The main sightseeing activities we enjoyed during our stay in Barcelona - from the rambling narrow streets of the Barri Gotic to the hustle and bustle of the Ramblas
by Joy S on April 19, 2012
The Barri Gotic, or old town area of Barcelona was just steps from our hotel, so we spent a fair amount of time exploring around here. It is lovely and historically interesting, so even if you are not staying nearby, it is definitely worth visiting.It is the old Gothic area of Barcelona, and is made more fascinating by the fact that most of it has actually survived intact since the Middle Ages. You can even see parts of the old Roman city walls dotted here and there throughout the Barric Gotic. Apparently underneath the streets you walk on, are the actual remains of the first Roman settlement.We greatly enjoyed exploring this area. You don't need a map, the key to appreciating it fully, is just to stroll and go where the fancy takes you. You don't need to know where you are, or what you are looking at, just soak up the atmosphere.There are lots of little winding, narrow streets with the buildings close together, with a dark, atmospheric feeling. There are squares and little lanes and no traffic, which is heaven in Barcelona. The whole of the Barri Gotic fans out from the Cathedral de la Seu (the centrepiece), so you can't actually get lost anyway.It is a busy area at all times of the day - there are always plenty of people around. However, in the afternoons, we did find that quite a lot of the shops closed and then reopened again later in the evening (assume it was siesta time). It is the evening though, when the whole of the Barri Gotic really does come to life. After dark there are so many people strolling, looking in shop windows and relaxing. Tourists and locals alike throng the streets - but it is not uncomfortably crowded. There is a lovely atmosphere, and the street lighting enhances this. Check out the old city walls after dark too - the floodlighting makes them eerie and stunningly beautiful.There are many restaurants and bars in the Barri Gotic and it is a great place to eat out or have a drink. There are though, a lot of very touristy places where the food is ok, but not the best you will get, so choose wisely.We enjoyed listening to the many musicians on the street corners. We especially liked a classical guitarist we saw one evening. On Easter Monday afternoon, there was a little orchestra playing just outside the cathedral. The music was traditional and a little bit strange. In the square in front, were about 100 elderly people dancing slowly in a big circle to the music. It was fascinating to watch.Although it is best to just stroll, one place definitely worth seeing is the Placa Reial. We loved this wonderful square. There are palm trees, lovely buildings and a fountain in the centre. The lamp posts are beautiful and also important as they were the first design project Gaudi undertook in Barcelona. The Placa Reial is always busy and a great spot to do some people watching. The 2 slight negatives though, are that apparently it is a prime spot for pickpockets (we experienced no problems) and if you buy a drink in one of its bars, you will pay a premium. You do though, get to have a drink in a lovely place and have a lot to look at. The restaurants here looked lovely, we did not eat here though, as most of them seemed to have large queues.
The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia is also known as the Cathedral de la Seu - the Catalan name. It is open daily, although reduced opening hours on Sundays. The admission charge is 6 Euros for adults and free for children. We joined a large queue at the entrance, which all of a sudden seemed to move quite quickly. When we were leaving later, there was no queue. We saw a sign that said entrance before 1.45 was free. We arrived just before that, and assume the people in the line were trying to get in free before the entrance charge applied.The building is in the middle of the Barri Gotic or gothic quarter. It dates back to 1298. We spent about 40 minutes exploring inside.Before you go in, have a look at the outside of the building. There are beautiful pinnacles and arches which are very imposing and dominate the square. Inside there is a mixture of architectural styles, with a gothic cloister and baroque chapels.We just wandered around the dark, atmospheric interior. Apparently you can take a lift to the roof for a view of Barcelona. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to us, this was closed during our visit.The church is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona. You can see her tomb in the crypt of the building.The most interesting part for our 8 year old was the cloister. This is beautiful - filled with palm trees and orange trees, just like a garden inside the church. It is actually called The Well of the Geese, because 13 white geese live in this cloister. They have a big pond to swim in, and you can peek in at them through the bars to their enclosure. The cloister dates back to 1448.There are 2 stories about the geese and why they live in Barcelona Cathedral. One story relates to Saint Eulalia, Barcelona's patron saint. She was a young girl who was tortured and persecuted for religious reasons during Roman times in the city. She died at the age of 13. The 13 geese represent her age at her death. The other story is a bit less gruesome. Apparently, it was traditional for Romans to use geese as guards. For that reason, since medieval times, 13 geese have lived here and safeguarded the treasures of this cathedral.
