Barcelona – Spain’s second city – sets the template for urban style, hip design and sheer nonstop energy. Where others tinker at the edges, time and again Barcelona has reinvented itself. Visit for the first time or the fiftieth, Barcelona never fails to surprise.
The city’s popularity means finding a hotel vacancy at any time of year can be difficult, so it’s always best to book in advance. There’s a wide range of options, though, from youth hostels and budget pensións to glam five-star-plus hotels, housed in medieval mansions and Modernista masterpieces alike.latest Rough Guide.
Note that while rooms with balconies may be the brightest, traffic is a constant presence and, in a city where people are just getting ready to go out at 10pm, you can be assured of a fair amount of pedestrian noise, particularly in the old town.
If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege – generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.
Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions, lined with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food market.
Value for money: Hostal Benidorm. This refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.
Dramatic luxury: Hotel H1898. The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company got an eye-popping refit; some of the sumptuous suites even have their own private pool, jacuzzi and garden.
The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, which spreads east from the Ramblas, forms the very heart of the old town. With buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect, full of shops, bars, restaurants, museums and galleries. Alongside some classy boutique choices, most of Barcelona’s cheap accommodation is found here.
Note that the south of the the Barri Gòtic is rather less gentrified. Be careful (without being paranoid) when coming and going after dark and take care at night in poorly lit streets.
Impeccable boutique: Hotel Do. This nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, seamlessly blends the contemporary with the timeless.
Eye-catching style: Neri Hotel. A delightful eighteenth-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites, featuring swags of flowing material, rescued timber and granite-toned bathrooms.
The old-town area west of the Ramblas is known as El Raval (from the Arabic word for “suburb”) and has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic.
Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly, particularly in the “upper Raval” around Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, MACBA. Cutting-edge galleries, designer restaurants and fashionable bars are all part of the scene these days.
You’d hesitate to call El Raval gentrified, as it clearly still has its rough edges. Don’t be unduly concerned during the day as you make your way around, but it’s as well to keep your wits about you at night, particularly in the southernmost streets.
A local landmark: Barceló Raval. The USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views; rooms are sophisticated and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.
Sumptuous style: Hotel España. There’s been no more eagerly awaited hotel opening in recent times than the revamp of this Modernista icon – its interior has no equal in Barcelona.
Sant Pere and La Ribera
Sant Pere – perhaps the least visited part of the old town – has two remarkable buildings, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Mercat Santa Caterina. By way of contrast, the old artisans’ quarter of La Ribera has always been a big draw, by virtue of the presence of the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso.
Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique options, and are handy for the Born nightlife area.
Budget cool: Chic & Basic Born. From the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is punchily boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.
Wham-glam designer: Grand Hotel Central. This hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sundeck and infinity pool.
North of Plaça de Catalunya, the Eixample – split into Right (Dreta) and Left (Esquerra) – has some of the city’s most fashionable hotels, often housed in converted palaces and mansions and located just a few minutes’ walk from the modernista architectural masterpieces.
The Dreta de l’Eixample acts as a sort of open-air museum, featuring extraordinary buildings – most notably by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The Esquerra de l’Eixample is one of Barcelona’s hottest night-out destinations, with both Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best bars and clubs.
Cheery B&B: BarcelonaBB. Lovely rooms, amiable hosts and a tasty breakfast shared with other happy travellers – what’s not to love?
Contemporary high-spec: the5Rooms. The impeccable taste and fashion background of owner Jessica is evident here: expect gorgeously styled rooms, original artwork and terrific bathrooms.
The greatest transformation in Barcelona has been along the waterfront, where harbour and ocean have once again been placed at the heart of the city. Dramatic changes have opened up the old docksides as promenades and entertainment areas, and landscaped the beaches to the north.
Port Vell is the best place for waterfront views, while to the northeast the eighteenth-century neighbourhood of Barceloneta holds tightly packed streets and excellent seafood restaurants. Further up the coast is the showpiece Port Olímpic, a huge seafront development constructed for the 1992 Olympics.
Four- and five-stars also abound much further out on the metro at the Diagonal Mar conference and events site.
Chic and charming: Bonic Barcelona. This “urban guesthouse” is just a few steps from the port and Ramblas, with Gothic-Moorish decor and gorgeous tiled floors.
Stupendously cool: W Barcelona. This signature building on the Barceloneta seafront is one of the city’s most iconic structures; open-plan designer rooms have fantastic views and facilities are first-rate.
If you prefer neighbourhood living, then the northern district of Gràcia is the best base. It still retains a genuine small-town atmosphere and, unlike some districts in Barcelona, has a real soul.
The area is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian, stronghold it was in the nineteenth century and you’re only ever a short walk away from its excellent bars, restaurants and clubs.
Hostel with style: Casa Gracia. Though this vibrant and stylish space, spread over six floors in a Modernista building, is technically a hostel, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel.
Deluxe luxury: Hotel Casa Fuster. Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s magnificent Casa Fuster is the backdrop for this five-star, with huge beds, gorgeous bathrooms and a wonderful panoramic roof terrace and pool.