Gràcia, Gotico, and El Born may receive all of the attention, but Barcelona has a wealth of other neighborhoods just as distinct as the touristy favorites. Time Out magazine recently declared the Esquerra de l’Eixample (Eixample left) as the 2020 coolest neighborhood in the world. So, what’s the definition of ‘cool’ in the midst of a global pandemic? Neighborliness, kind, helpful, inclusive, with a strong community and plenty of independent businesses. As the best Barcelona neighborhood to live in, L’Eixample checks all those boxes (and then some). So what is this neighborhood? Turns out it’s more than just one.
The District of L’Eixample
After the last of the old city walls were torn down in 1873, an overcrowded Barcelona took a deep breath and flowered outward into Eixample, which means ‘enlargement’ in Catalan. This huge (and hugely trendy) neighborhood is broken into five areas: new left, old left, right, Fort Pienc, la Sagrada, and Sant Antoni. An aerial view of Barcelona reveals its unique “blocks” of buildings constructed around a central open space and streets laid out in a grid format. The city has added additional pedestrian, cycling, and green space on some streets, especially after the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine.|
Old Left (Antigua Esquerra): This barrio encompasses everything from pigeon-filled Plaça Catalunya to la Sagrada Familia. The large, airy flats here tend to have high ceilings, small balconies overlooking the street, wrought iron railings, and architecture typical of the Catalan modernisme movement. The neighborhood has now become a trendy spot for a thriving café and bar scene that caters to locals and tourists alike. It also has numerous book shops and easy access via Metro and bus to the rest of the city.
New Left (Nova Esquerra): The newer section of Eixample retains the block and grid concepts, but with, well, newer buildings. Although it contains its share of hotels and some tourist traffic, the neighborhood is mostly for locals. It doesn’t lack for bustling cafes, restaurants (including 2-Michelin starred Disfrutar), and small city parks.
Right (Dreta): The right side of Eixample is architecturally similar to the left and spans from the far side of c/ Balmes to Passeig Sant Joan. The neighborhood includes touristy Plaça Catalunya, the posh Passeig de Gracia, and Urquinaona (fun to say, fun to visit). If you want to see what draws so many people to live in Eixample Dreta though, check out gardens like the one at Palau Robert, and Mercat de la Concepció, the neighborhood’s traditional food market.
La Sagrada: This is the neighborhood immediately surrounding La Sagrada Familia. Despite the obvious draw of tourists, the area does manage to retain a residential feel and daily amenities like food markets, pharmacies, and bakeries are still available at local prices. Most restaurants cater to the tourists, although there are exceptions.
Fort Pienc: If Barcelona were to have a Chinatown, Fort Pienc would be the closest thing to it. In addition to a plethora of Chinese restaurants and shops, the Fort Pienc barrio boasts the Arc de Triomf landmark. Passeig Sant Joan cuts through the area and is a popular route for bike commuters. Fort Pienc’s l’Estacio del Nord station and the Arc de Triomf train station mean easy access to transportation, as both local and regional trains and buses go through them. The large park next to Estacio del Nord is one of the biggest green spaces in the city and makes for a terrific place to take the dog for a walk.
Sant Antoni: Best known for its enormous, cross-shaped central food market with the steel skeleton frame, Sant Antoni is poised to become the next big attraction for visitors (much to the dismay of some locals). Yet, it is still an area where people live and work. It’s also the neighborhood closest to the historic area of El Raval, which sees heavy tourist traffic and a significant amount of petty crime. Despite this, Sant Antoni remains a popular area to live and work, perhaps because rents here tend to be lower than in other parts of Eixample.
Although Eixample may have captured the number one spot, there are plenty of other neighborhoods that also rise to the challenge of being the best place to live in Barcelona. More to come!
Reference: 40 Coolest Neighbourhoods in the World Right Now, by James Manning. Time Out. October 2020.