17 Best Sights in La Rambla, Barcelona

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Fodor's choice

Barcelona's opera house has long been considered one of the most beautiful in Europe, a rival to La Scala in Milan. First built in 1848, this cherished cultural landmark was torched in 1861, later bombed by anarchists in 1893, and once again gutted by an accidental fire in early 1994. During that most recent fire, Barcelona's soprano Montserrat Caballé stood on La Rambla in tears as her beloved venue was consumed. Five years later, a restored Liceu, equipped for modern productions, opened anew. Some of the Liceu's most spectacular halls and rooms, including the glittering foyer known as the Saló dels Miralls (Room of Mirrors), were untouched by the fire of 1994, as were those of Spain's oldest social club, El Círculo del Liceu—established in 1847 and restored to its pristine original condition after the fire. 

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La Boqueria

Fodor's choice
Food, Market, La Boqueria, Barcelona, Spain
Matthew Dixon / Shutterstock

Barcelona's most spectacular food market, also known as the Mercat de Sant Josep, is an explosion of life and color. As you turn in from La Rambla, you're greeted by bar-restaurants serving tapas at counters and stall after stall selling fruit, herbs, veggies, nuts, candied preserves, cheese, ham, fish, poultry, and other types of provender. Although you can avoid the worst of the crowds by browsing before 8 am and after 5 pm, most of the time, you'll have to wade through throngs of both locals and visitors. Indeed, the market has become so popular, that tourist groups of 15 people or more are banned from entering between 8 am to 3 pm Monday through Saturday.

Under a Moderniste hangar of wrought-iron girders and stained glass, the market occupies a Neoclassical square built in 1840, after the original Sant Josep convent was torn down, by architect Francesc Daniel Molina. The Ionic columns around the edges of the market were part of the mid-19th-century square, uncovered in 2001 after more than a century of neglect.

Highlights include the sunny greengrocers' market outside (to the right if you enter from La Rambla), along with Pinotxo (Pinocchio), just inside to the right, where owner Juanito Bayén and his family serve some of the best food in Barcelona. The secret? "Fresh, fast, hot, salty, and garlicky." If it's too crowded to find a seat, the Kiosko Universal, over toward the port side of the market, and Quim de la Boqueria, both offer delicious alternatives. Don't miss the fruits del bosc (fruits of the forest) specialty stand at the back of the market, with its display of wild mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and berries.

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Museu Marítim

Fodor's choice
Ship, Museu Marítim, Barcelona, Spain
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

This superb museum is housed in the 13th-century Drassanes Reials (Royal Shipyards), at the foot of La Rambla adjacent to the harborfront. This vast covered complex launched the ships of Catalonia's powerful Mediterranean fleet directly from its yards into the port (the water once reached the level of the eastern facade of the building). Today, these are the world's largest and best-preserved medieval shipyards. Centuries ago, at a time when the region around Athens was a province of the House of Aragón (1311–90), they were of crucial importance to the sea power of Catalonia (then the heavyweight in an alliance with Aragón).

On the Avinguda del Paral·lel side of Drassanes is a completely intact section of the 14th- to 15th-century walls—Barcelona's third and final ramparts—that encircled El Raval along the Paral·lel and the Rondas de Sant Pau, Sant Antoni, and Universitat. (Ronda, the term used for the "rounds," or patrols soldiers made atop the defensive walls, became the name for the avenues that replaced them.)

The Museu Marítim is filled with vessels, including a spectacular collection of ship models. The life-size reconstruction of the galley of Juan de Austria, commander of the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Lepanto, is perhaps the most impressive display in the museum. Figureheads, nautical gear, early navigational charts, and medieval nautical lore enhance the experience, and headphones and infrared pointers provide a first-rate self-guided tour.

Concerts are occasionally held in this acoustic gem. The cafeteria-restaurant Norai, open daily 9 am to 8 pm, offers dining in a setting of medieval elegance, and has a charming terrace. Admission to the museum includes a visit to the schooner Santa Eulàlia, a meticulously restored clipper built in 1918, which is moored nearby at the Port Vell.

