There are a few good reasons why I view Barcelona through heart-shaped glasses. For starters, the inspiring architecture, and romantic balconies mean this city’s first impressions are pretty darn fine. I’m also a sucker for the shady squares filled with countless bars and restaurants that charm you into lingering afternoons of cava-sipping. The outdoor markets, quirky shops and street performers always tempt me to wander until I’m thoroughly lost. And the pretty palm trees and actual, white sand beach pack a tropical punch many cities can only dream of. Yep, no doubt Barcelona sure is a charmer.

But in which part of this lovely Spanish city should you choose to begin your adventure? Barcelona is divided up into neighbourhoods, each with their own distinctive character and vibe. Are you a quirky vintage chick or a sophisticate with a penchant for designer wares? Are you a buzzing barfly or seeking the simple life? These barrios cater to a variety of travelling tastes… It can be difficult to work out which part of Barcelona is putting down what you want to pick up.

Well, never fear, Travelettes is here to help you work out your priorities in this diverse metropolis. Read this nifty little guide to Barcelona’s barrios to find out which hoods have got the right goods for you…

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Las Ramblas & El Barri Gòtic

Las Ramblas is the iconic boulevard of Barcelona, a huge pedestrian walkway filled with tourists enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere of street performers, buskers, sweet treats (mmm gelato) and colourful flower stalls.

What to do and see? The main street is the jumping off point to get stuck into exploring the atmospheric El Barri Gòtic with its shuttered balconies and mysterious lanes promising gothic romance round every corner. It’s also chock full of historical treasures – ancient Roman relics, churches, squares and the mighty La Catedral. The medieval heart of the city is a tangle of cobbled alleyways that reward the bold with interesting bars and restaurants away from the tourist trap of the main drag… try planning your biggest meal at lunchtime to take advantage of the numerous daytime offers; look for two or three course meals including wine for around 10-12 euros.

You’ll love it if… you adore being in the heart of the action, the hustle of humanity, exploring nooks and crannies and can take a hefty dose of trashiness right on the chin.

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El Raval

Fabulous central location and a multi-cultural neighbourhood bursting with character, this barrio is one of my personal favourites. However, every silver lining has a cloud and in El Raval’s case this cloud is the bad reputation that hangs over the barrio’s head. It’s true that blindly stumbling down the dark alleyways strung up with laundry will probably land you in hot water after dark but in the tradition of seedy districts come good the world over, the neighbourhood is on the up, thanks to the influx of bohemian types and artists that call the place home.

What to do and see? The big draw is the huge covered market, La Boqueria, a riotous chorus of fresh produce, colour and chatter, lined with classic tapas bars. But El Raval is also Barcelona’s artiest barrio with local galleries and art shops that it would be downright rude not to explore. Turn onto Carrer de la Riera Baixa and you’ll discover a whole world of second-hand and vintage stores and later on in the evening the eccentric bars (that date back to the time of Picasso and Hemingway) come to life.

In fact, old Ernest was apparently somewhat partial to slumping over at Bar Marsella after a dalliance with the green fairy. The bar still specializes in absinthe – melt the sugar with your water into the bright green drink. Good luck getting home!

You’ll love it if… You ain’t afraid of no ghosts (and by ghosts I mean the pimps and dealers that can lurk in these dark alleyways). Seriously though, be cautious, stay in a group and make sure you know where you’re going. You’ll also love it if you’re into vintage, art, boho style and are looking for a barrio with a little bit of an edge.

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L’Eixample & La Sagrada Familia

Shopping and architecture dahhling! L’Eixample has long held the reputation of being the zone that delivers the classiest shops and hotels and is the go-to area to absorb the fabulous Modernista architecture that Barcelona is super famous for.

What to do and see? The main shopping area is in the heart of the barrio, along and off the Passeig de Gracia, where you can find some cool and classy specialty boutiques selling all sorts of wares from furniture to clothing to swanky nibbles. Drop in to the institution that is Xampany (also known as the Cathedral of Cava) with its bottles of bubbly stacked high into every corner.

For a completely different and no less impressive type of cathedral, get those boots walking to the edge of L’Eixample and to Gaudi’s awesome and iconic La Sagrada Familia. When asked why he put so much care into the fantastic spires, since nobody would see them properly, he replied that the angels would see them. Looks like Gaudi lived by the maxim, ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right’.

The nightlife is quite diverse but limited to a couple of streets with Carrer d’Aribau having a few interesting cocktail and retro joints. Further south is home to L’Eixample’s gay scene nicknamed ‘Gaixample’ with several buzzing clubs and bars.

You’ll love it if… A small part of you wants to make like you’re Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she hits up Rodeo Drive in a jaunty, white hat. Or you’re a fan of Gaudi and architecture that makes you feel a bit like you’ve dropped acid.

