Barcelona is like an enormous tree. Its roots are the Mediterranean, which over the centuries has made it a cosmopolitan and multicultural city, open to the world, and its trunk is La Rambla, its most important promenade off of which branch its many charming neighborhoods. With so much to see in the Catalan capital, here’s our list of some of our favorite things to do while exploring Barcelona’s most famous street.
Experience sensory overload at La Boquería
La Boquería is a sensory overload – make your way through the throngs of shoppers that visit it every day, and you’ll be bombarded by an array of sounds, smells, and colors that few places can rival. It is one of Europe’s most emblematic food markets, and although it has become a major tourist attraction, this hasn’t diluted the quality of the produce on offer – many of the city’s top restaurateurs do their shopping here. The market doesn’t only sell produce, there are many bars and restaurants among the stalls where you can have a meal. You’ll have to wait to get a stool (here, eating is done on a stool at the bar), but the experience is worth it. Try El Quim de la Boquería, famed for its fried eggs with squid and its ham croquettes. Find out more about visiting La Boquería here.
Tip from Matthias: Join a cooking class! You’ll shop for ingredients at the market and a you’ll learn how to prepare iconic Spanish dishes from a local chef.
Visit the building that set off Gaudí’s career: Palau Güell
Before creating the world-famous Casa Batlló, the Park Güell or the Sagrada Familia, Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí designed the Palau Güell for his patron Eusebi Güell. Inaugurated in 1888 for Barcelona’s World’s Fair, the Palau Güell belongs to Guadí’s orientalist phase, in which he drew inspiration from eastern art and architecture, such as from Persia, India and Japan, as well as from Spain’s own Islamic heritage. More information and tickets for Palau Güell here.
Have breakfast at a 140-year-old cafe
Hidden on a tiny sidestreet off Las Ramblas, Granja Viader is one of Barcelona’s oldest family-run businesses. Founded in 1870 and currently under the guidance of Marc Viader, the fifth generation of the Viader family, it’s a great location to have breakfast or to enjoy “la merienda” – the Catalan mid-afternoon snack typically featuring sweets, pastries, and Deli products such as charcuterie and cheeses. Both the décor and the menu are a blast from the past – a window into the Barcelona of the early twentieth century. If you’re looking for a bite to eat and you’re in the area don’t miss it.
Climb the Columbus monument
Inaugurated in 1888 for Spain’s first World Fair, the Barcelona Universal Exposition of the same year, the Columbus Monument commemorates the discovery of the Americas by Cristopher Columbus and honors him for choosing to end his first trans-oceanic voyage in Barcelona. If you want a great view of the city from the waterfront, you can take the elevator inside the column up to the viewing platform, which sits right below the statue’s feet.
Spend a night at the Opera at El Liceu
El Liceu is Barcelona’s most important opera house. Founded in 1847, it has hosted many of the world’s foremost performers over its nearly two centuries of activity. Today it features a broad program of music and the performing arts including opera, dance, concerts, recitals, conferences and talks. The season runs from September to July with shows nearly every day. Currently the main attraction is the classic Rigoletto, by Giuseppe Verdi.
Eat a quirky ice cream by a world-renowned chef
The Roca brothers’ El Celler de Can Roca has been at the top of the gastronomical world for over a decade, twice having held the title of best restaurant in the world on the prestigious San Pellegrino’s 50 Best list. Rocambolesc is Jordi Roca’s pet project outside of the restaurant, an ice cream parlor inspired by Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory, where you can enjoy delicacies like roasted apple ice cream with caramel and cotton candy, or blood orange and mango popsicles.
Pause for a drink on Plaça Reial
La Plaça Reial is one of the prettiest plazas in Barcelona. Flanked on all sides by beautiful neo-classical archways that play host to restaurants, cocktails bars, and some of Barcelona’s most famous night-life spots, like the iconic Sala Sidecar and Djamboree, open until dawn and offering live music and DJ sets for all tastes. If you’re not a night animal, you can also come during the day and enjoy lunch in the shade of the columns, or use it as your starting point to spend a day wandering the narrow alleyways of the Gothic quarter.
Discover Catalunya’s Heritage in an 18th century Neoclassical Palace
The Palau Moja dates from the second half of the 18th century, and over the years it was home to the Catalan nobility and bourgeoisie. Today it features a restaurant serving Catalan cuisine, a gift shop offering traditional wares and products from all over Catalunya, and an information center and ticket office for many of the city’s other attractions. It’s also possible to tour the palace itself.
Visit an interesting photography exhibit in an 18th century mansion
Dating from the eighteenth century and built in a combination of the Baroque and Rococo styles, the Palau de la Virreina was the home of the Viceroy of Peru between 1761 and 1776. Today it houses the Centre de la Imatge, a gallery with rotating photography exhibits. The Palau also doubles as a tourist office where you can find information on many of the city’s attractions.
Relax over a glass of wine on Plaza del Pi
One of the Gothic quarter’s most iconic squares, the Plaça del Pi is an ideal spot to enjoy a glass of wine on a street terrace in the shade of the Santa Maria del Pi Cathedral. On the first and third Friday of every month and running until the Sunday of the same week, the square hosts the Fira del Colectiu d’Artesans de l’Alimentació, an open-air food market where you’ll be able to find artisan cheeses, charcuterie, wine, honey, sweets, and other organic products.
Have a coffee with a bird’s eye view of Plaça Catalunya
If you’ve been to Plaça Catalunya, you will have no doubt noticed the monolithic gray building that occupies an entire block on its eastern side. El Corte Inglés –The English Cut– is Spain’s most important chain of department stores, but it’s not only a place to go shopping. You can also visit for the little-known bar that sits all the way at the top of the building, on its ninth floor, with a gigantic window that spans the whole facade and offers a spectacular view of the Plaça Catalunya and of the entire lower half of Barcelona as far as Montjuic.