Every city needs a street where locals and visitors alike can simply stroll, people-watch, grab a bite to eat and spend a sunny afternoon. If you’re traveling solo and you want to be around other people, if you want to put your finger on the pulse of a city, head to these places. In Paris, it’s the Champs Elysees, in Burlington, it’s the Church Street Marketplace. In Barcelona, it’s La Rambla. (Or Las Ramblas if you prefer.)
La Rambla dates back to 1766, when it was created along the wall of the medieval city. It’s not even one mile long, so it’s an easy stroll. It’s a very wide avenue with lots of room to “ramble,” which is a marked difference from some of the ancient, narrow cobblestone streets of the Gothic Quarter (I recommend experiencing both). La Rambla has a tree-lined pedestrian walkway running down the middle, bordered by two one-way streets for automobiles and businesses on the other side of those.
I recommend you make this walk from the top to the bottom, from Placa Catalunya to Port Vell, because the view at the end of that walk is a treat. I also recommend you do it during the day, because it can get a little crazy at night. If you insist on walking it at night, you probably don’t want to walk all the way to the Port; the area below the Liceu Opera House turns into the red light district at night. And be vigilant when walking down this street at any time of the day. It’s a notorious hangout for pickpockets. (Five minutes after I started down La Rambla, I heard my first cries of “Policia! Policia!” I couldn’t see the woman doing the yelling, but I could picture her in my mind’s eye, reaching into her purse for her wallet and finding it missing.)
Starting at Placa Catalunya, head down La Rambla de Canaletes. Along your walk, you will see flower stalls with brilliant flowers in every color, people selling birds, gelato stands, street artists who will draw your caricature for a price, spraypainted “living statues,” costumed performers–some of the most bizarre I’ve ever seen–and little outdoor tapas cafes, where you can stop and get an overpriced bite to eat along with a pitcher of sangria.
But don’t be so distracted by what’s happening at street level that you miss out on the unique and gorgeous architecture along the way, such as this dragon:
Off La Rambla are two side tracks: The first is Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (La Boqueria for short), a fresh foods market. La Boqueria was packed with people when I walked through. Aside from the very colorful fruit stands, there are stalls selling a diverse range of foods from candy and nuts to bread to fish. The countertop cafes offer a quick and inexpensive bite to eat. I didn’t care for the market as much as others seem to. I’m sure it’s just some personal olfactory quirk of mine, but I couldn’t stand the smell of the ham sellers’ stalls. So I took some pictures and left pretty quickly.
The second point of interest for me was Placa Reial, a beautiful plaza just off La Rambla. I loved this plaza. The colors and architecture and palm trees reminded me of San Juan. There were some attractive fountains here, little sidewalk cafes with tables and umbrellas, and clusters of tour groups like ducklings around their mamas.
At the foot of La Rambla, you will come to Port Vell, a wide open space with a view of the Mediterranean and a monument to Christopher Columbus, Monumento a Colón. (Barcelona is where Columbus made his triumphant return to Spain after discovering the New World.) Your walk doesn’t have to–and shouldn’t–end here.
Keep walking, across the Rambla de Mar, a pedestrian bridge that connects La Rambla to the marina full of bobbing sailboats, towering cruise ships docked at port, and the Maremagnum (a large shopping mall on the water). The bridge is very cool-looking, as it’s a swing bridge (meaning it can swing open to let ships pass through). There are quite a few benches down here where you can sit and enjoy the cool breeze off the water on a hot day, or the view any time. Your reward for making this trek? Views like this: