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Downtown Barcelona

A Guide to Downtown Barcelona: Where to Visit, What to Eat, Dos and Don’ts

by Christian Petzold - updated January 7, 2022

Barcelona is a world-class city with a wealth of culture to explore. It’s a vibrant city that never sleeps and has become the #1 destination in Spain for tourists. From spectacular World Heritage Sites to buzzing nightlife – Downtown Barcelona is something you’d never forget to be.

Downtown Barcelona is called Ciutat Vella, or The Old City because it comprises a collection of neighborhoods beneath the Eixample (literally meaning expansion) district. Barcelona’s central area, which includes the Gothic Quarter, Raval, Born, and Ribera neighborhoods, is vibrant with activity, history, authenticity, and typical Spanish charm.

Besides the selected ‘barrios,’ the downtown area has well-known attractions, including La Rambla, Plaza Catalunya, and Portal de L’Angel, the city’s largest outdoor shopping strip.

Where to Go in Downtown Barcelona?

La Rambla

La Rambla Center 1

The main street of the Ciutat Vella district, La Rambla, is 1.2 km long and is lined with trees and ornate street lamps. It’s one of the city’s most famous streets. It is also one of Barcelona’s best-known landmarks, featured in many European films. Several of Barcelona’s most renowned restaurants are on this street.

The street starts at the seafront and goes through the Eixample district, bordering Plaça de Catalunya and Catalunya metro station. 

Arc de Triomf

Arc De Triomf

This monument stands as a tribute to Catalonia’s existence as an independent country. It was built for the International Exposition World’s Fair of 1806, which it won first place after completion; it was the first time that Spain had been awarded such an honor without having won it through war or conquest.

It towers over Passeig de Lluís Companys (the street that leads to the Arc de Triomf), which sits at its base.

Palau de la Música Catalana

Palau De La Musica Catalana 1

This is a modernist concert hall, so it doesn’t have the classical feel expected from a cathedral. It was designed by Lluís Domènech I Montaner and constructed between 1905 and 1908.

It has been described as “a unique creation from the artistic point of view, and an ingenious solution to cultural needs of its time.”

The Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter In Barcelona 1

The Gothic Quarter is the first quarter of the city and it’s where Barcelona’s historical center is located. It is a must-see for those who wish to explore alternative places and experience different cultures.

With its many colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, and narrow alleyways, this is where you can glimpse into how Barcelona used to look like a medieval city.

Eixample District

Eixample District

The highlight of this district is La Pedrera (The Stone Quarry), an art deco building designed by Josep Puig I Cadafalch in 1907. It is a testament to Barcelona’s history of architecture and is a modernist masterpiece.

The Life Sciences Museum

This museum is home to a wide array of animals kept in natural habitats. It contains over 80 species, from Giraffes to Lemurs, and you can explore the exhibits at your own pace throughout the museum.

The building was constructed in 1929 and expanded in 2011 after being renovated. It sits on 10 hectares of untouched nature, making it the perfect location for this type of museum.

Passeig de Gràcia

Passeig De Gracia Placard 1 1

In Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia, you can find some of the finest contemporary architecture that mimics more of a Versailles-style. The buildings are elegant and even more so at night with colorful illumination. 

What to eat in Downtown Barcelona

Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana

This is a Catalan cream dessert. Traditional recipes include egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Some variations to the recipe include using whipped cream or custard instead of egg yolks or adding rum or brandy during preparation to give it an even more decadent taste.

Paella

Paella

The most famous dish of Spain – pasta with seafood made in an iron pan called a ‘paellera’ – originated in Valencia but was quickly adopted all across Catalonia. You can find this dish at restaurants throughout Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella district.

Esqueixada

Esqueixada

Salt Cod was historically considered a mainstay of the Spanish diet, and it may be prepared in various delectable ways today. They sometimes do not even cook it!

Catalonian desalinated salt cod salad “Esqueixada” is made with a combination of peppers, tomatoes, onions, and finished with a generous amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil to create a lovely salad that is both refreshing and filling at the same time.

Tortilla De Patatas

Tortilla De Patatas

Basically, this is an omelet made with potatoes, onions, and eggs. It is like the French omelet but is less delicate. They can serve it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

Croquetas

Croquetas

They credit the croquette to the French. However, “invention” is merely the beginning process. In the eyes of the Spaniards, they have elevated croquettes to an art form! “Croqueta” is one of the most popular tapas because of its affordability and deliciousness.

