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Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

La Rambla, Barcelona

Great food, gorgeous architecture, and vibrant street life in the heart of Barcelona

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 (44 votes, 28 reviews)
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 0.9 miles / 1.4 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly
Overview: Barcelona's Rambla was originally a watercourse, a sandy arroyo called rmel (Arabic for "sand"). Today seasonal runoff has been replaced by a flood of humanity. No wonder Federico García Lorca called this the only street in the world he wished would never end: the show of humanity rages relentlessly — mimes, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, puppeteers, portraitists, break-dancers, rappers, and rockers stretched out beneath the canopy of plane trees. A pedestrian runway between two traffic lanes, the Rambla remains an essential Barcelona event.

The crowds seethe and dawdle. Couples sit at café tables no bigger than tea trays while nimble-footed waiters dodge traffic. Peddlers, kiosk owners, parrots, and parakeets along the Rambla dels Ocells (Rambla of the Birds) create a cacophony of birdsong and catcalls that clamors over the din of taxis and motorbikes. Here, in busy Barcelona, the Rambla is permanently filled with squads of revelers, often more animated at 3 AM than at 3 PM.

Canaletas fountain, Rambla de les Flors, La Boqueria, the ceramic life of Saint Paul, Hotel Espanya, the Liceu opera house shop, Palau Güell, Plaça Reial.

Starting Point:
Top of the Rambla at Plaça Catalunya

Ending Point:
Plaça Reial

Best Time to Go:
Before 2 PM when everything is open and the market is raging.

Worst Time to Go:
Between 2 PM and 4 PM when the market starts to slow down and Palau Güell closes.

Where to Refuel:
Café Viena for the famous flautas de jamón iberico (Iberico ham sandwiches); Bar Pinotxo and Quim de la Boqueria in La Boqueria; La Taxidermista in Plaça Reial.

Points of Interest


Plaça de Catalunya

Barcelona's main transport hub, Plaça de Catalunya, is the frontier between the Old City and the post-1860 Eixample. Comparable in size to Paris's Place de l'Étoile or to Rome's St. Peter's Square, Plaça de Catalunya is generally an unavoidable place to scurry across at high speed on your way to somewhere quieter, shadier, and generally gentler on the senses. The only relief in sight is Café Zurich, at the head of the Rambla and the mouth of the metro, which remains the classic Barcelona rendezvous point. The block behind the Zurich, known as El Triangle, houses a strip of megastores, including FNAC and Habitat, among others. Corte Inglés, the monstrous ocean liner–esque department store on the northeast side of the square, offers Spanish goods at standard prices and in good quality.

The underground tourist office on the northeast corner is the place to pick up free maps of the city and check on walking tours, some in English, that originate there. The most interesting features in this large but mostly uncharming square are the sensual and exuberant sculptures. Starting from the corner nearest the head of the Rambla, have a close look at, first, the blocky Subirachs monument to Francesc Macià, president of the Generalitat (autonomous Catalan government) from 1934 to 1936. In the center of the reflecting pool is Clarà's stunning Déesse (Goddess), kneeling gracefully in the surface film. At the northwest corner is Gargallo's heroic bronze of men, women, and oxen hauling in the grape harvest, and at the northeast corner across from the Corte Inglés is the Federic Marès bronze of a buxom maiden on horseback holding a model of Columbus's ship used to "discover" the New World.

Font de Canaletes

This fountain is a key spot in Barcelona, being the place where all great sports victories are celebrated by jubilant (and often unruly) Barça fans. It was originally known for the best water in Barcelona, brought in by canaletes (small canals) from the mountains. The bronze plaque on the pavement in front of the fountain explains in Catalan that if you drink from these waters, you will fall under Barcelona's spell and forever return … so beware.

Rambla de les Flors

The flower stalls of the Rambla de les Flors make it aromatically unmistakable. The market was famous among 19th-century Catalan Impressionists as a source of beautiful flower vendors who frequently became their models and, often, their wives.


Barcelona's most spectacular food market, also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, is an explosion of life and color sprinkled with delicious little bar-restaurants. A solid polychrome wall of fruits, herbs, wild mushrooms, vegetables, nuts, candied fruits, cheeses, hams, fish, poultry, and provender of every imaginable genus and strain greets you as you turn in from La Rambla, the air alive with the aromas of fresh produce and reverberating with the din of commerce. Within this steel hangar the market occupies a neoclassical square built in 1840 by architect Francesc Daniel Molina. The Doric columns visible around the edges of the market were part of the mid-19th-century neoclassical square constructed here after the Sant Josep convent was torn down. The columns were uncovered in 2001 after more than a century of being buried in the busy market. Highlights include the sunny greengrocer's market outside (to the right if you've come in from the Rambla), along with Pinotxo (Pinocchio), just inside to the right, which has won international acclaim as a food sanctuary. Owner Juanito Bayén and his family serve some of the best food in Barcelona. (The secret? "Fresh, fast, hot, salty, and garlicky.") Pinotxo—marked with a ceramic portrait of the wooden-nosed prevaricator himself—is typically overbooked. But take heart; the Kiosko Universal, over toward the port side of the market, or Quim de la Boqueria offer delicious alternatives. Don't miss herb- and wild-mushroom expert Llorenç Petràs at the back of the Boqueria (ask anyone for the location), with his display of fruits del bosc (fruits of the forest): wild mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and berries.

