Encircled by the neoclassical Plaça Sant Josep, the Boqueria doesn’t boast the imposing iron superstructure of the Born market, or the grandeur of Sant Antoni. But it’s become the most flamboyant and busiest market in the city, bringing together long-term residents and newcomers, vendors of local produce and importers of exotic delicacies, chefs in search of the finest ingredients and tourists in search of a sandwich. The Boqueria is Barcelona’s true centre of gravity.
Mercat de Sant Josep. La Boqueria.
Flower-sellers have been adding a splash of colour to La Rambla for centuries. Celebrated in prose by playwright Josep Maria Sagarra, in song by Miquel Porter and Joan Manuel Serrat, and the inspiration for painters like Ramon Casas, the flower-sellers are an essential part of La Rambla’s heritage. As Serrat sings in ‘Floristes de les Rambles’, ‘flowers for tourists, flowers for lovers, flowers for the rich and the poor...’
Parades de la Rambla de les Flors.
Barcelona has allowed so many of its historic cafés to be destroyed that the survival of Cafè de l’Opera in its current location on La Rambla for almost 100 years is a real cause for celebration. Elegant mirrors engraved with feminine figures reflect the constant flow of customers at the tables – tourists, opera-goers, locals, nighthawks and bohemians.
Cafè de l'Òpera.
For decades, the Antiga Casa Figueras, probably the prettiest modernista shop in the city, was a pasta-makers. In the ’80s it was acquired by the Escribà family, who restored it and turned it into a branch of their patisserie empire: now the cakes on display are as delicate and elaborate as the mosaics on the façade. Morning coffee and a pastry on their terrace in Carrer Petxina makes a great start to the day.
A well-kept secret – unless you happen to have Galician relatives – Barcelona’s Galician Centre was established 70 years ago, in one of the magnificent apartments of the Güell family residence. As well as the library and the majestic hall for members’ activities, the CGB has a bar and restaurant where you can try fantastic Galician cooking at extremely reasonable prices.
Centro Galego de Barcelona. La Rambla, 35. Primer pis.
You could sit at one of Bar Cosmos’s metallic bar fronts for hours, watching the comings and goings of the regulars. It’s as if refugees from the ’70s were drawn to the only café in town that has preserved the look and feel of the decade. And just as you’re imagining Pasolini dropping in for a coffee, the waiter slams down your order of fried fish to bring you back to the present day.
Cosmos. La Rambla, 34.
The contents of the Wax Museum make for a fun visit, but the big attraction is the container. Walking down the Passatge de la Banca towards Elies Rogent’s 19th-century building is like stepping into the perfect stage set for a horror story…
Museu de Cera.
Sheet music for flute, harp, organ – classical or modern: if Casa Beethoven doesn’t have it in stock, they’ll find it for you. Hidden round the corner from the Palau de la Virreina, this is one of the city’s musical treasures, a fixture since 1880. A little further up the street, at 129, the Musical Emporium has been selling instruments for over a century.
Casa Beethoven. La Rambla, 97.
The ground floor of a building designed by Josep Domènech i Estapà as the seat of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts has been put to many uses over the years, but since the ’70s it’s been given over to the performing arts, and is one of the most popular theatres in the city.