When my husband and I found out our family would be relocating to Barcelona, one of the things I was most excited about was finding a home in the best neighborhood. I happen to love the entire process of house hunting!
This was our very first experience living abroad and I couldn’t help but fantasize about our dream apartment. An old world-styled space perfectly renovated with modern luxuries but still maintaining that gorgeous Spanish charm. Views of the Barcelona Cathedral, a short walk to the beach and the melodies of street performers outside my window were all things I thought I wanted in our home.
That was three and a half years ago. And looking back, I laugh! One can dream right? But those dreams were short lived once we actually got to know the city and figured out what neighborhood would be the best fit for our family.
What I thought I wanted was so different than where we ended up – and for good reasons.
It’s so important to understand the personality in each section (barrio). And there are tons of them. I’ve highlighted here the most well known and frequented by foreign residents.
So, if you’re about to begin the home search in Barcelona or are in the thick of it, read on. You’ll find these descriptions of each neighborhood very helpful!
The process can be confusing, especially if you aren’t educated about the personality and vibe of each area. What feels like home to one family may feel the opposite to a college student living their best single life abroad. Your needs will be very different from another family’s – and that’s okay!
Barcelona offers it ALL.
A word of advice as you learn about each neighborhood and start narrowing down your favorites. Don’t commit to the first apartment you fall in love with. Keep in mind important factors such as proximity to schools/work, distance to public transportation (bus stops, metros, train stations), noise levels and nearby parks. These will really matter in your day-to-day life.
Which Barcelona Neighborhood Best Suits Your Family?
1. Gothic Quarter
This well-known district is considered the heart of the city, where you’ll find the quintessential Spanish characteristics tourists dream of. It’s probably the most Instagrammable section of Barcelona and easy to see why. Around every corner is a picturesque scene of Old City that will transport you into other centuries.
This barrio dates back to the original old Roman City of Barcino. Walking the cobblestone streets, which stretch from La Rambla to Via Laietana, will feel as if you’ve traveled back to a medieval era. Mostly pedestrian, you’ll find famous squares like Placa Reial Placa de San Felip de Nuri to be hidden gems. It’s easy to fall in love with Gothic Quarter if you’re drawn to history, culture and art.
Incredible architecture, churches like the Barcelona Cathedral and Santa Maria del Mar, museums, countless shopping boutiques and restaurants as well as interesting events, street performers and musicians. One will never find themselves bored in the romantic alleyways of Gothic Quarter.
RELATED ARTICLE: Living in Spain: 5 Things You’ll Fall in Love With!
BUT (and sadly, yes, there is a but) while this area is enjoyable for an evening out, it is not necessarily ideal to live – especially with children. The streets are filled with tourists 12 months of the year and for that reason, it is consistently crowded and noisy. There are not many parks here and because of the tourist traffic, pick pocketing is a little too common in these parts.
Stick to day trips and date nights in Gothic. Just my personal opinion, guys! Very few expats and families settle down here.
2. La Ribera (El Born)
When I think of El Born, the words trendy, eclectic and hipster all come to mind. This barrio sits adjacent to Gothic Quarter on the other side of Via Laietana and tends to be a bit quieter than its noisy neighbor. It has plenty of tree-lined streets and outdoor cafes to enjoy – popular characteristics of Old City neighborhoods.
Some of the trendiest and most unique bars and restaurants are found along the main strip of Carrer del Born, not to mention the widely visited (albeit small) Museo de Xoloat. Here you’ll enjoy a tour and ultimate chocolate making experience, with the chance to see replicas of Sagrada Familia and Leo Messi himself!
The recently reopened Born Cultural Center is a gorgeous modernist building with extensive medieval ruins on display.
Similar to Gothic, you’ll find homes in El Born to be aged and boasting history (but oftentimes dated in design and layout). Two to three bedroom flats are most common and won’t necessarily offer loads of space – but families that decide to live in El Born do so for the location, not the size of the kitchen!
While El Born is nowhere near as sketchy as El Raval can be, it has developed a slight reputation for concern after the sun goes down. Bottom line, be vigilant and don’t look like a visitor. Keep your belongings close to you, don’t get distracted…basic stuff but extra important in an area that can sometimes attract questionable activity.
RELATED ARTICLE: Avoid Getting Pickpocketed in Barcelona with These Tips
3. La Barceloneta
Best known for the sandy beach, exciting nightlife and unique views this neighborhood in Old City is described as being vibrant and lively but still with the old-world charm that Barcelona is famous for.
Life here consists of strolls along the coastline, watching windsurfers crash through the waves of Barceloneta and Port Olympic beach and admiring the views of Montjuiic Castle from afar. Also in this neighborhood you find the widely photographed and posh W Hotel which seems to float above the water on an island of its own.
Life here in Barceloneta will certainly meet your tropical locale needs and is well connected with buses and metros. But keep in mind, if you are a family (like us) looking to send children to one of the international schools, you’ll be quite a distance away.
Commuting time to schools in uptown may run anywhere from 40-60 minutes. Not ideal with little ones, I know! Nonetheless, we enjoy visiting the neighborhood of Barceloneta for a Sunday afternoon out.
