If you hanker after a Ramblas view, you’ll pay for the privilege – generally speaking, there are much better deals to be had either side of the famous boulevard, often just a minute’s walk away.
Spain’s most famous thoroughfare, however, has its attractions, lined with cafés and restaurants, thronged by tourists and performance artists, and home to the acclaimed Boqueria food market.
Value for money: Hostal Benidorm. This refurbished pensión attracts tribes of young tourists with rooms available for one to five people.
Dramatic luxury: Hotel 1898. The former HQ of the Philippines Tobacco Company got an eye-popping refit; some of the 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. With buildings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, most of the district is picture-perfect, 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 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.
Impeccable boutique: Hotel Do. This nineteenth-century Neoclassical building, renovated by renowned Catalan architect Oriol Bohigas, seamlessly blends the contemporary with the timeless.
Eye-catching style: Neri Hotel. A delightful eighteenth-century palace houses this stunning boutique hotel of just 22 rooms and suites, featuring 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”) and has always formed a world apart from nobler Barri Gòtic.
Over the last two decades, however, the district has changed markedly, particularly 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, but it’s as well to keep your wits about you at night, particularly in the southernmost streets.
A local landmark: Barceló Raval. The USP of this hotel is its 360-degree top-floor terrace with plunge pool and sensational city views; rooms are sophisticated and open-plan with space-station-style sheen.
Sumptuous style: Hotel España. There’s been no more eagerly awaited hotel opening in recent times than the revamp of this Modernista icon – its interior has no equal in Barcelona.
Sant Pere and La Ribera
The two easternmost old-town neighbourhoods of Sant Pere and La Ribera are both medieval in origin, and 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, by virtue of the presence of the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the Museu Picasso.
Both have a number of safely sited budget, mid-range and boutique options, and are handy for the Born nightlife area.
Budget cool: Chic & Basic Born. From the open-plan, all-in-white decor, everything here is punchily boutique and in-your-face. Chic, certainly; basic, not at all.
Wham-glam designer: Grand Hotel Central. This hotel, beloved of all the style mags has spacious, ever-so-lovely rooms, a rooftop sundeck and infinity pool.