- Pronouncing its name might be tricky, but getting lost in L’Eixample doesn’t tend to be a problem. This modern area of Barcelona was designed by Catalan civil engineer Cerdà in the mid-19th century, as the old town area was starting to burst at its medieval seams (its name in Catalan means ‘the extension’). Its geometric layout and broad, sunny streets are a pleasant contrast to the shady, labyrinthine feel of the older parts of the city.
If you imagine Passeig de Gràcia as the spine of a book, and the two halves of L’Eixample as bookends on either side, L’Eixample Esquerra would be the bookend to the left. Built slightly later than its right-handed neighbour, the district is bordered by the Passeig de Gràcia to the right, Diagonal Avenue to the top and the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes to the south. Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona’s busiest and most central square, sits in the bottom right-hand corner – handy for all modes of transport, including the airport bus. To the left you’ve got another major square, the Plaça de Espanya, which opens into the grand entrance of Montjuïc and its magic fountain.
Know your neighbours
L’Eixample Esquerra is home to a real mix of people. Many middle-class Catalan locals live here, reflected in the wealth of supermarkets, cinemas, newsagents and chemists. The affluent lower-mid side of the area is also home to an established gay population, which is what has earned it the nickname of ‘Gaixample’. A lot of flat-sharing students live in the left Eixample too, and tend to socialise in the streets surrounding Plaça de la Universitat. The area’s nightlife is spread quite evenly throughout its streets, though, and the atmosphere never gets raucous at night.
If you’ve got your heart set on shopping till you drop in Barcelona, L’Eixample Esquerra is not going to blow you away. What you’ll tend to find are furniture shops, bed linen stores and the odd pet shop lining its streets. There are some localised exceptions, though. Try Carrer de Pelai, or the nearby ‘Triangle’ shopping centre on the corner of Plaça Catalunya. Here you’ll find a trove of all things techy – the large FNAC media store, which has several floors selling music, books, computers and gadgets.
Just one block away from the Passeig de Gràcia is the Rambla de Catalunya, the second rambla of Barcelona. It’s a very different affair from the Ramblas we all know and love, however. This street also has a pedestrianised zone running down its middle, but is sedate and upmarket, with exclusive designer shops flanking either side. A very fashionable place to shop as well as stop for a cup of coffee. You can also take advantage of being close to Las Arenas, which has only recently opened its doors as a shopping centre following a hundred years of history as a bullring. It houses a large range of shops as well as a 12-screen cinema complex, but the highlight has to be the 360° panoramic view from its roof.
For food shopping, you might like to delve into the bustle of the Mercat del Ninot (Ninot Market), which is little-known to tourists but very familiar to locals. A typical Barcelona covered market, it has stalls selling fresh fish, seafood, meat, fruit and veg – good if the fridge is bare and your bargaining skills need to be dusted off. Elsewhere, there’s the Colmado Quilez. It’s packed from floor to ceiling with gourmet goodies – think cava, saffron, caviar and other specialities.
L’Eixample Esquerra is a very central district, with lots of metro stations on different lines dotted around. The red line 1 cuts a swathe along the bottom of the zone, mirrored by the blue line 5 a few blocks north. This line will take you directly to the Sagrada Família, just a couple of stops away, or straight to Sants Station in the other direction (a major terminal for trains to and from Barcelona).
The area’s pattern of long, straight streets can start to feel a bit homogenous, although on the upside it does mean it’s fairly difficult to lose your bearings. The grid layout of the streets makes driving quite straightforward, and there are a few underground parking sites (with a charge) as well. Hailing a cab is never a problem, either, given the area’s central location. Meanwhile, there’s an endless stream of buses criss-crossing the district’s wide streets, with routes going in every possible direction.
