When planning a trip somewhere, one of the first questions to answer is: Where to stay? The most obvious answer is: "In a hotel". However, in European cities there is another alternative: short term apartment rentals. It takes a little more work to find an apartment since unlike hotels they are not covered in the guide books like The Rough Guide.
I'm a pretty decent cook, so one of the attractions of an apartment is that I can cook meals for myself. Barcelona has amazing markets like the Boqueria Market, where you can buy fresh produce, meats and sea food. There is also the El Corte Ingles supermarket which sells almost anything else that you cannot find in the covered markets.
Barcelona has a vast number of restaurants. But Spain is no longer a cheap destination, especially for a US citizen who is a victim on Bush II's devaluation of the US dollar. Also, I was not always happy with the restaurant food I encountered in Barcelona. So an apartment provides the option of cooking some meals.
Since I wanted to cook, I looked for in an apartment with a decent kitchen: a real stove, instead of just a hot plate.
Another thing that I looked for was an ADSL connection. This was not an early requirement, since I was not sure how widely available ADSL is in Spain. As it turns out, a number of apartments provided ADSL connections.
Language and Services
You get much more for your Euro with an apartment, but what you do not get is help with the local culture and with your visit. Traveling alone, with limited spanish language skills, I really felt this. What saved me was that I had several guide books (TimeOut Barcelona and the Rough Guide to Barcelona). I had also read about the city, its neighborhoods and history. Even so, when I arrived with jet lag after twelve hours of travel from California, I found Barcelona a bit overwhelming during the first few days.
Many of the hotels in Barcelona have a front desk staff or a concierge who will speak some english. This helps if you want to make restaurant reservations or if you run into difficulty. With an apartment you are largely on your own. The people who rent the apartments are, in general, not there to act as local concierges. You can call them if there is a difficulty with the apartment, but if you need to book a restaurant or find a doctor, you're on your own.
There are some apartment rental agencies that will provide a shopping service so that there will be groceries when you arrive. This may make the first few days easier. The apartment I stayed in had coffee and sugar, so at least I could get my caffeine fix the first morning I was there.
One considerations in renting an apartment is whether you plan on doing much cooking. For example, I made all of my own breakfasts and most of my dinners (I frequently ate lettuce salads with feta cheese).
If you are planning on cooking you need to shop for groceries. Barcelona is not a city of neighborhood supermarkets. La Boqueria market is great for produce, bread, wine, meats and sea food. But if you want coffee, dairy (like milk or cream) or paper towels, you have to go somewhere else. Some of the other covered markets do have stalls that sell things like paper towels. I did much of my shopping at the modern gourmet supermarket that is in the basement of El Corte de Ingles, off the Placa de Catalunya. The apartment I rented on the corner of C/de Peu de la Creu and C/ de Joaquin Costa (the Emili Vendrell apartment) was within walking distance of El Corte de Ingles. If I were planning to stay in Barcelona again, I would make sure I could walk to El Corte de Ingles (carrying any significant amount of groceries on the Metro would be awkward).
Compared to cities in the United States, I found that Barcelona felt safer that a US city of similar size. So most neighborhood will be, by US standards, pretty safe. Most of the apartments that are rented to tourists are also in the better neighborhoods in any case.
One thing to remember about Barcelona is that the Metro will take you to most of the areas of the city that a tourist would be interested in visiting. You don't have to live in the Gothic Quarter, for example, to spend a lot of time in it. You can just hop on the Metro.
By US standards, the Metro is also very reasonably priced. In 2005 you could buy a T-10 Metro ticket that allowed you to ride the Metro ten times for under 7 Euros. The T-10 can also be used on the suburban train. I used a couple T-10 tickets over the two weeks I was in Barcelona.
I stayed in the upper Ravel (near the Museum of Contemporary Art) and I liked the area. I would not stay in the lower Ravel, which was called Barrio Chino, nor would I stay right off the Ramblas due to the noise and the crowds. The area around C/ dels Carders looked like it might not be the best place to wander around at night (when I was walking back from my Mundial Bar adventure there were six or eight police cars in the street, as if a serious crime had been committed).
