Gothic Quarter (El Barri Gòtic in Catalan) is located in the very center of Old City, stretching from the famous Las Ramblas to Via Laietana. It is probably the most popular landmark of Barcelona, where frantic tourists head to hardly having had a proper breakfast.
The Gothic Quarter is made up of shadowy narrow streets, fusion of buildings from different historic periods, a vast of bars and shops of any kind and street musicians, popping up here and there to spice up your movielike investigation of the city.
As you roam the labyrinth of pedestrian streets leading to pretty squares or low-ceiling bars (unexpectedly!), you might get the feeling of being carried several centuries back. However, the reality is very different from what it feels like. Gothic quarter is not as old and antique as it might seem. Originally Barcelona was not so ornate and sexy. In fact the majority of so-called Gothic buildings were built here in the 20th century.
I hope you don’t feel deceived now. It is good to know but it shouldn’t hinder you from enjoying the city exploration, furthermore the mysterious scent and antique atmosphere of the Gothic quarter always stays.
If you have already elbowed through crowds of tourists at Las Ramblas you might want to choose an alternative path to explore the district.
Start your adventure from the broad pedestrian street with a beautiful name Portal de l’Angel. I don’t promise you the empty passage, but the street seems to be less crowded due to its width. This symbolic and lively avenue leads you directly to the heart of Gothic quarter: Cathedral of Barcelona.
While heading towards it, you might enjoy beautiful facades of the buildings, take a look at a giant thermometer on your left while on the opposite side you will definitely recognize a huge Corte Ingles, with such international shopping brands as Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Benetton. In fact Portal de l’Angel is one of the popular shopping streets in Barcelona. Some of the shops here are opened even on Sunday (which is not very typical for Barcelona).
While approaching to the Cathedral you will notice a beautiful terrace floating above the city. This charming patio belongs to el Cercle restaurant. If you feel curious you can read about it here and decide, whether you want to drop by for a drink or a whole lunch. While taking the decision with the corner of your eye you will already see graceful spires of Catalan Gothic architecture.
The official name of the Gothic Cathedral is Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.It was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. However the façade of the Cathedral is quite modern and dates back to 19-20th century and represents Neo-Gothic architectural style.
Nevertheless, inside, since it never burnt down, you will find a great number of gothic paintings. One of the highlights of the cathedral is the crypt below the Capella Major, where sarcophagus of Santa Eulalia (martyr, the patron saint of Barcelona) can be found. Be sure to look at the beautiful Cloister which was built in the 14-15th centuries, with small chapels and magnificent garden with an orange tree, magnolias and a charming fountain in the middle.
I dare to remind, that in order to enter the church you should be dressed appropriately, otherwise you will have to admire the Cathedral only outside, at the Pla de la Seu. This is a broad square, with dozens of tourist making a selfie with the beautiful background of the Cathedral.
The square hosts a Sunday market, where you can buy cheese from local farmers, enjoy a glass of Catalan wine (and buy a bottle, of course) and fetch oodles of cheesy things. If you are lucky, you can also watch people dancing a national Catalan dance: the sardenya (nothing super thrilling) to a live band.
As you continue exploring the district, by pass the Cathedral from the right, and walk along La calle del Bisbe. Look up and you will see a beautiful bridge, connecting two buildings. Looks very Medieval, but no! It is a false impression again. This neo-Gothic bridge was in fact constructed in 1928.
There is a skull located on the bottom of the bridge, and the legend says that anyone who crosses the bridge and see it will fall prey to an evil spell. Even if you are not superstitious, don’t cross it and turn right instead.
The street is tiny and very curvy but it will lead you to one of the most charming squares of Barcelona – Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, the oasis of tranquility in the buzzing city. It is often used in cinematography representing old Paris. On your right you will see the small church of Sant Felip Neri.
And taking a closer look, you will notice the irregular marks on the wall. Those holes are a numb reminder of the square’s tragic history. These are fragments of fascist bombs from the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939).
