Catalan cuisine, neo-Gothic architecture, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, and a colorful history. Did we mention Catalan cuisine? Barcelona, Spain has every reason to be high on the list for travel bucket lists.
The city is a blend of influences, there is the overall Spanish culture but tucked alongside proud Catalan culture. There is a long history of independence claims, civil war and unrest. Mix this in with a huge migrant and expat community and you find a blend of cultures, cuisines, languages and styles.
Maybe you are looking to stay in the heart of the old town and Gothic architecture, or do you want to experience the blend of city and beach in Barceloneta? It could be that you are more of an uptown kinda person and want to stay in the heart of Eixample, surrounded by towering buildings, endless shopping opportunities and Gaudi around what seems like almost every corner.
Either way, we have the best of the barrios (neighborhoods) laid out for you to decide for yourself!
This guide was written by Practical Wanderlust’s Head of Email and Affiliate Marketing Natalie Collins, Barcelona resident, avid city explorer and fellow Cava lover. Take it away, Natalie!
Psst: Looking for more things to do in Barcelona during your trip? We’ve got a post about our favorite food & wine tour in Barcelona, which we highly recommend. We also have more posts on travel in Europe.
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The Ultimate Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona, Spain
Psst: Download the walking tour to find all the hidden spots from a Barcelona resident!
Barcelona Travel Tips
Before we dive into the barrio round-up, here are a few tips to help you prepare for your trip to Barcelona.
- Be mindful of the season: Barcelona wonderfully experiences all four seasons, so don’t assume it is warm year-round. Winter gets cold and damp! The best months for tourists are the Spring (late March to early June) and Autumn (late September to early November) months. Temperatures are comfortable, and the city parks and tree-lined avenues look beautiful. Also means fewer thick winter layers to pack!
- Prepare a few Spanish phrases: Barcelona is in Catalonia, a Spanish region with a history of independence claims from the Spanish state. True Barcelona locals are often fiercely Catalan, with Catalan as their first language, Spanish second and English coming somewhere after that if needed. So you will do better with either a basic grasp of Spanish or even some Catalan – don’t just assume you can get away with English, although most tourist places do speak English!
- Stay safe: Pickpockets are a big problem in Barcelona, and the places I recommend avoiding are the worst places you are likely to encounter thieves. Don’t leave your phone on a table, keep your valuables in a money belt, don’t travel wearing an expensive-looking watch and keep your bag either tied to your chair or on your knee. Always be vigilant!
- Eat all the food and drink all the cava: Catalan and Spanish cuisine is delicious, with lots of fresh hearty ingredients, good olive oils and little tapas plates. There is also the Basque influence with some great pintxo restaurants, which is my favorite way to eat! Cava is also made in the region so decent cava costs very little. Take a food and wine tour if you can to experience it all in one afternoon.
- Don’t call it Barca: Locals and long-term residents get really sniffy about Barca/Barna. The correct abbreviation is Barna; Barca is the football team. I still feel weird calling it Barna so just stick with Barcelona.
- Bring comfortable walking shoes: The city is incredibly walkable but parts of it are hilly and you will cover far more ground than you realize while gawking at the architecture. So pack decent shoes you know will keep your feet happy and enjoy the stroll! To help, we’ve got a Barcelona self-guided walking tour – and we’ve also got suggestions for the best walking shoes for travel. Here are our favorite travel shoes for men and for women.
- Different areas also have different links to other parts of the city: The metro system is excellent and fairly easy to navigate but if you prefer to avoid using it or buses then you need to base yourself walking distance to the things you want to see or at least on the same metro line to avoid multiple stops and changes. An area may be 15 minutes away in a taxi but takes 45 minutes by metro or bus, so keep in mind where you want to be in relation to where you want to stay.
