Combined with a wander down La Rambla, a stroll through the medieval alleyways and lovely squares of the Gothic Quarter is the best possible introduction to Barcelona and the starting point for most visitors upon arrival in Barcelona. For a taste of the town's more grandiose architecture, Plaça Sant Jaume is flanked by two government buildings, the Renaissance palace of the Generalitat and neo-classical façade of the Ajuntament. And just around the corner you have the Gothic architecture of the Placa del Rei, the Cathedral, and the magnificent Placa Reial. The Barri Gòtic is busy by day with local business and shops buzzing, and at night it’s slightly quieter than its sister neighbourhood across Via Laietana, the Born, but there are still plenty of lively restaurants, cafés and bars keeping visitors in the area more than happy.
The name doesn’t mean show up in your tracksuit to sit in plastic chairs and fight over cheap chips; rather, it hints at the idea of an informal way of dining – sharing small dishes and tapas that in this case have plenty of substance and are meant to be savoured. Chef Marc Gascons and his team put local and seasonal raw ingredients in the spotlight here, where you’ll find fantastic anchovies from L’Escala to nibble, or gorgeous Palamós prawns served charcoal-grilled as a main. And talking about that grill, Gascons just happens to be an expert at cooking with Basque, Argentine and Japanese grills, so you’ll be wowed with anything on the menu with the word ‘grilled’ in it, and that includes fish, veal, rib eye, and Chateaubriand. If you stop by Informal in autum, don’t pass up any offer of seasonal wild mushrooms.
Bar del Sidecar
Sidecar Factory Club one of Barcelona’s best clubs, and the red room that is the bar above the club has its own identity. It’s not just one of our favourites because it’s in the same square as the Time Out offices, either. It’s been close to our hearts since before we moved in. While the club hosts regular concerts and special events, the bar also welcomes its own share of gigs, exhibitions and DJ sessions with music that spans nearly all genres, including indie, pop, punk reggae, noise, vintage rock, breakbeat, disco-funk, plus special vinyl sessions. And all the while they serve up cold beers and mix up good cocktails at prices that are hard to beat for the location.
What luck that this Gothic cathedral happens to be right in the Gothic Quarter! Don’t dismiss Barcelona’s Cathedral just because it’s not the Sagrada Família or because you think if you’ve seen one European cathedral, you’ve seen them all. The foundations were first laid here in the 11th century, and it took so long to build that you’ll also see a façade from the 15th century, and reconstructed bits from the 2000s – but bear in mind that these made use of the same Montserrat stone as the original. Once you’ve fully explored the cavernous interior, including the carved central choir from the 1930s, don’t miss the crypt and the cloister, where you’ll see, respectively, the remains of the 13-year-old martyr Eulàlia, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, and 13 geese who look happy enough, one for each year of Eulàlia's short life. It’s also worth paying the small fee to take the lift to the roof for lovely views over the Old City.
Petit Palace Boqueria Garden
As you may have deduced from the name of the hotel, here you're staying in a small palace very near the famous Boqueria market on La Rambla, and it boasts not just any garden, but one that's a century old and surrounds an outdoor patio where you can have your breakfast or just relax for a while. Located on a quiet street just off La Rambla, you're close to the metro, the Liceu opera house, Plaça Reial, and loads of bars and restaurants. The rooms are spacious and minimalist, with white as a primary colour, and splashes of bold colours here and there. Whether you're on your own, with your partner, friends or family, the rooms accommodate all sizes of groups, and even some pets. If you've got kids, they'll love the bunk beds in the family-size rooms. Contrasting yet complementing the modern look of the rooms are the stone walls, arches and staircase throughout the hotel. You can also rent bikes from the Petit Palace upon availability.
If you do just one thing…
Wander around El Call. Just a minute or two walking from the Cathedral and you’re in the Jewish Quarter. Much less obvious than the Cathedral, the tucked-away Synagogue is a good place to start; branch out from there, noticing the shops that specialise in Jewish religious objects.