These marks have never been restored, to always remind of the sufferings the city endured during the war. In the middle of the square there is a pretty fountain, also looking quite ancient, but it is only 50 years old. The street musicians are the frequent visitors of the square, but here they look and sound less commercial and more genuine than on the Pla de la Seu (square in front of the Gothic Cathedral).
As you walk through the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri and go down the Carrer de Sant Domènec del Call, on your left and right you will find many nice hubs to drop by, that is, if you are feeling peckish: tapas bars, vinotecas, great spots to drink coffee and tea, some of them we'll feature in our next article on where to eat in Gothic quarter.
After the pleasant break take the same street and go down until you find yourself on the crossroads with Carrer Ferran. Here you need to turn left in order to have a look at Plaça de Sant Jaume.
When you see this sun-drenched wide square, you can hardly believe that you are still in the Gothic quarter. But it wasn’t always like this. In Medieval times at the site of the square was located a church of Sant Jaume and the square was limited to a small angular space.
In the 19th century, during the period of city expansion and reorganisation, the church was demolished and the square rebuilt as it exists nowadays. The square is administrative heart of whole Catalonia: on the left there is a beautiful palace of Generalitat de Catalunya (the government of Catalonia) while across it, there is a building of Ajuntament de Barcelona (City Council).
After admiring the civil part of the city, you need to go down through Plaça de Sant Miquel and Baixada de Sant Miquel to explore carrer Avinyo, that has it all for trendy small shops, featuring independent label designers.
While passing through Plaça Sant Miquel, you might wonder what has Gothic quarter to do with stainless-steel-tube sculpture in the center of the square. What is it? This 30 meters sculpture is dedicated to castellers (human-tower makers). Catalans are very proud of this national tradition of making towers from people, which represents such concepts as commitment, teamwork and strength.
So, going back to Avinyo street, doesn’t this name ring a bell? Exactly – “The Young Ladies of Avignon by Pablo Picasso! The artist portrays five young prostitutes of the brothel located here, on Avinyo. So you can imagine what the street was famous for in the times of Picasso. Anyway, now it looks quite acceptable.
Apparently, Picasso used to visit the street a lot, not only due to “romantic reasons”, also it happens that this street goes into Plaça de la Veronica where lies the Art School that the artist attended.
This is how we are approaching to a slice of alternative Barcelona. Turn right from Plaça de la Veronica and you will find yourself on the Plaça George Orwell. Among locals it is known as Plaça del Tripi (The Trippy Square). This is because it used to be well-known meeting point for drug dealers, though about five year ago City Council decided to install surveillance cameras to mitigate the issue.
Most probably, they managed, but the square remains a very freaky spot, with weirdos walking around and a bizarre postmodern monument at the center.
And the last spot I’m willing to share with you is Plaça Real. If you go down Carrer dels Escudellers, and turn right at Carrer del Vidre, this is where you will find one of the most popular squares of Barcelona. Most probably, you have heard about it, or even had the opportunity to get drunk at one of these bars at night. I strongly recommend to omit having lunch there, the place is infested with random people, and what comes with them is low quality food and high prices.
But the square itself is really beautiful, for a reason it is called “royal”. Look at the precious fountain of Three Graces, palm trees gifted to Barcelona by Bacardi family (yes, rum comes from there too) and streetlamps designed by young Antoni Gaudi. While enjoying the surrounding of the elegant buildings, please keep an eye on your bag, the beauty can be so betraying. And check our article on how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona.
This is it… Most probably you are tired of reading already, but as you can imagine, The Gothic quarter of Barcelona has much more to see and experience. Every corner, every square has its special charm and conceals its unique story. Wander around the district, get lost in a plethora of streets, drink a glass of wine in one of the local bars and be a part of your own exceptional story.
By the way, if after reading this guide you'd decided to stay in Gothic quarter, check Ramblas Boqueria apartments, one of our full-management buildings located just a few steps from Las Ramblas, to discover Barrio Gotico at your own pace.