Walking Tour 1: Barri Gòtic (The Gothic Quarter)

Start: Plaça Nova (Metro: Jaume I).

Finish: Same point at Plaça Nova, or Vía Laietana opposite Port Vell (Metro: Barceloneta).

Time: 2 to 3 hours.


Best Times: Any sunny day or early evening.

This walk will take you through the core of medieval Barcelona, down narrow lanes, across tiny plazas, and past some of the city's oldest and most imposing palaces and religious centers.

Begin at the:

1. Plaça Nova

Set within the shadow of the cathedral, this is the largest open-air space in the Gothic Quarter. Behind you, the facade of the Collegi de Architects, the city's architecture school, features a frieze designed (but not executed by) Picasso. From Plaça Nova, climb the incline of the narrow asphalt-covered street (Carrer del Bisbe).

At the approach of the first street on the right, the Carrer de Montjuïc del Bisbe de Santa Llúcia, turn right and follow this winding street to the:

2. Plaça de Sant Felip Neri

This small square is often cited as the most charming in the Barri Gòtic. Although none of the buildings are in fact Gothic (and some were moved from other parts of the city in the 18th and 19th centuries), the central fountain, majestic trees, and overall tranquillity more than qualify it for the status of "urban oasis." The holes you see in the stonework of the lower facade of the 17th-century church (which unfortunately lost many of its baroque features in the late 18th century) were caused by a bomb dropped by Fascist troops that killed 20 children from the adjoining school in 1937. On the opposite side, the oldest building is Renaissance in style and serves as the headquarters of the shoemakers' guild, with the Museu de Calçat (Shoe Museum) inside.

Walk back to the Carrer del Bisbe. Backtrack left, then take the immediate right, Carrer de Santa Llúcia. This will lead you to:

3. Casa de L'Ardiaca (Archdeacon's House)

Constructed in the 15th century as a residence for Archdeacon Despla, the Gothic building has sculptural reliefs with Renaissance and early-20th-century motifs. In its cloister-like courtyard are a fountain and a palm tree. Notice the mail slot, designed by the moderniste architect Domènech i Montaner, where five swallows and a turtle carved into stone await the arrival of important messages. This beautiful setting now holds the city's archives and is not open to the public, but you are free to inspect the courtyard and exterior.

As you exit the Archdeacon's House, continue in the same direction several steps until you reach the:

4. Plaça de la Seu

This square is in front of the main entrance to the Catedral de Barcelona. If you are here in the first couple of weeks of December, your visit will coincide with the lively Fira de Santa Lucía, an outdoor market selling Christmas trees, decorations, and figurines such as the "pooping Catalan," the caganer.

After touring the cathedral (about 40 minutes), exit and turn right onto Carrer dels Comtes, admiring the gargoyles on the exterior walls along the way. After about 100 paces on the left, you'll approach the:

5. Museu Frederic Marès 

This wonderful museum holds an extraordinary collection of Romanesque and Gothic religious artifacts. Even if you don't go in, the courtyard of the 13th-century former bishop's palace is well worth a peek. The outdoor Café d'Estiu is a relaxing spot to take a coffee break.

Exit and continue your promenade in the same direction. You'll pass the portal on the cathedral's right side, where the heads of two rather abstract angels flank the throne of a seated female saint. A few paces farther, on the left, notice the stone facade of the:

6. Arxiu de la Carona d'Aragó

The Arxiu is the former archives center of the crown of Aragón and Catalunya. Once known as the Palau del Lloctinent (Deputy's Palace), this Gothic building was the work of Antonio Carbonell. It is not open to the public, but you can get a glimpse of its patios and upper arcades, admiring the century-old grapevines.

As you exit from the courtyard, you'll find yourself back on Carrer dels Comtes. Take the street in front of you, the Carrer de la Pietat, which follows the rear facade of the cathedral, and then the first street on your left, the Carrer del Paradis. At no. 10 is one of the Barri Gòtic's best-kept secrets, the:

7. Temple d'Augustus

Inside the courtyard of this medieval building, four majestic Corinthian columns are all that remain of Roman Barcelona's main temple. Most historians believe that it was dedicated to Emperor Caesar Augustus, hence its name. What is certain is that, on the highest point of the city, known as Mons Taber, it was the prominent feature of the Roman Forum. Admission is free. From June to September, the temple is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm, and Sunday 10am to 2pm; the rest of the year, it's open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm, and Sunday 10am to 2pm.

Retrace your steps along the Carrer de la Pietat to the Palau del Lloctinent. Continue in the same direction on the same street and it will bring you to the most famous squares of the Gothic Quarter:

8. Plaça del Rei

The Great Royal Palace, an enlarged building of what was originally the residence of the counts of Barcelona, dominates this square. Here you can visit both the Palau Reial and the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat. On the right side of the square stands the Palatine Chapel of Santa Agata, a 14th-century Gothic temple that is part of the Palau Reial. Preserved in this chapel is the altarpiece of the Lord High Constable, a 15th-century work by Jaume Huguet.

