Barcelona has several and distinct neighbourhoods, with very different atmosphere. I will limit here to a short description of those more central
1) Barri Gotic: from the right side of Las Ramblas to Via Laietana. The oldest part of the town (some Roman remains close the cathedral), very narrow streets, charming for some but intimidating to others. Overall a nice area but too touristy to my taste: noise, crowds...
2) Raval is on the left of Las Ramblas on the map, between Ramblas and Ronda Sant Antoni. It was the old red light district but now is a vibrant multicultural area. Still quite seedy on some streets, but changing fast. The area around MACBA is actually quite nice, but I would not recommend anyone staying in the part closer to the seaport.
3) After Gotic, if you go a bit further away, from Via Laietana to Parc de la Ciutadella, you'll be crossing El Born-La Ribera. You'll find plenty of small nice shops, restaurants and clubs, as the old working-class neighborhood have been reconverted to probably the trendiest area in town.
Barri Gotic, Raval and El Born-La Ribera are all part of the Old Town district, Ciutat Vella.
4) L'Eixample (literally means "broad axis") is the area of the city build in the XIX century. It surrounds the Old Town. Its easy to see in the map as the streets do cross perpendicularly (up from Plaça Catalunya, most of the city center). This is a very good area of the city, elegant buildings, wide streets, safe, lots of shops, restaurants... More elegant and more convenient for sightseeing as closer to Passeig de Gracia/Rambla de Catalunya (do not confuse this one with "Las Ramblas"). Very "local" flavor in general.
5) Another area quite convenient for tourists is La Barceloneta (its name means"little Barcelona"). This is the old fishermen's neighborhood, just next to Port Vell (Old Port). Lots of restaurants to have seafood/paella, trendy new bars and old-fashion bars to have a "vermut" on Sunday morning.
Some nice areas not "that central" but very well connected to the city centre by public transport (or even walking):
6) Gracia: a bit more out of the way, but very interesting and lively neighborhood. Located in top of Passeig de Gracia, after crossing the Av. Diagonal. In fact, Passeig de Gracia was once the road from Barcelona (limited at that time to what's now Ciutat Vella) to the formerly independent town of Gracia, hence its name. Lovely small squares, great shopping and dining places. A favourite area for expats to live and for locals to hang out. Park Güell is located on the hilly edge of Gracia.
7) Poble Nou: a former industrial district, now in converted to a technological/business area. Like Gràcia and other areas of Barcelona, it was once an independent town, "poble nou" actually means "new town" and it was where the workers of the many factories built around a small lake used to live. You can now see some of these old factories reconverted to museums (Can Framis), University facilities (Ca L'Aranyó) or other uses. But the best part of this are is its Rambla: there, you can enjoy a true Catalan rambla, were locals walk, shop, eat, people-watch... Just 10-15 minutes from the city centre by metro and walking distance to the beach.
8) Poble Sec : between Av. Paral·lel and Montjuïc mountain. Not that "obviuolsy charming" as other areas (even it has some nice squares), but handy for visiting the sights in Montjuic and well connected with everything else by metro/bus. Av. Paral·lel is the "theatre street" of Barcelona. Some of the streets of Poble Sec are becoming popular for eating out and have a drink.
Barcelona has become a very rapidly shifting, changing city. Of course it all began with the 1992 Olympics, when the eyes of the world fell upon a fairly dilapidated port city buried under years of neglect. Newly democratic, prosperous and visible, the government began an audacious plan to rebrand Barna, entirely.
That was thirty years ago, but civic leaders seem to have acquired a taste for "renewal" and public works projects are often undertaken to spur gentrification within the city.
There was a need, particularly as entire neighborhoods were saddled with poor infrastructure and aging housing. This, combined with an influx of residents put tremendous pressure on not just the basic fabric of the city, but the sophisticated image BCN wanted to maintain.
Whereas neighborhoods such as El Born and Gracia gentrified in a fairly natural fashion(shifting demographics and home prices), others, such as Barceloneta and El Raval have been in the crosshairs of government officials. Both have seen massive public works projects in recent years, and both are changing as a result - whether they'd like to or not.
(Raval is located South/right of the Ramblas and runs from the port to Pelayo and across to Parallel)
Fondest memory: Personally, I was fascinated by El Raval from my first visit. It's narrow, clogged alleyways are similar to that of the Gótic, but inhabited not by knick knacks, but a wide array of nationalities. Always colorful and bustling to the point pedestrians can't help but leave sidewalk for street, the barrio has become a hotbed of nightlife, counter-culture and cuisine.
The "Rambla de Raval" arrives at the end of Carrer l'Hospital and offers a sunny respite from the claustrophobic environs. Though it might seem the heart of the zone, it's a mere ten years old - several crime-ridden blocks were demolished to create a symbolic meeting place for El Raval's diverse population. And, that grit and graft continues to be another of Raval's calling cards. It is as equally known for its young vibrant and hip scene as it is for prostitution, pick-pockets and street brawls.
