There are many interesting areas to stop, look at, walk through and enjoy throughout Barcelona. One of the emblematic areas is a neighborhood called El Raval.
Enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, El Raval, which is derived from the Arabic word Rabad, is defined as a neighborhood or a district. Once home to a cluster of convents and hospitals, El Raval is currently one of the four distinct and uniquely different districts of Ciutat Vella (Barcelona’s old town) and has become a multicultural mosaic of people from all over the world.
The largest of Ciutat Vella’s four districts, El Raval is actually a suburb of Barcelona and, according to many of the local inhabitants – it is the real Barcelona. El Raval actually lies across Las Ramblas, near the Barrio Gótico and stretches all the way over to the Ronda de Sant Pau.
El Raval is divided into two distinct areas. North of the Carrer de l´Hospital it is a somewhat gentrified area which contains MACBA (Barcelona’s Contemporary Art Museum). To the south, in the direction of the port area, visitors can find Barri Chino (Chinatown), an area that probably got its name from Francesco Madrid, a writer who dubbed this area El Chino (or Chinatown) because it reminded him of some streets in San Francisco’s world-famous Chinatown.
According to studies conducted by one of Barcelona’s most prominent newspapers, El Raval is the world’s most ethnically and culturally diverse urban space, a tiny corner of the city off Las Ramblas of little more than one square kilometre … and home to about 40.000 people, most of whom were born outside of Catalonia.
Interestingly, El Raval was hemmed in by city walls until 1859. At that time, the walls were demolished so that the rapidly-growing city could expand.
The area inside the walls was home to open fields and convents until the mid-19th century when construction of textile mills and workers’ houses began throughout its network of narrow, winding streets. As a result of this industrialization and because of its close proximity to the port, El Raval developed into a neighborhood with a high immigrant population and lots of social problems.
El Raval has always been one of Barcelona’s poorest districts and its dark, seedy side has provided it with a reputation of a district that is unsafe and dangerous. Visitors to Barcelona need to know - in advance - that El Raval is where petty crimes occur most often, especially at night.
Though in 1988, Barcelona’s City Council started a huge and expensive urban renewal project that was designed to modernize, clean up and reconstruct the area. Entire apartment blocks have since been torn down to widen narrow, dark streets and make them seem safer. MACBA (the Contemporary Art Museum) and the nearby area, including the enormous Plaça dels Angels (Square of Angels) have replaced some of the old, sinister-looking streets. Additionally, since its completion, more gentrification has taken place and there are now new bars, restaurants, art galleries and bohemian shops in and around the surrounding streets.
El Raval’s major historic buildings include the Gothic Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu which currently houses the Catalan National Library and one of Gaudi’s earliest works – the astonishing Palau Guell, a palace which was commissioned by Gaudi’s patron Eusebi Guell. Palau Guell is situated in Nou de La Rambla street and was built between 1886 and 1890. It’s a somewhat anonymous looking building in the front, unless you look up and see the multi-colored chimneys on its roof (18 in total) all of which are covered with trendicas (a special technique that uses broken pieces of pottery).
One of the “must-see” highlights in El Raval is a Cat sculpture by Columbian sculptor Fernando Botero. The Cat arrived in Barcelona in 1987 and has been relocated twice. It currently can be seen in Rambla del Raval street which is actually one of the areas opened by the City Council. The street, which has many trees, reminds many people of Las Ramblas which is a tree lined boulevard with open terraces. However, Las Ramblas is considered far more popular and picturesque because Rambla de Raval street has a high density of immigrants many of whom are from Pakistan. In fact, the street has been nicknamed Rambla de Pakistan.
El Raval is a good area for shoppers. Its little streets are populated with many privately-owned tiny boutiques, where you can find clothes and accessories generally not available anywhere else. Visitors to the area can also buy fresh produce at the La Boqueria market (also located in El Raval), which is Barcelona’s best-known market, famous for a broad range of food products.
