Located in the northeastern corner of Spain, within the autonomous state of Catalonia, Barcelona is in many ways the perfect embodiment of a European city. Boasting a rich history, a vibrant culture, gorgeous architecture, and lively neighborhoods, Barcelona has it all, with the bonus of a friendly climate right on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Check out these spots the next time you make your way through the beautiful Catalonian capital.
One of Barcelona’s many endearing districts with narrow, pedestrian roads too small for vehicles, a walk through the quaint alleys of El Born will immerse visitors within a wealth of charming cafes and quirky art galleries. Grab some tapas and bask in the sunny weather from one of the numerous restaurants lining the streets, nearly all of which come with outdoor seating, and check out the incredible abstract works on display at the nearby Picasso Museum and the European Museum of Modern Art. El Born also lies adjacent to Barcelona’s massive Parc de la Ciutadella, with plenty of exquisite Modernist architecture and the imposing 18th century Catalonian Parliament building found amongst the miles of green trails.
One of Barcelona’s oldest neighborhoods, the Gothic Quarter has much to offer for the history lover. Adjoining the beauty of the massive medieval Catedral Barcelona lie remnants of the city’s ancient wall, dating back over two thousand years to the city’s Roman era. Grab a drink at a speakeasy and dance at one of the many clubs at Plaça Reial, or dine at Can Culleretes, dating back to the 1700s and the city’s oldest restaurant. The animated tree-lined pedestrian street La Rambla links the Gothic Quarter to El Raval. Once considered one of the more dangerous parts of town, El Raval’s reputation has improved over the years and is now home to a plethora of funky vintage shops, trendy coffee shops, and cozy jazz clubs with a Bohemian vibe. Sit under the cozy, dimly lit chandeliers of Bar Marsella, the oldest bar in Barcelona, and imbibe their signature absinthe at the place rumored to have once served luminaries such as Picasso and Hemingway.
Barcelona’s location at the edge of the Mediterranean gives it the benefit of gorgeous beaches and corresponding spirited nightlife. La Barceloneta, in addition to its idyllic trails along the sandy shores lined with swaying palms, also contains a wide selection of extravagant shopping and fine dining options. The adjacent Poblenou neighborhood is one of Barcelona’s premier hotspots for nightlife, with plenty of bars and some of the city’s best-known dance floors. Consider a wild night at Razzmatazz, a massive, multi-story nightclub in the heart of the neighborhood. Just be sure to get there early, as the entry lines can get very long!
At the boundary of Barcelona’s “old town” lies L’Eixample. Catalan for “the expansion,” this former satellite town was absorbed into Barcelona proper in the 19th century and is now considered one of the more upscale neighborhoods in Barcelona. Take a walk down the elegant Passeig de Gràcia, an energetic street surrounded with flashy boutiques and luxury shopping options, and admire the ubiquitous Modernist marvels. The works of famed architect Antoni Gaudí can be found all over L’Eixample, most famously in La Sagrada Familia, a notably unfinished cathedral that lies at the heart of the district. At the far western end of the neighborhood lies the bustling Sant Antoni Market. Founded in 1882 and housed in a gorgeous iron building filled with visitors whose numbers swell on the weekends, one can expect a dazzling assortment of handmade crafts, fresh produce, books, clothes, and other authentic Catalonian curiosities within the colorful maze of vendors.
If you want to be near the city but not quite in the middle of the action, this hip neighborhood is the place for you. Lying slightly outside of downtown and full of stylish gourmet restaurants, hip art galleries, and live music, Gràcia is the perfect neighborhood for families and visitors who want an authentic Barcelona experience at a more leisurely pace. Gràcia also offers plenty to love for the art lover, as the nearby Parc Güell, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, was designed by Gaudí and contains a wealth of lovely Modernist works. Grab a cappuccino and head to the summit of Turó de la Rovira, also known as “The Bunker” due to its function during the Spanish Civil War, and enjoy what is arguably the best sunset view of the Barcelona skyline.
If you want to escape the city and the beach isn’t your thing, Barcelona is also at the foot of the lovely Serra de Collserola, a beautiful Catalonian mountain range. The Parc de Collserola, one of the largest metropolitan parks in the world, is reachable by public transit and contains miles of lofty green walking, hiking, and biking trails. Catch a mesmerizing view of downtown from the summit of Tibidabo, the highest point in the city, or from the top of the Ferris wheel in the nearby amusement park. Other alluring views can be found at the Torre de Collserola Observation Tower and the Temple Of The Sacred Heart Of Jesus, two of the many attractions nestled within the mountains. While it is a bit of a trek outside of the city, the ruins of the ancient 14th century Castellciuro Castle can also be found at the far western edge of the park.
One of the more overlooked regions of the city, Montjuïc is an innocuous hill lying at the southern end of Barcelona boasting a plethora of parks, trails, and the picturesque neighborhood of Poble Sec. While the area can be reached via public transit and a bit of walking, consider arriving in Montjuïc the stylish way via cable car. Rides run daily to the summit from La Barceloneta, offering unbeatable aerial 360-degree views of the Barcelona skyline. Hidden atop the mountain is the Art Museum of Catalonia, housing works from the Middle Ages, and Montjuïc Castle, a striking fortress dating back to the 17th century. Hike along Montjuïc’s eastern edge, where the paths run along the tops of sheer cliffs, and catch a sweeping, unobstructed view of the Mediterranean Sea. Within the winding, hilly streets of Poble Sec, consider a show at one of the neighborhood’s many theaters, or a night out at one of the many lively nightclubs.
All photos from Pixabay except La Barceloneta by dronepicr (used under Creative Commons license) and Sant Antoni Market from the Oh Barcelona Flickr account (used under Creative Commons license)
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.