Day 2: The Ramblas, Food Market, Gothic Quarter, La Ribera & Sant Pere
Brace yourself for a day of walking and put your comfy shoes on. You’ll be rewarded at night with the best Tapas bar in Barcelona – I guarantee it! There’s no better way to explore this part of town on day two of our 3 days in Barcelona long weekend – which was actually Valentine’s Day. We’ll also visit the best market in Spain so don’t have a large breakfast and save some room! It’s not too far away.
So after a very simple breakfast, we hit the streets, walking down towards Placa de Catalunya via Passeig de Gracia. You might as well catch another glimpse of some of the Modernista buildings we saw yesterday, it’s on the way.
Barcelona’s most famous street
There’s nothing too impressive about Placa de Catalunya. It’s a large gathering area and pretty much marks the spot where the old city ends and the new city, to the north, begins. It also sits right at the top of the Rambla, the most famous avenue in Barcelona. No visitor can come to Barcelona and not walk down La Rambla. A busy stretch where pedestrians definitely rule the avenue, La Rambla is a wide and long tree-lined avenue heading from Placa de Catalunya all the way to the port. Filled with souvenir shops, flower stalls and street acts, it’s also the gateway to our first major destination – Mercat de la Boqueria. Here’s what it looks like during a Saturday winter morning.
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The first point of interest on La Rambla is Teatre Poliorama. Built in 1863 as the Royal Academy of Arts & Sciences, it was badly damaged in the Civil War and restored in 1985. Just one block further down is Esglesia de Betlem, built in 1681 and even more badly damaged during the war. There’s nothing fancy inside but the exterior stonework is quite impressive and worth a quick stop.
The best market in Spain!
The first main stop on this day is arguably the best part of our long weekend in Barcelona. We’re still debating over this. There’s no way you can miss the entrance to Mercat de la Boqueria, which many regard as the best market in all of Spain.
We’ve been to a Spanish market or two on our travels thus far, quite a few on our Mallorca holiday and also in Seville – but this one definitely trumps them all. It’s been a Mecca for local shoppers since the mid-1800s and you’ll find here EVERYTHING that is edible. Let’s start off by visiting the fruits, vegetables and meat sections of the market.
Aside from walking around, there are a few notable stops. Be sure to stop by Petras, all the way at the end of the market, which has an enormous selection of mushrooms. Also worth a stop is Frutas y Verduras Jesus y Carmen closer to the entrance. It’s been around since 1864 and you’ll recognize this colorful stall by the loads of chilies hanging around.
All this fresh produce will make you hungry and if you listened to my tip and didn’t have a large breakfast – now is the time to reward you. Lucky for us, there are excellent places to eat in Barcelona’s market, all geared towards shoppers looking for a quick bite. If you get thirsty – try and avoid the ubiquitous juice stalls as they weren’t that good. You’re better off going for a cerveza anyway!
Are you hungry by now?
The first and more expensive option is Bar Central, located somewhere in the meat section. It seems they specialize more in seafood and the place was certainly packed.
Also looking sharp is Bar Clemen’s, which has all your favorites, like Spanish omelet, but also fresh seafood like massive oysters, shells and one scary looking octopus.
An even better option is Bar Pinotxo, which is a little harder to find but ever so authentic! Grab a seat at the bar, if you’re lucky, and hear the day’s menu. Isabelle went for a breakfast theme, with a delicious custard-filled pastry to go along with a cafe cortado and I went for a spicy chickpea salad which really hit the spot.
If you think we’re done, think again! Just as you exit the market, you’ll find Escriba, considered to be one of the best bakeries in Barcelona. Curious looking from the outside, it gets even better inside, with delicious pastries and decorated cakes galore. They even had a few interesting selections for Valentine’s Day.
A few blocks down the road at Carrer de Ferran, you’ll find the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s long time opera house. The interior is said to be impressive but we’ll just grab a look from the outside. It also marks the spot where we’ll veer east into the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). The section of the Ramblas from Carrer de Ferran all the way to the Christopher Columbus monument (Colom) is a bit more rundown. It makes sense at this point, if you have a packed day, to detour and explore Old Barcelona.
Exploring Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
Walking through the Gothic Quarter is one of the things you must do in Barcelona and I don’t think there’s any visitor who doesn’t come here. Narrow alleys meander their way into cute squares (placas), home to ancient Roman ruins, 14th-century Gothic cathedrals, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques (we’ll explore the best ones so don’t worry).
