Plaça de Catalunya (Plaza de Cataluña in Spanish) is the city's heart, the world-famous La Rambla -- also known as Las Ramblas -- its main artery. La Rambla begins at the Plaça Portal de la Pau, with its 49-m (160-feet)-high monument to Columbus opposite the port, and stretches north to the Plaça de Catalunya. Along this wide promenade you'll find newsstands, stalls selling birds and flowers, portrait painters, and cafe tables and chairs, where you can sit and watch the passing parade. Such is its popularity with visitors today that during the summer months you'll be hard pressed to spot a genuine local. Moving northward along La Rambla, the area on your left is El Raval, the largest neighborhood in Barcelona, and to your right is the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter). These two neighborhoods, plus the area of La Ribera, which lies further to your right across another main artery, the Vía Laietana, make up the sizeable Ciutat Vella (Old City). Within these three neighborhoods are two subregions. One is the notorious Barri Xinès or Barrio Chino (literally, Chinese Quarter, although this is no Chinatown) near the eastern end of El Raval, bordering La Rambla. The other is El Born -- prosperous in the Middle Ages and today Barcelona's bastion of cool -- in the lower, port-side pocket of La Ribera. As this whole condensed, character-filled area is large -- though not as large as sprawling but amorphous L'Eixample -- I have subdivided all its attractions into El Raval, Barri Gòtic, and La Ribera.
Across the Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla becomes Rambla Catalunya, with the elegant Passeig de Gràcia running parallel to the immediate right. These are the two main arteries of L'Eixample (Catalan for "extension"). This is where most of the architectural jewels of the modernisme period, including key works by Antoni Gaudí, dot the harsh grids of this graceful, middle-class neighborhood. Both end at the Diagonal, a major cross-town artery that also serves as the city's business and commercial hub. Northward across the Diagonal is the suburb of Gràcia. Once a separate village, it makes up in atmosphere for what it lacks in notable monuments.
The other areas of interest for the visitor are Montjuïc, the bluff to the southwest of the city, and the maritime area of Barceloneta and the beaches. The first is the largest green zone in the city, contains some of its top museums, and was the setting for the principal events of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. The second is a peninsula that has long been the city's populist playground, with dozens of fish restaurants, some facing the beaches that sprawl northward along the coast. Behind the city to the northwest, higher than Montjuïc, is Tibidabo, looming like a sentinel and enjoying great views of the city and the Mediterranean. It also has a veteran amusement park and a kitsch pseudo-Gothic church, which aspires to emulate Paris's Sacré Coeur.
Finding an Address/Maps -- Finding a Barcelona address doesn't generally pose too many problems. The Eixample district is built on a grid system, so by learning the cross-street you can easily find the place you are looking for. Barcelona is hemmed in on one side by the sea (mar) and by the mountain of Tibidabo (montaña) on the other, so often people just describe a place as being on the mar or montaña side of the street in L'Eixample. The Ciutat Vella, or Old City, is a little more confusing, and you will need a good map (available from news kiosks along La Rambla) to find specific places. However, the new city abounds with long boulevards and spacious squares, making it easy to navigate. The designation "s/n" (sin número) means that the building has no number; however, this is mainly limited to large buildings and monuments, so it's pretty obvious once you get there where it is. In built-up Barcelona, the symbol "°" designates the floor (for example, the first floor is 1°). Street names are in Catalan. Some people still refer to them in Spanish, but there is very little difference between the two so it shouldn't cause any confusion. The word for "street" (carrer in Catalan and calle in Spanish) is nearly always dropped; that is, Carrer Ferran is simply referred to as "Ferran." Passeig (or paseo in Spanish) and avinguda (or avenida in Spanish), meaning respectively "boulevard" and "avenue," are nearly always kept, as in Passeig de Gràcia and Avinguda de Tibidabo. Rambla means a long, pedestrianized avenue and plaça (or plaza in Spanish) a square.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.