If there’s one thing I’d say to absolutely do in Barcelona it would be to walk. Walk everywhere. There’s no better way to get a feel for the city than walking around its vibrant neighborhoods. One neighborhood not to be missed is the Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gotic.
The Gothic Quarter is the center of Barcelona’s old city, located in between Las Ramblas, Placa de Catalunya and the neighborhood of El Born. It’s where the Romans first built their city here, and you can still see some remains of the Roman Empire. The air of history is everywhere you walk in the Gothic Quarter – in the architecture, in the narrow streets, in the courtyards. You can’t help but feel you’ve been transported in time, even with the throngs of tourists surrounding you.
The Gothic Quarter is touristy for a reason – it has that medieval charm of dark streets, secret alley-ways and old world details. I read somewhere before visiting Barcelona to make sure to always look up, and it’s true, and couldn’t be more true in a neighborhood such as the Barri Gotic. There’s always something new to discover around the next corner, and in places where you least expect it you come upon a hidden gem. Musicians take to these little crevices throughout the neighborhood, and suddenly you’ll find yourself coming upon someone strumming his instrument, with hardly a crowd around him, because he’s found that secret spot.
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There are some fabulous eateries in the Gothic Quarter, including restaurants, cafes, bakeries and gelaterias. There are lots of little spots where you can quickly go in and get a sandwich to go…we found one place that had the most incredible focaccia. I wish I took the name but it was right after our overnight flight from New York and I was a bit out of it. I do, however, have the name of an amazing gelateria recommended by Katy with Untold Morsels – Gelaaati di Marco. It is insanely good!
At the center of the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral, not necessarily one of the more highly regarded cathedrals in Europe, but we found it to be beautiful. Our hotel, Hotel Colon, was located right opposite the cathedral on the other side of Cathedral Square, and we had amazing views of the building no matter from what vantage point – whether it was from the outside patio by the entrance or up top on the roof deck, coming back to the cathedral every afternoon or evening was a real highlight for us.
Going inside the Cathedral is worth a visit and doesn’t have to take much time. There are no lines and you can make what you want of it. There is a pretty courtyard adjacent to the interior where kids were feeding swans swimming in a fountain. My girls really loved this part of the tour (not a private tour – just our tour). Upon enetering the cathedral, women must make sure to wear skirts or shorts that fall below the knee, and have shoulders covered. In front of the cathedral is Cathedral Square, always bustling with action and a great spot to let the kids run around.
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The Gothic Quarter is known for its many great courtyards and squares, where the past comes alive in its surrounding buildings and architectural finds. In Placa Nova and Placa del Rei you can see parts of the old Roman wall, with Placa del Rei flanked by the Royal Palace and surrounding buildings, and Placa Nova with the word “Barcino” (the city’s first name) sculptured in the square. Placa Reial might be Barcelona’s most famous square, not for its historical significance like so many others, but simply for its atmosphere. Located right next to Las Ramblas, tapas restaurants and nightclubs surround the square, and it’s a big congregation spot with palm tress all around. To us it looked like something out of Havana, and we loved the look and vibe of this square. But touristy it is!
Other points of interest in the Gothic Quarter are the Santa Maria del Pi, a beautiful gothic church in the Placa del Pi, and Els Quarte Gats, a famous café frequented by artists and where Pablo Picasso had his first exhibition. We did not go, but any guide book on the Gothic Quarter will include this historical café.
There are many things to do in Barcelona, but you can’t go to Barcelona and not walk around the Gothic Quarter – the heart of the old city, home of the cathedral, and streets alive with both locals and tourists – the old world charm so distinctive to Barcelona seeps through everywhere you go.
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