Figuring out where to stay in Barcelona is difficult, to say the least. It's a city with many speeds, sub-cultures, and flavors that appeals to people of varied backgrounds. This is, of course, part of the reason Barcelona is so popular among not only Westerners, but even Europeans seeking to explore more of their own continent.
It's important in deciding where to stay in Barcelona how exactly the city is laid out. First, Barcelona is big. It's not New York or London big, but this capital of Spain's Catalonia region is home to more than five-million people within the larger metro, with a bit under two-million living in what most outsiders would consider Barcelona. The popularity of Barcelona isn't measured by its inhabitants, but rather the volume of tourists the city welcomes each year - around 35 million, and growing! In fact, Barcelona has even introduced legislation over the past few years to moderate the flow of tourism, with locals calling it less like tourism and more of an invasion. Yet, assuming you'll be a perfectly respectful, ideal tourists who leaves it better than you found it, we'll press on.
You're still going, right?
It's important to know that when you're looking up where to stay in Barcelona, you'll notice that the city is broken into 10 distinct districts, each of which have their own sub-divisions, quarters, or barri, as the Catalan-speaking locals might call them. In total, these neighborhoods total 73, now represent the new division by which Barcelona is segmented - however the original districts are easier landing points for tourists to keep in mind and memorize in terms of how the city is laid out. Those primary districts range from the most beach-side and oldest part of Barcelona, Cuitat Vella, to more outward districts to the north like Nou Barris and Horta Guinardo. Deciding where you want to stay in Barcelona is the first step in establish a perfect Barcelona itinerary.
What we'll take a look at are the 10 larger districts, discuss neighborhoods within each that tourists find attractive, and what the benefits of staying in each district might be.
Neighborhoods: La Barceloneta, El Gòtic, El Raval, Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera
Ciutat Vella is the cultural core, and one of our favorite places to stay. Numbered "District 1", it's considered the "old town" of Barcelona, and as such contains some of its most interesting historical monuments, museums, and places to visit.
Tourists are familiar with many of the locations in Ciutat Vella, but the most popular and well-known area is undoubtedly Barri Gothic, or the "Gothic Quarter" of Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter dates back to the Middle Ages, while some of the structures and buildings were given gothic "facelifts" in the 19th century to give a deeper sense of dating to the structures themselves.
Staying in Barcelona in the Barri Gothic, you'll be surrounded by great food, shopping, markets, tours, and a host of historic attractions to enjoy. It's also possibly the most popular neighborhood in Barcelona, so you'll want to book early if you decide to stay here, and be sure to find a helpful guide on things to do in the Gothic Quarter!
You don't have to choose the Gothic Quarter if you want to stay in Ciutat Vella, however, as Barcelona's oldest district also La Ribera, El Born, and La Barceloneta - all places with immensely deep history and the site of ruins that date back to Barcelona's Roman and Medieval histories.
Who should stay here? Anyone who loves history, and is really interested in seeing the base of Barcelona - from where the city first began to truly flourish. It's a place for foodies, also, as the Marcato Boqueria is one of the most famous in Barcelona.
Attractions: Gothic Quarter, Mercato Boqueria, Museu Picasso, Arc de Triomf, Placa del Rei, Mercat del Born, Castle of the Three Dragons, Ancient Synagogue, Passeig del Born.
Places to stay: You can find a lot of places in the Gothic Quarter at around $100 USD per night. We love the Hotel Barcelona House. It's close to everything, very affordable, the rooms are comfortable, and everything we need (including easy transportation) is nearby.
Neighborhoods: L'Antiga Esquerra de l'Eixample, La Nova Esquerra de l'Eixample, Dreta de l'Eixample, Fort Pienc, Sagrada Família
Eixample is the most populous of Barcelona's districts, and the neighboring district to the north of Ciutat Vella. More than 260,000 people call Eixample home, and it's one of the areas where you can really get a feel for how locals live with tourism in Barcelona, and vice versa.
While note quite as old as Ciutat Vella, Eixample is home to perhaps the most "go to" attraction in Barcelona - Sagrada Familia. It's also the location of the famous Passeig de Gracia, a main thoroughfare that contains some of the best shopping and site-seeing in Barcelona. The Passeig de Gracia is also an architectural stronghold in the city, containing beautiful works such as the Casa Mila - Gaudi's most famous facade in the entire city.
This is a great areas for people who really want to see Barcelona is a condensed fashion, and you should consider it when finding where to stay in Barcelona. You get a lot in Eixample in a very small radius, from Guadi architecture and main thoroughfares to great castles and awesome public transportation. Again, it's very similar to Ciutat Vella, just a little further from the sea, and a little less intimidating for first-time travelers to Barcelona.
Attractions: La Rambla, Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, La Monumental, Casa Batllo, Casa de les Punxes, Placa de Catalunya, Palau Robert
Places to stay: Hotel Europark has everything you want in terms of convenience and location. Loved the hotel.
