The centre of the old fishing district of Barcelona retains much of its charm, while the beachfront and marina fringes cater to the tourist crowds.
Streets and squares
At the heart of Barceloneta is the large and recently much improved Plaça del poeta Boscà. This true community resource sees a constant low hum of laid-back activity. There's a fresh food market, plenty of space, playgrounds, and of course bars and restaurants around the outside. Ancient fishermen smoking a pipe, young families exercising their toddlers, hip kids practising their skateboard skillz, young lovers and elderly couples in quiet conversation, all life is here. Take a seat at a table outside one of the bars and let the slow pace of a Mediterranean evening seep into your bones.
The streets surrounding the plaça have also been upgraded recently, giving pedestrians priority over vehicles. It's a pleasure to wander, browsing the offers from the wide range of small restaurants until something takes your fancy.
Passeig Juan de Borbó
This long boulevard on the western fringe of the barrio faces the marina and is lined with busy, often overpriced, restaurants. But among the tourist traps are a number of quality, though never cheap, seafood establishments. Best of the best is La Mar Salada (Pg. Joan de Borbó, 58-59), which offers an excellent and authentic Catalan take on fish and seafood dishes. This is the place to try paella – or any of the range of traditional rice dishes of which paella is just the most familiar.
And if all the seafood and wine is getting a bit much for you, you can get a good pint of beer and probably the best nachos in the city, all at reasonable prices, in The Fastnet Irish bar (Pg. Joan de Borbo, 22). Popular with, you've guessed it, the sailors.
Plaça de la Barceloneta
This much smaller plaça offers a more intimate location to enjoy a meal or just a drink and a couple of tapes at the tables outside either Can Ganassa or L'Òstia restaurants. Both are very acceptable, Can Ganassa better value, L'Òstia slightly fancier. Come here for the atmosphere provided by the enclosed small area, the shade trees, and the picturesque Parròquia de Sant Miquel del Port church.
In truth the beach and the barrio are two different worlds. It's a rather good beach though. With plenty of bars and restaurants on the promenade, several excellent chiringuitos (beach bars) on the sand, public toilets (public toilets!), various areas with climbing frames and exercise equipment to entertain the kids and the fitness fanatics, and (finally just this year) beach chairs and umbrellas to rent, there's everything you'll need to make the most of this fantastic place. Keep an eye out for Gemini sailing out from Port Olimpic at the north end of the beach!
This is the fishing barrio, and the seafood is great!
Calle de la Maquinista, 3.
Busy, intense, informal, excellent tapes. Home of the bomba (so they say – it's a bit of a hotly contested topic) - a ball of mashed potato with a meat filling and a spicy sauce. Come here in a group and order up a bunch of plates to share. Cheap bottles of cold, tart turbio wine still cloudy with yeast are perfect to wash down the heaps of fried and grilled food. Drink it direct from the porro, every meal becomes a party!
Carrer del Baluard, 12.
This place is a legend among locals. Fish straight off the boat. There's nothing fancy here, tiny tables squeezed into a couple of small rooms, the menu hand-written on the wall with today's catch, the food simply, perfectly prepared and fresh, fresh fresh! You'll find yourself shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and everyone in a good mood. A fisherman's restaurant with fisherman's prices, the only problem is how to get a table! No reservations, so turn up early, go straight in, give your name to the person behind the counter, then go back outside and wait in the street to be called. The earlier you arrive the better. Open for breakfast or lunch but you should go in the evening when it's open for just 3 hours 8-11pm, except Saturday, and Sunday, and August. All of it. When you're this good, you open when you want.
Almirall Aixada, 7.
For a more refined, very Catalan, and remarkably good value dining experience, Can Ros is the place. This rather unknown offshoot of its much more famous big brother La Mar Salada is found on an obscure corner but is well worth the hunt. The fixed price lunch menu is unbeatable quality at just 14 Euros. You'll pay a bit more for evening dining but you can't argue with the quality here. A real secret gem of the barrio.
Forn de Pa Baluard
Carrer del Baluard, 38.
People come from all across the city to buy their bread and pastries in this excellent bakery. It must be said, the general quality of bread and patisserie across the city is pretty poor. But not here. The pastries are to die for but for me, this is where I get my fix of good old fashioned crusty bread. It's heaven!
Barceloneta was and remains a working class district, with narrow streets and lively street life. The fishing heritage has left us with a range of excellent, and often excellent value, restaurants. But you won't find much in the way of architectural splendour or artistic extravagance here. Come for the food, stay for the vibe.
Except, that is, for the excellent Museum of the History of Catalunya (Moll de la Barceloneta). Catalunya is not Spain, and this museum provides an excellent and accessible explanation of the origins of the region. Going all the way back to the Stone Age, through the Civil War and into the current era, the displays are interesting and engaging. Well worth a couple of hours at the start of your visit to get a bit of perspective on this historically rich region. The building itself is very attractive – and cool! - and at the end of your visit you can enjoy a drink on the rooftop terrace with excellent views across the port.