Importantly, because El Raval is centrally-located in the heart of the city, it is easy to go from there - on foot -to other parts of Barcelona to see other major sights and historic districts, such as Barrio Gotico and El Born.
How to get there:
By metro: red Line 1, green Line 3 - Plaça Catalunya stop, green Line 3 – Liceu stop.
By bus: 24, 120
Some useful tips:
If you go to El Raval at night, be sure to keep your personal belongings close to you and watch out, petty crime can be a problem.
The main sights to see.
MACBA (Contemporary Art Museum)
Gothic Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu (Gothic Hospital of St. Crusifiction)
Palau Guell (Guell´s Palace by Antonio Gaudi)
La Boqueria market
El Raval is interesting – and a little dangerous – for locals and visitors alike. There is much to see and do here … as long as you remain cautious and careful.
Start your personal sightseeing tour in Ciutat Vella.
Cuitat Vella, Barcelona’s “old town” is right in the middle of the city … a perfect starting place to begin your personal tour. This area, which long ago was separated from Barcelona’s other villages by ancient Roman walls, includes four districts (Barrio Gotico, Raval, El Borne and Barceloneta), each of which includes sights worth visiting.
Make Barrio Gotico your first stop. Considered to be the most heavily Gothic area on the European continent, it is also the oldest part of Barcelona, an intriguing and dense maze of shops, cafes, open and inviting squares and buildings dating back several hundred years, many of which were actually constructed over a two hundred year period between the 13th and 15th century. Interestingly and amazingly, many of these buildings remain surprisingly intact … a wonder to see. Barrio Gotico is flush with many interesting sights that need to be seen. These include …
Catedral de la Seu - this ancient cathedral is one of the most impressive and very best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture.
Plaza del Rei (Royal Square) - dating back hundreds of years to medieval times, this charming, “must-see” square is a true architectural wonder.
Conjunt Monumental de la Place del Rei - here, in the heart of Ciutat Vella, is the museum that artfully and completely recounts Barcelona’s long and fascinating history. A walk through this remarkable museum will give you access to the most extensive collection of underground Roman ruins available anywhere in Europe.
Plaza de Sant Jaume - here, for your personal enjoyment, is one of the grandest and most magnificent squares in all of Barcelona – home to the Palau de Generalitat (Cataluna’s stately Government Palace) and Casa de la Ciutat (the Ajuntament de Barcelona, also known as Barcelona Town Hall).
Museu de Calçat - If you’ve never been to a “shoe museum,” this is one stop you can’t afford to pass up. It’s fascinating, unusual, different and totally enjoyable.
Take A Break …
Stop and Enjoy Las Ramblas.
Your personal tour should lead you directly to the tree-lined tourist mecca of Las Ramblas, a very pleasant part of town that stretches all the way down to Barcelona’s trendy harbor from the Plaza Cataluna.
This is the perfect time to take a break at an outdoor café and enjoy the passing pedestrian scene as you sip a coffee or eat a light lunch. But, don’t sit too long. You still have lots to do and see … beginning with your next destination – Raval.
Many locals think of Raval as the real Barcelona. You can decide when you get there … because you will find much to see and do. For instance, in Raval, you can visit …
MACBA (Barcelona’s Contemporary Art Museum) and CCCB (Barcelona’s Contemporary Art Center) … this is “heaven-on-earth” for those who love and appreciate the best in contemporary and avant-garde art. And you can make both stops in a single visit.
Gothic Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu - Gothic architecture is dominant in many parts of Barcelona. And this is one of the most stunning and noteworthy examples of this unique architectural art form.
Here, in Raval, you will also be able to see the spectacular and visually-splendid Palau Guell, one of Antonio Gaudi’s earliest works. It is located in a prominent position for all to see on Nou de la Rambla Street. Don’t miss it.
