Barcelona can be approached by neighborhood or by theme.
You can set out to see the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla, Montjuic Hill, or the waterfront, or you can create a tour around the works of Gaudí and modernism or the latest cutting-edge architecture. It’s very tempting to try to sandwich everything into your stay, but leave time to get sidetracked in a colorful food market or an alley of antiques shops, or peek in a quiet courtyard. Take a breather, sit at a pavement cafe while you linger over a drink, read a newspaper, and watch the people go by.
to call La Rambla a street is to do it woeful injustice. Perhaps one of the Europe´s most famous boulevard. You will no doubt want to sample it several times during your stay, despite the crowds. It is at its best in the morning or in the early evening, while in the wee hours it’s populated by a motley mix of newspaper sellers, street-sweepers and late-night revellers stumbling back to their apartments and hotels. At all times, be streetwise to avoid pickpockets. To the north of La Rambla is the Gothic Quarter; to the south, or right, is El Raval.
The five sections of la Rambla change in character, as they do in name, as you stroll along. The short Rambla de Canaletes at the top, named after the Font de Canaletes, the fountain that is one of the symbols of the city, is where crowds pour in from the Plaza Catalunya or emerge from the metro and railway stations beneath. On football season you will find noisy knots of fans verbally replaying the games of Barca. Here, too, begin the newsstands where you can buy a selection of foreign newspaper and magazines, as well as books. You will also see the first of the ubiquitous human statues, along with break dancers, lookalikes of Barca legends performing football feats, or magicians performing tricks.
Birds & Flowers
Next is Rambla dels Estudis, popularly called Rambla dels Ocells (Rambla of the Birds) because here the boulevard becomes an outdoor aviary where winged creatures of all day, their cage-lined stalls are filed and shut like wardrobes, with the birds rustling about inside. People flock here on April 23, the feast day of Sant Jordi (St George), patron saint of Catalonia. Facing the Rambla is the elegant Palau de la Virreina, a grand palace completed in 1778 for the young widow of the viceroy of colonial Peru. The palace is partially open for cultural events and major exhibitions.
On the right-hand side of the street is one of La Rambla great attractions: the Mercat de Sant Josep, usually called La Boqueria. The market is also a startlingly vibrant community, where shoppers and merchants greet each other by name. It is a cornucopia of delights for the senses: from the fresh fish, meat, fruits to all kind of spices. Restaurants in and near the market are like first-aid stations for those who become faint with hunger.
The heart of La Rambla is nearby, at the Pla de la Boqueria, a busy intersection near the Liceu metro station paved with an unmistakable Joan Miró mosaic. Here stands one of the Europe´s great opera houses, the Great Teatre del Liceu. Directly across the la Rambla is the Café de l´Opera, a handsome, modernist style café that´s always busy and retains a local feel although it is also popular with visitors
On the right side of the street is the Hotel Oriente, which preserves a 17th-century Franciscan convent and cloister inside. Just beyond, on Career Nou de la Rambla is Palau Güell, the mansion that Gaudí built for his principal patron. This extraordinary building is structured around an enormous salon, from which a conical roof covered in mosaic tiles emerges to preside over an unusual landscape of battlements, balustrades and chimneys.
Returning to la Rambla, cross over into the arcaded Plaza Reial. This handsome, spacious square is graced with a fountain, palm trees and wrought-iron lamp-post designed by the young Gaudí. Plaza Reial is a fun and lively place, lined with bars, cafés and restaurants that offer pavement seating, and a buzzing with action night and day.
Leading down to the harbor is the short Rambla de Santa Mónica, site of the Teatre Principal. The warren of alleys to the right, once known as the Barri Xino, is still pretty seedy and not the best place for a midnight stroll. Nearer the port is the Museu de Cera (Wax Museum).
The Rambla ends at the broad, open space facing the Mirador de Colom, a statue honoring Christopher Columbus where an elevator ascends to the top for goods views of the port. Just beyond lies Barcelona´s revitalized waterfront.
Sources | Dave Meler, Barcelona Pocket Guide
Images | Barcelona Tours & Tickets