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Palau Güell

Fodor's choice

Gaudí built this mansion in 1886–90 for textile baron Count Eusebi de Güell Bacigalupi, his most important patron. (The prominent four bars of the senyera, the banner of Catalunya, on the facade between the parabolic arches of the entrance attest to the nationalist fervor the two men shared.) Gaudí's principal obsession in this project was to find a way to illuminate this seven-story house, hemmed in as it is by other buildings in the cramped quarters of El Raval. The dark facade is a dramatic foil for the brilliance of the inside, where spear-shape Art Nouveau columns frame the windows, rising to support a series of detailed and elaborately carved wood ceilings.

The basement stables are famous for the "fungiform" (mushroom-like) columns carrying the weight of the whole building. Note Gaudí's signature parabolic arches between the columns and the way the arches meet overhead, forming a canopy of palm fronds. (The beauty of the construction was probably little consolation to the political prisoners held here during the 1936–39 Civil War.) The patio where the horses were groomed receives light through a skylight, one of many devices Gaudí used to brighten the space. Don't miss the figures of the faithful hounds, with the rings in their mouths for hitching horses, or the wooden bricks laid down in lieu of cobblestones in the entryway upstairs and on the ramp down to the basement grooming area, to deaden the sound of horses' hooves.

Upstairs are three successive receiving rooms; the wooden ceilings are progressively more spectacular in the complexity of their richly molded floral motifs. The room farthest in has a jalousie in the balcony: a double grate through which Güell was able to observe—and eavesdrop on—his arriving guests. The main hall, with the three-story-tall tower reaching up above the roof, was for parties, dances, and receptions. Musicians played from the balcony; the overhead balcony window was for the principal singer. Double doors enclose a chapel of hammered copper with retractable prie-dieu; around the corner is a small organ, the flutes in rectangular tubes climbing the central shaft of the building.

The dining room is dominated by a beautiful mahogany banquet table seating 10, an Art Nouveau fireplace in the shape of a deeply curving horseshoe arch, and walls with floral and animal motifs. From the outside rear terrace, the polished Garraf marble of the main part of the house is exposed; the brick servants' quarters are on the left. The passageway built toward La Rambla was all that came of a plan to buy an intervening property and connect three houses into one grand structure, a scheme that never materialized.

Gaudí is most himself on the roof, where his playful, polychrome ceramic chimneys seem like preludes to later works like the Park Güell and La Pedrera. Look for the flying-bat weather vane over the main chimney, a reference to the Catalan king Jaume I, who brought the house of Aragón to its 13th-century imperial apogee in the Mediterranean. Jaume I's affinity for bats is said to have stemmed from his Mallorca campaign, when, according to one version, he was awakened by a fluttering rat penat (literally, "condemned mouse") in time to stave off a Moorish night attack.

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Nou de la Rambla 3–5, 08001, Spain
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Rate Includes: €12; free 1st Sun. of month for tickets purchased online, Closed Mon., Guided tours (1 hr) in English Sat. at 10:30 am at no additional cost

Plaça Reial

Fodor's choice

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 elegant square, a chiaroscuro masterpiece in which neoclassical symmetry clashes with big-city street funk. Plaça Reial is bordered by stately ocher facades with balconies overlooking the wrought-iron Fountain of the Three Graces, and an array of lampposts designed by Gaudí in 1879. Cafés and restaurants line the square. Plaça Reial is most colorful on Sunday morning, when collectors 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). 

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Café Zurich

La Rambla

This traditional café and rendezvous point at the top of the Rambla, over the metro station, has an elegant, high-ceilinged interior. The terrace is one of the city's prime people-watching spots—but keep a sharp eye on your bags and valuables.

Carrer dels Escudellers

Named for the terrissaires (earthenware potters) who worked here making escudellas (bowls or stew pots), this colorful loop is an interesting subtrip off La Rambla. Go left at Plaça del Teatre and you'll pass the landmark Grill Room at No. 8, an Art Nouveau saloon with graceful wooden decor and an ornate oak bar; next is La Fonda Escudellers, another lovely, glass- and stone-encased dining emporium. (Alas, the food is not especially good at either.)

At Nos. 23–25 is Barcelona's most comprehensive ceramics display, Art Escudellers. Farther down, on the right, is Los Caracoles, once among the most traditional of Barcelona's restaurants and now mainly the choice of tourists with deep pockets. Still, the bar and the walk-through kitchen on the way in are picturesque, as are the dining rooms and the warren of little stairways between them. Another 100 yards down Carrer Escudellers is Plaça George Orwell, named for the author of Homage to Catalonia, a space created to bring light and air into this somewhat sketchy neighborhood. The little flea market that hums along on Saturday is a great place to browse.