Most of the darker action is below C/l'Hospital, while areas north of the street can be positively posh. Barcelonans warn to avoid the district, lest you be robbed, but it's fair to say the professionals, though they live in Raval, practice their "talents" in the more touristy districts than their own blocks. Personally, I've been robbed in Eixample three times, San Antoní once, and Urquinaona once. In Raval, there was one feeble attempt, but I threatened the pick pocket with a bottle of vintage cava and he ran for the hills.
The wine was worth more than anything in my pockets, but a oenophile he clearly was not.
So, as any visitor to Barcelona must, add El Raval to your itinerary. You'll invariably find yourself criss-crossing the zone in your travels, whether it be an afternoon in MACBA, vintage shopping on Riera Baixa or taking in all that is young and hip on C/ Carme. But, don't wait too long - now considered by many to be the most trendy hood of Barcelona, Raval is changing rapidly and might not exactly be here on your next visit.
First of all, a couple of hints:
- The famous "Las Ramblas", is the promenade from Plaça de Catalunya to the sea.
Not to be confused with other locations as "Rambla de Catalunya", "Rambla Prim", "Rambla del Raval" etc. "Rambla" is a kind of avenue with a pedestrian area in the middle. The word rambla is derived from the Arabic term, ramla, which means "riverbed", and these streets actually once were riverbeds that channeled the water coming down from the hills. So, you can find streets with this name all around Barcelona (and many other towns along the Mediterranean coast).
By the way, not very advisable to stay right ON Las Ramblas. Too noisy and too touristy and too fake IMHO.
- If you look at a map of Barcelona, typically the sea is at the bottom of the page (odd, I know, not the South as usual in maps). Las Ramblas go up from the sea to Plaça de Catalunya and from there you can see two big parallel avenues up until you arrive to Diagonal: Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya (you should walk along these 2, the most beautiful houses of Barcelona are there). La Diagonal is the easiest avenue to spot in the map, as it crosses all Barcelona (obviously, in a diagonal way).
Here you have a good online resource to locate a particular adress: www.bcn.cat/guia
These references will help you to locate the other areas you may be interested on (pls see tip #2)
Some local freelancers such as journalists, fotographers and designer make themselves available to show visitors their favourite local bars, restaurants, shops, views and little secrets.
Worth checking it out: www.rentalocalfriend.com
Fondest memory: Definety the best part of barcelona is its beach side atmosphere. The city's laid back style can be felt by every visitor.
Also, the tapas are one of the city's greatest gems and that is what I miss the most of it
Favorite thing: My best trip so far has been to barcelona and I came back home very happy. Apart from the prized presence of Gaudi in every bit of the city, this is how I would sum up my impression about this magical city. Please look at the pictures for a better understanding
Favorite thing: this picture was taken in Plaça del Diamant.. (diamond square) closer to other beautiful square as is Virreina.. located in upper Gracia quarter the best thing to do by Gracia is strolling during spring or summer by the street maze that become Gracia for foreigners and sitting and relaxing drinking at any terrace ..
Favorite thing: To get an interactive online map of the city as well as very accurate directions through Barcelona, visit the bcn wepage (http://www.bcn.es/guia/welcomea.htm) . They have information in Catalan, Castellano, and English, and its all very helpful, but best of all is the 'guia.' You can get directions to a location and they will tell you the walking time and distance and metro time and distance it will take to get there. It is very helpful, especially when trying to navigate the tricky backstreets of the barri gotic or ciutat vella that sometimes aren't on the maps. All you need to do is type in the street and number and they provide you with an accurate, labeled map that can zoom in as far as the street itself or as far out as the entire city. It also includes a function that allows you to locate sights in a specific area. Very helpful.
my first impression were the green parrots flying around the beach and the area around the ZOO and Sagrada Familia!
Fondest memory: watch in the plam trees and don't miss the green flocks of beautiful parrots in the city!
instead of pigeons and sparrows Barcelona has exotic birds :)
Let's say you only have a day and a night in Barcelona, as often happens when you are on a cruise. This is what you could do: Spend the day walking from one end of the Ramblas (Placa Catalunya) to the other (statue of Columbus ) with detours into the side streets, Gothic quarter, and Mercat St. Josep market.
Go see Sagrada Familia (Gaudi's surrealistic church) at night when it's lit up. Walk all around it and view it from all angles - no need to go in (anyway, it closes at 7 p.m.). It's full of scaffolding and you'll spend half the day waiting on line to get in, which seems a pity when time is precious.
Eat at a "menjador" which means dining room. That is where the locals eat. It's cheaper and more authentic.
If you have a little more time, walk up to Passieg de Gracia (past Placa Catalunya in the opposite direction from the Ramblas) where two famous Gaudi houses are located - Casa Battlo and Casa Milla. You'll know you're there when you see long lines of people waiting on the sidewalk to get into very wild, lumpy-looking buildings.
Like any major city, Barcelona has it's fair share of povery. The guys in the picture are rooting through the recycle bins to recycle stuff.
This type of thing always serves as a sobering reminder for me.
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