- Avoid short-term apartment rentals: The housing market in Barcelona has been monopolized by tourist rentals, driving prices up much higher than is affordable for residents and creating a lot of scams and disparity. Hotels were badly affected by the pandemic so they deserve the support rather than greedy property owners who would rather leave an apartment empty instead of renting it for a reasonable price to a local. There are even new laws restricting tourist licenses and you are no longer allowed to rent a room short-term, so don’t contribute to the housing crisis, be a responsible tourist, and stay in a hotel!
- If your check-in and check-out times don’t sync up with your need to roam the streets and you need a place to store your bags, check out LuggageHero: This service helps you find a safe place to keep your luggage while you’re running around so you don’t stand out like a blatant tourist! Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Barcelona is broken up into separate neighborhoods called barrios, each with its own distinct personality, vibe and appeal. To the uninitiated, you may struggle to know where to go and what to do, but don’t worry, I got you covered!
As with many cities, there is also a huge economic variation. Strolling along Passeig de Gràcia you’ll see shoppers swinging bags from Gucci, Versace and Saint Laurant, and then step down La Rambla just 10 minutes away and find quirky cheap hippy shops selling handmade crafts, knock-off garments and street food. Barcelona is that kind of place!
This adds to the charm of the city, you are always just a short walk or turning a corner away from finding something completely different and discovering a hidden gem. Which does make hunting down food and souvenirs really fun – everything your heart desires can be found in Barcelona!
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Old City: El Born & Gothic
The old part of Barcelona is the first thing that comes to mind for most travelers when they think of Barcelona, and it’s true it is the most charming part of the city. Full of old winding streets, beautiful historic buildings, churches, adorable restaurants and hidden features around every corner.
This is where you will find Barcelona Cathedral, the Picasso Museum, Arc de Triomf, La Rambla, and a whole host of other famous landmarks. It really is the best place to stay in Barcelona for a first visit.
However, you do need to pick carefully as some streets are a little shadier than others, some are noisy, and those cute winding streets aren’t as fun to stay in if you don’t see daylight from your hotel room window.
This barrio has great transport links to the rest of the city and is a short walk to the beach, with parts of it opening out onto the marina at Port Vell so you get views of the blue Mediterranean Sea. The area is also more open to tourists so you are more likely to find a place to grab a coffee and a pastry if you are an early morning type of person.
This is also the best place to base yourself if you are planning on taking our Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona. Most of the tour covers this area and is also where you finish so you are a short walk back to your hotel afterward.
Where to Stay in El Born & Gothic
There are a mixture of pricey hotels in this area as well as some seriously budget hostels. Below are some of our favorites:
- Hostal Fernando is one of those nice sorts of hostels with clean, bright rooms. It also overlooks Església de Sant Jaume, which is a pretty, old church. History on your windowsill!
- For something a little fancier Barcelona Hotel Colonial is right in the heart of Gothic in a beautiful colonial building, a short walk down the street takes you to Port Vell Marina and a trip in any other direction takes you through medieval streets.
- If you want to stay as close as possible to the eccentric La Rambla then the May Ramblas Hotel is the one for you. It’s located only a few doors down a side street from La Rambla and is also the same street you head down to get to the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi.
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Barceloneta / Beach
For those looking more for the beach vibes then Barceloneta is for you. This barrio is a small area made up of perfectly aligned streets so it is almost impossible to get lost. To one side is Port Vell, to the south is the beach, head north to El Born and east to Villa Olympica, the Olympic village from when Barcelona hosted the 1992 summer Olympics.
Barceloneta proper is a great place to feel you are staying right on the beach without missing out on that Barcelona old city charm. The buildings aren’t necessarily as pretty as other parts of the city but the beach atmosphere is almost year-round.
You’ll find chiringuitos (beach bars) open from Spring to mid-Autumn and there are always people skateboarding and roller skating down the cycle paths along the front, so watch out as you stroll!
Where to Stay in Barceloneta / Beach
There are a few larger hotels in this area as you would expect with it being beachside but the prices are wildly expensive. Check out the famous landmark hotel The W, beautiful and epic views but out of budget for most travelers! You can still catch the views at their rooftop cocktail lounge and nightclub, if you can snag a table!