Since we’re already so close, we’ll start things off with a visit to Placa Reial. Built in classic Italian style in 1850, I can definitely see this square being super popular on a sunny day. Right next door, you’ll find Herbolari del Rei. It’s been mixing herbs since 1818 and super cool inside. Feeling a bit stressed? Tired? Don’t be shy and ask the staff. They know a thing or two about natural herbs and they’ll whisk you tailor-made mix for whatever you need. I bought some natural tea to reduce stress – why not?
Next up was Placa de Sant Jaume which used to house a major market back in the day. For a while now, it’s been home to Barcelona’s impressive city hall on one end and the Palau de la Generalitat on the other – home to the Catalan government. Both are meant to be gorgeous on the inside but very hard to get into so check online. Either way, you’ll pass here on your way to our next stop – the Barcelona Cathedral.
As you take a left from Placa de Sant Jaume towards the cathedral, you can’t miss the famous Gothic bridge that appears on many Barcelona photos – the Bridge of Sighs. It was actually added in the 1920’s so pretty new by Barcelona standards. But if you can’t tell the difference, it means the architects sure did a good job to blend the bridge with its surrounding. It’s also a popular spot for Spanish guitar players, something you’ll find throughout the Gothic Quarter – but can never get enough of.
Going Gothic at the Barcelona Cathedral
Rivaled by the uptown Sagrada Familia, the Barcelona Cathedral is impressive, considering it was completed in the 15th century. Even in a crowded Barri Gothic, you can still catch a glimpse of its towers from most areas. The site itself holds the remains of Santa Eulalia and her remains are kept in a crypt beneath the alter. There are free admission times to the cathedral so check in advance, otherwise, it’s 6€. The wood and stonework inside are exquisite and also be sure to check out the massive organ. You should also visit the famous cloister (enclosed courtyard) which is a real oasis in the heart of Barcelona. The cloister has been home to a pack of geese for hundreds of years and they sure grab a lot of attention. The Barcelona Cathedral definitely rivals the Palma Cathedral in Mallorca and I’m personally a sucker for old European cathedrals!
Take a coffee break
The Placa de la Seu, just outside the cathedral, is a popular gathering spot. As you can imagine, there are a lot of street performers making a living here from the hip-hop acts all the way to the classic Spanish guitars (once again).
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There are a few museums and small places of interest around the cathedral. If you have the time and enjoy museums, go for it. We’ll continue walking around the Barri Gotic and head via the narrow alleys to Basilica Santa Maria del Pi. We’ll go inside a bit later but in the meantime, let’s grab a Valentine’s Day coffee break in either Placa del Pi or Placa de Sant Josep Oriol. The latter holds a weekend artists’ market.
The Basilica Santa Maria del Pi doesn’t look all too impressive from the outside and to be honest, neither from the inside. However, it houses a massive stained glass window the makes going inside worthwhile. Once again, check out the free admission times, otherwise, it’s just 4€ to get inside. There’s also a treasure room that’s … full of treasures.
From here, we spent a good hour or so just walking around the narrow alleys. There are lots of cute shops and if you’re with a girlfriend/wife – you won’t really have a choice. The further you get from La Rambla, the less crowded the streets become. Take your time and enjoy – getting lost here is part of the fun.
More tapas – por favor!
Our last stop in the Barri Gotic was for lunch at Bodega la Palma. This tapas bar is tricky to find but we came here at the recommendation of my friend Alejandro – and he did not disappoint. Massive wooden wine barrels greet you as you step inside this rustic place and the atmosphere is super relaxed (so is the service). The food is not too bad, to say the least, and you can either get some tapas or full rations. We purposely didn’t eat too much to leave room for dinner but nonetheless, couldn’t resist our usual favorites.
Exploring La Ribera
We now exited the Gothic Quarter but that doesn’t mean the medieval vibe goes away. La Ribera’s maze of alleys is home to many local artists so it’s no surprise that you’ll find the Picasso museum here. It’s where we grabbed our first dinner at Tapeo and it was now time to explore La Ribera by day.
