Labyrinths of winding cobblestone alleys, stunning Neo-Gothic architecture, dozens of the city’s most emblematic sites – El Gótico itself has become one of Barcelona’s main attractions, and it is hardly a surprise those narrow streets are packed with tourists 24/ 7. This might get annoying at some point; but don’t rush away too soon. Try to get here early, before fellow-travelers crowd the streets and enjoy as much as you can of this pictorial centuries-old barrio.
Turn to Carrer del Cardenal Casañas from La Rambla and you’ll see the 14th century basilica of Santa Maria del Pi (Plaça del Pi, 7). The octagonal belfry crowns the church; and even all that bustle and clamor of the crowd dies away as the bells start to ring. It is worth paying a visit to the basilica to see one of the highest vaulted ceilings in the country, as well as Baroque-styled stained glasses and the collection of gold and silverware.
The basilica stands between two small charming squares – Plaça del Pi and Plaça Sant Josep Oriol; adjoining streets are lined with numerous shops – assortment varies from exclusive clothes to jewelry and home goods. Although for better shopping opportunities (in fact, some of the best in the entire city), head to pedestrian-only Portal de l’Àngel – here you will find famous chain stores, like H&M, Zara, Massimo Dutti, huge department store El Corte Inglés, and on Sundays along the street stretches a tiny artisan market.
Whether you choose to stop by Santa Maria del Pi, or go shopping, don’t forget to get your coffee fix at Satan’s Coffee Corner (Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call, 11). And yes, the name says it all – coffee here is devilishly delicious.
Tucked away in a tiny square with the same name, the church of Sant Felip Neri (Plaça Sant Felip Neri, 5) is sometimes overlooked – yet the history it bears is memorable. This 18th century baroque church suffered from a bombing during the Civil War in 1938 – the walls of the church still carry the scars from the terrifying event, which took the lives of 42 people, who used the church’s basement as a shelter.
The Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia, or simply the Cathedral of Barcelona (Pla de la Seu, s/n) is not only the highlight of the Gothic Quarter; it is one of Barcelona’s best recognized symbol, glaring from countless postcards and souvenirs from the city. A sheer architectural marvel took almost six centuries to build, and in fact the Cathedral’s trademark – an impressive Neo-Gothic façade – was among the last elements to be finished, in the late 19th century. When you are here, look for the lift to take you to the very top – from cathedral’s roof open spectacular views over the city and the sea stretching beyond.
Just behind the Cathedral, keen antique-hunters will enjoy a visit to Museu Frederic Marès (Plaça de Santiu, 5-6) – the museum holds an immense collection of art and antiquity which once belonged to Catalan sculptor Frederic Marès Deulovol. Historic artefacts and archaeological excavations, including the remains of Roman buildings and household goods, rest in Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Plaça del Rei).
The Gothic Quarter also treasures numerous romantic squares; vintage and antique shops; delightful cafés and even more thrilling bars and restaurants. Here are some spots to take into account for your next visit:
Head to Spritz (Carrer de la Tapineria, 6) just behind the Cathedral, where for bargain 3.50 € you will get the best Aperol Spritz in the city. They also have about a dozen of cocktails, sandwiches and savory pastries – all available for take-away!
Formatgeria La Seu (Carrer de la Dagueria, 16) has a superb assortment of artisan cheese, and – wait for it – cheese ice-cream, so-called fortmatgelat (from “formatge” – cheese, and “gelat” – ice-cream)! The one made with goat milk is truly to die for.
Plaça George Orwell is arguably one of the barrio’s most magnetic squares – in the daylight, locals come to sip coffee or vermouth on sun-lit patio, and at night the square is chock-full with youngsters enjoying their pre-party drinks.
Behind the square, Carrer Avinyó is a top-notch location for shopaholics – the street accounts for half of the city’s best vintage clothing stores.
Carrer Petritxol is literally the sweetest street in Barcelona, with half a dozen of authentic granjas (a special sort of café-grocery store with excellent offer of farm-produced dairy and homemade pastries) and chocolaterias, where the locals enjoy one of the most beloved Spanish breakfasts – deep-fried churros, dipped into silken hot chocolate! Get here early in the morning, before those churros cool down and lose all that nice crunch.
Here you will also find excellent night clubs and cocktail bars – particularly on the streets of Carrer d’en Gignàs and Carrer de La Mercé. Tapas places are plentiful, and as long as you stick to the general rule “the further from La Rambla the better”, you are free to enter any establishment you like.
Metro: Liceu (line 3), Jaume I (line 4).