Brimming with high-end fashion boutiques, endless dining options, craft beer bars and an abundance of Modernist architecture, Eixample Esquerra (the left side of Eixample) is the perfect neighbourhood for those who want to live the highlife in Barcelona.
Words and photos by your good living guide, Ben Holbrook.
— Chic and central Barcelona neighbourhood
— Suitable for all budgets
— Walking distance from the city centre
— A great area to stay for families, couples and groups of friends
— Near the Fira Barcelona – great for business travellers
— Known for its abundance of Modernist architecture
— Nicknamed “Gaixample” due its LGBTQ scene
— Nicknamed “Beerxample” due its craft beer scene
— Elegant dining options (lots of Michelin starred places)
— Quality accommodation: spacious apartments and boutique hotels
History of Barcelona’s Eixample Neighbourhood
In the 1850s the government decided it was time to tear down the ramparts that encircled Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (old town) and extend the city. Eixample literally translates to “extension” and the Catalan engineer Ildefons Cerdà’s revolutionary plans are considered to be among the first examples of modern urban planning.
Everything about its bright and airy boulevards look and feel different from the dark labyrinthine streets of the old town. But although Cerdà had socialist ideals and wanted the “extension” to benefit all of Barcelona’s residents, it was the rich and powerful who moved in first.
They hired famous architects such as Antoni Gaudi and Lluís Domènech i Montaner to build them elaborate homes to show off their wealth, leading to the Modernista movement and the neighbourhood’s nickname, the ”Quadrat d’Or” (Golden Square).
Eixample Today ~ The Two Sides
Eixample takes up a huge central expanse of Barcelona and is divided in two by the long vertical artery of Carrer Balmes. Everything left of this is Eixample Esquerra (Eixample Left), and everything to the right is known as Eixample Dreta (Eixample Right), which is the more modern but less glamorous part.
Note: Eixample Esquerra is also divided into two parts by a street called Carrer Comte d’Urgell: Antiga Eixample Esquerra (Old Eixample Left) and Nova Eixample Esquerra (New Eixample Left), but I really don’t think it’s of any relevance.
Today Eixample Esquerra continues to be a regal and overtly wealthy part of Barcelona, representing the link between the city’s past and present.
Gaixample and Beerxample
Eixample Esquerra has also been nicknamed “Gaixample”, due to its concentration of world-class LGBTQ bars and clubs. The area’s recent influx of speciality craft beer bars and microbreweries has also earned it the nickname “Beerxample”, and you can literally walk from bar to bar, sipping on local brews as you go.
Things to Do in Eixample Esquerra
Explore the Modernist Architecture
Eixample Esquerra is hugely important to Barcelona because it was here that Barcelona’s bourgeoisie gave oodles of money to starchitects – names such as Puig and Cadafalch, Domènech i Muntaner and of course Antoni Gaudí – of the time to build them trophy homes. It was all about showing off and establishing themselves amongst the wealthy classes.
Important: Most people in Barcelona, myself included, think of Eixample’s dividing street as being Passeig de Gracia, which is wrong because it’s actually Carrer Balmes. However, if you’re staying in Eixample Esquerra you will have all (and I mean all) of the big Modernist architecture sites right on your door step, so I’ll list them here even though they are “technically” in Eixample Dreta (Eixample Right).
A few essential buildings you will find in Eixample include:
- La Pedrera ~ Antoni Gaudi’s famous “quarry” apartment building.
- Casa Batlló ~ Gaudi’s colourful, dragon-scaled spectacular.
- Casa Amatller ~ Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s colourful house designed for a wealthy chocolate making family (be sure ot pop in to taste some).
- Casa Lleó i Morera ~ Designed by “the other Gaudi”, Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Check out my dedicated guide to discovering Barcelona’s world-famous Modernist architecture.
Picnic in the Tropical Parc de Joan Miró
This park is close to where I live and I spend quite a bit of time here in the summer, reading amongst the palms and listening to the clatter of the bright green parakeets that swarm overhead. It’s a proper park, a space that the locals really make the most of.
I’ve seen everything from yoga classes and capoeira performers to basketball, table tennis and BMX pros. But mostly I just sit on one of the benches and enjoy the fragrances that come from the gardens, sipping a cold beer.
Don’t miss the evocative Dona i Ocell (Women and Bird) sculpture, which was designed by the genre-defining Catalan artist Joan Miró.
