I’ve always been attracted to cities where I’ve developed a bit of a Love / Hate relationship.
There’s something about that right mix of grit and intrigue that sends me away, yet always keeps me coming back. Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter exemplifies that relationship to a T.
My first time here, the summer of 1998, I probably didn’t do much sight seeing beyond Las Ramblas, due to the excessive partying until the wee hours of the morning at the nightclubs along the beach. Not a bad intro in my opinion, in fact, while boarding my plane, after my weeklong stint in Barcelona, and having not slept at all the night before, I found myself wondering why I chose Madrid to study abroad that summer and not Barcelona. This was the beginning of my love affair with this town.
Three years later, returning to Barcelona and staying in the Gothic Quarter at a hostel right off of Las Ramblas, I guess my previous experience had me so enamored, that I forgot to warn my backpacking companions of the many petty crimes that happen in this area. Really, I’d not spent enough time previously in the Gothic to appreciate the good, nor be aware of the bad. Very soon did my relationship turn to hate when the mutual handbag that we all shared was stolen while we were dining one evening. Then to top it off, we noticed some sort of bug bites around our ankles after a couple of nights in the hostel. Honestly, at this point, you couldn’t have gotten me out of this city quick enough
Well, many years have passed and I’ve actually found myself to be living back in amorous city and back in love, but it didn’t happen immediately. Like any relationship, it required work, so instead of just breaking up and walking away unscathed, I put in the time to explore and rekindle the flame.
Of course these days, I’m not living in the Gothic Quarter, but did spend two summers residing in The Born, in my opinion, the gem of the Gothic Quarter, and still my favorite neighborhood in the city.
With this area attracting the majority of the tourists who come to the city, it’s certainly not to be missed, but enter with caution. Here’s my breakdown of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
1. The Amazing Architecture
Just get lost wondering through the tiny alleyways and streets of this area, however get lost on the North side of Las Ramblas (standing on Las Ramblas facing the Port, it’s to your left.) The Plaza Real and the Cathedral of Barcelona are both “must see’s” of Gothic architecture and in this zone.
2. The Eclectic Restaurants
Many of my favorite dining joints are in The Gothic and are all must see’s for any foodie coming through town: Canete Bar, El Xampanyet, La Paradeta and Los Caracoles are just a few to mention.
3. The Trendy Shopping
In The Gothic, there’s one street that has it all for trendy boutiques, featuring independent label designers: C/ Avinyo. My picks of where to go on Avinyo.
4. Mercat de la Boqueria
This is almost a destination of it’s own in Barcelona. Arrive early, explore, taste the goods, make friends with the local vendors then make your way over to Bar Central or Kiosko Universal for lunch. Both are usually packed, so get there by 1:00, as you’ll need to wait for a stool.
5. Barhopping along Paseo del Born
After dinner at one of my recommended Barrio Gothic restaurants, surely take the opportunity to bar hop or have a few drinks along the Paseo del Born. It’s a chill, artsy / international scene that’s always a good time.
6. The Picasso Museum
Not being a huge “museum tourist” this is the one art museum that is not to be missed on your trip to Barcelona. It’s right in the heart of The Born, so go in the late afternoon for a couple of hours, then grab dinner and drinks along Paseo del Born.
1. The Pickpockets and Petty Thieves
They may look homeless, they may look bohemian or they may look just like you, so word to the wise, ladies, keep a tight grip on your handbag at all times, and best to wear a cross body strap style, yet, don’t let your hand stray from the base of the bag. Men, no wallets in the back pockets EVER!!! Regardless of your level of precaution, only carry the cash that you need for that day and maybe 1 credit card, and certainly no passport. All hotel rooms have safes these days and this is one city to utilize them!
2. The Touristy Restaurants
Whether it’s one of the sidewalk café’s along Las Ramblas…yes, walk it once for the experience of the street performers, the artists, the flower vendors, but NEVER stop at one of the sidewalk cafes along the way. The food is bad, the drink is mediocre and both are over priced.
3. Any Accommodations Within a Stones Throw from Las Ramblas
Ok, ok, so perhaps I’m still a bit tainted from the 2001 flea bite incident at the hostel along Las Ramblas, but just steer clear of anything along this passage, as well as anything within a few blocks to the south. You’ll receive a much greater value for your spend if you go slightly up Rambla Catalunya or Paseo de Gracia****There is 1 exception – the Le Meridien Barcelona, which is on the Northwestern end of Las Ramblas, is hands down one of the top hotels in the city.
1. El Raval
So you’re probably wondering why I’ve only recommended to explore on the North side of Las Ramblas, well, the South side is El Raval, one of the grittiest neighborhoods in the city, and this means grit with no intrigue. Just avoid the exploration of this area altogether, unless your “sightseeing cup of tea” is poorly maintained buildings that are semi covered by the many laundry lines hanging out from the balconies. ****Again, to every rule, there’s an exception, and you’ll have to enter the edge of this neighborhood, right off of Las Ramblas to check out La Boqueria, Canete Bar or another hot spot for the evenings, RA.
2. The Garbage at Night
The residents of the quarter are not careless pigs, as many tourists would believe, after seeing the excessive garbage bags lining these narrow streets. It’s actually city policy, due to such narrow streets not allowing for large waste receptacles, which the garbage is left out in bags on the doorsteps after 10:00 pm for collection.
3. The Street People & Their Dogs
This may not be considered PC, but in The Gothic, it’s part of the scenery, and an ugly part at that. Never had I imagined that I’d see so many dreadlocked street people in one vicinity, not to mention dreadlocked dogs. I only outwardly hate on these types, as they were responsible for my handbag theft years ago, but keep your distance from them and their dogs, unless you’re looking to carry home fleabites as souvenirs.
4. The Women in the Peep Shows
Again, to the South of Las Ramblas, closer to the Port, you’ll encounter many neon lit signs promoting Peep Shows. Barcelona is a far cry from Amsterdam in the sex industry, yet with so many tourists coming through town and a few lonely sailors, these businesses stay afloat. Word to the wise, keep your $20 Euros and spend them on the more economical drinks at one of the various nightlife joints. Chances are, you’ll meet a more attractive woman there anyway!
Take in the sights, taste the flavors and savor La Vie Boehme of the Gothic Quarter, but most importantly don’t forget to pack your street smarts!