Barcelona – Spain’s second city – sets the template for urban style, hip design and sheer non-stop energy. Where others tinker at the edges, time and again Barcelona has reinvented itself. And as you'd expect for somewhere this vibrant, there's plenty of choice when deciding where to stay in Barcelona.
The buzzing cultural capital of three million people, a thriving port and prosperous commercial centre, the city is almost impossible to exhaust. Visit for the first time or the fiftieth, Barcelona never fails to surprise, and even a lengthy visit will likely only scrape the surface. You'll find some of the best places to stay in Spain here, too.
The city’s popularity means finding a hotel vacancy at any time of year can be difficult: wherever you stay, it’s always best to book in advance. There’s a wide range of options, though, from youth hostels to glam five-star-plus hotels. You can find accommodation housed in medieval mansions and Modernista masterpieces alike.
Note that while rooms with balconies may be the brightest, traffic can be a constant presence. In a city where people get ready to go out at 10pm, you can expect a fair amount of pedestrian noise. This is particularly the case when staying in the old town.
No day in the city seems complete without a stroll down the Ramblas. For Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, it was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end”. Lined with cafés, restaurants, souvenir shops and flower stalls, it is at the heart of Barcelona’s life and self-image.
If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege. Generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had. Try looking either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.
Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions. It is sprinkled with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food cafés.
Best value for money: Hostal BenidormThis refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.
Best for dramatic luxury: Hotel 1898The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company has undergone an eye-popping refit. Some 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. You'll find some of the best places to stay in Barcelona here: with buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect. The area is 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 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.
Best for an impeccable boutique: Hotel DoThis Neoclassical building has been renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas. Experience a seamless blend of the contemporary with the timeless.
Best for eye-catching style: Neri HotelA delightful 18th-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites. Expect 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”). El Raval has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic; in medieval times, it was the site of hospitals, churches and monasteries. By the 20th century it had acquired a reputation as the city’s main red-light district. Today it is known to all as the Barri Xinès – China Town.
Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly. This is particularly the case 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. It's best to keep your wits about you at night, though, particularly in the southernmost streets.
Best for staying in a local landmark: Barceló RavalThe USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views. Rooms are refined and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.
Best for sumptuous style: Hotel España RamblasThere’s been no more anticipated hotel opening in recent times. The revamped interior of this Modernista icon has no equal in Barcelona.
The two easternmost old-town neighbourhoods of Sant Pere and La Ribera are both medieval in origin. They are often thought of as one district, but each has a distinct character. 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. Here you can visit the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso. Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique accommodation options; all are well located and handy for the Born nightlife area.
Best for budget cool: Chic & Basic BornFrom the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is full-on boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.
Best for wham-glam design: Grand Hotel CentralThis hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sun deck and infinity pool.
North of Plaça de Catalunya, The Eixample, a vast 19th-century street grid, is the city’s main shopping and business district. It was designed as part of a revolutionary urban plan and is split into Right (Dreta) and Left (Esquerra).
The bulk of the city’s show-stopping modernista (Catalan Art Nouveau) buildings are also found here. There's also an array of galleries and some of the city’s most fashionable hotels, shops and boutiques.
The Dreta de l’Eixample acts as a sort of open-air museum, featuring extraordinary buildings. The most notable are the work of 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. It hosts two Michelin-starred restaurants and some of the best bars and clubs.
Best for a cheery B&B atmosphere: BarcelonaBBLovely rooms, amiable hosts and a tasty breakfast shared with other happy travellers – what’s not to love?
Best for contemporary and high-spec design: the5RoomsThe 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 in recent years has been along the waterfront. Today, 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, while landscaped beaches can also be found to the north.
Port Vell is the best place for waterfront views. A pleasant walk around the harbour takes you past the marina, where a boat has been converted into a floating bar. The Luz de Gas is a particularly good place for a sundowner.
To the northeast, you will find the 18th-century neighbourhood of Barceloneta, with the harbour on one side and a beach on the other. Exploring tightly packed streets and great seafood restaurants, there’s no finer place for lunch on a sunny day.
Further up the coast you will find the showpiece of Port Olímpic, a huge seafront development constructed for the 1992 Olympics. It’s emblem is a huge copper fish (courtesy of Frank O. Gehry, architect of the Bilbao Guggenheim).
Four- and five-star accommodation can also be found further out at the Diagonal Mar conference and events site. Here you can take in Jacques Herzog’s dazzling blue biscuit-tin of a building that hovers, seemingly unsupported, above the ground.
Best for a chic and charming base: Bonic BarcelonaThis “urban guest house” is just a few steps from the port and Ramblas, with Gothic-Moorish decor and gorgeous tiled floors.
Best for those seeking stupendous cool: W BarcelonaThis 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 place to stay in Barcelona. It still retains a genuine small-town atmosphere and, unlike some districts in the city, has a real soul.
The area is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian, stronghold it was in the 19th century. You’re only ever a short walk away from its excellent bars, and restaurants.
Plaça del Sol is the beating heart of much of the district’s nightlife. The Plaça Rius i Taulet, the “clock-tower square”, is another popular place to meet for brunch. However, the one unmissable attraction is just on the neighbourhood fringe: be sure to visit the surreal Parc Güell, by architectural genius Antoni Gaudí.
Best for a hostel with style:Casa GraciaThis vibrant and stylish space, spread over six floors, is housed in a Modernista building. While technically a hostel, you’ll feel like you’re staying in a hotel.
Best for deluxe luxury: Hotel Casa FusterLluís Domènech i Montaner’s magnificent Casa Fuster is the backdrop for this five-star hotel. You'll be charmed by its huge beds, gorgeous bathrooms and wonderful panoramic roof terrace and pool.
This feature contains affiliate links; you can find out more about why we’ve partnered with booking.com here. All recommendations are editorially independent and taken from the Rough Guide to Barcelona.
Top Image: View of the city from Park Guell in Barcelona © Georgios Tsichlis / Shutterstock