The economic downturn, or 'la crisis' as the Spanish would have it, has its flipside. Barcelona's popularity during the last decade and a half has seen it grow rather too big for its boots, with hotel prices reaching excruciating levels. But thanks to the slowdown, hoteliers have had to rethink drastically. Today, the travelling masses want to see quality at a fair price: while there are still plenty of luxury options for those who can afford it, creativity in the mid-range is starting to boom with rooms ranging between €80 and €150 a night. And there are even some bargains at the top end.
At the budget end, many hostales are situated in fabulous old buildings with elaborate doorways and grand staircases, though the rooms aren't always so elegant. There's also been a rise in boutique B&Bs, bright places with en-suite bathrooms, internet access and other modern essentials.
To be sure of a room with natural light or a view, ask for an outside room (habitació/habitación exterior), which will usually face the street. Many of Barcelona's buildings are built around a central patio or airshaft, and the inside rooms (habitació/habitación interior) around them can be quite gloomy, albeit quieter. However, in some cases (especially in the Eixample), these inward-facing rooms look onto large, open-air patios or gardens, which benefit from being quiet and having a view.
Theft can be a problem, especially in lower-end establishments. If you're sleeping cheap, you might want to travel with a padlock to lock your door, or at least lock up your bags. Check to see if youth-hostel rooms have lockers if you're sharing. Use hotel safes where possible.
Accommodation in Catalonia is divided into two official categories: hotels (H) and pensiones (P). To be a hotel (star-rated one to five), a place must have en-suite bathrooms in every room. Ratings are based on physical attributes rather than levels of service; often the only difference between a three- and a four-star hotel is the presence of a meeting room. Pensiones, usually cheaper and often family-run, are star-rated one or two, and are not required to have en-suite bathrooms (though many do). Pensiones are also known as hostales, but, confusingly, are not youth hostels; those are known as albergues.
With the city's growing niche as a conference capital, booking ahead is strongly advised. High season runs year round and finding somewhere to lay your head at short notice can be tough. Hotels generally require you to guarantee your booking with credit-card details or a deposit; it's worth calling a few days before arrival to reconfirm the booking (get it in writing if you can) and check the cancellation policy. Often you will lose at least the first night. Hostales are more laid-back and don't always ask for a deposit. For a double room, expect to pay €50-€75 for a budget pensión, €80-€180 for a mid-range spot and €200 upwards for a top-of-the-range hotel. However, prices vary depending on the time of year; always check for special deals. All bills are subject to seven per cent IVA (value added tax) on top of the basic price; this is not normally included in the advertised rate, but we have factored it into the prices we've given. Breakfast is not included unless stated.
Short-term room and apartment rental is a rapidly expanding market. People who have visited the city several times, or want to spend longer than a few days, are opting for self-catering accommodation. Some firms rent out their own apartments, while others act as intermediaries between apartment owners and visitors, taking a cut of the rents. When renting, it pays to use a little common sense. Check the small print (payment methods, deposits, cancellation fees, etc) and exactly what is included (cleaning, towels and so on) before booking. Note that apartments offered for rental tend to be very small.