They are made by breading and frying various ingredients and holding them together with a thick bechamel sauce, which provides a rich and enticing basis of taste.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas

While patatas bravas are popular throughout the country, Barcelona is an excellent location to dig into some perfectly cooked potatoes topped in a spicy “bravas” sauce. This is a signature dish for many bars, and this sauce is cooked differently from place to place.

There are two primary styles: the more common mayonnaise-based one, filled with beautiful spices, and the tomato-based one, which typically has a nice tanginess that pairs well with fried potatoes.

Accommodations in Downtown Barcelona

We strongly recommend you book a hotel as near to Downtown Barcelona as possible. While the bargains at the far-flung hotels may be tempting, you’ll have a far better experience if you stay closer to the action and excitement of the city center.

Barcelona sightseeing means a lot of walking, so book a hotel near the city’s center, wear comfortable walking shoes while you’re out and about, and consider taking a bike tour of the city when you don’t want to walk, and the weather is pleasant outside!

Barcelona Dos and Don’ts for Tourists

Barcelona is one of the most popular places in Europe. This means that it’s also one of the most visited cities by tourists from all over the world, and a lot of them make a few mistakes when they first arrive. If you’re planning on visiting Barcelona for any reason, don’t let these common mistakes tempt you.

Do’s

  • Do learn a few Spanish words. 

Getting acquainted with some essential, popular Spanish terms should be your first order of business before traveling to Spain. It’s essential to remember phrases like “please,” “thank you,” “pardon me,” and “I don’t understand.” These are all terms you should keep in mind while communicating in Spanish.

They come in useful when you need to ask a local for directions or when you need to conduct yourself graciously.

  • Do fit in!

There is no better way to form friendships on your travels than to get involved with this vibrant city’s local culture.

The atmosphere in bars where they serve wine is always relaxed. Why? Well, because the “wine” they do is actually vino Tinto – Spanish red wine! These bars are great for groups because you can meet with friends before going out to other places.

  • Do visit the Tapas bars.

Tapas are a typical Spanish dish. If you want to spend a good evening with your friends and family, visit the tapas bars, because there you can eat delicious food, drink a glass of wine and talk about everything under the sun.

  • Do buy souvenirs in Downtown Barcelona.

One of the best ways to remember your visit is with a souvenir in Barcelona. Spanish artisans have been creating beautiful and creative objects for centuries, and you’re sure to find something that strikes your fancy.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional wood sculpture or pottery, vintage jewelry, or fine leather goods, you’ll find many options throughout the city – especially in the Barrio Gotico area of town, where many artisans call home.

The trick with shopping for souvenirs is finding what’s most meaningful to you: Is it local artwork? Local cuisine? An artisanal creation from another country? The great thing about visiting Spain is that no matter what kind of travel experience you’re seeking, you’re sure to find it here.

Don’ts

  • Don’t have dinner before 8:00 pm.

First and foremost, respect the local timetables and schedules. Don’t enter restaurants or eateries expecting dinner service at 6 p.m. The Spanish eat around 8 p.m. or later, so do what the Spanish do! Eat like a local to get a sense of Spain.

  • Don’t eat Paella for dinner (It can give you sleepless nights)

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to eat Paella for supper. Unless you have a great metabolism or relish the midnight stomach rumbling, this meal is best served for lunch and should be avoided at night.

  • Don’t tip too much.

When dining at a restaurant, avoid tipping excessively. The custom is to leave free change for the locals. Remember that they don’t believe in extravagant tipping.

  • Don’t take photos at a shop without asking permission.

It’s normal to take photos of buildings, squares, or markets during any sightseeing in Downtown Barcelona. But would you be happy if somebody took a picture of your house without your permission? So the best thing is to ask for permission. Sometimes, it’s also necessary to pay a small fee.

Bottom Line

Barcelona is a city with an exciting mixture of cultures. It has a very diverse metropolitan population with different religions and languages. With an interesting history and the beautiful architecture in the city center, Downtown Barcelona has plenty to offer tourists worldwide.

So no matter if you’re looking for a romantic city break, a family holiday, or something more adventurous and fun – Barcelona has something for everyone. Below are some of our travel guides. We have listed some of our travel guides below. 

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