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El Born

Another favourite, the Born is a small and intimate neighbourhood just off the old city; a stylish little barrio with its finger in the pies of art, fashion, interiors, clubs, funky bars and a celebrated dining scene. This is the barrio where the past, present and future of Barcelona’s thriving cultural scene mish-mash together from the beautiful, old churches to hip, modern clubs and wine bars.

What to do and see? The open, tree-lined Passeig del Born is the centre of the action and by a day a peaceful promenade where you can start your shopping trip in bohemia. Artisan studios spawn independent boutiques selling jewellery, funky clothing, and eclectic bits and pieces catering to all sorts of unique tastes and featuring home-grown designers. By night, the district sips cocktails and samples tapas before getting its dancing shoes on to throw shapes to all sorts of music from rock to house.

You’ll love it if… You like to have your finger on the pulse, thrive on new experiences, love a bit of quirk and were (el) Born to shop all day and party all night.

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Gràcia& Park Güell

This barrio is a lovely, family friendly place with a village-like vibe. Strolling around the clean and picturesque streets is a relaxing experience with most of the action centred around sunny squares like the bustling Placa del Sol and the Placa de la Vila de Gracia where you can dine alfresco, people-watch to your heart’s content and linger over your drinks well into the night.

What to do and see? These streets are designed for leisurely strolls, grabbing an ice-cream in the sun, browsing the cute and quirky shops and pottering around picking up some bits for lunch from the Mercat de la Libertat – a local market that’s practically the village larder.

Towards the north of this district lies the famous city park… and not just any old park. Yep, Gaudi’s only gone and done it again by constructing a super park with walkways, sculptures and views across the city that will blow your mind. Park Güell attracts plenty of talented musicians and buskers. Look out for Spanish ska reggae band, Microguagua – tons of fun and guaranteed to put a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

You’ll love it if… You want to absorb local life, pop to the market, enjoy long afternoons of lazy conversation in sunny squares and generally pretend you are Spanish and this is your village. Also convenient if you’re a fan of strolling through parks and enjoying breath-taking views.

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Barceloneta

Like entering a charming seaside town with wide stretches of sparkling beachfront and a long, palm-lined boardwalk to hang out on. There is a distinctly balmy, tropical feel to this little area with a good selection of bars, a bit of music and lively eateries towards the north-eastern end of the beach. In the summer months, little beach bar shacks called chiringuitos set up shop with cocktails and music on offer day and night.

What to do and see? Sit on the soft, white sands and take in those gorgeous, blue sea views. Go for a stroll along the boardwalk. Indulge in a spot of volleyball or join the muscle men in the open air gym. Or if that all sounds like too much hard work, simply go for a wander into the old fishing quarter and track down some delicious seafood, fresh off the boat. There’s also a neat aquarium, the Museu Maritim and the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya – all worth a look-see.

You’ll love it if… You do love to be beside the seaside. If you feel like a holiday just ain’t a holiday without a bit of beach life, visit this barrio to satisfy your soul and get your fix of sun, sea, sand and palm trees.

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Montjuic & Poble Sec

The hillside stronghold of Barcelona overlooks the port and is home to the stunning art collection of the Museu Nacional d’Art Catalunya as well as other galleries, the old castle and some scenic gardens and views across the city. The biggest barrio in Barcelona, Montjuic takes up about a fifth of the city.

What to see and do? Hop in a cable car from Barceloneta to get the most out of those glorious views. Take the elevators to the grand Palau Nacional to check out the incredible art collection, take in the sunsets with a garden picnic and stay for the magic fountain show (held most days in the summer) where the jets and colours dance for your entertainment. Sometimes open-air cinema nights are held in the moat surrounding the castle and August could see you joining the annual Festa Major de Sants with muchos dancing, cubatas and mojitos.

Stay a bit further down the hill in the residential Poble Sec to check out some of the quirkiest bars in town including Tinta Rojo, an atmospheric bar that’s furnished like a flea market and Gran Bodega Salto, crammed to bursting with all sorts of eccentric decor and a great place for pavement drinks and energetic live music.

You’ll love it if… You’re a ‘big day out’ fan and will be in heaven if hiking, history, beautiful green spaces and spectacular views are your bag.

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Well, there you have it. So many barrios, so little time! If you want to get as much as possible out of the city or if you’re a girl (or guy!) that can’t make up their mind then just make sure you pitch up near a metro stop, pick up a bargainous ten journey ticket and Bob’s your father’s bro – Barcelona’s your oyster. Oh, and if you need a little more help planning that perfect weekend, check out this cheeky little itinerary we’ve already created. Happy exploring!

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Pics by Alex except image 1 via Tourist-Barcelona.com

Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.

Keep up with the Saint sisters and their adventures in Bristol, London and beyond at www.saintsonaplane.com and @saintsonaplane or Alex herself @alexsaint13

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