Neighborhoods: La Bordeta, la Font de la Guatlla, Hostafrancs, la Marina de Port, la Marina del Prat Vermell, El Poble-sec, Sants, Sants-Badal, Montjuïc*, Zona Franca - Port*
Sants-Montjuic is the southernmost district in Barcelona, and perhaps the most scenic. Bordering Cuitat Vella and Eixample, Sants-Montjuic is an entirely coast-facing district full of beautiful neighborhoods, ports, and marinas that no other neighborhoods can claim.
The restaurants in Sants-Montjuic are some of the best in the city, and part of the reason why we love this area so much. The taste of the Mediterranean is in every dish, and there's really nothing like a simple dish of sardines and sea salt on a small crouton or piece of french bread in the area to pair with the scenery and a glass of wine!
It's a beautiful area to stay in Barcelona - still touristy, but just slightly away from the intense density of Ciutat Vella and the crowds around Sagrada Familia. You can use Barcelona's excellent public transportation system to quickly zip around the city and venture into the more densely connected areas before moving back into slightly-calmer Sants-Montjuic.
Our favorite place is the hill along Montjuic, a neighborhood within Sants-Montjuic. Montjuic, because of its location at the foot of the Mediterranean and alongside an important river communication channel such as the Llobregat River, was the true birthplace of Barcelona - then a port city. In recent years, many archaeological discoveries in Montjuic have given greater insight into the birth of the city, and how it really came into being. Montjuic is the place to stay if you want to visit Barcelona for the food and history, and are more interested in a relaxing evening sunset view in a relaxed location than you are necessarily looking for a place to party.
The best way to see Montjuic? Take a cable car to the very top!
Attractions: Palau Nacional, Poble Espanyol, La Fundacio Miro, El Jardin Bontanico, Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, Montjuic
Neighborhoods: Les Corts, la Maternitat i Sant Ramon, Pedralbes
Les Corts, further to the west, is the first region that crosses the line into what would not be considered Barcelona. You have more families living in Les Corts, more green space, and the architecture is generally newer - save for a few beautiful structures which seemingly everywhere in Spain has.
Les Corts is a great place to stay in Barcelona because you can still be in central Barcelona in minutes via the metro, but you can really get good value for your money here. It's a nice area, with great cafes and a relaxing environment, but there's still a lot to do, and in many ways gives you the real feeling in Barcelona's veins - in the roots and soil that the city sits on, rather than the beautiful structures that have been erected over time.
So, who is Les Corts best for? If you don't have quadriceps like Lionel Messi and don't want to walk everywhere, Les Corts isn't so bad. You'll have public transportation into the interior of the city, and generally people coming in from Les Corts do so because they have a plan - they know what they want to see and how they would like to get there. If you don't want to stay up late at night chasing tapas with funnels of red wine, if you're a family, or an up early/in early type of person, you'll love Les Corts. It has a genial, comfortable, hometown feel and really welcomes you with open arms.
Attractions: Royal Monastery of Pedralbes, Cervantes Park, Francesc Marcia Square
Place to stay: The Catalonia Rigoletto is beautiful, and pretty affordable for the area. Our favorite.
Neighborhoods: El Putget i Farró, Sarrià, Sant Gervasi - la Bonanova, Sant Gervasi - Galvany, les Tres Torres, Vallvidrera, Tibidabo i les Planes
Sarria-Sant Gervasi is one of the best districts in Barcelona, one of the most enjoyable and fun, and one that seemingly no one knows about. Even where they're in it.
Sarria-Sant Gervasi is just so fun, and one of the best places to stay in Barcelona. Why? It's whimsical. It's fun. It's carefree. I mean, where else can you find great food, funiculars (yes, funiculars!), the most stunning views of Barcelona, mountains mentioned in the show Friends ("... I was hiking in Western Europe..."), and amusement parks? Only here, my friends.
Located in the northwest corner of Barcelona, Sarria-Sant Gervasi is a place everyone should go, but most certainly if you have an element of childlike whimsy. Mount Tibidabo provides a stunning view of the city, and castles abound in the area. Additionally, with Gaudi architecture all around you, as well as the Amusement Park of Tibidabo, Sarria-Sant Gervasi is perfect for anyone who wants to travel while dropping their sense of seriousness.
Attractions: Old Town Sarria, Mount Tibidabo, Amusement Park of Tibidabo, Bar Tomas, Peu del Funicular
Place to stay: Mercur Barcelona Condor - under $100? Done.
Neighborhoods: Vila de Gràcia, el Camp d'en Grassot i Gràcia Nova, la Salut, el Coll, Vallcarca i els Penitents.
Gracia brings us back toward the center of Barcelona, closer to the works of Gaudi, the hottest restaurants and bars, and back into an area of intense fascination - all wrapped up in a district that's only a little over 4 km in square area!
Gracia, the smallest district in Barcelona, is dense with attractions and one of the most interestingly visual parts of the city. It's the artist haven of Barcelona, the former home of Gaudi and Guell. Some of the most incredibly creative locations in Barcelona are here - such as the designs of Park Guell, Casa Vicens, and Casa Amatller.