For people who like beach culture, Port Vell or Barceloneta might have an attraction. There are some nice apartments in the Barceloneta area, near the Ciutadella Metro. The old part of Barceloneta, with its narrow streets and rundown buildings, is not a place I would choose to say, although I did see one lovely apartment building there.
If I were to stay in Barcelona again, I would consider staying in the Eixample, which is the most elegant area of Barcelona. An apartment off one of Passig de Gracia's side streets might still be within walking distance of El Corte de Ingles. The drawback of the Eixample is that it is also one of the most expensive areas of Barcelona and you will pay more for an apartment.
I also thought that the Gracia suburb was nice. Gracia is only a few minutes away from the old town by Metro. Apartments in Gracia are also cheaper. I'm not sure where you shop for groceries however.
Overall, I had a good experience renting an apartment, so it only seems reasonable to describe the apartment I rented. I certainly would expect that you would have a similar experience, but there is no guarantee. So remember, you rent at your own risk. Do not depend on anything that I've written on this web page (if this sounds strange to readers outside the United States, please remember that the US is the land of stupid law suits).
The apartment I rented is off of the tiny Emili Vendrell square, which is on the corner of C/de Peu de la Creu and C/ de Joaquin Costa in the upper Ravel not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art. The address means that the apartment building is #1 Emili Vendrell, on floor 3, apartment 1.
The pictures above show the apartment building (behind the tiny Emili Vendrell square) from outside, plus two view of the studio apartment and the kitchen.
The first floor of the apartment building has a restaurant and a small bar. This floor is numbered 0, so the apartment is actually on the fourth floor. There is an elevator, which is an important consideration after a day of walking around Barcelona.
I thought that the Emili Vendrell apartment was an example of the concern that people in Barcelona have with design and architecture. The apartment is nicely furnished mostly with Danish style furniture. The kitchen has a nice four burner range, with a good hood and fan. There is a good sized refrigerator and a cloths washer (in Barcelona people seem to air dry so there is no dryer). The kitchen has most of the pots and pans that one needs. I really liked the wok, which allows one to saute without getting oil on the stove. Many of the items in the kitchen seem to have come from Ikea.
The windows of the apartment are double glazed (there are two sheets of glass) and the apartment is four floors up. Still, there is no shutting out the city noise. On Saturday night in particular Barcelona parties and there will be noise from the street until the early hours of the morning. I suspect that this will be true almost anywhere you stay in Barcelona. I went by a pharmacy and got some ear plugs and I had no problem sleeping.
The building itself was very quiet. I did not hear much noise from my neighbors. The building has a steel structure (you can see the I-beams in the apartment) and may have concrete walls.
When I was there the Emili Vendrell apartment had ADSL, which was one of the reasons that I chose this apartment. I am used to ADSL where the ADSL modem has a "Cat-5" ethernet output that plugs into the ethernet port on the computer.
There was a computer in the apartment, but I brought my own laptop. I also brought ethernet cable and a D-Link firewall/router. As it turns out, the ADSL model had a USB (Universal Serial Bus) output, which plugs into the USB port, not into an ethernet port, so my router could not be used. The ADSL at Emili Vendrell also ran PPP over the ADSL so you actually have to "dial-in", which is something that I've never seen before. The connection speeds were about 200 to 250K bits/second. I had to install a USB driver, which took some tweaking, since I have a four year old laptop.
The apartment had a telephone that could be used for local calls or for people calling in from overseas. I had a cell phone with a Spanish SIM chip so I only used the "land line" to make restaurant reservations.
Last but not least, the person who owns the apartment, Victor, was very nice and very helpful. Victor's english is excellent and he was a pleasure to deal with. When I checked in, his associate Alba was there. Her english is not as good as Victor's, but she is also very nice. Between my limited spanish, a bit of french and her english we were able to cover all of the important issues.
I took good care of Victor's apartment and there was no problem getting my deposit back.
Most of these web sites are run by people who act as agents for apartment owners who wish to rent their apartments. These are web sites I found through my searches for a place to stay for two weeks in April of 2005. I doubt that this is a complete listing. I've listed the web sites in alphabetic order. A listing here is not an endorsement. You should do your own due diligence.
