Barcelona's gothic quarter is located just off the Ramblas and offers a more sedate and understated atmosphere. There are many places to visit, but the fun, for us, was getting lost in the rabbit warren of interconnecting narrow streets and then stumbling across a fantastic building or statue when you least expect it.
The gothic quarter is home to La Seu, Barcelona's impressive cathedral, which promises an impressive cloister, a tropical garden complete with 'honking' geese and great views of the surrounding buildings from the roof. But make sure your shoulders are covered, or they won't let you in.
Occupying an entire city block, Antoni Gaudi's famous cathedral is undoubtedly Barcelona's most famous tourist attraction. Begun in 1882 and still being finished, the impressive gothic building is a source of controversy, with some people saying that the church should be left as it is in memory of Gaudi, whilst others maintain that it should be finished as an honour to him. Whatever the outcome of this debate, the cathedral is famously always surrounding by scaffolding and cranes, to the point that they have become part of the vision almost.
It is an extremely popular attraction and as a result, the queues to get in, snake at length around the building. With the temperatures being so high, we decided to forgo cooking in the queue and took a leisurely wander around the building instead. I would highly recommend this to anyone, whether you venture inside or not, as we found that the back of the building was actually far more impressive than the front and far less obstructed by flocks of tourists and their buses.
*Port Vell and Barceloneta*
Port Vell, at the bottom of Ramblas, offers a completely modern and spacious alternative to the rest of Barcelona's crowded streets. Home to a massive shopping centre, not dissimilar to the likes of those you find here in the UK, it offers shopping and eating aplenty. There's also a cinema complex (although films are very rarely in English), an aquarium (which, at Euro16 per person, is very expensive) and an impressive harbour that makes for a nice place to stroll whilst watching the world go by.
Whilst the harbour is the height of modernism, neighbouring Barceloneta is the opposite. Wandering around the eighteenth century streets and squares is a delight. The main attraction in this area is the narrow beach which stretches for miles and offers wonderful views of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite its coarse sand, the beach is extremely popular indeed, so don't expect people to keep their distance. Also, don't be surprised if you end up towel to towel with someone in all their naked glory. Anything goes on Barcelona's beaches, as I found when I looked up to find a naked octogenarian bent over in front of me adjusting his towel. I'm no prude, but that's enough to put anyone off their Cornetto!
Outside of the city centre is the fabulous Parc Güell. This was another of Gaudi's very ambitious projects that was supposed to be a garden village. In actuality, only two houses were ever built here, but the park still has marks of his flamboyant style all over it and is well worth a visit, even to those who are not Gaudi admirers. The features of the park look like something out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale, with gingerbread-looking houses and an ornate bench that stretches around the viewing platform. Getting to the park is a bit of a trek, although if you take the metro to Metro Vallcarca you can take the amusing street escalators up to the entrance of the park.