Are you a solo female traveler heading to Barcelona and wondering which Barcelona neighborhood to select as your home base?
My first visit to Barcelona was in 2004, when I packed my bags and “moved” to the capital of Catalonia the day after my university graduation ceremony.
I only ended up staying in the city for about two months, as I quickly realized the expat labor market was saturated and as a twenty-year-old with nada Spanish language skills I wasn’t going to find a fulfilling job.
However, Barcelona nestled itself in my heart and remains of my favorite cities in the world. I’ve returned twice since 2004. The first time I introduced my mom to the city, and the second, more recent time, I visited a local friend.
It’s undeniable that Barcelona is a fantastic city for solo female travelers. Nearly all of the city’s most important attractions are located within walking distance of Plaça Catalunya, and a fast walker could cross the city center by foot in less than two hours.
Although everything in Barcelona is quite central, it’s still important to stay in the Barcelona neighborhood that best suits your personality and travel style. Would you prefer to be close to the beach or close to museums? Are you looking for Catalan history or contemporary multiculturalism?
Here’s my breakdown of the most popular neighborhoods in Barcelona for solo female travelers, along with a few local secrets in each area.
Barceloneta was established in the eighteenth century as a fishing village and is surrounded on two sides by water. It is primarily a residential neighborhood with narrow streets leading to small plazas filled with children playing football and elderly locals feeding the pigeons.
The far north end of Barceloneta’s beach (just beyond Frank Gehry’s stunning goldfish sculpture) is home to a number of popular nightclubs, while the south end is home to some of city’s best seafood restaurants.
Where to Stay in Barceloneta
Barceloneta’s expansive selection of private apartment rentals makes it an ideal home base for travelers wanting to experience a slice of Catalan life. One of the hottest rentals is the Barceloneta Ramblas Apartments, a contemporary apartment right on Barceloneta’s main waterfront street (Passeig de Joan de Borbo). Make your reservation early as it tends to book up quickly.
Other than apartments, the accommodation options in Barceloneta are somewhat limited. There are a few hostels in the neighborhood, but none have the kind of good reviews that would encourage me to book a stay (for hostels, definitely check out Eixample instead!). There are also quite a few luxury hotels along the beach – they can be very expensive, but the five-star Pullman Barcelona Skipper is the most likely to have a promotional rate or last-minute deal, and its huge rooftop terrace and swimming pool will be perfect for an impromptu Instagram photo shoot!
Things to Do in Barceloneta
Hit the beach! During the summer Barceloneta’s beaches are the place to see and be seen (at least by day!) in Barcelona. If you’re a younger traveler, head north up the beach (past the gold fish) to Playa de a Mar Bella where clothing is optional and you’re less likely to have a rambunctious toddler kick sand in your face. Sant Sebastia Beach, near the cable car station, has a more family-friend atmosphere.
Even in cooler weather, a walk along Barceloneta’s beachfront promenade can be very pleasant. Bundle up with a jacket and scarf, and take in that fresh sea air. It’s also nice to take a seven-minute trip on the cable car that connects Barceloneta to the gardens atop Montjuic Mountain, from which you can then walk to the Joan Miro Foundation and the Montjuic Castle.
Where to Eat in Barceloneta
After you’ve checked in, head over to the tiny BarCeloneta Sangria Bar (Carrer de Sevilla, 70), where they serve fifteen different flavors of house sangrias (my favorite was the Cleopatra, made with organic cava, local craft gin, strawberries and rose petals). They also offer vegan versions of traditional Spanish tapas, which is a godsend for travelers who aren’t into jamon iberico.
For a traditional Catalonian culinary experience, consider stopping at Can Maño (Carrer del Baluard, 12) for a lunch or dinner that comes fresh from the sea. Can Maño embraces Barceloneta’s simple fishing history by serving little, sharable plates of fried fish, grilled fish and fried vegetables, along with famously rustic house wines. Vegetarians, you can visit Can Maño if you stick to the simple salads, fried vegetables and Spanish tortilla (omelet).
The Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, is by far the most mysterious Barcelona neighborhood. Staying in the Barri Gotic means staying in the heart of Old Town Barcelona, close to the medieval cathedral, ancient Roman towers and former royal palaces.
Where to Stay in Barri Gotic
I love staying in the Barri Gotic because it means you’ve got shopping, dining and accommodation at your doorstep, as well as convenient access to the green, yellow and red metro lines for hopping around the city. One popular hotel choice here is The Moods Catedral Hostal Boutique, where solo female travelers can opt for inexpensive interior rooms with windows into the inner courtyard or splurge on a more luxurious exterior room with a balcony overlooking Barcelona’s busy street life.
I can also highly recommend the Hotel Regencia Colon, one of the city’s best budget hotels. Clean and comfortable, but showing its age in a semi-charming sort of way, this hotel may have the best location in the entire city: just half a block away from the Barcelona Cathedral, in the heart of the Barri Gotic. If shabby chic isn’t your thing, the Regencia Colon’s big sister, Hotel Colon, is located next door. Recently renovated, Hotel Colon has a spectacular rooftop terrace and sun deck overlooking the cathedral.
Things to Do in Barri Gotic
Give yourself at least one full morning or afternoon to wander the Barri Gotic, getting lost in its narrow medieval streets and stumbling upon striking churches, sculptures, fountains and plazas. Make time to enter the Cathedral of Barcelona, ascending to the rooftop terrace and checking out the feathered surprise in the adjacent cloister. If you have time, consider popping into the Barcelona History Museum to see the city’s ancient Roman ruins.
There are several organizations that offer free walking tours of the Barri Gotic, including Feel Free Tours (with the yellow umbrella) and Sandeman’s New Europe Tours. There’s a lot to absorb in this area, and a free walking tour can really help put what you’re seeing into context. Remember to tip your guide appropriately.
While the Barri Gotic is generally very safe (many businesses stay open until the wee hours), you’ll want to keep an eye on your belongings in crowded places, as its popularity with tourists has led to its popularity with pick-pockets.
Where to Eat in Barri Gotic
Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but I think there’s something really special about enjoying a meal at Les Quinze Nits in Plaça Reale. In the high season you may have to queue for an outdoor table at Les Quinze Nits, but the buskers who work the line make waiting almost as enjoyable as eating! Come with a few friends and share some cava, tapas and large plates – there are enough vegetarian options to make an interesting meal, and I’ve heard they can adapt dishes to make them vegan-friendly too.
You can also get some divine protection from pickpockets by shopping for sweet treats at Caelum, a pastry shop and café serving baked goods and hot chocolate that is hand-produced by local nuns. Don’t be fooled by the tiny upstairs shop – there is a larger seating area downstairs (in a former medieval bathhouse).
If you’re more into magic, make sure to check out El Bosc de les Fades, a fairy-themed cafe and bar that is one of the best bars in Barcelona!
Eixample is one of central Barcelona’s largest districts, which means it has something for every kind of tourist. It’s actually divided into two different sub-neighborhoods: Eixample Dreta (“right”) and Eixample Esquerra (“left”). The latter is where I lived during my two months in Barcelona, so it still has a very special place in my heart (even though on my last visit I could no longer remember which of the apartment buildings on Carrer Rossello I had once called home!).
Where to Stay in Eixample
This Barcelona neighborhood is home to many of the city’s best hostels. The huge Generator Hostel Barcelona is located here, and its lantern-themed bar is a great place to connect with other travelers. For a homier experience, Barcelona Central Garden Hostel feels more like a traditional apartment built around a common living room and sunny outdoor patio. These are among the best hostels in Barcelona for solo travellers, offering a good mix of shared and private rooms.
Of course, if hostels aren’t your thing, Eixample has some cool (and affordable!) guesthouses and boutique hotels like Guesthouse Magatzem. Located near the little-known modernist Parque Joan Miro, Guesthouse Magatzem has both single and double hotel rooms, a chic lobby area and fresh-baked pastries and coffee for guests every morning. The surrounding area is more residential than touristic, but you’re less than four blocks away from both the Urgell and Rocafort metro stations (on the red line, with stops at Plaça Catalunya and the Arc de Trionf).