It's also a quaint area that hipsters love, complete with all the trappings you'll find in similar areas such as cafes, organic food, farmers markets, and places to style your man-bun and beard (okay, maybe I made that one up. I'm just jealous that I can't grow either).
Attractions: Placa Vila de Gracia, Park Guell, Casa Vicens, Casa Amatller, L'Abaceria Market
Place to stay: Silver Hotel
Neighborhoods: El Baix Guinardó, El Guinardó, Can Baró, El Carmel, la Font d'en Fargues, Horta, la Clota, Montbau, Sant Genís dels Agudells, la Teixonera, La Vall d'Hebron.
To be honest, most people won't consider Horta-Guinardo as a an option when they're thinking of where to stay in Barcelona. In reality, I can see why this makes sense for most people, but given the sheer beauty of the area, it's something you still have to see.
Horta-Guinardo is the type of place you might not stay in Barcelona until you've been to the city three or four times, when you'll seen most of the touristic stuff, and you simply want to feel what the outskirts of the city feel like. It's surrounded by parks and beautiful areas to see the border of the countryside and city of Barcelona, but there's an old feeling here. It makes sense, too, because the history of Horta-Guinardo is actually older than Barcelona, and dates back to the 10th century.
Attractions: Parc del Laberint d'Horta, Hospital de Sant Pau, Museo Alfredo Palmero, Jardins del viver de Can Borni
Place to stay: You probably won't get much with the hotels here, but you can probably land a pretty fantastic AirB&B at an affordable price.
Neighborhoods: Can Peguera, Canyelles, Ciutat Meridiana, La Guineueta, Porta, La Prosperitat, les Roquetes, Torre Baró, la Trinitat Nova, El Turó de la Peira, Vallbona, Verdum, Vilapicina i la Torre Llobeta
Nou Barris, while beautiful, isn't really a place that you're going to stay if you're wanting to actually see Barcelona. There are exceptions, perhaps in the southern part of this northernmost district in Barcelona, and if you are choosing to stay here you still have access to public transportation into central Barcelona.
It's full of green spaces, parks, and a lovely area to visit while you're in Barcelona (especially for wine and more rustic, country dishes), but it's not a place you'll want to stay for multiple days unless you've been to Barcelona often, and want to experience a new corner of the city that actually feels like being in the country in many ways. If you like to stay on the outskirts of big cities when you travel so that you can experience the way the tourists visit, and the way the locals live (which we advocate everyone does on occassion - we do), then Nou Barris is a great spot to pick.
Attractions: Parc de la Guineueta, Carrer d´Alsácia, Nou Barris Central Park
Place to stay: The only one that we know and feel good recommending is the Ibis - we've stayed in 5 or 6 Ibis Hotels in various locations, and always had good experiences.
Neighborhoods: Baró de Viver, Bon Pastor, El Congrés i els Indians, Navas, Sant Andreu de Palomar, La Sagrera i Trinitat Vella
Sant Andreu is a lot like Nou Barris, but it's a little further southeast and maintains some of the elements of inner Barcelona.
Once considered a city outside of Barcelona, Sant Andreu is now officially a part of the city, and is a great place to stay for families. It's similar to Nou Barris in that you probably won't choose to stay here if you came from far away, however you might find this area incredibly attractive if you're familiar with Barcelona and want to stay somewhere new - especially those living in Spain or Western Europe currently who are use to big cities in Europe and just want a beautiful place to relax.
Attractions: Mercat de Sant Andreu, Plaça de Orfila, Carrer de Sant Andreu, Sant Andreu del Palomar Church
Place to stay: Similar area as Nou Barris, and another Ibis. Make it easy, and keep it fairly cheap.
Neighborhoods: El Besòs i el Maresme, el Clot, El Camp de l'Arpa del Clot, Diagonal Mar i el Front Marítim del Poblenou, el Parc i la Llacuna del Poblenou, Poblenou, Provençals del Poblenou, Sant Martí de Provençals, La Verneda i la Pau, la Vila Olímpica del Poblenou
Sant Marti is the perfect blend of a place where in can stay on the edge of the popular area of Barcelona, but still have a relaxing and vibrant area to come back to.
It's actually quite modern in many respects, and is home to much of the business activity that happens outside Barcelona. None-the-less, it's still a place with great attractions, plenty of green space, and is a good place to stay in Barcelona - depending upon what you're looking for. Given that it's a little more corporate, you have a lot of interest excursions like escape rooms, themed attractions, and similar things.
Attractions: El Parque de Sant Marti, Montefusco Cycling, Iglesia San Marti Provencals
Place to stay: Salle Hotel Pere - very comfortable, low cost, and you get way above what you pay for.
Cover photo attribution - By Victor Grigas [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Useful Travel Resources for Barcelona
Barcelona Map – Plan your trip around Barcelona with this handy map
RentalCars.com – Great site for comparing rental car prices
Skyscanner.net – Our favorite place to book cheap airline flights
Expedia.com – Book affordable accommodation or bundle flights and hotels in Barcelona.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Barcelona
Suggested Reading: Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect