Poblenou means “New Village” in Catalan and was given the name as it was not originally part of Barcelona. It was an independent village, known as Sant Martí de Provençals, and it wasn´t until 1897 that it officially became a part of the city of Barcelona.
In the 19th century it was one of the main industrial centers of Barcelona because its proximity to the sea ensured a steady water supply, and at that time there was plenty of open space to build factories. In 1848 the railway was extended to pass through this area, and from 1855 to 1888 the number of registered factories went from 57 to 243. In the 1960´s Barcelona´s industrial activity began to move to a new location, Zona Franca, and between 1963 and 1990 Poblenou lost more than 1,300 factories, which caused the area to fall into a state of decline.
The recovery of the neighborhood began in the 1980´s with the preparation for the Olympics, and in July 2000 the 22@ Plan, an urban redevelopment plan meant to refurbish the industrial area, was unanimously approved. Today, Poblenou is a popular neighborhood for artists and young professionals and many of the old factories have been converted into galleries, shops, studios, and lofts.
Much of Poblenou´s industrial architecture still exists today, some of which has been remodeled for new activities. For example, Can Felipa (Carrer Pallars 277), a building which dates back to 1855, was formerly a textile factory. Today it is a community center which runs a variety of activities for the neighborhood citizens. Another classic example is the Torre de les Aigües, a water tower that once formed a part of a metallurgic factory. Though it is no longer used it is in surprising good condition and has become something of a symbol of the neighborhood.
Poblenou is also home to one of the most unusual structures in Barcelona, the Torre Agbar, located next to the Glories shopping center on Gran Via. Built by French architect Jean Nouvel, this strangely phallic building is actually meant to represent a geyser. Construction began in 1999 and was finally completed in 2005, the final result being a tall, oval structure, 142 meters in height. When the building is lit it´s blend of red, purple, and blue colors light up the skyline.
Jean Nouvel is also the architect behind one of Poblenou´s parks, Parc Central del Poblenou (Diagonal 130), which opened in spring 2008. The park is quite large (55,000 m2) and is surrounded by a wall which insulates it from the city. The insides of the walls are covered with Mediterranean plants and there are plenty of trees and flowers throughout the park to provide shade, as well as an area for children to play and metals chairs where visitors can sit and relax.
Poblenou´s second park, Parc del Poblenou, was built in 1992 and is located near the sea. It consists of different areas of grass and a network of pedestrian paths and includes children´s play areas, sports tracks, and bars and kiosks. The park tends to be more crowded than the Parc Central, but is ideal for those who want to visit the beach as well.
The nearest beach is Bogatell and further away from the center is the Marbella beach. Both Bogatell and Marbella are walking distance from any point in Poblenou, and both of them tend to be much less crowded than those near the center.
The neighborhood´s most famous street is Rambla Poblenou, which begins at Gran Via and ends at the sea. Not to be confused with Las Ramblas in the center of town, this pedestrian street has an entirely different vibe, filled with restaurants, cafes, and shops, and is much more relaxed. There are plenty of outdoor terraces and enough trees to avoid the sun on hot days, so it´s an ideal place for a drink or a bite to eat.
Make sure to stop at El Tio Che (Rambla Poblenou 44) for the best orxata in town. Orxata (horchata in Spanish) is a milky drink made of tiger-nut. It´s one of the most popular summer drinks in Spain, and this family owned café is famous for it. If that´s not your style you can also order a lemon granissat (crushed ice drink), ice cream, coffee, hot chocolate, or a pastry.
If you´re in the mood for seafood, Poblenou is home to what some consider to be the best seafood restaurant in Barcelona, Els Pescadors. Located in Plaza Prim, just behind Rambla Poblenou, it features a daily changing menu with a variety of fresh fish, and several other dishes such as rice, meat, or noodles. The restaurant is open all week from 1:00pm to 3:45pm and 8:00pm to 11:30pm and has a terrace with outdoor seating. The quality of the food and the reasonable prices make this one of the most popular restaurants in town, so reservations are advised.
Poblenou also enjoys an enviable supply of bars and discos, many of them appropriately located in restored warehouses. The biggest and most well-known is Razzamatazz (C/ Pamplona 88) which has five different rooms, each with a different style of music. There is a €15 cover which includes a drink. This being Spain, the locals won´t arrive before 1:00am or 2:00am, which means you have plenty of time to have a drink beforehand at one of the many bars. L’Ovella Negra (C/ Zamora 78) is also located in a warehouse and is perfect for groups. In the back there are football and pool table as well as darts.
Poblenou lacks the hustle and bustle of the city, and the architecture may not compare with some of the modernist buildings of the Eixample, but there are some clear advantages to the neighborhood. The lack of crowds make it feel more like a small town than part of a big city, and the lack of tourists means it feels a bit more genuine than some of the neighborhoods in the center. And for those looking for peace and quiet, Poblenou offers more tranquility than other neighborhoods.
In addition, Poblenou is just ten minutes from the center of town by metro (Poblenou or Llacuna stops) and less than €10 by taxi, so there´s really no excuse for not exploring the neighborhood.