Things to Do in Eixample
The left part of the neighborhood is situated at the base of Montjuic mountain, and allows for easy access to Plaça d’Espanya and the Magic Fountain water and light show. My favorite attraction in the entire city – the Pavilion Mies van der Rohe – is here. I recommend visiting this world-famous architectural wonder about one hour before closing, when the atmosphere is calm and there are few other visitors.
The center of Eixample is home to some of Anton Gaudi’s most famous buildings, like Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. Buying a timed ticket online before your visit can significantly reduce the time you’ll spend in the queue at both buildings. When you’ve had your fill of Gaudi’s imaginative architecture, head outside for some luxury shopping on the upscale Passeig de Gracia.
In the right part of Eixample you’ll find the world-renowned Sagrada Familia church, as well as a small neighborhood of shops, restaurants and rental apartments that have established themselves in the church’s shadow. Again, buy a timed ticket online in advance, or pay for an organized tour, to cut down the time you’ll spend waiting in line to enter.
Where to Eat in Eixample
On my last visit to Barcelona, my friends took me out to Raim 1886 (Carrer del Progrés, 48), a classic Cuban mojito bar that is open every night of the year (yes, even Christmas Eve!) and that draws an eclectic crowd of locals. My friends even spotted a famous Spanish actor!
A girl can’t live on mojitos alone (try as I may…), but fortunately Eixample also has some fantastic restaurants. If you’ve ever been to an Eataly location, then you’ll probably love El Nacional (Passeig de Gràcia, 24), with more than 2,500 square feet of bars, restaurants and shops, laid out like a food court, where you can taste traditional foods from across Spain. The meat and seafood restaurants both take reservations, while the tapas bar and upscale snack bar are first-come, first-seated.
Also called La Ribera, El Born is situated between the Barri Gotic and Barceloneta. El Born is widely recognized as the heart of Barcelona’s contemporary art and design scene.
Where to Stay in El Born
El Born is the perfect neighborhood for solo female travelers who want a central location but less touristic feel. It’s still possible to experience an intimate hotel stay at one of El Born’s affordable guesthouses, like the El Born Guest House by Casa Consell (recently opened in February 2018 and already highly-rated by travelers) or the Som Nit Born (located in a heritage building dating back to 1836).
If hotels are more your thing, Hotel Banys Oriental is one of Barcelona’s cheapest design hotels, just one block from both the Jaume I metro station (on the yellow line) and the evocative Santa Maria del Mar basilica. Decked out in black, white, marble and glass, Hotel Banys Oriental delivers a lot of chic at a very reasonable price point.
Things to Do in El Born
El Born is home to the Museu Picasso and the ornate Palau de la Musica Catalana. In my opinion, the interior of the Palau de la Musica Catalana is actually more spectacular than the interior of Casa Batllo or Casa Mila, and if you can only do one interior architectural tour, this is the one that I would recommend.
Parc de la Ciutadella (shown above) is another highlight in the El Born neighborhood. I am always amazed by the golden Cascada fountain, and I never miss a chance to check out the Arc de Triomf at the north end of the park.
Where to Eat in El Born
El Born is home to some of Barcelona’s most famous – and most interesting – restaurants. Start your culinary tour at the Santa Caterina Market, the city’s oldest covered market that is now famous for its colorful, curving roof. Inside, there are lots of fresh food vendors, some food stalls and some proper restaurants that serve dishes made from the fresh, local and seasonal ingredients featured at the market stalls.
Nearby, Cal Pep (Plaça de les Olles, 8) is Barcelona’s most famous tapas restaurant. It always has a queue, it rarely sees local visitors and you’re unlikely to receive an actual menu, but it’s iconic and it buzzes with energy. I can’t recommend Cal Pep for vegetarians, but it’s ideal for seafood lovers.
