A maze of moody, touristy, twisty streets built atop the ancient Roman city of Barcino, the Barri Gòtic, along with La Rambla, comprises the center of town. Charming gift shops, tacky touristy junk shops, cute cafés, trendy bars, and a zillion restaurants line the cobblestoned streets. The Barri Gòtic is also home to Barcelona's 13th-century gothic cathedral. You will be spending a lot of time here.» See hotels in Barri Gotic.
Classier and newer than the Gothic Quarter, the Eixample (pronounced "uh-SHAHM-pluh") is located just north of El Raval and Barri Gotic. It's home to the Barcelona's most expensive shopping, swankiest residences and best examples of Catalonian Modernist architecture.
The Eixample's 19th-Century building facades, with their wild ornamentation and extreme Art Nouveau flair, are some of the most photographed in Europe. Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona's most famous architect, is represented everywhere here—from fabulous apartment buildings to his world-famous Sagrada Familia cathedral.
Intriguing, densely populated (but less heavily touristed) El Raval is located to the west of La Rambla. An outskirt and slum for much of its existence (its name comes from arrabal, which means "suburb" or "slum"), El Raval long bore the nickname Barrio Chino. The circus performers, gypsies and prostitutes who once lived here are immortalized on some of Picasso's most famous works from his Blue Period.
Today, the area has largely cleaned up its act, but it still maintains its rough-and-tumble edge and diverse population. And it's home to some of the most interesting spots in the city, including open-air markets, legit old eateries and trendy new bars and cafés. Also here are major cultural institutions like the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània (CCCB), as well as the Maritime Museum and the medieval Hospital de la Santa Creu.
Stretching about a mile from the port to the central Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla is the ever-bustling boulevard to end all boulevards. Along with the Barri Gòtic, La Rambla represents not just the center of the tourist quarter, but also the beating heart of the city for locals. The boulevard is divided into five sections, each with its own name. Year-round and round-the-clock, street performers, sidewalk artists, lovers, madmen, café patrons, pickpockets and throngs of tourists hit the street to ramble.» See hotels in La Rambla.
Located just to the east of the Gothic Quarter, La Ribera is the hot new neighborhood in town. Its twisting old streets are packed with trendy galleries, bars, cafés and nightclubs. The beach is a quick five-minute walk to the South, and La Rambla is ten minutes to the west. Other neighborhood points of interest include the Parc de Ciutadella (with its parrot-filled palm trees) and the renowned Picasso Museum.» See hotels in La Ribera.
The three imposing chimneys that tower above this quiet area at the base of Montjuíc are a testament Poble Sec’s days as a gritty, 19th-century barrio, beyond the old walled city. But the industrial area has an artistic side, and was a major bohemian enclave—home to theaters, music clubs and a cava-fueled artistic set—in the first half of the 20th century. After a brief decline, it’s now experiencing an artistic resurgence, with theaters and classic music spots like the Apolo Club drawing “new bohemians” back to Poble Sec.
Today, Poble Sec retains a little of its original grit, but it’s also a friendly working-class sector that is fast becoming the next “it” neighborhood. There are a few good cafés and restaurants to be found among the theaters and music halls, and there are some fascinating historic sights as well. The neighborhood’s original water fountain (its name translates to “dry village” because it didn’t have water access until 1894) is still standing at C/Margarit, and a stretch of the medieval wall can still be seen at the end of Avinguda Para-lel, near the Gothic shipyards.