In collaboration with Rough Guides

Things to do and see in La Rambla, Barcelona

To call La Rambla a street is to do it woeful injustice. Perhaps Europe’s most famous boulevard – energetic, artistic, democratic and a touch decadent – it is an intoxicating parade of humanity. Yes, it’s the most touristy thing you’ll do while you’re enjoying your Barcelona holidays – but you can’t get much more iconic an experience than a ramble down La Rambla.

The broad, tree-shaded promenade stretches nearly 1.5km (1 mile) down a gentle incline from the city’s hub, Plaça de Catalunya to the waterfront. To the north of La Rambla (left as you walk down it) is the Gothic Quarter; to the south, or right, is El Raval. It’s 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.

In collaboration
with Rough Guides

Ramblas de les Flors

People flock here on 23 April, the feast day of Sant Jordi (St George), patron saint of Catalonia. A woman traditionally gives her man a book, and a man gives a woman a rose – both of which are available in abundance along La Rambla. Keep an eye peeled on the right side of the road for the delectable modernista pastry and chocolate shop, Escribà (Antiga Casa Figueres), its fanciful swirls on the outside a match for the delicacies within. This is an ideal spot for a coffee. 

Palau de la Virreina

Facing the Rambla is the elegant Palau de la Virreina at La Rambla 99, 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; it also houses a branch of the city’s Department of Culture where you can find out what cultural events are on in the city, and buy tickets for performances and exhibitions. 

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La Boqueria

This is one of La Rambla’s great attractions: the Mercat de Sant Josep, usually called La Boqueria. This ornate, 19th-century covered market is a cornucopia of delights for the senses: fresh fish, meats, sausages, fruits and vegetables, all kinds of spices, neatly braided ropes of garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers, preserves and sweetmeats, enough to make your mouth water and a gourmand swoon. Restaurants in and near the market make the most of all the food lust created by the market. The best time to visit is when practised shoppers and restaurateurs go – early in the morning. 

Pla de la Boqueria

The heart of the 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 Europe’s great opera houses, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, inaugurated in 1861. Montserrat Caballé and Josep Carreras made their reputations singing at this theatre, a monument of the Catalan Renaissance and favourite haunt of the Catalan elite. The opera house was gutted by a fire in 1994, then stunningly restored and extended, and eventually reopened in 1999. 

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Rambla dels Caputxins

Directly across the Rambla is the Cafè de l’Òpera, a handsome, modernista-style café that’s always busy and retains a local feel although it is also popular with visitors. It’s a good spot for refreshment before you push on down the Rambla dels Caputxins. The Rambla’s character, like the incline, goes downhill after the Liceu, but the street-entertainment factor rises in inverse proportion. Wade your way through jugglers, human statues, fire-eaters, tarot-card readers, lottery-ticket sellers, hair-braiders and street artists rapidly knockingout portraits, caricatures and chalk masterpieces on the pavement. It’s busy and unashamedly touristy, but why not – just soak it all up and enjoy the show.

Palau Güell

On the right side of the street is the Hotel Oriente, which preserves a 17th-century Franciscan convent and cloister inside. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favourite Barcelona lodging. Just beyond, on Carrer Nou dela Rambla is Palau Güell, the mansion that Gaudí built in 1885 for his principal patron, textile tycoon Count Eusebi Güell. 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 capriciously placed battlements, balustrades and strangely shaped chimneys.

Plaça Reial

This handsome, spacious square is graced with a fountain, palm trees, and wrought-iron lamp-posts designed by the young Gaudí. Plaça Reial is a very popular place for people to meet, and with bars, cafés and restaurants offering lots of pavement seating, it’s buzzing with action night and day. During festivals and celebrations like New Year’s Eve, this is one of the most packed places in town. 

Leading down to the harbour is the short Rambla de Santa Mònica, beginning at the Plaça del Teatre, site of the Teatre Principal. The warren of alleys to the right, once known as the Barri Xino, while cleaned up a bit, is still pretty seedy and not the best place for a midnight stroll – you would definitely want to keep your wits about you – but some of the old bars are becoming fashionable again, while the atmospheric Pastís bar has not changed in decades.

Carrer dels Escudellers, a busy pedestrian street on the other side of the Rambla, is the gateway to a district of clubs, bars, restaurants and trendy boutiques, and the delights of the Gothic Quarter. At its far end, triangular Plaça George Orwell has become a trendy place to congregate, with its quirky public art as a backdrop.

Centre d’Art Santa Mònica

Back on La Rambla, Centre d’Art Santa Mònica is a free avant-garde contemporary arts centre in a 17th-century convent. La Rambla ends at the broad, open space facing the Mirador de Colom, a statue honouring Christopher Columbus, where an elevator ascends to the top (daily 8.30am–8.30pm) for good views of the port. Just beyond lies Barcelona’s revitalised waterfront. 

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