When visiting Barcelona, one of the starting points of any exploration must be Barrio Gòtico, the Gothic Quarter. From the tradition of building castles out of humans in Plaça Jaume to the history-steeped backstreets around the Barcelona Cathedral and the laid-back, artsy bars and cafes of its squares, Barrio Gòtico is a place where history is combined with a contemporary, hip vibe.
The Barrio Gòtico is a part of the Ciutat Vella (old town), along with La Ribera, La Raval, and Barceloneta districts of Barcelona. Walking down Las Ramblas from Placa Catalunya to the Columbus monument, the Gothic Quarter, is on your left-hand side.
Sightseeing in the Gothic Quarter
The main sights in the Gothic Quarter are the cathedral and Placa Reial. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as Barcelona Cathedral or La Seu Cathedral, is a beautiful example of gothic architecture with soaring belltowers and detailed stonework. The cathedral was constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. The Cathedral's chapels hold beautiful Gothic altarpieces painted by Guerau Gener, Lluís Borrassà, Gabriel Alemany and Bernat Martorell, among others.
Plaça Reial is a square in the Gothic Quarter next to La Rambla and is a well-known tourist attraction, especially at night. Visitors enjoy the outdoor cafes and summer concerts.
But the real beauty of the Gothic Quarter is its interesting narrow streets and alleyways. There are so many little streets to wander around you may end up never taking the same route twice. It's like a labyrinth.
The area between Plaça Reial and the seafront is one of the Gothic Quarter's best places to wander and is not as filled with tourists as other parts of the Quarter.
Although the imposing Barcelona Cathedral interior is impressive, a jaunt into the quiet alleyways along its walls offers equally pleasurable outdoor treats.
Particularly, Carrer del Bisbe with its neo-Gothic bridge hanging over the street, and Plaça Sant Felip Neri, with its fountain and bullet-holed walls, where you can sit down and enjoy whatever the ever-present buskers happen to be playing.
A walking tour is a great way to discover the stories and legends behind Barcelona's oldest district and make new friends along the way. For the best experience, choose from several recommended guided walking tours in this neighborhood and throughout the city.
A Gothic Quarter walking tour will usually take you through the narrow streets, to August's Temple, the cathedral cloister and the Palatine chapel of Santa Agata (Plaça del Rei). It's perfect for your first day in the city and you won't get lost in the Quarter.
This neo-Gothic cerveseria (beer bar) is a Barrio Gòtico institution. It dates back to the 1890s and, having held one of Picasso's first exhibitions, has always been a popular bar with artists. The building is decorated with colorful tiles, geometric brickwork, and wooden fittings.
It has a Bohemian atmosphere and was chosen by film director, Woody Allen, as one of the scenes for the shooting of his film Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.
The best time to catch the jaw-dropping phenomena of human castle-building—Castellers—is during the La Mercé Festival in late September. Watching bodies scramble to the tops of pyramids of arms and legs near the rooftops of Plaça Jaume's neoclassical palaces is a wonder to behold.
The origins of this Catalan tradition dates back to the 18th century. In the small town of Valls, about 40 kilometers west of Barcelona, the inhabitants started building the towers. Tower building groups started to compete.
Also, throughout the year you can also catch Sardana dancing, every Sunday afternoon.
Plaça del Pi
A stone's throw from the hectic, circus-like Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona's most enchanting squares, enjoyed for its architecture, shops and laidback ambiance.
In the shadow of one of the city's finest Gothic churches, there are market stalls, artists on deck chairs and chilled café terraces.
The square was named for a pine tree that was planted in 1568. When a pine tree dies, the tradition is continued as a new pine will be planted.
There's treasure galore to be found wandering in the Gothic Quarter's backstreets. If retro fashion or local underground labels are your things, head for Carrer Avinyó and the surrounding streets.
For art, bric-a-brac, and curios dive into the antique stores along Carrer de la Palla. For traditional tiles, bowls or jugs, there's a ceramics emporium on Carrer Escudellers.
Before the Inquisition took a stranglehold on Barcelona, Jewish merchants played an important role in city life.
Located between the Cathedral, Plaça Jaume, and Plaça del Pi, El Call is their legacy. The Jewish Quarter is a pretty labyrinth of alleys, whose highlights are the Sinagoga Mayor—a synagogue deserted in the 14th century—and the Centre d'Interpretació del Call, a museum about Jewish life in medieval Barcelona.
El Bosc de les Fades means "fairy wood," and this sangria-serving grotto just off the bottom end of Las Ramblas is decorated just like one. The bar is right next to the wax museum and quite hidden. The wax museum is housed in a stately 19th-century Neoclassical building. The wax figures provide a mixture of culture, history, music, and entertainment.
At the cafe, you'll find fake trees, illusory mirrors, haunting music, and simulated rainstorms that are all part of the experience.
Overlooking the Plaça del Rei, where Columbus supposedly made a glorious re-appearance after returning from the New World, the City History Museum is full of Roman artifacts and centuries-old treasures.
The displays chart the story of the city from early Iberian settlement to its golden age as a medieval port, via conquest by the Visigoths and Moors.
Inside you'll find the Palau Padellàs, a Gothic palace, which was brought stone by stone from the Carrer de Mercaders to Plaça del Rei in 1931. You will also find the largest Roman excavation outside of Rome.
This square is a slice of alternative Barcelona. Also known as Plaça del Tripi (The Trippy Square), it has a bizarre postmodern monument at its center, bars full of wildly dressed locals, and the presence of a multitude of security cameras and police vans keeping an eye on perpetually unruly shenanigans.
Orwell penned Homage to Catalonia and has a history with Barcelona. Plaça George Orwell is never dull and fun to tour and stay for a drink.