My favourite neighbourhoods in Barcelona
Barcelona has always been part of my life. Growing up, it was an annual family pilgrimage which was associated with cultural sights and ice-cream. Then, about 10 years ago, it became my family's city of residence, where I also lived for a short & wonderful year. As a tourist, there had been many sides of Barcelona I had not appreciated. But since living there, and as I keep coming back, I have come to know it very well.
Barcelona, to me, is a city that has it all. Basking in sunshine on an average of 300 days of the year, the city is located right on the beach, and very close to the mountains. Basically, you can go for a swim, or go skiing within a 200km radius. Aside from its geographical merits, Barcelona is also a cosmopolitan city. According to a 2019 census, the city estimates that expats amount to about 20% of the total number of residents, and represent roughly 179 different nationalities! There are countless cultural sights to discover - many which I will be discussing further - and there is always something happening, whether it be a national celebration, the thriving nightlife or a new exhibition to check out. Lastly, the food & drink scene: not only is it delicious and affordable, but it is also in constant movement here. There is always somewhere new to try, or the old antics to revisit.
I could keep praising the city but it does not really need anymore publicity. With about 7 million annual visitors, tourism here is thriving! However, there are still many areas that have stayed out of the well trodden path, and where one might feel more like a local. Let me take you there!
Nestled between Park Güell and the "Avenida Diagonal" (the long street that cuts the city into two parts), Gràcia is a quiet yet lively cosmopolitan neighbourhood. It used to be its own little village, way back when, but now it is probably one of the coolest parts of the city!
This neighbourhood is one of my favourites because it is right in the city centre, yet is not overtaken by tourists. It has retained its charm and is a place where locals go about their daily lives. As such, there are plenty of trendy bars, multicultural restaurants and up and coming stores.
Some of my top-picks include the Japanese restaurant Kibuka which serves traditional dishes as well as fusion sushi (not to be missed!) in a very simple atmosphere; no distraction, it's all about the food! & the Bocanariz wine bar which is a small eatery serving seasonal options.
Gràcia is also home to some very famous landmarks such as Gaudí's "Casa Vicens" and the Park Güell on its outskirts. And of course, for a little retail therapy, there is always plenty of shopping to be done in the numerous vintage stores and small boutiques selling handmade goods.
This district is located between the very famous Gothic quarter and the beaches of Barceloneta. El Born packs a punch! It has the charm of the Gothic quarter, with its narrow and shadowy medieval streets, and is within easy walking distance of most of the main Barcelona attractions, yet it has remained fairly quiet compared to other parts of the city.
This neighbourhood is home to the beautiful 14th century "Basílica Santa Maria del Mar" (which has inspired the book "La catedral del mar" and a 2019 Netflix series by the same name), the "Ciutadella Park" (which was home to the 1888 universal expo, and where the "Arc de Triomf" can be found) and of the Picasso Museum, to name a few! It's also home to the food market "El Mercat del Born" where lay an archaeological site.
El Born is super artsy and trendy. I love getting lost in its twisty streets and discovering new local shops. My favourite is the jewellery street which is peppered with handcrafted treasures. There are also lots of cool designer and vintage shops.
Another great reason to visit is for the nightlife. I love going out and discovering new bars there. El Born is home to some of Barcelona's best with the award-winning "Paradiso" which is a jungle-themed cocktail bar serving some very alternative drinks. Dr Stravinsky is also not to be missed with its "cosmos of flavours" where cocktails can be chosen according to your taste. For something more casual, there are also plenty of cute tapas-bars, with one of my favourites being "Story" to sample a nice wine with local dishes to share.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, Barcelona's second largest district is a perfect area to relax and breathe in the fresh mountain air. Sant Gervasi and Sarrià used to be independent townships until the late 19th century and the early 20th century respectively. It was a district where well-off locals would purchase or build their second home, away from the centre of Barcelona.
Today it is most definitely a part of Barcelona. Situated between the "Parc Natural de la Collserolla" to the North and the "Avenida Diagonal" to the south, this neighbourhood is where many locals and expatriates live. It is widely considered as a chic neighbourhood, especially around the "Parc del Turó" where one can shop in designer and luxury boutiques. While the food & drink scene is perhaps not as exciting as in the centre, there are still many good options including some nice wine bars such as "El Petit Celler" or "Monocrom".
The main reason I love this area is for its proximity to nature. There are plenty of beautiful walks around the Collserolla mountain, many of which offer incredible panoramic views of the city. I love going for a run at the "Carretera de las Aigües", especially early in the morning. One can also walk or take the Funicular up to the "Tibidabo" which is another famous landmark housing an amusement park and the "Temple of the sacred heart of Jesus" which towers over the city.
Although Barcelona can feel very touristy at first sight, it is full of hidden gems. I am only just scratching the surface with a glimpse of these lovely neighbourhoods, where you can usually find me along with many locals going about their daily lives. I hope this article can inspire some of you to get away from the beaten-path and discover more of what this wonderful city has to offer!