El Barri Gótic: The Gothic Quarter
El Barri Gótic (Barrio Gotico or Gothic Quarter) is a medieval city within the confines of modern Barcelona. It was built on top of Roman ruins, which you can visit on the cafe-lined Plaza de la Villa de Madrid. This neighborhood is often the first ones visited by tourists, as it is conveniently located off the famous Rambla. Though it is full of tourists, the Gotic has a lot to see.
A good first stop is the Plaza Sant Jaume, home to El Ajuntament, Barcelona’s city hall, and the La Generalitat, the Catalan central government, the two most important institutions in the city. Two beautiful and historic streets run to and from this plaza: Carrer del Bisbe and Carrer Ferrán. On the opposite side of Carrer del Bisbe you’ll find the breathtaking Barcelona cathedral, a gothic structure built between the years 1298 and 1450. The facade and its domed skylight are from the XIX century.
Another must-visit destination is the Placa Reial (Plaza Real – pictured at right) which is surrounded by palm trees and outdoor cafes – terrazas — where residents and tourists have el aperitivo while reading the paper or chatting over coffee during the day. At night, the plaza becomes a meeting point for locals and is a favorite place for nightlife, with several bars and clubs right on the plaza. The Placa Reial gives on the famous Rambla (full name is Rambla de las Canaletas, not to be confused with Rambla de Catalunya), one of the cities most important arteries and tourist drag par excellence. La Rambla (also known as Las Ramblas de les flors because of the numerous flower stands that line it) begins at Plaza Catalunya and ends at the sea, right at the Port of Barcelona (Port Vell).
The Barri Gótic is perhaps the best place to find traditional gastronomy coupled with culture. Here you’ll find beautiful restaurants like Els Cuatre Gats (“The Four Cats”) which opened its doors in 1897 and was the preferred hangout of Modernist masters Picasso and Gaudí. For a first course, we recommend Habas a la catalana or the alubias rojas estofadas, and for a main dish the filete de caballa or the emperador a la plancha. El Pla another popular restaurant in the heart of the Gótic. El Pla offers Mediterranean cuisine, with the Chef’s specialties featured on the prix fixe lunch from Thursday to Saturday.
On Carrer Petritxol (pictured above) you’ll find Barcelona’s finest cafes. If you visit in winter, you might have to stand in line for a table, but once seated, order a suizo — a rich Spanish hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream — and an ensaimada, Mallorca’s famed pastry. Take our word for it, this is an ideal merienda. If you are a cheese lover, you’ll want to make a stop at La formatgería La Seu, which specializes in Catalan and Spanish cheese.
Another spot you cannot miss is Caelum (Carrer Pall, 8, map), a teashop that sits literally in the ruins of an ancient Roman bath. From the street Caelum may look like any other neighborhood café, but pass through the shop and descend the stairs to find a surprise: a cavelike room lit only with candles, just as it would have looked in its original form as a Roman bath (but with tables). Have a seat next to the table full of homemade pastries (many made by nuns from nearby convents) and be dazzled by the variety: almond tarts, apple cakes, mazapán, polvorones, mantecados…the list goes on and on. Couple your choice with one of Caelum’s delicious teas, coffee, a glass of cava –or even Absynthe!