t advertise yourself as a liable target (i.e. the camera around the neck) you will be fine.  At night stay more alert.

I have painted a rough picture of The Raval but it really does have its own charm and I would recommend everyone to visit the area.   Some parts have been renovated and as a reward it is generally much safer.  My advice to holidaying tourists is to stick to these areas;  Let’s call it the “shallow-end” of the Raval where the Museums of the CCCB and MACBA are located and along the Rambla (the Raval Rambla, not the main Ramblas).

This area has an artistic flavour and there are many great restaurants and a lively nightlife.  Some of the best bars are located in The Raval and the atmosphere is young and electric.

To holidaying tourists over, say, 28, wanting to find out where to book their hotel or apartment in the “best area”, I say, “not here”.  Visit by all means, but you are better off renting elsewhere.

Gracia

Gracia is like a little village unto itself.  It is very popular at nights, has great restaurants, lively bars and a young atmosphere.  It is popular with students and has many artistic nooks to visit.  The streets are narrow and it’s easy to get lost.  The area is generally safe however.

It is situated north of the city a little out of the “centre”.  It is generally quiet by day and lively by night.

Poble Sec

This area could probably include Plaza Espanya and in fact Plaza Espanya is probably the only area worth visiting in it.  Poble Sec is mostly residential and generally not touristy.  There are a number of theatres located here and maybe even the Raval comes under its denomination.  But apart from that, there isn’t much.  I would advise looking elsewhere for your accommodation.

Born

I’m not sure if the Born area comes under the Barri Gotic.  They recently changed denominations of many areas so now I’m even less sure.  But anyway, I will give it a brief mention.  It comprises the area around the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral and is cram-packed with great bars and restaurants.  The area around the Paseig (a small rambla type street) is very popular and contains innumerous places to eat and drink.  Born is very central and sits between the “city centre” and the “beach area”.

Apartments and hotels here are generally good quality, nicely decorated and renovated (for the main part).  It is generally safe and I would recommend this area as a decent place to stay.

Barceloneta

This area is right next to the beach.  It is generally cramped, can smell bad at times and is probably not the safest area.  That being said, it’s right on the beach!  It also contains some authentic, and probably among the best, fish restaurants in Barcelona.

There is not much real nightlife in Barceloneta itself, it is a residential area.  But along its peripheries there are plenty of bars and restaurants; along the port and sea-front and leading up to the Vila Olimpica.

Vila Olimpica

Vila Olimpica was created for the Olympic Games and as such has a modern flavour not really representative of Barcelona as people imagine it.  It is relatively quite and generally not too populated with bars and restaurants.  It’s a quiet, mostly residential area situated just outside the “centre”.

The great thing about Vila Olimpica, however, is that it is right next to the beach and the Port Olimpic.  Staying around this area ensures you are within 15 minutes walk from the centre, but 5 minutes walk from the beach.  Port Olimpic contains several plush bars right on the beachfront, alongside some not-so-plush ones along the port area itself.  Some bars/clubs/restaurants of interest are Shoko (stylish, Oriental style ambience) and the Carpe Diem Lounge Club.

Before I stray from the point again, let me re-iterate that this area is safe, not far from the centre, quiet, and close to the beach.

En Fin

Well, this has lasted long enough.  I have covered the main areas of Barcelona.  Which one is the “best area” is really up to you.  Of course, there are other areas of Barcelona such as the Forum and the Sarria-Sant Gervasi districts.  But they are quite a distance from the centre and generally not visited by tourists, so I leave them out.

Enjoy your stay.

Content Copyright © ShortStayApartment.com 2009.  Photos copyright © Derry Birkett 2009.