by Joy S on April 20, 2012
The Ramblas is probably the most famous street in Barcelona - everybody has heard of it, and you should walk down it at least once if you visit this city.It is a wide pedestrian walkway and at one time was the main road which connected the harbour to the old city of Barcelona. It is a fun place to stroll, there is always lots to see and take in. Tree-lined, it throngs with people at all times of the day and night. There are lots of souvenir stalls and in the evenings, the locals stroll up and down before or after dinner.We had read lots of warnings that the Ramblas was a lure for pickpockets and to keep a tight hold on your belongings. We had no problems at all.Be sure to look down and look up on your Ramblas stroll. If you look down, you will see the unusual designs on the pavements - lots of mosaic patterns, designed Joan Miro. If you look up, you will see some wonderful architecture. Most of the buildings at ground level on the Ramblas are shops or restaurants, but look up higher and you will see that the tops of the buildings are beautiful.We started our Ramblas walk at Placa Cataluya and walked right down to the harbour - this takes in the whole 1 km of the Ramblas. We had been here 7 years ago and at that time were amazed by the sheer number of human statues all the way along the street. They were outlandish, crazy and fascinating. Our son was so excited to see this, but on the 3 occasions we went to the Ramblas on this trip, the most we ever saw was 3! I'm not sure if it was the time of year or the weather (it did rain one day), but human statues and other acts the Ramblas is famous for, were definitely in short supply.During our last visit, we were also fascinated with the different little stalls all the way down, selling everything under the sun - from pets and birds to flowers to craft goods. This time, we found mostly souvenir stalls. There were a couple of flower stalls and one stall selling pets, but the diversity of past times was not there.The Ramblas also has lots of cafes and bars selling everything from ice cream to tapas. Lots of them have terraces on the Ramblas itself, so it is fun to sit at one of these with a drink and just people watch.Look out for the Canalatas fountain, about half-way down. We missed it the first time, so you do have to watch out for it. Apparently, if you drink from the water here, you will return to Barcelona. We all had a good drink from the fountain!
by Joy S on April 21, 2012
Be sure to visit La Boqueria if you are walking down the Ramblas. It is easy to spot and is just off the Ramblas. It is a large covered market and is a great place to visit, even if you don't intend buying any food.It is colourful, vibrant and always really busy, with a great atmosphere. The market is filled with all kinds of local food - there is what seems like everything under the sun. From meat and poultry to freshly caught fish, from every kind of fruit and vegetable to the most unusual ingredients, including tripe, you will find it all here. We loved the stalls with the Spanish ham and those stacked with cheese and nuts were also impressive. Our 8 year old had to be dragged away from the many sweet stalls and those with delicious chocolate displays. Look out too for the dried fruit stalls - the colours were wonderful.As you come into the market off the Ramblas, there is such a buzz in the air and the smell of fresh produce is lovely. The greengrocer's market was another favourite of ours.Look out for Pinotxo - a little restaurant in the market which has won much acclaim. We did want to eat there, but it was so busy we had to abandon this idea. Apparently the food they serve here, sourced from the market, is amongst the best you will get in Barcelona. The delicous, garlicky smell coming from inside certainly didn't make us doubt that.There are lots of other little restaurants in the market, serving excellent tapas. They are not cheap, but the ingredients are all sourced from the market, and all of them looked very good.I bought a fruit juice from one of the many fruit juice stalls. It was coconut and strawberry, absolutely delicious and so refreshing. I paid 1 euro from a stall near the back, closer to the front they were charging 2 euros, so shop wisely.There is also a wonderful crepe stall in the market. The crepes cost 4.50 euros and the man makes them while you wait. They are delicious and the stallholder is a little eccentric and theatrical, so that just adds to the experience. Our son loved it all so much, he insisted we return the next day for another one.Even if you don't want to buy anything, the market is a great place to visit and really appeals to children. The strange little stalls and the eccentric characters you come across, really make it a fun place. If you did want to shop for ingredients for a picnic - this would definitely be the perfect place.
by Joy S on April 23, 2012
Close to the end of the Ramblas is El Bosc de les Fades. We had read about it somewhere and wanted to see what it was like. It is unusual and different - probably one of Barcelona's most unusual bars. If you didn't know about it, I don't think you would ever stumble upon it. If, however, you know where to look, then it is very easy to find. Watch out for the wax museum at the end of the Ramblas - it is very well signposted. Underneath these signs is also a little sign for this bar. It is tucked away down a little alleyway right next to the wax museum.Inside the bar is a bit of a surprise. It is dark and decorated like a forest. There are trees with an overhead canopy of leaves and branches and lanterns hanging in the trees. They have sounds which complement the decor - birds singing, insects chirping and the sound of waterfalls. There is also a little pond and waterfall - behind every nook and cranny is something more to explore.One area has optical illusions and a weird devilish creature who appears in a mirror when you look at it from certain angles. Our 8 year old loved the place and was kept busy exploring, while we enjoyed a rest and a drink. They also serve food, we did not have any, but it looked very nice.I don't think this is a place where locals would come for a drink, it did seem to be full of tourists. It is a bit gimmicky, but also quirky and fun and we enjoyed our visit.When you leave the bar, you are very close to the statue of Christopher Columbus. It is right at the bottom of the Ramblas, overlooking the sea. It was built in 1888 and is dedicated to the famous explorer. It is 197 feet tall - you have to crane your neck to see Columbus at the top. If you have a good head for heights, apparently you can take a lift up to a small viewing tower at the top - we did not try this due to lack of time.The statue of Columbus at the top of the column is 24 feet high. He is pointing with his right hand in the direction of the New World. Apparently the statue is located on the spot where Columbus returned from America on his first trip.Around the base of the statue are several huge bronze lions. Our son (and lots of other children - and adults!) enjoyed climbing and sitting atop these lions. It makes for a great photo!
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