Soak Up the 360-Degree Views from the Roof of a Bullfighting Ring
I’m against animal cruelty and am proud to say that Catalonia was the first region in Spain to ban bullfighting. And what they’ve done with their old bullrings is simply spectacular – Las Arenas is a huge circular structure that now houses six floors of big brand shops, cafes, and restaurants. But the best bit, without doubt, is the rooftop.
Walk around its 360-degree terrace and you’ll some of the best views in Barcelona. See more in my dedicated post here.
Interesting fact: As part of the transformation from bullring to shopping mall, engineers raised the entire building to create more space inside (and I think for the underground basement). As you enter the building from the ground floor, take note of the angular red stilts that elevate the building. I have no idea how they did it.
Be in the Moment on a Cafe Terrace on Enric Granados
One of my absolute favourite streets in Barcelona is Enric Granados, a leafy pedestrianised boulevard lined with trendy brunch spots, cafes, bars and restaurants. To me, sitting out in the sun with a vermouth or a glass of wine is one of Barcelona’s greatest pleasures.
Check out Brunch & Cake for brunch or swing round the corner for world-class Spanish craft beer at the mighty NaparBCN.
Gulp Your Way Through “Beerxample”
It’s highly possible that the reason I spend so much time in Eixample Esquerra is because it’s the epicentre of Barcelona’s (if not Spain’s) craft beer scene. Many of my favourite bars are sidled up next to each other, or at least within stumbling distance of one another, so you can taste your way through quite a few of them in one boozy bar crawl.
Essential stop off points include Garage Beer and NaparBCN, but if you’re a bit of a hop head then I strongly recommend checking out my dedicated guide to the best craft beer bars in Barcelona for more great sipping spots.
Expand Your Mind at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies (Modern Art Gallery)
The building is an attraction in itself. Originally built for an important publishing house, it is widely considered to be the example of Modernist architecture in Barcelona. Don’t miss the bizarre metal wire statue, called “Cloud and Chair”, that looms over the roof, threatening like a stormy cloud.
Top tip: If you are going to explore Barcelona’s many world-renowned art galleries then I suggest investing in an Art Ticket. It offers discounted skip-the-line access to six of Barcelona’s best museums – Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Fundació Joan Miró, Museu Picasso, MACBA, CCCB, Fundació Antoni Tàpies.
Where to Eat & Drink in Eixample Esquerra
There are tons of great foodie spots in Eixample Esquerra. The vibe tends to be chic and trendy as most of the residents are relatively wealthy. There’s also a large international student population, which again adds to the hip factor. And there are lots of traditional restaurants and tapas bars that cater to power-lunching business types.
Actually, now that I think of it, most of my favourite restaurants and bars are in Eixample Esquerra. Here are a few excellent places to start.
Monvinic (Google Maps) ~ A stylish temple of enology. More than just a wine bar.
Disfrutar (Google Maps) ~ Creative Michelin star Catalan cuisine. (See my review here)
Brunch & Cake (Google Maps) ~ Trendy corner cafe brunch spot. Always filled with beautiful people. (See my review here)
OMA Bistro (Google Maps) ~ Cool cafe, reminds me of Shoreditch in London. Very popular for brunch, but I prefer it at night. (See my review here)
La Flauta (Google Maps) ~ Large Spanish restaurant famed for its tapas and “flute” sandwiches. Attracts a more mature and refined crowd. (See my review here)
Dry Martini (Google Maps) ~ Refined and classic cocktail bar. Tell your bartender what you like and they’ll make something especially for you.
Lateral (Google Maps) ~ The place I take visitors when they come to see me in Barcelona. Quality tapas, excellent service and a stylish but not stuffy ambience. Outstanding value for money. (See my review here)
Eixample Esquerra Photo Gallery
Where to Stay in Eixample Esquerra
To get a feel for what it’s like to actually live in the vibrant neighbourhood of Eixample Esquerra, I recommend booking out your own apartment.
Whether you’re a travelling as a family, couple or group of friends, you will find the perfect apartment in the Rocafort apartment complex.
Penthouses with rooftop terraces, huge multi-bed apartments and everything in between – there’s plenty to choose from and I have visited myself so I can personally recommend them.
Great value for money too – you can get an entire apartment from €20 per person per night!
Enter the code “Driftwood” when you book and you’ll get a free bottle of local wine.