Make El Borne (La Ribera) your next stop. This district, which also dates back to medieval times, and once extended almost to Barcelona’s harbor, features many sights worth seeing, such as:
Santa Caterina Market - built way back in 1848, renovated and renewed in the 1990s, it is a huge fresh produce market and a fun and fascinating destination for every visitor to the city. What is particularly noteworthy about Santa Caterina Market is that the archaeological remains of the ancient Santa Caterina convent were discovered here when renewal took place in the 1990s. This was a very important archaeological discovery.
Museo Picasso - Barcelona’s most visited art museum and home of one of its very best art collections features some of Picasso’s very best works. You won’t want to miss it.
Parc de Ciutadella - tucked away from the hustle and bustle of El Borne, the Park offers a green respite and a pleasant retreat from the rigors of sightseeing. There is a lot to do and see – and enjoy – for the entire family, especially the children.
Santa Maria del Mar - after you leave the park, stop at church. But, keep this in mind: it’s not just any church. In fact, Santa Maria del Mar is probably the most beautiful Gothic church in all of Barcelona. Your visit there will be memorable.
Believe it or not, there are still many sights to see in Ciutat Vella. Continue your walking tour with a stopover at Barcelona’s beautiful port area.
The beneficiary of a major renovation project in the 1990s, the port today is trendy and features museums and activities that make it especially fun to visit for children. It also gives you an insight into the city’s long and proud maritime history. There are many sights worth seeing. These include:
L’Aquarium - a magnificent water-borne museum for oceanic mammals and sea life, it is also one of the world’s most important Mediterranean-themed aquariums.
Museu d’Historia de Cataluna - stop here and take a fascinating tour back through Cataluña’s long and interesting history.
Museu Maritim - this is one of the city’s finest museums … and it’s where you will learn all about Barcelona’s nautical history.
Platja de Barceloneta - if you enjoy sun, surf and sand, you won’t have to go far to find it. Barcelona’s most popular – and populous - -beach is within easy walking distance of all major hotels and vacation apartments.
Barcelona has often enjoyed spurts of heavy architectural development throughout its long history. Excellent examples of this can be found in Eixample district.
As you begin to leave Ciutat Vella and venture inland, you are likely to encounter the incredible Sagrada Familia, Antonio Gaudi’s magnificent and memorable unfinished church. One of the most extraordinary sights in all of Barcelona, it must be seen to be appreciated.
It’s time to move on to Montjuic.
Nicknamed “the mount of museums,” Montjuic is well-known for its many sport complexes (built expressly for the 1992 Olympic Games), its exhibition pavilions, its trade halls and its spectacular gardens (which were planted for the 1929 Universal Exhibition). There is so much to see and do here, you will need to set aside an entire day just to explore and enjoy. Here are the main sights:
MNAC - this is the National Musuem of Art of Cataluna and it is where you will find truly outstanding exhibits and examples of Roman and Gothic Cataluña art.
Fundacio Joan Miro - Spain’s “other” 20th century titan of the art world, and a Cataluña “favorite son” is well represented here with an unrivalled collection of many of his finest works of art.
Poble Espanol - Spain’s remarkable architectural achievements are well represented in this enjoyable open air museum. Visitors will also enjoy the museum’s craft workshops.
L’Anella Olimpica - Barcelona proudly hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and this site is the historical reminder of that unforgettable event.
Jardin Botanic - stop here for a pleasant, relaxing - and visually stunning – break from the day’s sightseeing. It’s a welcome respite.
If you think you’re finished … you’re not.
Estadi Camp Nou - this is the modern stadium of Barcelona’s world-class football (soccer) club – Barça - and a must-see for those who enjoy the game. Located in Les Corts and no more than 20 minutes from downtown Barcelona, the stadium is one of the largest in Europe.
Parc Guell - far from downtown Barcelona, but well worth the trip, this playful, fairy-tale park, situated on a large tract of land, is one of Antonio Gaudi’s best-loved and finest contributions to Barcelona and its people. It’s magnificent and a wonderful place for parents and children. Plus, visitors can take the time to buy traditional Catalan souvenirs at very affordable prices.
