In just a few years, Poble-Sec has rapidly gone from a rarely mentioned neighbourhood off the tourist track, to one of the most up-and-coming places to live in the city. While the gentrification process is well underway, the area is currently home to an intriguing mix of die-hard locals who have been here for generations – along with their traditional bodegas and old-school shops – and a largely expat community that jumped on the bandwagon early. Foodies come from far and wide to eat at the many trendy eateries that have populated the backstreets of Poble-Sec in recent years, and while the Carrer Blai is now on many tourists’ routes, in the low season it still has a laid-back, friendly vibe.
At the opposite end of the city to Poble-Sec, Poblenou is the old industrial heart of the Catalan capital and has been described by some as the “Shoreditch of Barcelona”. The many warehouses and factories that once powered the city are now being converted into trendy apartments, artists’ studios and co-working spaces. While it has less of a neighbourhood feel to it – because for a long time it really wasn’t one – there is a growing sense of community, and those willing to a do a little digging will soon find that there is a thriving network of cool bars, music venues and community spaces.
Ask anyone in Barcelona about El Raval, and it seems to be that the opinion is clear: love it or hate it. Twenty years ago most Barcelona residents, let alone tourists, would not have stepped foot in this part of town. However, sustained efforts by the local council have meant that El Raval has transformed into a multicultural melting pot with one of the most distinctive characters in Barcelona. Often loud, dirty and crowded, it’s also has one of the liveliest and most authentic atmospheres of any neighbourhood in the city and is home to some of the best bars and late-night venues. If there’s a part of town that never sleeps in Barcelona, it’s surely El Raval.
Most people who visit the city will never have heard of Sants: there aren’t really any landmarks there, the architecture isn’t particularly worth the detour and unless you’re catching a train from the Estació de Sants, there’s no reason to really have to go there. On the flip side, this means that the local community has been largely undisturbed by the waves of tourism and gentrification that have swamped many of the other parts of town. There’s nearly something of a small town feel to the place, abounding with independent stores of the kind where your grandmother would like to shop. However, in the last couple of years a younger crowd has moved into Sants, no doubt attracted to its laid-back vibe, and a handful of craft beer stores and trendy bars have popped up, too.
The small corner of the Eixample district known as the neighbourhood of Sant Antoni has a different feel to the rest of the area. While the broad streets of Eixample can sometimes feel a little impersonal, Sant Antoni has much more of a community feel to it, with a number of parks and squares where residents of all ages gather. It’s also the birthplace of Barcelona’s brunch scene and home to some of the best cafés in the city, mostly located down the popular Parlament Street, not to mention the large covered market that is currently enjoying a multi-million Euro refurb. In many ways, it’s a perfect mix of its surrounding neighbourhoods: the architecture has the more up-market feel of the Eixample, while the vibe is closer to what you might find in El Raval or Poble-Sec.