If you are staying more than a few days, payment can be awkward. The people who run the web sites linked to below are simply agents. They will handle the initial deposit and the scheduling. But they frequently don't handle the payment for the balance of the apartment rent.
Some of the apartment owners will want payment in cash. From the United States transfers from regional banks to European banks, in Euros, can be awkward, since these local branch banks are not used to doing these transactions. Carrying large amounts of cash is also awkward. So it is worth considering payment issues early on. For example, the apartment owner may be willing to accept American Express Euro travelers checks.
Most of the apartments will want a deposit. In the case of the apartment I rented, this deposit was in cash and paid back in cash. This means that I had to pay exchange fees both ways (although these fees don't amount to that much in the grand scheme of things).
There are many places in the world that I would like to visit. Sadly, money and time is limited. So I do not think that I will be visiting Barcelona again. I don't plan to continue updating this web page. When I finished this web page, all the links were valid. I'm sure that over time some of these sites will disappear and others will come on-line. Please don't send me email asking me to add your site to this web page. The window of time for this has closed.
Apartments Apart was wonderful when it came to responding to questions. I exchanged some very nice email with them. The only reason that I did not rent from them was that I wanted an apartment with ADSL and they did not have one. But given the nice people and the customer service, they seem like a good choice.
Apartments Ramblas has a wide selection of apartments located in the old city of Barcelona. The famous Ramblas runs down the center of the old city and these apartments are located in the neighborhoods off the Ramblas.
The prices of Apartments Ramblas seem to be slightly lower than the other rental agents. I rented the apartment on Emili Vendrell through Apartments Ramblas.
The organization of the web page is not the best. For example, when I was looking there was no way to search for an apartment of X bedrooms at maximum Y Euros per night.
Barcelona for Rent has an extensive listing of apartments in a variety of locations and a variety of price ranges. They provide a discount for longer rentals (e.g., 120 Euros per day, but 800 Euros per week, for example).
This web site has an extensive list of apartments with a range of prices and locations (from Gracia to the Old City).
Destination BCN has a small listing of very nice apartments. The decor is modern, sometimes too modern for me. The prices are on the higher end. A few of the apartments have ADSL.
Flats By Days has a large selection of apartments. They seem a bit more expensive than Apartments Ramblas. I rented a flat on Emili Vendrell for $95 Euros per night that was listed on this site for $120 Euros per night (for a two week stay). I don't know if Flats By Days provides discounts for longer stays or not.
Friendly Rentals has a great selection of very attractive apartments in desirable locations in Barcelona. Most of these apartments are attractively decorated. Most of the decor tends toward modern. When I was looking, prices for the 1 bedroom apartments I liked ranged from 100 Euros to 120 Euros. A couple of these apartments had ADSL.
The web pages for the apartments is well designed, showing the general location for each apartment, along with several photographs.
When I was looking for an apartment, this side did not have much inventory. Some of the apartments were rather garish for my tastes (e.g., green and lapis blue walls). If you are going to spend a week or more in an apartment, it helps if you like the decor.
The web site is well organized and includes maps showing the locations for the apartments. The web site also includes customer reviews, which is a nice feature. There are discounts for longer stays.
Cristian who is part of Rentals Barcelona sent me email in response to this web page. I've quoted part of his email below (with some minor editing).
We have been working in this business for four years and we have been growing constantly. Our group is the owner of the apartments. The other part of our business is rehabilitating apartment. All the apartments we rent have been remodeled and refurbished within four years.
We would not feel comfortable bringing people to our apartments if they were places in which we could not live. And that gives to all our apartments, even being very different, the same warmness and comfort we would expect if we were traveling.
This site included under 20 apartments when I looked at it. Many of them were more than one bedroom, so I did not look that closely at these apartments.
Vive Barcelona Apartments are attractively decorated. The decor tends toward spanish, with wood shutters and weavings on the wall. The prices are slightly lower than some of the other sites listed here. This is not the place to go for the ultramodern conveniences like ADSL. Some of the apartments are up several flights of stairs (they make this clear up front).
Way2StayBCN has some attractive and reasonably priced apartments. One thing I liked about their service is that they will, for a fee, do some pre-arrival shopping. They also have a cleaning option. This is a nice touch that suggests that they are interested in happy clients.
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