Address: Rambla 91
Hours: Mon.–Sat. 8–8

Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Founded in the 10th century, this is one of Europe's earliest medical complexes, and contains some of Barcelona's most stunningly graceful Gothic architecture, built mostly in the 15th and 16th centuries. Approached through either the Casa de la Convalescència entry on Carrer del Carme or through the main door on Carrer Hospital, the cluster of medieval architecture surrounds a garden courtyard and a midtown orange grove. The first stone was laid by King Martí el Humà (Martin the Humane) in 1401. As you approach from Carrer del Carme, the first door on the left is the Reial Acadèmia de Cirurgia i Medecina (Royal Academy of Surgery and Medicine), a neoclassical 18th-century building of carved stone. On the right is the 17th-century Casa de la Convalescència, and straight ahead is the simple 15th-century Gothic facade of the hospital itself, with the light of the inner cloisters gleaming through the arched portal. The Royal Academy of Surgery and Medicine—open for visits until 2 PM on weekdays—contains an amphitheater originally used for the observation of dissections. Across the way is the door into the patio of the Casa de la Convalescència (Convalescence House), with its Renaissance columns and its brightly decorated scenes of the life of St. Paul in the vestibule. The primarily blue and yellow azulejos (ceramic tiles) start with the image to the left of the door into the inner courtyard portraying the moment of the saint's conversion: SAVLE, SAVLE, QUID ME PERSEGUERIS (Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?). The ceramicist, Llorenç Passolas, was also the creator of the late-17th-century tiles around the inner patio. The image of St. Paul in the center of the courtyard over what was once a well is an homage to the building's initial benefactor, Pau Ferran. Look for the horseshoes, two of them around the keyholes, on the double wooden doors in the entryway, wishing good luck to the convalescent and, again, in reference to benefactor Ferran, from ferro (iron), as in ferradura (horseshoe).

Past the door to the Biblioteca Infantil, the children's library, on both sides of the courtyard, is the 1.5-million-volume Biblioteca de Catalunya (open weekdays 9–8, Sat. 9–2), Catalonia’s national library and Spain's second in scope after Madrid's Biblioteca Nacional. The hospital patio, centered on a baroque cross, is filled with orange trees and usually also with students from the Escola Massana art school at the far end on the right. The stairway under the arch on the right leading to the main entrance of the Biblioteca de Catalunya was built in the 16th century, while the Gothic well to the left of the arch is from the 15th century, as is the little Romeo-and-Juliet balcony in the corner to the left of the Escola Massana entry. Inside the library, the wide Gothic arches and vaulting of what was once the hospital's main nave were designed in the 15th century by the architect of Santa Maria del Pi church, Guillem Abiell, who was seeking light and a sense of space. This was the hospital where Antoni Gaudí was taken after he was struck by a trolley on June 7, 1926.

Among the library's collections are archives recording Gaudí's admittance and photographs of the infirmary and the private room where he died. The library's staggering resources range from silver medieval book covers to illuminated manuscripts from the Llibre Vermell (Red Book), the Catalonian songbook. Guided tours can be arranged at the main desk.

Leaving through the heavy wooden door out to Carrer Hospital, from the far sidewalk you can see the oldest section of the medieval hospital, part of the old Hospital de Colom founded by the canon Guillem Colom in 1219 to the left of the door. The facade itself is from the 16th century.

Phone: 93/485–9913
Admission: Guided tours €8.70
Hours: Tours daily at 10 AM in English (the 75-min visit includes El Círculo del Liceu, with the extraordinary Ramon Casas collection of paintings). Unguided express tours at 11 AM, noon, 12:30, and 1 PM are shorter (20 mins) and less comprehensive; cost is €4.50

Hotel España

A cut alongside the jagged edge of the Sant Agustí church leads straight to the Hotel España, remodeled in 1904 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, architect of the Moderniste flagship Palau de la Música Catalana. The interior is notable for its Art Nouveau decor. The hotel is recommendable only for aesthetes who prefer art over life (or, in any case, comfort), as the rooms are less than perfect. The sculpted marble Eusebi Arnau mantelpiece in the breakfast room and the Ramon Casas murals (with mermaids who have legs down to their flippers) in the dining room are, along with the lushly ornate dining room, the hotel's star artistic features.