4. El Raval
A bit of a controversial area in Barcelona, El Raval (part of what is considered Old City) has the potential to be quite interesting and exciting! With some of the best local artesian shops and fashion boutiques in the city, El Raval can be a fun place to hang out for the day with friends.
I personally enjoy strolling around the streets window shopping and popping into funky boutiques to find local products one might otherwise not find elsewhere in the city.
However, it has developed a reputation of not being the safest or the cleanest area in Barcelona and certainly not suitable for a foreign family to live. It has a darker, seedier side that only seasoned travelers should attempt to partake in.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Most Iconic Souvenirs to Bring Back from Barcelona
One of the most popular sections for families, with affordable housing and a real sense of community is the barrio of Gracia. Here you’ll find a very local Catalan feel with few tourists. Gracia is dotted with outdoor cafes and charming plazas that beckon coffee drinkers and tapas lovers on Sunday afternoons.
In addition, this neighborhood hosts one of the city’s biggest street festivals known as Festa Mejor de Gracia every August. Themed streets are intricately designed and colorfully decorated by residents and business owners. It’s a must-see for anyone living in Barcelona.
Gracia won’t offer any international schooling options, but there are several public and semi-private (concertada) choices here. In addition, the Gracia stop of the Ferrocarrils de Catalunya will quickly transport to uptown or downtown within minutes.
When my husband and I came to visit Barcelona and look for homes, we had our eye on Gracia. Unfortunately, many of the apartments are much smaller than what is offered in other sections like Sant Gervasi. So ultimately, we couldn’t find what we needed. Just some helpful info for anyone with a larger family to accommodate.
The last piece of info anyone with children might find helpful is that Gracia has plenty of playgrounds, but lacks serious green space. Because of that, it can sometimes feel like a concrete jungle.
RELATED ARTICLE: A Guide to Barcelona Tapas by Neighborhood
6. Sant Gervasi/Bonanova
This happens to be the barrio that I live in and I must say, is lovely! A relatively large neighborhood spanning from just above Avinguda Diagonal all the way to the base of Sarria at Passeig de La Bonanova, it’s a popular area for families.
With plenty of restaurants, shops, cafes, parks and school options not to mention a wide range of housing options. You’ll find here in Sant Gervasi/Bonanova a mix of new modern style buildings and some charming classic old ones. It just depends what you like!
Additionally beneficial is the number of public transportation options. With the main throughway of Diagonal nearby, you benefit from countless bus routes, as well as the vertical lines of buses V9, V11, V13, V15.
Plus, the Ferrocarrils de Catalunya is an underground train (not subway, per se) that runs from Placa Catalunya downtown all the way through Sarria and into Sant Cugat. This transportation method makes traveling from city center to the international schools uptown quite easy!
If what you crave for your life in Barcelona is a suburban feel with plenty of space but still a short distance from city center, then Sarria may be for you. This section is the most expensive in Barcelona, due in part because of the charming old village situated off Passeig de La Bonanova and along Carrer Mejor de Sarria. It is also the largest district in the city of Barcelona.
The main market in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is the Mercat de Sarrià on Passeig Reina Elisenda, which opened in 1900 and was renovated in 1967 and again in 2007. Other notable sites in Sarria include the former Sarria Town Hall, Parc de la Orenata, and the base of Tibidabo mountain where the incredible Sacred Heart Church sits atop offering the most breathtaking views in the entire city.
Sarria is popular with expats and families because of the upscale vibe, plethora of international schools and suburban feel. You’ll pay a pretty penty for flats and homes in this area, but many argue the cost is well worth the experience.
Characterized by a grid-like street system and octagon shaped blocks, the district of L’Eixample is divided into two subsections, left and right. Some of the most notable works of Gaudi are found here, such as Casa Batllo and La Pedrera along the famous Passeig de Gracia high-end shopping boulevard.
L’Eixample is situated perfectly for anyone looking to be downtown but without the heavy tourist foot traffic that Gothic or Barceloneta has.
I just adore this neighborhood! L’Eixample is the perfect blend between Catalan history and awe-inspiring architecture with the best public transportation connections to every part of the city.
You’ll find gorgeous apartments here, if a traditional Spanish aesthetic is what you’re going for. You know high ceilings, jaw-dropping molding details, wrought iron staircases and impressive exteriors. These characteristics are typical of apartments found in L’Eixample, as are a variety of restaurant cuisines, businesses and modern conveniences we all look for in a neighborhood.
Beyond these frequented barrios, there are several other sections of the city you may also want to check out.
Les Corts (which technically speaking sits inside the Sarria/Sant Gervasi district), Sagrada Familia (the name speaks for itself, although you’ll find the church is the most interesting part of this neighborhood), and Montjuiic (famous for its Olympic Games facilities and medieval castle on the hill).
Wherever you decide to settle with your family, understand this. Barcelona is a city that welcomes visitors – in fact, it thrives on them! With cultural activities, parks, a plethora of restaurants around every corner and fantastic schools you’ll find any area can quickly begin to feel like home.