There are many more sightseeing treasures located in and around Barcelona, something to please every taste. All you need to do is decide what you like …. then arrange to go and see it.
From historical museums to art museums … Roman ruins to Gothic churches … open air squares to fun-filled theme parks – Barcelona is a sightseer’s dream destination. Come here … visit our best sites … enjoy. It’s definitely worth the trip.
Barcelona is a big, fascinating city with lots of interesting, diverse neighborhoods. One is certainly going to be right for you. The question is: which one?
Here’s the help you need to make the right choice …
Consider Ciutat Vella if you like the idea of “being in the middle of everything.” Ciutat Vella is the very heart of the city, the part of town where you can capture the spirit and essence of Barcelona’s distinct Mediterranean roots. The streets here are packed with noisy and lively crowds of both visitors and locals. This is Barcelona’s historic hub and the ambience is remarkably dynamic, vibrant and memorable.
Importantly, Ciutat Vella is a pedestrian-friendly area. There are few large roads, very little noisy traffic and streets that are made for strolling. However, while vehicles won’t disturb you with honking horns, the area is known for the noise that emanates each evening from the many discos and bars that line the streets.
Here are several more great choices for you to consider …
You Can Select One of These
Four Uniquely Different Districts …
All in the Center of Barcelona.
Barrio Gotico and Born both border Las Ramblas to the left and face the sea. Each is desirable for many reasons. For instance: both neighborhoods are relatively safe … mostly quiet … and provide easy access to public transportation, including the metro (Green Line L3) and numerous buses. An enticing variety of chic, trendy restaurants and bars, as well as less expensive establishments are all within easy walking distance.
If you like the beach, you’ll probably want to stay in Barceloneta. This is the area where a “neighborhood beach” is easily accessible from most hotels and vacation apartments. But a word of caution: its accessibility can sometimes be a problem because, in summer, the beach is almost always overcrowded and not always well-maintained.
Barceloneta, however, is convenient to most other sections of the city. Visitors who stay here will be able to use the metro (L4 Yellow Line) and many buses. Additionally, Estaçio de França, one of Barcelona’s largest railway hubs, is also located here. This provides travelers with an added advantage: the ability to get to and from Barcelona airport easily and inexpensively.
One more interesting thought about Barceloneta: it was once a fishing village. Even today, restaurants and bars in the area serve freshly-caught seafood and fish daily. The smell of the sea — and the seafood – often greets strollers as they pass by the restaurants.
Finally, there is Raval. Similar to Barrio Gotico, but not quite as fashionable, it is home to many of Barcelona’s best-known “must-see” sights and museums. Raval also features a sizeable immigrant population which results in an ambience that is both multinational and fascinating.
The diversity is evident in the many food shops and boutiques offering a vast array of national foods and souvenirs representative of many different countries. Importantly, the crime rate in Raval is high. Those who go out for an evening stroll need to be extra cautious and careful.
Prices throughout Ciutat Vella, and its four main districts fluctuate from inexpensive and very affordable to very expensive (for luxury apartment rentals). Overall, this area of the city is ideally-suited for young people … for couples … for small groups of friends … and for families with children.
Here’s What You Need to Know NOW …
· Be Aware of Pickpockets … Las Ramblas, at the Plaza Cataluna, and in other crowded sections is a “pickpocket’s paradise.” You need to be careful when you are out in these areas. It’s important to take good care of your personal belongings. If you stop to watch street performers in Las Ramblas, be sure to hold on to your bag tightly. In fact, keep it in front of you and close to you. If you’re wearing a rucksack, remove it and hold it in your hands, as well.
