Uncovering Europe's best budget hotels since 2001.
By Regina W. Bryan in Barcelona—
For many, Europe = plazas, or squares. Cobblestone plazas corralled by cafes, grand plazas with state buildings looking down on passersby, and intimate, hidden plazas with bubbling fountains sprouting from their centers.
Certainly, Barcelona has its fair share of city squares. The neighborhood with the most plazas in town is Gracia, where the famous Plaça de Sol is found. In this typical square you’ll find musicians strumming guitars and cool bars with boisterous clientele.
Plaça de Sol is fun, and well worth a coffee or beer in the afternoon. But you already know it. Here are three more must-see squares to visit in Barcelona:
1. Plaça Neri: Square of the Dead
I’d lived in Barcelona four streets over from this square for a two years and never came across Neri. Unless you’re looking for it or staying at Boutique Hotel Neri, a fabulous luxury hotel, then you won’t probably see this sweet cobblestone plaza in the Gothic Quarter. With a fountain in the middle and ancient buildings surrounding it on all sides, Plaça Neri has a peaceful vibe to it.
As soothing and quiet as Plaça Neri is, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not haunted. This lovely plaza has a gruesome history. First of all, it was once the graveyard for Barcelona criminals. In the olden days bodies were buried inside the city walls around churches. No one wanted to be buried next to a murderer, so there was a special cemetery for these undesirables, and that graveyard is Plaça Neri. Lots of bones and ghosts here, and what’s more, bad ones!
That’s not all, it gets worse. During the Civil War Mussolini’s air force lent Franco a hand and dropped bombs on Barcelona. Some of these where dropped on Plaça Neri, killing around 40 school children who were hiding in a school (there’s still a working school there today, but not in the same place) on the plaza. You’ll hear tell that all the pock marks in the walls containing Plaça Neri are from bullets, but it’s not so. The marks are from the second bomb dropped when people came to try and save the dead children.
Grisly history aside, Plaça Neri is beautiful, and well worth a visit. Have a glass of wine at the outdoor terrace of Hotel Neri, or take a look in the quirky Shoe Museum in the corner of the square.
2. Plaça de la Font: Square of the Living
This is an excellent square to visit any sunny morning of the week for a coffee, croissant and some fun people-watching. The center of the fishermen’s barri, La Barceloneta, this plaza is large with a few cafes, a playground, benches, a newsagent, and a market.
I like this plaza because of its buzz and the fact that’s it’s a “real” plaza still very much used by residents (unlike Plaça Neri). Check out the Senoras buying fresh shrimp in the market and then pick up some bread at one of Barcelona’s best bakeries, Baluard, also on the square. Seafood restaurants and traditional tapas bars line the skinny streets ringing this lively square.
3. Plaça de Sant Pere: Square of the Hungry
Here’s another plaza that is very much used by locals of La Ribera. Plaça de Sant Pere is off the tourist beat of El Born, one of Barcelona’s hippest areas, but still in the heart of the old city. Surrounding this cobblestone plaza are elegant old apartment buildings and a few boutiques and cafes. I adore all the flowering trees on Plaça Sant Pere as wall as the old-school street lamps which cast a golden glow over the square when night comes.
One of my preferred Barcelona restaurants happens to be on Plaça Sant Pere, too, La Candela, which serves innovative, international, inexpensive meals. La Candela has terrace seating on Plaça Sant Pere, making it a stellar summer spot to have dinner.
Also in our Barcelona Guide
Visiting Barcelona soon? Check out our reviews of the best cheap hotels in Barcelona, all inspected, reviewed and photographed—and all located in central neighborhoods (within walking distance of each of these plazas). We recommend 38 budget-friendly hotels in our guide, plus offer additional euro-saving tips in our Barcelona articles.