- While technically not in Barceloneta it is just across the road from where the barrio starts, the Hotel Oasis has an amazing rooftop pool and terrace and looks out towards the marina. From here you can access El Born, Gothic and Barceloneta in just a short walk.
- Hotel 54 Barceloneta is right on the front overlooking the marina and steps away from the beach, this would be my pick if going for the beach hotel option. The rooftop bar is also like a little garden paradise, perfect for resting after a long day of exploring.
- For a more budget room, the Sea Hostel is a great pick for dorm room-style accommodation, it is also next door to a cafe, Buenas Migas, that does pretty amazing pastries. Wake up early, grab a coffee and pastry for a sunrise walk along the beach.
Welcome to Eixample, the area that you’ll see most in aerial shots of Barcelona, those perfect red square blocks and streets aligned to OCD levels. This part of the city is where the famous avenues of Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia run through, it is where the designer shops are and is also the larger of the districts in Barcelona.
The roads are also very driveable, aside from the frustrating red light stop/start system which does make traffic heavier here. But most hotels have decent sound insulation so you can avoid traffic noise as long as you keep your windows closed.
This area is charming for its typical Barcelona style with long avenues, Guadi’s impressive buildings, and beautiful balconies. You’ll find Casa Batlo and Casa Mila, Plaza Catalunya to the south, Casa de les Punxes and many other architectural beauties. Walking around this area you’ll just keep stumbling into another beautiful building after another, and if you get onto a rooftop somewhere you’ll see even more.
The shopping is also incredible here with everything from high-end designer stores, to high street shopping, to independent boutiques. If you want to shop without having to walk far to drop your bags back at the hotel, this is the place to do it.
This area is also really well connected with public transport, the buses run regularly and there are a lot of metro stations as well as train stations at both Passeig de Gràcia and at Plaza Catalunya.
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Where to Stay in Eixample
As you would expect there is no shortage of hotels in Eixample, from easier budgets to luxury high-end hotels. Here are some fo the best ones:
- When I first arrived in Barcelona I booked into Hostalin Barcelona Gran Via and it is where I recommend friends to stay for a great value hotel. The staff was a dream during my stay, the rooms are bright and comfortable and it is dog friendly!
- For bougie fanciness right on Passeig de Gràcia with the views to match the Hotel Royal Passeig de Gràcia is a great choice, and though the price is a little higher it’s not eye-watering. You could go all out for a suite with a private terrace or just enjoy the rooftop terrace which is equally lovely.
- If you want to exit your hotel to the smell of fresh bread and pastries then you need to book Praktik Bakery, with rooms as fresh as the bread and a short walk to Diagonal. Just be sure not to loaf around and go explore (hehehe)!
Where else to stay in Barcelona other than close to the iconic Basílica de la Sagrada Família! If this is your main reason for visiting Barcelona, and nobody will judge you if it is then this is the place to stay. You can meander around the cafes in the area, sit in parks surrounding the basílica and generally gaze at the incredible work of Antoni Gaudí.
Admittedly the restaurant choices aren’t the best, and other than the Sagrada itself, the architecture isn’t the prettiest in Barcelona, but it is super close to Eixample and easy to get to other parts of the city.
There is a great churro cafe worth indulging at and Avinguda Gaudí is perfect for strolling along, stopping at cafes and sipping an Aperol spritz under the shade of the trees.
Where to Stay in Sagrada Família
Of course, if you are staying in this area then you absolutely need a hotel with views of the basílica, which aren’t the cheapest rooms in the city but there are some well-priced hotels worth checking into.
- Sensation Sagrada Família has serviced apartments with a beautiful shared roof terrace overlooking the iconic church. Here you can get the bonus of a private apartment while still having the opportunity to enjoy a shared space with fellow travelers.
