A Ramblas survival guide for brilliant Barcelona

Walk down the Ramblas – Barcelona’s main old town promenade – and you’re presented with one of the greatest free shows in Europe. Musicians, magicians, human statues, flower-sellers, strolling couples, pavement cafés, theatre-goers, jewellery-selleMalabaras, Kom bors, portrait-painters, caged birds, newspaper stalls, souvenirs, shoppers, drinkers, backpackers and beggars – it seems like the whole of human life is  represented there.

From top to bottom – from Plaça de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus monument – takes less than half an hour to walk, and packs in more verve, excitement and colour than many cities manage in a year.

But you have to know how to tackle the Ramblas. Even though it’s a fixture on every Barcelona itinerary, not everyone gets the best out of Spain’s most famous street. Here’s how to survive – and thrive – in brilliant Barcelona.Barcelona, Moyan Brenn

Come when the locals come
The locals love the Ramblas. It’s the heartbeat and emblem of their dynamic city, and for Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca it was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end”. It’s not like London’s Oxford Street, where no self-respecting Londoner would ever set foot – the Ramblas is a true part of Catalan culture.

So you might be wondering where the locals are, as you push your way through the heavy numbers of tourists clogging up the central promenade?

That’s easy – they’ve already been and gone, first thing in the early morning, to buy flowers or have a stand-up espresso on their way to work. They’ll come back in the early evening for a stroll and a chat. And they’ll definitely be back in their cars at around midnight, horns blaring, flags waving, if Barcelona wins a big football game.

Cafés and restaurants – walk on by
Locals may love the Ramblas but few of them would eat and drink there. Those outdoor café tables look inviting, but you’ll pay a small fortune for average food in the company of tons of tourists. You’ll do infinitely better on either side of the Ramblas – literally just a few steps away in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) or El Raval neighbourhoodCade de l'Opera, Daniel Garcia Periss.

There are two exceptions.

Café Zurich, right at the top of the Ramblas in Plaça de Catalunya, is a traditional meeting place, with brusque waiters gliding around a burnished wooden interior. It’s good for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee before starting your stroll.

And at the other end of the day, the age-old Café de l’Opera (opposite the Liceu opera house) is just the place for a midnight brandy. Sit inside and soak up the faded gentility and period flavour.

Stand still and enjoy the free show
The famous human statues on the Ramblas elevate the simple act of standing very still into an art form. There are ghosts and gladiators, Simpsons’ characters and centurions, men in boxes, women dressed as fruit, floating flower sellers, skeleton cyclists, talking portraits and adult-sized babies in prams.

And we haven’t even got to the truly weird ones yet. My all-time favourite? The body lying under a pile of rubble on the side of the Ramblas. All you could see was a head, a leg and an arm, while every so often the buried body emitted a plaintive moan. That was it. All day. Genius.

Go to market
The Boqueria market is a must – but give all the bright and shiny stalls at the main Ramblas entrance a miss. Very photogenic, very pricey.Spices shop, marimbajlamesa

Locals do their shopping further in – the central fish and seafood stalls are fantastic, while for fruit and veg haPinotxo Bar, Yasuke Kawasakive a look at the maket garden stalls over to the far right-hand side.

A stand-up glass of cava and some tapas at Bar Pinotxo is a Barcelona tradition, especially early morning with the market traders or late at night when chefs from the surrounding restaurants start to trickle in.

Be sensible – stay safe
The Ramblas once had a very seedy side, but it’s been much cleaned up over the years. I dare say you could still find a whispered offer of “hashish!” if you really tried, and ladies of the night still taunt callow tourists in the lower side streets, but on the whole the Ramblas is a pale imitation of the infamous ‘China Town’ scene of the 193os that at once horrified and fascinated observers like George Orwell.

Still, let’s be sensible. It’s one of Barcelona’s busiest tourist attractions, so pickpockets and bag-snatchers are always looking for easy pickings.La Rambla, Matthieu Marquer

And if you are enticed into playing cards or dice with a man on the street, however, easy it looks to win, you only have yourself to blame.

Don’t ignore the history
It’s easy to get caught up in the human drama of the street itself, but don’t ignore the history. Hard to believe now, but the Spanish Civil War was played out across the rooftops of the Ramblas – Orwell had to dodge sniper fire here and the lovely Betlem church near the top was burned and sacked inside by the anarchists.

Or there’s the graceful Virreina palace, home to the city’s giant carnival figures which are paraded through the city each year. Or take a tour around the opera house, or duck into the ‘Bosc de les Fades’ grotto bar inside the wax museum, or ride the elevator to the top of the Columbus monument for amazing city views.

One Ramblas visit is never enough, that’s for sure.

Want to read more Barcelona stories?
Check out 5 great free things to do in Barcelona

Malabaras (statues) en las Ramblas by Kom bo, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Ramblas (Barcelona, cycling skeletons) by Joaquin Moreno, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Barcelona by Moyan Brenn, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Spices shop – La Boqueria by marimbajlamesa, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Pinotxo Bar by Yasuke Kawosaki, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Cafe de l’Opera by Daniel Garcia Peris, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
La Rambla Barcelona by Matthieu Marquer, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

  1. I loved our week staying on Las Ramblas. Waking up in the morning overlooking it and seeing it come to life. Strolling the street and seeing the performers. We spent time in the Gothic Qtr and the Tapas Bars just off the street. Had great Churros. It was all wonderful.

    We had an afternoon in our room as snow fell in Barcelona for the first time in 20 or so years gave the street a very unusual look.

    The Boqueria Market was amazing with breakfast at The Pintoxa Bar a highlight only marginally surpassing their Catalan Creme Brûlée that we sampled on one of a number of visits.

    We’d been warned about the pickpockets but didn’t feel unsafe at all.

    The Boqueria Market is the only market I’ve been to in the centre of a city that comes close to The Adelaide Central Market. Yes I’m biased because it is just a few hundred meters from where I live but if you visit I’m sure you’ll see that I’m right! (Hope you don’t mind the plug for Adelaide but the market is awesome!)


    • Glad you liked Barcelona – you picked out some real highlights there! I go to Pinotxo Bar every time too. I have actually been to Adelaide’s market so I can agree with you on that (but I probably still go for the Boqueria or the market in Valencia as my favourite!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We just got back from 2 weeks in Spain, and 4 awesome days in Barcelona. Stayed at a youth hostel (Urban Hostel) and saw a Barca FB match. We then went to Rioja for 4 days, then the crazy Costa Brava. We all loved it! Hope all is well,


    Date: Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:38:48 +0000 To: tdojoe@hotmail.com


  3. Hi Jules

    Loved this article.

    I have always had a love – hate relationship with wanting to travel to Barcelona.
    this article has made things seem a bit more clear and inviting.

    I love your images of the street and the performers. It looks amazing, and def a people watching kind of activity.

    I like that you mentioned people needing to be smart about pick pockets etc. I get very frustrated with people when they go to crowded places as tourists and then bring down the whole name of the country they visited because they were pick pocketed etc. It truly is about doing your research, being aware of your surroundings and especially in an area, or at a place where taking your eyes off your attention is the point.

    Great post!

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Cee, thanks so much for your comments. I hope I’ve made Barcelona a bit more inviting now, I certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone off. As you rightly say, it’s our responsibility to make sure we stay safe, so I hope I gave you some good tips! Love to hear about your Barcelona trip if you get to go some time, keep in touch!

      Liked by 1 person

Why not talk to Jules?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s