We started off by hopping over to Vila Viniteca, another must-visit gourmet shop for ‘foodies’ (I don’t really like that word). Don’t be overwhelmed by the thousands of local wines that are stacked pretty much everywhere. It looks like those old libraries where you have stairs so you can grab books from the top shelves – unbelievable. When you’ve found the ones you like, head next door to their deli for some smelly cheese and of course – cured ham. There are just so many things to in Barcelona, it’s unbelievable!
Continuing our exploration of La Ribera, we made our way to yet another church square, this time the classic Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. This church is very dear to the hearts of local Catalans and was actually on the water’s edge when it was built in the 14th century. You gotta love European churches – they are so beautiful both inside and outside, not to mention super old. There are once again, cafes and restaurants around the church and the street actually has some decent shopping.
Passeig del Born
From the basilica, walk towards Mercat del Born via Passeig del Born. Now home to some of the best bars in Barcelona, this street used to play host to medieval tournaments and you can definitely imagine some jousting going on in this wide street.
In front of you will be a large covered building that used to be home to the largest market in town until it was closed in the 1970s. Instead of being demolished, it was excavated to reveal dozens of historical Catalan structures dating all the way back to the 18th century. It’s totally free to get in and totally worth it. Walk around the rim and be amazed at what was uncovered.
You must taste this hot chocolate!
We were pretty much done exploring La Ribera and would head back towards the main cathedral via tranquil Sant Pere. It’s a laid-back walk via quiet streets, more squares with bars and cafes and a few notable mentions.
If you’re still looking for a place to eat, you might want to check out Bar del Convent. Housed in an old convent as its name suggests, it looked super cool and also right next to the chocolate museum so that could come in handy. Another cool spot is Placa de Sant Pere with its strange looking iron water fountain that still works even today.
Back in the center of the Gothic Quarter, it was already past 5 pm and time to for another authentic local delight – hot chocolate at Granja Dulcinea, right next to the basilica with the massive glass window. We struck out earlier as they closed for siesta so our timing was perfect for the second shift. If you come here, you must taste the thick hot chocolate along with a few churros on the side.
We headed back towards Placa Catalunya via Av. del Portal de L’Angel which is great for shopping and is much less crowded than La Rambla. You’ll find your big Spanish brands as well as cool little shops. That said, Barcelona’s streets are packed on a Saturday afternoon with shoppers and tourists but what can you do – they have a very good reason to be out.
The best tapas bar in Barcelona
After a nice nap back in the hotel, it was time for a super late dinner, just like the locals do. It was Saturday night in Barcelona and we took the V15 bus to El Vaso de Oro, down in the Barceloneta district. Once again at the recommendation of my friend Alejandro (this guy has golden tips), we weren’t that hungry but nonetheless wanted to experience another tapas bar and boy did we explore, and boy did we eat!
I would point you to their website but it’s really not their thing. You can tell that this place has been around for ages and is super popular with the locals. There are no reservations here (that I know of) and it’s every man for himself. Start to strategize who will be leaving soon and just stand next to them. It’s cramped and the atmosphere buzzing. I’ll let the video do the talking.
We didn’t come hungry but ended up getting the works. Highlights included: a large chunk of spicy tuna, an incredibly soft salmon with lemon sauce, cheese and one other item that I’d been searching for since we arrived – some perdon peppers (slightly mild salted peppers). We were in complete heaven! We ate (and drank) like there’s no tomorrow and all for less than 40€. The atmosphere was great, you could see the staff got along well and they didn’t even rush us with the bill. Alejandro – you da man! El Vaso de Oro gets a perfect 10!
There was simply no way we could walk back to the hotel, A: because we ate so much and B: because we must have walked at least 15 km on this day. I already mentioned that Barcelona has excellent public transportation and right beside the restaurant is the metro station straight back to Passeig de Gracia. As you exit the station – you get a great view of the Modernista buildings by night, a nice treat before going to bed. What a great day!
On such a perfect day? Come on? Ok – there are a few things
- Things didn’t work out again for us with cathedral towers. Apparently, you can catch nice views of the Gothic Quarter from the terrace of the Barcelona Cathedral.
- At the bottom of the Ramblas is the Colom, a tall column with a statue of Columbus himself in the middle of a large traffic circle. It’s nice to check out if you’re around.
- We wanted to check out the Palau de la Música Catalana, which is nice from the outside but even nicer looking from the inside.
- We wanted to pay a visit to the old Jewish synagogue in the Barri Gotic, one of the oldest in all of Europe and now a museum. It was closed on Saturday and the next day as well.