The two year anniversary of my time in Barcelona came and went earlier this month with little more than a wayward "hmmm, two years" flitting through my mind. And, just as I'm starting to contemplate a return to Canada, I at last feel capable of giving some reasonably reliable travel tips to the strangers and friends who email me or leave comments requesting advice that's more concrete than the usually random ramblings of my blog.
The Travel Tips series of posts is intended as a compilation of my accumulated wisdom on various Barcelona related topics. Rely on it at your own risk, of course.
Where to Stay
While I've never addressed where to stay on this blog, I have developed some thoughts on the subject. These are largely based on my experience as a resident of Barcelona and user of hotel pools at the invitation of generous friends, rather than as a hotel guest. So, please, take my recommendations with a grain of salt and share your own, if you have any.
My first and best piece of advice is that you studiously avoid Las Ramblas, and the Gotico and Raval areas in general, when arranging for accommodations. With few exceptions (like, say, the Casa Camper and Barceló Raval), the hotels in these areas are below par and have to contend with more challenges to peace and quiet than the average Barcelona residence. The Raval and the Gotico are also where you're most likely to get your pocket picked and step in vomit all in the same 24 hours. That's not to say that you shouldn't visit, just that you may not want to make them your hub.
If I were a tourist, I would stay in the Eixample. It's central, close to restaurants and shopping and riddled with Gaudi masterpieces. Barceloneta and the Ports are nice if you like to be close to the beach, but are a little disconnected from the rest of the city. The Born is a good in-between area--it's still part of the old town and relatively close to the beach, but avoids some of the worst excesses of the Gotico. Other areas (Montjuic, Diagonal Mar, Forum, Sarria) are not central and typically less convenient; lodgings in these areas are usually more appropriate for business travelers or conference and concert goers.
In terms of hotels, in the Eixample, the sleek Omm, with its flash restaurant, Moo, is very nice and its rooftop terrace has a stunning view of Gaudi's Pedrera. The opulent Casa Fuster is an art nouveau masterpiece perched at the top of Paseo de Gracia with a lounge right out of the movies--actually, right out of Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona". The Hotel Claris is very comfortable and I've heard good things about the Prestige, the Hotel Pulitzer and the Cram, the latter only if you don't mind small rooms. All of the above are for those whose wallets are thick. On the (slightly) more affordable end of things and nestled a little further off Paseo de Gracia is the quiet Hotel 987.
If you must be on the beach, the soaring Hotel Arts is where the stars stay--U2 and Madonna most recently. It has the best hotel pool in all of central Barcelona, no contest. It is, however, painfully expensive. Rates may fall when the much anticipated W opens on the other end of the Barceloneta boardwalk in October. It is known to the locals, who have been watching construction for several years now, as the Hotel Vela, a reference to its sail-like shape. Just so that you can assure yourselves that it's true, I've included a photo of construction's progress.
A couple of more affordable offerings can be found in the Born. I often recommend Chic & Basic Born (pictured at top) and Banys Orientals, both of which are small boutique hotels that usually have rooms for under 100 euros.
For the more budget conscious traveller, I would suggest the Market Hotel, which has pretty rooms starting at 50-60 euros. It is reasonably well connected to the centre, but is not in a comely part of the city. While the area is not unsafe, it may make those unaccustomed to the seedy a little uncomfortable when walking at night.
Another option for those on a budget is to rent an apartment. Loads are on offer in Barcelona and the recession has made it a renter's market. Quality is variable, however, and you have to be careful about illegal rentals (the majority). These are usually the bane of the existence of many local residents and you may not only be in for a very unwelcoming reception, but end up being cited as part of the reason for the housing crisis that many Barcelona residents are facing. If you do want to try this route, make sure you get all the details first. You can start your search by looking at the short term rentals section of www.loquo.com, a Barcelona Craig's List.
By the way, this summer, Barcelonians have been treated to virtually daily articles about how tourism is down and rates in many of the city's hotels are plummeting; some of the most luxe lodgings have slashed up to 70% off their rack rates. It appears that last minute bookings are a particularly good way to get the best deals.
Coming up next: What to See.