Barcelona hugs the Mediterranean coast and faces South-East, stretching along the edge of the sea in a sausage shape. The city sits between the rivers Besòs and Llobregat and her back is protected by the Serra de Collserola ridge. The heart of Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter. This is the oldest part of the city and where the ´true´ sense of Barcelona can be found. Every town in Spain has a Rambla or Ramblas – these are central boulevards, almost always pedestrian-only strips. The Ramblas in Barcelona is the collective name for a series of connected boulevards, heading southeastward to the sea, and it is here that the Gothic Quarter begins, ending at the Via Laietana (Laietana Street). The Quarter is a dense maze of narrow streets characterized by magnificent medieval buildings that seem to spring out of nowhere.
Barcelona is loosely divided into recognizable areas, but urban sprawl means that finding the outer edge of the city is almost impossible as it blends into outer-lying towns. Within the city itself, there are ten districts, and each district is divided into neighborhoods (see our section on Where to Live for more information).
The districts and neighborhoods are well connected to each other by Metro, and each has its own characteristics. The central districts are a combination of residential apartments, office buildings and, of course, shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and nightclubs. The outer-lying areas (a few kilometers from the city center) are much more residential and it is here that you will find the larger supermarkets and other amenities of suburban life.
For newcomers (especially tourists) coming to Barcelona, the center of the city remains the most interesting, especially around the Ramblas. The famous boulevard that is the main body of the Ramblas is separated from L’Eixample (a district that is divided into “Right” and “Left”) by Placa Catalunya. Follow it down to the port and the Portal de la Pau Square, where the monument to Christopher Columbus stands in celebration of the day he announced his discovery of America to the people of Barcelona. The Ramblas are one of the best areas of the city (to walk about but not to live) with sweeping, tree-lined center strips that hold market stalls, flower vendors and kiosks to eat and drink from. There are areas off of and adjacent to the Ramblas, though, that are worth living in.
The equally famous Avenida Diagonal, which as the name suggests runs diagonally through Barcelona from North-East to South-West is also a great introduction to the city. Barcelona´s modern architecture can be found here, but if the older sites are more to your taste, turn North-West off the Diagonal onto Carrer de Padilla and visit Antoni Gaudí´s Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Sagrada Família). This (still incomplete) Temple is Gaudí´s signature work and is Barcelona´s most well-known icon. If you can only see one thing in Barna when you first arrive, make it this.