Saturday, August 2, 2014

Barcelona's Old City

Please accept my sincere apology for taking my sweet, sweet time filling in the details of our Barcelona trip. July has been a wet, dreary month in Zurich. But instead of writing blog posts, I've spent my rainy days binge watching United States of Tara. Bad blogger! I'm back and determined to tell you all about it before I forget most of what we did. Here goes...

Christopher Columbus, Barcelona
Christopher Columbus
In this post, I'll focus on what we discovered while wandering Barcelona's  Ciutat Vella, or Old City, which is made up of three neighborhoods: Barri Gotic, El Raval and La Ribera/El Born. Ciutat Vella was conveniently located a block from our hotel, so were were able to spend entire afternoons as well as random hours between activities exploring. Let's begin with the most touristy spot in Barcelona.... Las Ramblas.

Las Ramblas (or La Rambla, whatever suits your fancy) is a tree-lined series of pedestrian streets in central Barcelona. It begins at Placa Catalunya in the north and ends at Port Vell, where a monument to Christopher Columbus, famously points in the wrong direction. Las Ramblas divides the neighborhoods of El Raval to the west and Barri Gotic to the east. Almost every travel blog, book and website I read warned of enormous crowds of tourists, rampant crime and pickpockets on La Rambla. So we tied down our belongings, took a deep breath and dove right in. The crowded part was absolutely right. There were fanny-packed, front backpack-wearing, camera-toting, slow-moving foreigners everywhere. But I never once felt unsafe and we survived with all our belongings in tact.

La Rambla
A look down La Rambla
That being said, La Rambla wasn't that great either. We stopped at a few chain clothing stores, had our fill of the American fast food we'd been missing*, elbowed our way through famous La Bouqueria and gawked at street performers. There were interesting shops, restaurants and street vendors, all of which could be found elsewhere in less crowded areas of Barcelona. La Bouqueria was very cool, with dozens of vendors selling anything your could want to eat, but markets like it exist throughout Barcelona and we preferred the quieter, local versions. Street performers were the highlight. For a euro or two and they'd interact with the audience, wrapping large wings around your body or allowing you to accompany them in playing a Beatles song. A stroll down Las Ramblas was an hour or two well-spent and, if your time is limited in Barcelona, it's an excellent way to see a lot in a relatively short walk. But I could recommend better ways to spend a couple hours in Barcelona.

Mercat St. Josep La Bouqueria
La Bouqueria
Food at La Bouqueria
Fantastic food at La Bouqueria
La Ramblas Street Performers
Las Ramblas street performers
Barri Gotic is the oldest part of Barcelona, full of Roman ruins and buildings dating back to medieval times. We enjoyed wandering mapless, getting lost in its winding streets, finding hidden shops and imagining the generations of people who walked the streets before us.

Barri Gotic Architecture
Barri Gotic, Bacelona

Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral
Barri Gotic's Barcelona Cathedral, also known as La Seu or Cathedral-Basilica of the Holy Cross and of St. Eulalia of Barcelona, was built primarily between the 13th-15th centuries. Choir stalls feature coats of arms of the Order of the Golden Fleece, one of which belongs to King Henry VIII! Beautiful cloister gardens and a rooftop view of Barcelona were included in the 6€ admission price. It's both Matt and my favorite gothic cathedral to date, and we've seen quite a few.
Interiors of Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral interior
Barcelona Cathedral Rooftop View
Continue east from the Barri Gotic and you enter the La Ribera/El Born neighborhood. If it was necessary to pick, this was probably our favorite area of Barcelona. La Ribera was chock full of the cutest shops, bars and restaurants along with more beautiful architecture.
La Ribera/El Born
La Ribera/El Born
Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, Lady of the Sea is another impressive gothic church, free to enter and well worth a half an hour visit.
Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar
Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar
La Ribera/El Born Sites
Arc de Triomf, Ciutadella and Palau de la Musica Catalana
On Thursday, we took advantage of discount night at the Museu Picasso (1/2 price admission, 7:30 - 9:30 p.m.). Sorry there are no photos - cameras were banned in the museum! Both the work displayed and the building itself were very interesting, but the collection was smaller. An hour was enough time to leisurely browse. I'd highly recommend visiting on a discounted ticket, but I wouldn't pay the full 14€ admission price.

Eating and Drinking in the Old City
We found LOTS of fantastic places to eat and drink in Ciutat Vella. Here are a few of our favorites.
Food at El Portalon
El Portalon lunches 
El Portalon, (
We took a gamble on this place for lunch on our first day in Barcelona and liked it so much we returned for our last lunch before catching our flight. We each had  lunch specials that ranged 11-15€.
Lonja de Tapas

Lonja de Tapas/Celler de Tapas/Celler de la Robera/Caputxes (
Each location of this local chain of restaurants has almost identical menus. We went to two different restaurants and both served excellent tapas. Order something with a fried egg on top!

Gocce di Latte
Hailing from the home of Jeni's, the Sleachmours consider ourselves ice cream connoisseurs. The unique flavors of this artisan gelateria in El Born gives Jeni a run for her money!

Elsa y Fred (
This super cute gastropub in El Born had really, really tasty food. The crispy brie with green salad was amazing!

Catbar (
Barcelona is wine country. It was tough finding a decent beer and even more difficult finding anything microbrewed or local. We were thrilled to find this teeny bar in El Raval serving a decent selection of Spanish (and other) microbrew beers.

Numero Nueve (
We enjoyed this bar in El Born's creative and reasonably priced cocktails.

*Yes, we ate American fast food on La Ramba. KFC to be more specific. It was deliciously fried and greasy and we have no regrets. 

1 comment:

  1. I can see why you & Matt love Barcelona so much. Beautiful cathedrals and architecture.