This short tourist guide makes no claim to provide an organised itinerary around the streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter because we think the neighbourhood contains wonderful corners and passageways that invite you to wander around and discover their charm in no specific order. Instead, what we propose is a selection of places where we believe you can find what you are looking for, whether it be a monument, a curiosity or a quiet place to rest a while.
We will start our walk around the Gothic Quarter at the very heart of Catalan politics, in Plaça Sant Jaume, where the Palau de la Generalitat de Cataluña and the Ajuntament or Town Hall stand proudly one in front of the other. Every Sunday at noon a band plays live sardana music and people come to dance along. Many members of the public turn up to enjoy witnessing this display of typical Catalan culture. On the corner with carrer Ciutat is a tourist information point where you can find all manner of brochures, guides and suggestions for enjoying the city.
Attached to Plaça Sant Jaume you will find Plaça Sant Miquel with one of the latest sculptures to embellish the city. This is a spectacular monument erected in honour the ancient Catalan tradition of Els Castellers. The monument is the work of Antoni Llena and caused an outcry in the city with its price tag of €630,000.
On your way back to Plaça Sant Jaume, wander along Carrer del Bisbe, one of the most emblematic and photographed in town thanks to its amazing Gothic arch where, if you stop and look up carefully, you will see a skull. Legend has it that if you see it you will return to the city one day. In the centre of the street, after crossing under the arch, is the entry to the claustre de la Catedral de Barcelona, the Barcelona Cathedral cloister, home to les 13 oques that live there. The reason for 13 geese is because that was the number of tortures suffered by Santa Eulàlia, the patron saint of the city and the first martyr of Barcelona. The street leads into Plaça de la Seu, with the majestic Catedral de Barcelona in the middle which, along with the Picasso Museum and the Sagrada Familia, is the place our customers most commonly ask about when they visit our store.
However, Barcelona is packed with lesser-known treasures that while not as famous as the ones mentioned above are very interesting nonetheless. For example, one of my favourite spots is just behind the Cathedral. Hidden in carrer Paradís, inside a tourist centre, stands a huge Romanesque column belonging to the Temple d'August.
Another very special place for us and usually off the tourist map is the small plaça de Sant Felip Neri which, despite being scarcely 100 metres from the permanent bustle of plaça de la Seu, is always shrouded in peace and quiet. It has a wonderful central fountain and is surrounded by tall buildings. Among the buildings are a shoe museum and a church whose walls still bear the marks of bullets and grapeshot, mute testimonies to the bombings and executions of the dark period of the Spanish Civil War.
The Gothic Quarter is brimming with charming and beautiful squares such as plaça de Sant Just, where the city’s first fountain is preserved, and plaça del Pi, with a church whose façade boasts a rose window with one of the largest diameters in all of Europe, or plaça Nova, which leads to the stairway of the Cathedral and where two Roman towers and a small section of the ancient Roman rampart are preserved.
Plaça del Rei is a large, calm space with a long staircase people where often sit to relax or snack on a sandwich. The staircase gives onto a historical building that today houses the Barcelona History Museum. If you like history, this is a must-see. Take the glass lift inside down to the very bottom of ancient Barcino, the name the Romans called Barcelona, to check out the distribution of the Roman streets, houses, tombs, wall paintings, documents, tools of the era and more.
Another very interesting square for history buffs is plaça de la Vila de Madrid, where in 1954, when undertaking the refurbishment of one of the buildings, a Roman sepulchral way was discovered, with all kinds of funerary monuments that have been very well-preserved. These days it is fully exposed and is one of the most prominent archaeological reminders of the city.
The last square I would like to mention is plaça Reial, which, although one of the best-known squares amongst tourists visiting Barcelona (along with plaça de Catalunya) is a compulsory visit for its stunning space, beautiful central fountain and lively character any time of day or night, with boundless restaurant terraces surrounding it and the wonderful gas lamps designed by Gaudí and which were the first works the universally acclaimed architect built in the city. After them would come the incomparable Parc Güell, the majestic Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera, and of course, the Sagrada Familia, his most colossal and admired work, which is still under construction.
At carrer Marlet 5 you can visit the oldest synagogue in all of Europe, and at carrer Regomir 7-9 is Pati Llimona, a wonderful courtyard which today boasts a civic centre built literally on top of the Roman wall. Go inside this completely refurbished building and take the lift up through the inside of a Roman tower for a look at a number of perfectly preserved and illuminated sections of the ancient wall and to see one of the main entrance ways into Barcino, the kernel of modern-day Barcelona. Although there are signs of Iberian culture that place the city’s history at around four thousand years ago, the truth is that the real development came during the golden period of the Roman era that made Barcino one of its principal settlements for trade throughout the Mediterranean.
And to finish your walk on a sweet note, I suggest you follow Salvador Dalí’s example and enjoy an afternoon snack of chocolate with cream puffs in one of the most colourful streets of the city, carrer de Petritxol. The famous café is at number 11 and is called La Pallaresa. Carrer de Petritxol is a narrow street that links carrer Portaferrissa with plaça del Pi. The people of Barcelona refer to this street as ‘Painters’ Street’ because many of the city’s artists settled here and also perhaps because it is home to the first renowned art gallery in Europe, Sala Parés (1840), still open to the public today. It is quite difficult to explain the charm of this street packed with small stores, but for us it represents the essence of the Gothic Quarter at its very best. I hope you can enjoy walking along it very soon!
Coming out of carrer Portaferrissa you will arrive at La Rambla, and if you keep on heading towards plaça de Catalunya you will reach the famous Font de Canaletes fountain, where tradition has it that if you drink the water fate will bring you back to the city. So make sure you at least take a sip.
If you’re still up for walking, cross plaça de Catalunya to Passeig de Gràcia, the most famous street in town. Here you will find nearly all the international brand names in fashion and accessories, as well as the abovementioned Modernist buildings of Antoni Gaudí, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. You will also be profoundly impressed when looking at some of the buildings built by another extraordinary Catalan architect of the Modernist period, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose buildings, as well as those of Gaudí, have been declared World Heritage sites. We suggest you take in two of Domènech i Montaner’s most outstanding works: Hospital de Sant Pau and the astonishing Palau de la Música Catalana.
We hope you enjoy all these surroundings which are very special to us and which the city of Barcelona affords you. We invite you to discover them and share your favourite places and most delightful finds with us.
Plaça Sant Jaume
Palau de la Generalitat
Plaça Sant Miquel
Carrer del Bisbe
Catedral de Barcelona
Les 13 oques
Plaça Sant Felip Neri
Plaça del Pi
Basílica de Sta. María del Pi
Plaça del Rei
Barcelona History Museum
Plaça de la Vila de Madrid
Fuente de Canaletas