- For a hotel option, the Sercotel Rosellón has bright rooms, a great breakfast and a roof terrace with sun loungers pointing at Sagrada, an iconic way to spend an afternoon if you ask me!
Looking for a hidden boho artist vibe? Then Gràcia is your spot. Until the 19th century, this was an independent town and residents are often long-term locals and proud of their neighborhood.
Now the area is trendy and full of independent shops, boutiques, and cafes. Plaça de Sol is a central point where people hang out to socialize, drink and indulge in the bakeries and gelato shops nearby.
This area is relatively close to Passeig de Gràcia but feels like a different world to the designer stores and busy avenue. The streets are mostly pedestrianized and there is a more eclectic mix of people strolling the streets.
The area is also known for its festivals, traditionally each neighborhood has its own mini-festivals but the one in Gràcia is widely known as the best. Streets are lined with decorations and stalls, with some streets working in competition for the best decor. Although be aware if you visit in the summer during these festivals you shouldn’t expect any peace and quiet, the parties can go on all night!
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Where to Stay in Gràcia
This isn’t a first choice amongst tourists so you will feel like you’ve hit a little hidden gem, and hotels tend to be a little cheaper too.
- Hotel Ronda Lesseps is a cute hotel with a beautiful interior courtyard garden attached to the hotel bar. It is also just a 15-minute walk to another of Gaudí’s iconic designs, Parc Güell. Enjoy the peace hidden away from the bustle of the city in this little oasis.
- A more upmarket option with a rooftop pool is the Catalonia Park Güell hotel, prices aren’t vastly different but it is slightly more outside the central part of Gràcia. Rooftop pools in hotels are a real treat but they do get busy so remember to reserve a sun lounger for your afternoon poolside.
Dog-Friendly Hotels in Barcelona
If you are like the rest of Team Practical Wanderlust and are a proud dog owner you will be pleased to hear that Barcelona is a great place to travel with your furry best friend.
Most restaurants are accommodating, a lot of shops have water bowls outside for passing dogs and it isn’t uncommon to see dogs joining shopping trips. My dog loves coming shopping, it usually means getting lots of love from store attendants, treats and new places to sniff.
Really most places you can bring your dog with you, even more so if it is a smaller dog. However, just be aware that in the summer months (from May to October) dogs aren’t allowed on the main beaches so you will have to find the dog beach just outside the main city center.
When I arrived in Barcelona with my pup I booked into a dog-friendly hotel and I have a few friends who have also done the same. A lot of hotels are used to dog companions and accommodate them quite easily. So if you travel with your little friend these are the best places to stay.
- Motel One Barcelona-Ciutadella: This hotel is right opposite Ciutadella Park, which is by far one of the best parks for dogs in the city. Mornings and evenings are a hub for dog owners with pups playing on the grass together, and there is a kiosk in the park for human refreshments. The hotel is also a short walk to the beach and across from El Born, perfectly placed for exploring the city. The hotel itself is beautiful, it is designed to merge nature with local architecture and style, and the bar area is spacious and overlooks the park. There is also a lovely outdoor area to enjoy an aperitif.
- Hotel Balmes: A real gem of a hotel, they actually have a special package for dogs, Stay & Dog. This treats your pup as a special guest with its own bed, food and water bowls, treats and snacks and toys, and housekeeping is also sensitive to their special visitors. There is also an African art collection throughout the hotel, a garden and a pool.
- Hostalin Barcelona Gran Via: This hotel has 2 locations not too far from each other, as mentioned when I arrived in Barcelona I stayed at the Gran Via hotel and it was truly incredible. The rooms are clean and spacious, and the staff are amazing and very accommodating. The same vibe is also at their other hotel Diputación, both are in Eixample and really well located for accessing the rest of the city.
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Where Not to Stay in Barcelona
Barcelona as a whole is pretty safe and there are few areas to avoid, these are usually just certain streets rather than whole areas and it’s more of just being aware rather than expecting to be robbed. You hear horror stories and yes they do happen but if you are an experienced traveler and keep your wits about you, you’ll be fine. It helps to be aware that Barcelona has a lot of poverty and the average salary absolutely does not match the cost of living and housing here.