It’s not exactly a secret, but you’d be crazy to stay in this Barcelona neighborhood without visiting El Xampanyet (Carrer de Montcada, 22), a Barcelona institution pouring glass after glass of house cava (its name is a throwback to champagne, of course), local craft beers and traditional tapas.
Fifteen years ago, El Raval would have appeared on a “where to avoid” list, not a “where to stay” list. This Barcelona neighborhood, located on the opposite side of La Rambla from the Barri Gotic, has shed its reputation as the city’s dingy red light district and emerged as the heart of Barcelona’s multicultural community. Nearly half of the residents who live in El Raval were born in other countries, so the streets are packed with affordable ethnic restaurants, supermarkets and service providers.
Where to Stay in El Raval
Now, numerous independent boutique hotels line the district’s eastern edge, including Hostal Marenostrum (a friend of mine stayed here and was impressed with the included breakfast buffet) and Hostel Operaramblas (where all rooms have recently been renovated – a refreshing change in a city where some hotel rooms are a little too antique!). If you’re a solo female traveler in Barcelona who’s on a budget, but still wants an upscale experience, El Raval could be perfect for you.
Personally, I’m obsessed with the Casa Camper hotel in Berlin (I stayed there for a week last year!) and I’ve heard their location in Barcelona is even better. Casa Camper Barcelona has many of the same things that I love about the Berlin location: lounge spaces in every guest room, lots of natural light, a rooftop terrace with an honor bar and – get this – a completely free twenty-four hour snack bar that serves a hot breakfast, and then provides free light meals, snacks and beverages all day and all night. If you’re on a budget, staying at Casa Camper can actually save you money, as you can eat both breakfast and lunch (and a midnight snack!) in the cafe.
Things to Do in El Raval
Travelers often visit the attractions along El Raval’s border with La Rambla, such as Mercat de la Boqueria and the MACBA contemporary art museum, but few venture further west to discover the cross-cultural world within. That is unfortunate, as El Raval holds some of the city’s most ancient, and authentic, history.
Just a few blocks south of the MACBA, Hospital de la Santa Creu is a charming medieval hospital complex that now houses a lovely garden, cafe and exhibition space. A lesser-known Gaudi building, Palau Guell, is another El Raval highlight.
Where to Eat in El Raval
El Raval has a few restaurants that cater to vegetarian and vegan travelers. I highly recommend Teresa Carles (Carrer de Jovellanos, 2), a 100% vegetarian restaurant which offers a set lunch menu based on the freshest seasonal ingredients, house organic wine and communal tables where solo travelers can chat with other lovers of good food. Check out my post about my dining experience at Teresa Carles!
I can also highly recommend Biocenter, where the fixed-price lunch menu (including a hearty salad bar, main dish and homemade dessert) is an absolute steal. I first ate at Biocenter immediately after becoming a vegetarian, and the thick yellow salad dressing from their salad bar was the exact “dish” (“ingredient?”) that made me realize that salads can be delicious!
Barcelona’s Coolest Neighborhoods, Summarized
Every Barcelona neighborhood has its own distinct charm and suits a different female travel style.
Barceloneta is the best neighborhood in Barcelona for solo travelers who want to stay close to the city’s beautiful beaches and experience a traditional Catalonian neighborhood.
Barri Gotic is the best area to stay in Barcelona for street-smart female travelers who want to be in the heart of the action. Narrow cobblestone streets and massive Gothic churches made the Barri Gotic famous.
Eixample is ideal for solo female travelers who are on a budget, but still want to see some of the city’s most iconic architecture. Eixample has many of the best hostels for solo travellers in Barcelona.
El Born is the best area to stay in Barcelona for boho, artsy and creative travelers. You’re still within easy walking distance of Barcelona’s most famous attractions, but you won’t be swept away in the tourist crowds.
El Raval offers solo female travelers on a budget a higher-end experience at a lower price point. El Raval is safe for solo travelers in Barcelona (male or female!) and it’s only a few blocks from the famous Las Ramblas.
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