Combined with a wander down frenetic, commercial La Rambla, a stroll through the medieval alleyways and secluded squares of the Old City is the best possible introduction to Barcelona and the starting point for most visitors upon arrival in the city. 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.
The Barri Gòtic
Head to the medieval alleyways of the Old Town for a perfect introduction to Barcelona
Restaurants in the Barri Gòtic
Such is the quality of this hotel restaurant, located in a basement area in Plaça Real, that the hotel seems to have been built around the restaurant. They offer inspired auteur cuisine, where the produce wins out over technique, with unusual combinations such as crab cannelloni or sole with Swiss chard.
Barcelona’s oldest restaurant, and one of the oldest in Spain, is still going strong. The Agut-Manubens family, with mother and daughter to the fore, serve good Catalan cooking at very reasonable prices, notably their cannelloni with cod, roast sea bream and escudella i carn d'olla. And I promise you, afterwards you’ll never be hungry again. An ideal place for an enjoyable low-key Sunday meal.
This legendary venue began as a pipe dream: as a space for artists who, by definition, don’t have a penny. Some of the most important figures of the late-19th century visited this bar: like Picasso, Ramon Casas and Rusiñol. In the 1970s it opened as a restaurant serving traditional dishes.
A Brazilian chef and a Belgian businessman have brought fine cuisine back to this part of the street. The Gilda serves Mediterranean-style dishes with Belgian touches. And with interesting results, like salmon with crayfish and Japanese radish ice cream. And of course, they have great mussels served in an exquisite natural sauce.
Just inside the entrance of the Boqueria, on the right-hand side, is this essential market bar. It's run by Juanito, one of the city's best-loved figures. In the early morning the place is popular with ravenous night owls on their way home and, at lunchtime, foodies in the know. Various tapas are available, along with excellent daily specials such as tuna casserole or scrambled eggs with clams.
Bars in the Barri Gòtic
Smack-dab in Plaça Reial, this space is the namesake of José Perez Ocaña, paintor, activist and defender of freedom who was one of the main players of 'la Movida', the great counterculture movement during the Transición following Franco's death in the 1970s. Ocaña is a café/bar/restaurant with prime outdoor seating, and its own cocktail bar, La Apotheke. The décor and ambience have been treated with care, with respect for the original structure of the building and with pieces of furniture from all over the world.
L'Ascensor (The Lift or The Elevator, depending on your side of the pond) features an old-style lift for a door, which one can only suppose that's where it got its name. The cocktails are old-school, from times gone by, maybe even a bit prehistoric, but they're made with the agile hands and supple wrists of the highest order. Mind yourself on the way out, as those Bloody Marys pack more of a punch than you might think.
From the classic to the kitsch. Sor Rita seemingly prides itself on a decor of animal print, Barbie dolls in compromising positions, high-heeled shoes on the ceiling, and a photo shrine to sinners. Tarot and karaoke are among the regular events, but the cocktails are serious and affordable, and the bar staff have come up with some delicious homemade concoctions as well.
What to see & do in the Barri Gòtic
Stretching from the Plaça del Rei to the cathedral are some 4,000sq m (43,000sq ft) of subterranean Roman excavations – streets, villas and storage vats for oil and wine, all discovered by accident in the late 1920s when a whole swath of the Gothic Quarter was dug up to make way for the central avenue of Via Laietana. The excavations continued until 1960; today, you can get to the labyrinth via the Casa Padellàs, a merchant's palace dating from 1498, which was laboriously moved from its original location in C/ Mercaders to allow the construction of Via Laietana.Admission also gives you access to the Capella de Santa Àgata – with its 15th-century altarpiece by Jaume Huguet – and the Saló del Tinell, at least when there's no temporary exhibition. This majestic room started out in 1370 as the seat of the Catalan parliament and was converted in the 18th century into a Baroque church, which was dismantled in 1934. The Rei Martí watchtower is closed to the public. Tickets for the museum are valid for all seven MUHBA sites, including the monastery at Pedralbes and the Museu Verdaguer.
Kleptomaniac and general magpie Frederic Marès (1893-1991) 'collected' everything he laid his hands on, from hairbrushes to opera glasses and gargoyles. Unlike most private 19th-century collectors, Marès didn't come from a wealthy family, but spent every penny he earned as a sculptor and art professor on broadening his hoardings. Even when the Ajuntament gave him a palace in which to display his collection (and house himself), it wasn't enough; the overflow eventually spread to two other Marès museums in Montblanc and Arenys de Mar.The exhibits here are divided into three main sections. The basement, ground floor and first floor are devoted to sculpture dating from the Pre-Roman era to the 20th century, including a vast array of polychromed religious carvings, tombs, capitals and entire church portals, exquisitely carved. On the second floor sits the Sentimental Museum, with objects from everyday life; look out for the Ladies' Room, filled with fans, sewing scissors and perfume flasks, and the Entertainment Room, with mechanical toys, puppets and a room dedicated to smoking paraphernalia. Also on the second floor, comprising the third main collection, is a room devoted to photography, and Marès' study and library. It's now filled with sculptures, many of them his own.
