This district is at the heart of the city, including the oldest parts of the metropolitan area. It consists of three neighborhoods: El Raval, Barri Gótic, La Barceloneta, and Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera. The latter is a small peninsula adjacent to the Barri Gótic.
This part of the city, if you look at it on a map, is a rather odd-shaped polygon. It is bounded by the following streets: Ronda de Sant Antoni, Ronda de Sant Pau, Paral-lel, Carrer de Pelal, and the famous La Rambla. It is basically a small section east of La Rambla and includes the mini-peninsula called Moll de Barcelona, which offers shipping and ferry service to other port cities in the Mediterranean.
Though el Raval is located in a prime location and includes La Rambla, which is visited by millions of tourists every year, the neighborhood itself currently has a bad reputation due to a high crime rate. In fact, in rent months, it has been in the news for the number of violent crimes, including homicides. There is now a police task force trying to address this issue, but it will take some time and effort to turn things around. That said, it is a great little neighborhood, which has a lot to offer.
At the heart of el Raval, and away from the famous La Rambla, is the Rambla del Raval. A 230 meter long street with a 40 m wide median at the center of it, which includes a pedestrian area, kids’ playground, park, and outdoor café. And, though a bit grungy, it is truly a very pleasant area where you can spend some time relaxing. Additionally, there are other eateries and shops located around the Ramble del Raval, which are housed in some incredible old buildings.
Because of the crime concerns, rents and home prices are lower than average in this neighborhood. However, many locals love their neighborhood, including diversity, which includes Europeans, Africans, Latin Americans, and people from the Middle East. Additionally, its central location is a tremendous plus. All that said, the crime concerns linger and keep interested in the area for newcomers rather low. My personal prediction is that, for better or worse, the area will slowly gentrify and will become much more attractive within the next few years.
There are some very quaint alleys all over the neighborhood, plus old buildings, including some architectural gems. Among these gems is the Plaça del Pedró, which is a small triangular square in front of the Església de Sant Llàtzer. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century and is a must-see. The square is adjacent to Carrer de l’Hospital, which continues on to the Rambla del Raval. Also note that the western side of La Rambla, including the famous Boqueria Market, the Gran Teatre de Liceu, and the Museu Maritim, are located in this neighborhood. However, you should venture beyond this area and check out the neighborhood.
This neighborhood is by far the most famous, as well as the busiest; for the same reason. Tourists from all over the world walk up and down La Rambla and venture into the area to the east, which is where Barri Gótic is. Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with this area. On the one hand, I love the old buildings, alleyways, churches, museums, etc. However, it is daunting to maneuver through all the other people who go here as tourists, workers, or just plain residents.
Chief among the attractions in the area is the Plaça Sant Jaume, including the Palau de la Generalitat; the cathedral; and countless other spots. Additionally, there are plenty of shops to visit here, such as souvenirs and hemp stores. However, make sure to go to the Avinguda del Portal de l’Angel, which is a large pedestrian walk with shops and eateries on both sides of the walk, plus on the adjacent alleys.
As far as living here, it is a mixed bag, in my opinion. It is a very central location with tons of things to do and see. Rents vary, depending on the street or alleyway, though in general, they are relatively reasonable. However, you need to be able to deal with tourists year-round. Additionally, parking is tough and there are plenty of petty burglaries and pickpocketing. That said, there are some great buildings where you can find a place to rent or buy.
This neighborhood is one of a few which have a waterfront, which is located northeast from the monument to Christopher Columbus, plus the small peninsula where the Aquarium and the Maremagnum Mall are. Therefore, if the narrow alleyways, full of people, get to you, you can always walk a few minutes over to the waterfront area and stroll around for a while.
This neighborhood consists primarily of a peninsula with several kilometers of beaches. Additionally, the area southeast of the Ronda Litoral is where most people live. There are small alleys and streets crisscrossing a small area, but with great old buildings and some amazing views onto the Mediterranean. The buildings here are small with balconies, but little greenery. In general, the demand here is high, therefore, there are not that many options to rent or own, but they are out there.
The main arterial here is the Passeig de Joan de Borbó, which traverses the length of the peninsula. There are plenty of restaurants and shops here, which are primarily for the scores of tourists. And, at the end of the peninsula, you can see, from quite a distance, the Hotel W, which resembles a tall sail. Additionally, there are a couple of great sports centers here. The CNAB (Centre de Natació I Atlètic de Barcelona) has great outdoor pools that overlook the Mediterranean. There is also the Club Natació Barcelona located across the street from the W Hotel, which also has a great outdoor pool with views towards downtown.
La Barceloneta, like the Barri Gótic, is very popular with tourists and is therefore full of people year-round. In recent years, the locals have protested the tremendous influx of tourists to the point where they have blocked the Passeig de Joan de Borbó. And like the Barri Gótic, this neighborhood is quite lovely and is in a great location, but if you plan on living here, be aware that the crowds, lack of parking and costlier dining are something you will need to deal with.
Sant Pere, Santa Caterina I La Ribera
This small neighborhood is adjacent to the Barri Gotic at the northwest border; runs southeast up to Ronda Litoral, northwest up to the Arc de Triomf, and includes the Parc de la Ciutadela where the city’s zoo is located.
The neighborhood is not large but is very impressive. The government buildings along the Passeig de Lluis Companys are a must-see, as is the Parc de la Ciutadela, and the numerous museums; chief among them are the Picasso Museum. In general, this is a pretty area, but as with the Barri Gotic, it comes with lots of tourists year-round and usually all day long. That said, it is an interesting place to live, though the rents might be high since it is popular. However, whether you live here or not, you should plan on spending some time here to get a feel for the city’s central area.
Also, should you choose to live here, you will have quick access to the Estació de França, which offers local transit service to the airport and nearby suburbs, as well as long-distance train service to other parts of Spain and neighboring France. In addition, you have quick access to the beaches at La Barceloneta, which is a relatively short walk away.