Themed Tours in Barcelona
The Gothic Quarter, which includes remnants of the medieval Jewish district, El Call, as well as Barcelona's 2000-year-old Roman past, is a joy to wander around. Its labyrinth of narrow, cobblestone streets is lined with both important monuments — including palaces, convents, and churches — and smaller, lesser known attractions.
Start: Metro to Jaume I.
The Barrí Gòtic has long been known as the 'Cathedral Quarter', so this is the logical place to start. Locals gather at the Plaça Nova (‘new square', dating from 1358!) in front of the cathedral to perform the sardana, a Catalan folk dance (Sunday mornings and national holidays). To the right of the main entrance to the cathedral is the Portal de Bisbe, semicircular twin towers and one of three gateways to the walled settlement of Roman Barcino (4th century AD).
Plaça de Ramon Berenguer el Gran
One of the largest surviving sections of the second Roman wall, dating to the 4th century AD, is in this square. The equestrian statue is of the 12th-century Catalan hero who gives the square its name. Rising above the wall are the 14th-century Palau Reial Major (Royal Palace), Santa Àgata chapel and a Gothic tower. These are all best seen from Plaça del Rei, which you'll visit shortly.
Vía Laietana s/n.
Mesón del Café
A tiny, charming café that dates back to 1909, this is the kind of good-vibes spot where neighbourhood folks stop by every day for some of the city's best coffee. There are seats at the bar as well as tables in back.
Carrer Llibretería, 16.
+34 93 315 0754
Plaça del Rei
This noble and austere square is the most beautiful part of the Barrí Gòtic. Here you'll find subterranean Roman ruins and the medieval Royal Palace where the Catholic Monarchs are said to have received Columbus on his return from the New World in 1493. The sculpture in the square, Topos V, is by the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, one of Spain's great 20th-century artists.
One of the Bari Gòtic's best kept secrets, the Temple d'Augustus has, within its medieval courtyard, four majestic Corinthian columns, which are all that remains of Roman Barcelona's main temple. Most historians believe that it was dedicated to the emperor Caesar Augustus, hence its name. What is certain is that, on the highest point of the city, it was once the prominent feature of the Roman Forum.
Carrer del Bisbe
One of the loveliest streets in the Gothic Quarter, the former principal artery of the Roman city connects the cathedral to Plaça Sant Jaume. On one side are the Cases dels Canonges, a series of 14th-century Gothic palaces. On the other is the Palau de la Generalitat, home to the Regional Government of Catalonia. Notice the rooftop gargoyles watching over the street action below. Arching over the lane is a bridge of carved stone, which only looks Gothic; it was added in 1928.
Plaça de Sant Jaume
An important crossroads during the Roman era, this broad square has been the political epicentre of Barcelona for more than five centuries. On one side is the Palau de la Generalitat. Across from it is the 14th-century Ajuntament, Barcelona's Town Hall.
Plaça de Sant Just
This quiet, diminutive square is one of the most representative and unadulterated in medieval Barcelona. The Esglèsia dels Sants Just i Pastor, a church begun in 1342, features a single nave in the Catalan Gothic style. It's usually open only for Sunday Mass. The Gothic fountain in the square dates to 1367. Palau Moxó, a seigniorial mansion across the square, was added in 1700.
Carrer del Call leads into the warren of small streets that once comprised the Call, or Jewish Quarter, in medieval Barcelona (until the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492). Only a few important vestiges of the community remain. The Sinagoga Medieval de Barcelona claims to be the oldest synagogue in Spain (based on a royal document from 1267). A nearby medieval Hebrew inscription marking a death in 692 AD reads, "Rabbi Samuel Hassareri, may his life never cease".
Carrer Marlet, 5.
+34 93 317 0790
Mon-Fri 10.30am-2.30pm & 4pm-7pm; Sat & Sun 10.30am-3pm
La Vinateria del Call
This romantic little spot in the heart of the old Jewish Quarter serves up local wines and Catalan tapas, such as cured meats and cheese.
Carrer de Sant Domènec del Call, 9
+34 93 302 6092
Plaça de Sant Felip Neri
Down a tiny passageway off carrer Sant Sever is one of the most tranquil and poetic spots in the Ciutat Vella. It was once the site of a cemetery and the spectre of the dead lingers. Behind the gurgling fountain is a reminder of Spain's not-too-distant violence: the walls of the 17th-century church are scarred by Civil War bombs that killed 42 people in 1938.
Carrer dels Banys Nous
This atmospheric street (named for the location of the ‘new baths', dating from the 12th century) follows the line of the old Roman wall and today is known as el carrer dels antiquaries — the street of antiques dealers.
Plaça del Pi
A trio of pretty, contiguous plazas surrounds the 15th-century church Santa María del Pi, known for its rose window. Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol adjoins Plaça del Pi and, behind the church, tiny Placeta del Pi. The squares are recognized for the unusual sgraffito decorative technique on the plaster facades of several buildings, an 18th-century style imported from Italy. But the leafy squares are most popular for the weekend artisans' market and open-air café-bars, making this an excellent place to while away the hours and finish a walking tour.