- Visiting the Modernista mansions on Passeig de Gràcia will probably be top of your hit list, but the area holds a few other notable sights as well. The Rambla de Catalunya is a lovely, chic street that’s as good for window shopping as it is for people watching over some refreshments. Down on the Gran Via you’ll find the beautiful buildings of Barcelona’s main university, whose cloisters and gardens are open to the public. There are also several cinemas and theatres in this area. For a break from the city, you could take a stroll to the Parc Joan Miró. Alternating between sandy ground and grassy areas, this space is a magnet for the dog walkers of the city, and you’re bound to see locals out with every breed imaginable. This is also the location of one of Miró’s most impressive sculptures – the ‘Dona i Ocell’ (‘Woman and Bird’).
Two of L’Eixample Esquerra’s most famous sights are located on the Passeig de Gràcia (handily right next to each other) - the otherworldly Casa Batlló and its townhouse neighbour Casa Àmatller. Casa Batlló is one of two houses designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí on the Passeig de Gràcia (the other is La Pedrera). A paradigm of Modernista design, its reptilian façade is particularly memorable glimmering in the sunlight, and its ornate chimney stacks are among the most photographed sights in Barcelona. Next door is Casa Àmatller, designed by architect Puig I Cadalfach, and built for chocolate baron Antoni Àmatller.
Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Fundació Antoni Tapies, set up by the Catalan artist in the mid-1980s as a space to showcase contemporary art. It’s now a cultural centre and museum paying homage to the artist himself. You can’t miss it – look out for the controversial construction on the roof known as ‘Cloud and Chair’, a mishmash of metal wires representing the cloud outline. It’s considered to be the first Modernista building in Barcelona.
There’s a restaurant to suit every wallet in L’Eixample Esquerra. We’ll start off with the top-of-the range, at the Michelin-starred Cinc Sentits (Five Senses). Its mantra is that great cooking starts with premium-quality ingredients, reflected in its choice of contemporary cuisine inspired by Catalan culinary tradition. Another worthwhile venue if you’re feeling flush is Tragaluz, tucked away in a quaint little passageway off the Passeig de Gràcia. Modern Mediterranean flavours are served within a beautifully designed 20th-century villa.
For a really authentic ‘ye-oldie’ feel, you might like to head to La Bodegueta on the Rambla de Catalunya. You can choose to eat at the tables it has on the pedestrianised street itself, but the atmosphere is even better inside, where you can sample the tapas and enjoy a reasonably priced bottle of wine. To continue the tapas tour, just behind Barcelona University on Carrer d’Aribaus is La Flauta, an enduring favourite in the neighbourhood. Veggies don’t miss out in L’Eixample Esquerra, either. Try Amaltea, which has been around for over two decades. It’s a bright and friendly place that offers a good lunchtime set menu.
Given L’Eixample Esquerra’s proximity to the city’s university, it’s probably not surprising that it has more than its fair share of bars and clubs on offer. Not all of them are aimed at a student audience, though, or at an exclusively gay crowd (streets such as Villarroel, Casanova and Consell de Cent have a lot of places popular with the gay community). An ever-popular bar is Espit Chupitos, which serves over 500 types of shots – some of them are even set alight along the bar. Great for starting your night with a bang. The Dry Martini is another option if you’re into cocktails. It enjoys a bit of cult reputation in Barcelona, thanks to its superb (although not especially cheap) cocktails, laid-back music and attentive staff. Another excellent cocktail bar is Milano, just off Plaça Catalunya. Despite its name, it has a bit of a Cuban vibe going on, as well as a huge choice of cocktails served by knowledge and smartly dressed bartenders.
If you’re not ready for bed after your cocktails, the Mojito nightclub is Latin party central. By day its upstairs studios offer salsa dance classes, while by night the basement club turns into a heaving mix of bodies showing off their salsa, samba, merengue and bachata moves. Another L’Eixample institution is La Fira club, whose centerpiece is a big-top-style dance floor. It actually is a funfair inside, complete with carousels and carnival mirrors. You can even have your fortune read as you’re slugging back a vodka and coke.
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