Barcelona’s most famous promenade is a mile-long ribbon shaded with plane trees which meanders down to the sea. It’s a strange and oddly appealing mixture of the picturesque and the tacky. Almost lost among the fleets of "human statues" are pretty, turn-of-the-century kiosks overflowing with flowers; fast-food outlets are squeezed between crumbling theatres and mansions; and banks pop up in whimsical Modernista houses. It’s at its best early in the morning and especially on Sunday lunchtimes, when families stroll among the flower kiosks and couples amble towards the seaside. Follow along for our guide of things to do along Las Ramblas:
The mouth of the Rambla, and the inevitable starting point for a stroll, is the Plaça Catalunya, a huge square which links the old city with the new, dotted with fountains and benches. It’s the main transport hub of the city, where buses and trains converge. The Rambla looks like one street, but in fact it is five, all placed end-to-end in a seamless progress down to the harbor and referred to as La Rambla, or Las Ramblas.
Each section has its own name and its own characteristics. The first stretch of the five adjoining Ramblas is Rambla de las Canaletes, named for the Font de las Caneletes, a 19th-century fountain which is where fans of FC Barça come to celebrate victories. Drink from this fountain, a legend says, and you’ll return to Barcelona.
Rambla de las Flores
Next up is La Rambla de les Ocells, the Rambla of the Birds, full, until recently, of kiosks selling cages full of parrots, canaries and other birds. Rambla de las Flores is the prettiest and most sweet-smelling section of the street, with dozens of kiosks spilling over with brightly colored bouquets. Set back on the right is the elegant Palau de la Virreina, which houses the city’s cultural information offices and an exhibition space, Centre de la Image.
Further down on the right is the colorful Mercat de Sant Josep, alternatively known as Mercat de la Boqueria, capped with a lacy wrought-iron roof and a Modernista sign in bright jewel colors in 1914. Inside are piles of gleaming produce plus a liberal sprinkling of tiny bars for a coffee or oysters. Dive to the back of the market to avoid tourist prices and to enjoy its unique atmosphere.
Back on the Rambla, a large colorful pavement mosaic by Miró, overlooks by the delightful Casa Bruno Quadros, formerly a Modernista umbrella shop, with a Chinese dragon supporting an umbrella. Stop off for cakes in the Modernista Antigua Casa Figueres.
Opera House (Liceu)
Rambla de les Caputxins is named after a Capuchin monastery which was destroyed in 1835. A new opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, was built in its place and has become one of Barcelona’s best-loved institutions (making tickets very hard to come by). It’s had its share of disasters since it first opened in 1847, and has burned down twice (rumors of a curse persist). This latest incarnation dates from 1999 and is equipped with the state-of-the-art technical improvements.
Beyond the opera house, the grandeur fizzles out into the shabby genteel kind. On the left, a pair of tall arches leads into the Plaça Reial, a grand 19th-century square with neoclassical arcades and lofty palm trees. The fountain of the Three Graces is flanked by twin lamp posts designed by Gaudí. It has a sleazy past, but it’s now a tourist favorite, mainly for its terrace cafés. Explore the tiny passages which lead off the square to discover some of the best nightlife in the city.
Plaça Portal de la Pau
Almost at the harbor, the Rambla opens out into the Plaça Portal de la Pau (Gate of Peace), where the Monument, the world’s largest statue of Christopher Columbus, has a bird’s eye view of the city. The statue was erected in 1888 and had an interior lift, which still swoops visitors up to a viewing platform.