Take a right on the narrow Carrer de la Carabassa—a street best known in days past for its houses of ill fame, and one of the few remaining streets in the city still entirely paved with cobblestones. It is arched over with two graceful bridges that once connected the houses with their adjacent gardens. At the end of the street, looming atop her own basilica, is Nostra Senyora de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy). This giant representation of Barcelona's patron saint is a 20th-century (1940) addition to the 18th-century Església de la Mercè; the view of La Mercè gleaming in the sunlight, babe in arms, is one of the Barcelona waterfront's most impressive sights.

As you arrive at Carrer Ample, note the 15th-century door with a winged Sant Miquel Archangel delivering a backhand blow to a scaly Lucifer. It's from the Sant Miquel church, formerly part of City Hall, torn down in the early 19th century. From the Mercè, a walk out Carrer Ample (to the right) leads back to the bottom of La Rambla. 

Carrer dels Escudellers, 08002, Spain

Carrer Petritxol

Just steps from La Rambla, Carrer Petritxol is one of Barcelona's most popular streets. Lined with art galleries, xocolaterías (chocolate shops), and stationers, this narrow passageway dates from the 15th century, when it was used as a shortcut through the backyard of a local property owner.

Working up Petritxol from Plaça del Pi, stop to admire the late-17th-century sgraffito design (mural ornamentation made by scratching away a plaster surface), some of the city's best, on the facade over the Ganiveteria Roca knife store, the place for cutlery in Barcelona. Next on the right, at Petritxol 2 is the 200-year-old Dulcinea, with a portrait of the great Catalan playwright Àngel Guimerà (1847–1924) over the fireplace. Drop in for the house specialty, the suizo ("Swiss" hot chocolate and whipped cream). 

Note the plaque to Àngel Guimerà over No. 4 and Sala Parès at No. 5, founded in 1840, the dean of Barcelona's art galleries, where major figures like Isidre Nonell, Santiago Rusiñol, and Picasso have shown their work, and its affiliated Galeria Trama, which shows more contemporary work. Look carefully at the "curtains" carved into the wooden door at No. 11 and the floral ornamentation around the edges of the ceiling inside; the store is Granja la Pallaresa, yet another enclave of chocolate and ensaimada (a light-looking but deadly sweet Mallorcan pastry, with confectioner's sugar dusted on top). 

Carrer Petrixol, 08002, Spain

Casa Bruno Cuadros

Like something out of an amusement park, this former umbrella shop was whimsically designed (assembled is more like it) by Josep Vilaseca in 1885. A Chinese dragon with a parasol, Egyptian balconies and galleries, and a Peking lantern all reflect the Eastern style that was very much in vogue at the time of the Universal Exposition of 1888. Now housing a branch office of the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Artentaria (BBVA), this prankster of a building is much in keeping with Art Nouveau's eclectic playfulness, though it has never been taken very seriously as an expression of Modernisme and is generally omitted from most studies of Art Nouveau architecture.

Església de Betlem

The Church of Bethlehem is one of Barcelona's few baroque buildings, and hulks stodgily on La Rambla just above Rambla de les Flors. Burned out completely at the start of the Civil War in 1936, the church is unremarkable inside; the outside, spruced up, is made of what looks like quilted stone. If you find this less than a must-see, worry not: you have all of Barcelona for company, with the possible exception of Betlem's parishioners. This was where Viceroy Amat claimed the hand of the young virreina-to-be when in 1780 she was left in the lurch by the viceroy's nephew. In a sense, Betlem has compensated the city with the half century of good works the young widow was able to accomplish with her husband's fortune.

Carme 2, 08001, Spain

Font de Canaletes

This fountain is a key spot in Barcelona, the place where all great futbol 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 are destined to return.

Rambla de Canaletes s/n, 08002, Spain

Mirador de Colom

This Barcelona landmark to Christopher Columbus sits grandly at the foot of La Rambla along the wide harbor-front promenade of Passeig de Colom, not far from the very shipyards (Drassanes Reials) that constructed two of the ships of his tiny but immortal fleet. Standing atop the 150-foot-high iron column—the base of which is aswirl with gesticulating angels—Columbus seems to be looking out at "that far-distant shore" he discovered; in fact he's pointing, with his 18-inch-long finger, in the general direction of Sicily.