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Barcelona's opera house has long been considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, in the same category as Milan's La Scala. First built in 1848, this cherished cultural landmark was torched in 1861, then later bombed by anarchists in 1893, and once again gutted by a blaze of mysterious origin in early 1994. During that most recent fire, Barcelona's soprano Montserrat Caballé stood on the Rambla in tears as her beloved venue was consumed. Five years later a restored Liceu, equipped for modern productions, opened anew. Even if you don't see an opera, don't miss a tour of the building; some of the Liceu's most spectacular halls and rooms (including the glittering foyer known as the Saló dels Miralls, or Room of Mirrors) were untouched by the fire of 1994, as were those of Spain's oldest social club, El Círculo del Liceu. The Espai Liceu downstairs provides the city with daily cultural and commercial operatic interaction. With a cafeteria; a shop specializing in opera-related gifts, books, and recordings; a small, 50-person-capacity theater running videos of opera fragments and the history of the opera house; and a Mediateca (media library) featuring recordings and filmings of past opera productions, Espai Liceu is the final step in the Barcelona opera's phoenixlike resurrection.

Guided tours €8.70 CTours daily at 10 AM in English (the 75-min visit includes El Círculo del Liceu, with the extraordinary Ramon Casas collection of paintings). Unguided express tours at 11 AM, noon, 12:30, and 1 PM are shorter (20 mins) and less comprehensive; cost is €4.50

Palau Güell

Partly closed for restoration through 2010, Palau Güell presently admits visitors to the basement stables free of charge from 10 AM to 2:30 PM Tuesday–Saturday. With a Pau Casals recording of Bach’s cello suites playing and a video presentation of the rest of the house to watch, this regime rivals the full visit and is highly recommended. Gaudí built this mansion in 1886–89 for textile baron Count Eusebi de Güell Bacigalupi, his main patron and promoter. Gaudí's principal obsession in this project was to find a way to illuminate this seven-story house tightly surrounded by other buildings in the cramped quarters of the Raval. The prominent quatre barras (four bars) of the Catalan senyera (banner) on the facade between the parabolic (looping) entrance arches attest to the nationalist fervor that Gaudí shared with Güell. The dark facade is a dramatic foil for the treasure housed inside, where spear-shape Art Nouveau columns frame the windows and prop up a series of detailed and elaborately carved wood ceilings.

Plaça Reial

Nobel Prize–winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez, architect and urban planner Oriol Bohigas, and Pasqual Maragall, former president of the Catalonian Generalitat, are among the many famous people said to have acquired apartments overlooking this potentially elegant square, a chiaroscuro masterpiece in which neoclassical symmetry clashes with big-city street squalor. Plaça Reial is bordered by stately ocher facades with balconies overlooking the wrought-iron Fountain of the Three Graces and treelike, snake-infested lampposts designed by Gaudí in 1879. Third-rate cafés and restaurants line the square, but the buskers, thieves, and homeless who occupy the benches on sunny days make hanging out here uncomfortable. Plaça Reial is most colorful on Sunday morning, when crowds gather to trade stamps and coins; after dark it's a center of downtown nightlife for the jazz-minded, the young, and the adventurous (it's best to be streetwise touring this area in the late hours). Bar Glaciar, on the uphill corner toward the Rambla, is a booming beer station for young international travelers. La Taxidermista, across the way, is the only good restaurant in the plaza; Tarantos has top flamenco performances; and Jamboree offers world-class jazz.
Pictures in this guide taken by: quinneyd, klamm, tscarlson, expasticcere, cvhuie

© 2010 by Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Visited on Jun 13, 2011

by sylwek9990 on Aug 05, 2015
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Visited on Jul 10, 2013

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by maciekpolski on Dec 02, 2014
I just recently visited La Rambla, great place.
Visited on Aug 21, 2014

by adriantr on Oct 30, 2014
I visited Barcelona last year and I must say I totally fell in love with the place! The atmosphere, the people and the places are all so amazing... this is currently my favourite place in Europe and I hope I will be able to come back to see more of it in the future (when visiting you just can't miss the Magic Fountain show!)
Visited on May 10, 2013

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Visited on Jan 01, 2014

by abdelhamid on Sep 05, 2014
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by Magnusson on Aug 29, 2014
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by inqueba on Jul 17, 2014
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by hairtransplant on Jul 17, 2014
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Visited on Apr 01, 2014

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by laza on Dec 18, 2013
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by Rujiku99 on Nov 13, 2013
In the space freed by the disappearance of the convents were built several facilities and public spaces for the city that still exist today, such as the Lyceum, the Boqueria and Plaza Real. From 1859 he began planting plane trees of the Dehesa de Girona and was inaugurated in 1860 Canaletas4 Power Selling flowers dates from the mid-nineteenth century.

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by Machu_Picchu on Sep 19, 2012
I go to the Ramblas just to take pictures very often. Barcelona is a very safety city, just take care of your belongs as you would do in every other city. I have been robbed in Paris and my car was stolen inside of a parking in Strasbourg but never in Barcelona.
Just come and enjoy the more welcoming city in Europe.

Visited on Nov 26, 2011

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