The construction of Barcelona's Gothic cathedral began in 1298. However, thanks to civil wars and plagues, building dragged on at a pace that makes the Sagrada Família project look snappy: although the architects remained faithful to the vertical Nordic lines of the 15th-century plans, the façade and central spire were not finished until 1913. Indeed, the façcade continues to cause problems: although it's one of the newest parts of the building, it's crumbling, and roughly a third of it is being taken down and painstakingly rebuilt with the same Montserrat stone that was used for the original. For the time being, the building is shrouded in scaffolding, plastic and signs asking visitors to 'Sponsor a Stone'.Inside, the cathedral is a cavernous and slightly forbidding place, but many paintings, sculptures and an intricately carved central choir (built in the 1390s) all shine through the gloom. The cathedral is dedicated to the city's patron saint Eulàlia, an outspoken 13-year-old martyred by the Romans in AD 303; her remains lie in the dramatically lit crypt, in an alabaster tomb carved with torture scenes from her martyrdom (being rolled in a nail-filled barrel down what is today the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia, for instance). To one side, there's a lift to the roof; take it for a magnificent view of the Old City.The glorious, light-filled cloister is famous for its 13 fierce geese – one for each year of Eulàlia's life – and half-erased floor engravings, detailing which guild pa
This was the most important synagogue in the Call (Barcelona's Jewish quarter) until the Inquisition began in 1391. It is active today and is the home of the Associació Call de Barcelona. One of the rooms, which is reserved for prayer only, houses some objects of historical interest such as an ancient menorah and centuries-old Torahs, and in another room are remnants from a family who lived in the building untilThe façade complies with all the religious requisites, and the synagogue faces Jerusalem with the two windows at knee height so that light can enter from that direction. y en la otra se conservan las balsas de tintorero que utilizaba la familia que vivía en el edificio hasta que se descubrió su condición de criptojudíos. La fachada del edificio cumple con todos los requisitos religiosos, ya que la sinagoga está orientada hacia Jerusalén y las dos ventanas están a la altura de las rodillas para que la luz del sol entre en esa dirección.
The European Museum of Modern Art, located inside the Palau Gomis, makes figurative art of the 20th and 21st centuries its main priority, something that doesn't usually get a lot of museum space. The Museum's Foundation organises a yearly prize for Figurative Painting and Sculpture.
Like the Ajuntament, the Palau de la Generalitat has a Gothic side entrance that opens out on to C/Bisbe with a beautiful relief depicting St George (Sant Jordi), patron saint of Catalonia, made by Pere Johan in 1418. Inside the building, the finest features are the first-floor Pati de Tarongers (Orange Tree Patio), which was to become the model for many patios in Barcelona, and the magnificent chapel of Sant Jordi of 1432-34, the masterpiece of Catalan architect Marc Safont. The Generalitat is traditionally open to the public on Sant Jordi (St George's Day, 23 April), when its patios are spectacularly decorated with red roses, but queues are long. It normally also opens on 11 September (Catalan National Day) and 24 September (La Mercè). The guided tours are generally in Spanish or Catalan, so it's best to call ahead for an English-speaking guide.
Shopping in the Barri Gòtic
Jesus Christ! And don’t take that as blasphemy: it’s the exclamation you might come out with when you visit this shop in Barcelona’s old quarter. They sell all kinds of sweets made by monks and nuns in monasteries and convents around the country. It also functions as a small cafe, with a good selection of teas to the fore. A divine temptation.
There are some pieces of home dressings that can stand the test of time, and are full of history. These are the stars of the show at L’Arca de l’Avia, a shop in the Barri Gótic where you can uncover treasures like trousseaus, sheets, table linens and other antique textiles from the 18th to the 20th centuries – all under one roof.
Duke is a multi-brand shop where you’ll find both formal looks and sport attire, and it's the shop to beat for fans of street wear. Duke features classic brands like Fred Perry, chic French names Sessùn and Petits Hauts, Danish designer Ganni, urban labels like Wrangler and Carhartt, Dolfie boots, and accessories from Beatriz Furest.
Nightlife in the Barri Gòtic
Every night, the cave-like Jamboree hosts jazz, Latin or blues gigs by mainly Spanish groups – on Mondays, in particular, the outrageously popular WTF jazz jam session is crammed with a young local crowd. Upstairs, slicker sister venue Los Tarantos stages flamenco performances, then joins forces with Jamboree to become one fun, cheesy club later on in the evening. You'll need to leave the venue and pay again, but admission serves for both spaces.
The most amazing thing about this place is what an oasis of luxury and modern design is doing in such a rundown zombie-ridden neighbourhood. The result is a little piece of heaven in the midst of the streets filled with menacing shadows and the stench of what people get up to when left to their own devices. Inside it's a delight, thanks to a design that combines wooden ceilings like you're inside a Finnish sauna, colourful tiles and ultramodern decorations, like the orange cushions against the wall and the bar lights. This well-executed fusion of modernity and elegance is adapted to an international clientele with money in their pockets and a passion for the latest. And of course the soundtrack is spun by top DJs such as Fred Guzzo, and there is even the occasional concert in the spacious interior room, where there are jam sessions of flamenco and jazz. A dash of glamour in an otherwise beaten-down area: the return of Café Royale is not just great news – it's practically cause for a national holiday.
Clubbers who are ever-so-slightly beyond their twenties ... or thirties got a bit overexcited when Madrid's famous Marula Café announced it was opening a club in Barcelona, and they have not been disappointed. The house sound is mostly R&B, Sly & the Family Stone, Michael Jackson and their ilk, always with a big sound and always 100% danceable.