The monument was erected for the 1888 Universal Exposition to commemorate the commissioning of Columbus's voyage in Barcelona by the monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1491. Since the royal court was at that time itinerant (and remained so until 1561), Barcelona's role in the discovery of the New World is at best circumstantial. In fact, Barcelona was consequently excluded from trade with the Americas by Isabella, so Catalonia and Columbus have never really seen eye to eye. For a bird's-eye view of La Rambla and the port, take the elevator to the small viewing platform (mirador) at the top of the column (open daily from 8:30 am to 8:30 pm). The entrance is on the harbor side.

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Pl. Portal de la Pau s/n, 08001, Spain
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Rate Includes: €6, Last elevator ride is at 1:30 pm

Palau de la Virreina

La Rambla

This beautiful edifice right on the bustling Rambla is an important Barcelona art hub, resource, and outpost of the Institut de Cultura, with photography on display at the Espai Xavier Miserachs, temporary exhibits on the patio, and cultural events held regularly in the space.

Palau de la Virreina

La Rambla

The baroque Virreina Palace, built by a viceroy to Peru in the late 18th century, is now a major center for themed exhibitions of contemporary art, film, and photography. The TiquetRambles office on the ground floor, run by the city government's Institut del Cultura (ICUB), open daily 10–8:30, is the place to go for information and last-minute tickets to concerts, theater and dance performances, gallery shows, and museums. The portal to the palace, and the pediments carved with elaborate floral designs, are a must-see.

Rambla de les Flors 99, Barcelona, 08002, Spain
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Rate Includes: Free; €3 charge for some exhibits, Closed Mon., Tues.–Sun. noon–8

Palau Moja

La Rambla

The first palace to occupy this corner on La Rambla was built in 1702 and inhabited by the Marquès de Moja. The present austere palace was completed in 1784 and, with the Betlem church across the street, forms a small baroque-era pocket along La Rambla. Now housing offices of the Cultural Heritage Department of the Catalan Ministry of Culture (with a tourist information center on the ground floor), the Palau is normally open to the public only on rare occasions, such as special exhibitions, when visitors also have the chance to see the handsome mural and painted ceiling by Francesc Pla, the 18th-century painter known as El Vigatà (meaning "from Vic," a town 66 km [40 miles] north of Barcelona, where he was born). In the late 19th century the Palau Moja was bought by Antonio López y López, Marquès de Comillas, and it was here that Jacint Verdaguer, Catalonia's national poet and chaplain of the marquess's shipping company, the Compañia Transatlántica, wrote his famous patriotic epic poem "L'Atlàntida."

Carrer de la Portaferrissa 1, Barcelona, 08002, Spain
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Rate Includes: Closed weekends

Port de Barcelona

Port Olímpic

Beyond the Columbus monument—behind the ornate Duana (now the Barcelona Port Authority headquarters)—is La Rambla de Mar, a boardwalk with a drawbridge designed to allow boats into and out of the inner harbor. La Rambla de Mar extends out to the Moll d'Espanya, with its ultra-touristy Maremagnum shopping center (open on Sunday, unusual for Barcelona) and the excellent Aquarium. Next to the Duana you can board a Golondrina boat for a tour of the port and the waterfront Trasmediterránea and Baleària passenger ferries leave for Italy and the Balearic Islands from the Moll de Barcelona; at the end of the quay is Barcelona's World Trade Center and the Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel.

Portaferrissa Fountain

Both the fountain and the ceramic representation of Barcelona's second set of walls and the early Rambla are worth studying carefully. If you can imagine pulling out the left side of the ceramic scene and looking broadside at the amber yellow 13th-century walls that ran down this side of the Rambla, you will see a clear picture of what this spot looked like in medieval times. The sandy Rambla ran along outside the walls, while the portal looked down through the ramparts into the city. As the inscription on the fountain explains, the Porta Ferrica, or Iron Door, was named for the iron measuring stick attached to the wood and used in the 13th and 14th centuries to establish a unified standard for measuring goods. The fountain itself dates to 1680; the ceramic tiles are 20th century.

Portaferrissa 2, 08002, Spain