· Prepare to Walk Up Steps … Lots of Them … Many buildings in Ciutat Vella are older and do not have elevators. If you are staying in an apartment at such a building, you will possibly have to walk up steps daily. Many staircases in these buildings may be narrow, so walking up and down these steps can sometimes be tricky. It can also add to the experience of your trip … because you will be “living like a local” and you will get to know Barcelona a little bit better than your fellow travelers.
· Accessible and Useful Tourism Office … Plaza Cataluna is home to the largest Tourism Office in all of Barcelona. It’s a treasure waiting to be discovered. Go there the day you arrive. You’ll find many helpful flyers and brochures that will make your stay more enjoyable. You’ll also get Discount Tickets, with savings from 5% - 15%, that are accepted at a select group of restaurants, bars, concerts, exhibitions and museums throughout the city.
If you want to get away from the usual tourist places and the noise, consider Eixample, one of Barcelona’s better neighborhoods.
Eixample caters to the well-to-do, especially in the sections around Passeig de Gracia, Rambla de Cataluna and in the Avenue Gaudi/Sagrada Familia area. This is a relatively safe and clean part of town. It’s almost always tranquil because few tourists venture here. However, there are still many fine restaurants, bars and open air cafes. And some of the best shopping in all of Barcelona is available along the Avenue Passeig de Gracia.
If you are staying in Eixample, you will be able to get to the center of the city in as little as 5-15 minutes, depending on where you are in Eixample. In fact, if you are staying near the Avenue Passeig de Gracia or Gran Via Avenue, you will enjoy easy access to the metro or many buses. You can also use taxis, which are surprisingly affordable.
Here’s What You Need to Know NOW …
· Avoid Staying on a Large Street … and you’ll avoid the discomfort of having to endure too much noise. Streets such as Gran Via, Passeig de Gracia, Avinguda Diagonal and Avinguda Paralel are busy throughout the day … and always noisy. Windows with double panes of glass can shut out the noise, but only if you are willing to keep them closed all the time.
· Eixample is suitable for everyone … It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling alone or in a group, you’ll find vacation apartment rental opportunities that meet your budget … and buildings that have enough apartments available so that your entire group can remain together.
Eixample is also well-suited to the needs of seniors because it is safe, quiet and very upscale.
Here Are More Neighborhoods
For You To Consider…
Sants and Les Corts are quiet residential neighborhoods generally avoided by tourists because there are no sights or attractions to enjoy. However, this area has many newly-constructed buildings packed with modern facilities and lots of amenities.
Public transportation is readily available and a trip to the center of Barcelona normally takes about 15 minutes by metro, slightly longer by bus.
Tranquility and comfort are the keys here. And, because tourists stay away, first class accommodation is often available at bargain prices.
Sants and Les Corts are also perfect for exhibitors and business travelers because of their proximity to the Fira Barcelona Fair and the Congress Center. In fact, you can take the metro to the Plaza Espana which will literally leave you at the doorstep of Barcelona’s main exhibition center.
Finally, you may wish to consider Vila Olimpica. Constructed for the 1992 Olympic Games, it is now a well-to-do district that features new luxury buildings with posh, comfortable apartments. Ideal for those who want to relax, it is still just 15-20 minutes away from Las Ramblas by metro (L4 Yellow Line) … no more than thirty minutes away for those who prefer to walk.
Vila Olimpica has two beaches – Bogatell and Nova Icaria – which compare quite favorably to the beach at Barceloneta because they are much less crowded and much cleaner. Windsurfing is popular at both beaches.
Luxury is evident throughout Vila Olimpica. And that is why you can expect to pay a bit more if you stay here.
There are, of course, many more neighborhoods throughout Barcelona, but the ones mentioned here are among the most popular and best-suited for vacation and business travelers.
Visitors to Barcelona have an almost limitless choice of neighborhoods in which to stay. Whether you like to be “in the middle of the action” or you prefer it “quiet and relaxed” there is a neighborhood that fits your needs … and your budget.
Pick “your home away from home” right now – before your next visit.