There is also a large impoverished migrant population and homeless people in certain areas, if this offends you then better to avoid the city entirely as no one area is better than others.
Aside from that, there are some areas of the city that are just not worth staying in, and I’ll explain where and why.
Often when you hear stories of pickpockets, you are hearing stories of Raval, which is located to the west side of La Rambla.
The area is charming in its own way, but I wouldn’t recommend it for tourists. There are some great restaurants tucked away and some really fun bars but walking home in the dark is not advisable.
- Where to Stay instead: If you are still looking for the quirky old town style that parts of Raval have then stay in Gothic instead. You will still have the same tourist-friendly hustle and bustle and plenty of old buildings to marvel at but less of the after-dark concerns. May Ramblas Hotel is well located for La Rambla without the evening safety challenges.
Sant Gervasi-Galvany is up in the hills of the city and is very residential. Housing can be quite expensive here and the boutiques and cafes cater to a different clientele than what most tourists would be interested in.
It is close to the hills of Tibidabo, Barcelona’s highest peak, and the views across the city can be lovely but transport links aren’t great so it will be a long walk or multiple metro and bus stops to get to where you want to be.
- Where to Stay instead: Close by is Eixample, this has the same city residential vibe but with more charm and easier access to the rest of the city. Also consider Gràcia for the same reasons. Praktik Bakery gives you that same local vibe but in a better location.
If you hunt for accommodation that is easy access to the airport then this is the first neighborhood to look at, it is also close to the iconic Montjuïc which is wonderful to explore. You can also go see the fountain show at Plaza Espanya.
However, to get anywhere you will need to jump on the metro or train, it is well connected but if you want to walk to the rest of the city you will have quite a long walk. It is a quieter area to stay in but the constant need to use the metro can slow you down.
Also as it is a main transport connection point it does tend to be really busy in the stations, which can get overwhelming if you are figuring out how to get to where you want to be.
- Where to Stay instead: For easy access to the airport look close to Plaza Catalunya. The metro stop is central so gets you where you need to be as well as the Sants stop does. It is also a main point for the airport shuttle buses to start from, which is by far the easiest way to get to the airport pretty cheaply. Praktik Bakery again is really well located for ease to travel.
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Where to Stay in Barcelona: Summary
That’s quite a lot of information! So to wrap it up into a bite-size piece, here we have an at a glance summary:
- The Best Areas to Stay in Barcelona: Go for the Old City or Eixample for classic Barcelona vibes.
- The Best Hotels in Barcelona: Best options are Barcelona Hotel Colonial, Hostelin Barcelona Gran Via and Motel One Barcelona-Ciutadella, any of those will make your stay iconic.
- The Best Dog-Friendly Hotels in Barcelona: Again another vote for Hostelin Barcelona Gran Via and Motel One Barcelona-Ciutadella. Cannot beat these for dog lovers!
So why aren’t we recommending any AirBnBs? In short, AirBnB and short term apartment rentals have screwed the housing market in Barcelona, as well as many other cities around the world. Finding an actual home in the city is a real problem and the prices have been driven so high by tourist rentals that the average person cannot afford them. Laws have now restricted tourist licenses but this hasn’t done much to stop the problem that was already created. So you don’t contribute to the very real housing crisis in the city, we recommend you to be a responsible traveler and choose to stay in hotels instead, which were of course heavily affected by the pandemic and deserve all the tourist love again.
That should give you the best ideas of where to stay so you can plan the rest of your trip! While you are in the planning stage don’t forget to sign up for our Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona to get a downloadable guide to explore the city!
Which area would you like to stay in? Is there a certain part of Barcelona you are most excited about seeing? Let us know in the comments below
Psst: Planning more trips to European cities? We have explored a few!
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