9. Take a Break -- Mesón del Café

Llibretería 16 (tel. 93-315-07-54), founded in 1909, specializes in coffee and cappuccino. It is one of the oldest coffeehouses in the neighborhood, sometimes crowding 50 people into its tiny precincts. Regulars perch on stools at the bar and order breakfast. Coffee costs 1.20€, and a cappuccino goes for 2.10€. The cafe is open Monday to Saturday from 7am to 9:30pm.

Exit the Plaça del Rei on its southern side. Turn left into the steep Baixada de Llibretería. At no. 7 you will see the beautiful candle shop, the Cereria Subira, the oldest continuous retail establishment in Barcelona. A few paces on, turn left and cross over the busy Carrer Ferran. Continue along the Carrer de la Dagueria. This will lead you to:

10. Plaça de Sant Just

The square is dominated by the entrance to the Església dels Sants Just i Pastor. Above the entrance portal, an enthroned virgin is flanked by a pair of protective angels. The Latin inscription hails her as VIRGO NIGRA ET PULCHRA, NOSTRA PATRONA PIA (Black and Beautiful Virgin, Our Holy Patroness). This church dates from the 14th century, although work continued into the 16th. Some authorities claim that it is an earlier, 4th-century manifestation of the present structure, the oldest in Barcelona. You'll find that its doors are usually closed except during Sunday Mass.

Opposite the church, at Plaça de Sant Just 4, is the 18th-century Palau Moxó, (tel. 93-315-22-38; www.palaumoxo.com) an aristocratic town house covered with faded but still elegant frescoes of angels cavorting among garlands. At its base is a public well, the oldest water source in the city.

Continue walking in the same direction down the Carrer de la Dagueria, which changes its name to the Carrer de Lledó. If you like, take a detour to the street parallel on your left, the Carrer del Sots-Tinent Navarro; here you will see the remains of the old Roman city walls. If not, take the second street on your right, the Carrer Cometa (so named for a sighting of a comet here in 1834). Turn right again onto the Carrer del Regomir. At no. 3 is the:

11. Pati de Llimona

This lively community center, named after its interior patio and lemon tree, has a beautiful 15th-century gallery, and vestiges of the old Roman sewer system, displayed underneath glass in the floor. Check out www.bcn.cat/centrecivicpatillimona to see which exhibitions are on in the center; they are normally by local artists and photographers. Next door, the tiny 16th-century open Chapel of Saint Christopher is protected from the street by an iron gate. Admission is free; go in and explore.

Continue walking up the Carrer Regomir (which changes its name to the Carrer de la Ciutat) until you reach the:

12. Plaça de Sant Jaume

In many ways, this plaza is the political heart of Catalan culture. Across this square, constructed at what was once a major junction for two Roman streets, politicians and bureaucrats rush around intent on Catalonian government affairs. On Sunday evenings you can witness the sardana, the national dance of Catalonia. There are plenty of bars and restaurants on the side streets leading from this square.

Standing in the square, with your back to the street just left (Carrer de la Ciutat), you'll see, immediately on your right, the Doric portico of the Palau de la Generalitat, the parliament of Catalonia. Construction of this exquisite work, with its large courtyard and open-air stairway, along with twin-arched galleries in the Catalonian Gothic style, began in the era of Jaume I. A special feature of the building is the Chapel of St. George, constructed in Flamboyant Gothic style between 1432 and 1435 and enlarged in 1620 with the addition of vaulting and a cupola with hanging capitals. The back of the building encloses a courtyard, begun in 1532, full of orange trees. In the Gilded Hall, the Proclamation of the Republic was signed. Across the square are the Ionic columns of the Casa de la Ciutat/Ayuntamiento, the town hall of Barcelona. Both these buildings are only periodically open to the public.

With your back to the Casa de la Ciutat, cross the square to the right and turn left once again into the Carrer del Bisbe. On your immediate right is the:

13. Casa del Canonge (House of the Canon)

This series of buildings, once a group of canons' houses, dates from the 14th century and was restored in 1925; escutcheons from the 15th and 16th centuries remain. Notice the heraldic symbols of medieval Barcelona on the building's stone plaques -- twin towers supported by winged goats with lion's feet. On the same facade, you'll see the depiction of twin angels. The building is used today as the town residence of the President of the Generalitat.

Connecting it to the Palau de la Generalitat across the road is a charming bridge carved into lacy patterns of stonework, also dating from the 1920s.

Continue walking along Carrer del Bisbe until you reach your starting place, the Plaça Nova. If you wish to continue your walk, cross the square to the right to the busy Vía Laietana. Here you will see:

14. Plaça de Ramón Berenguer el Gran

This equestrian statue is dedicated to a local hero, the Count of Barcelona (1082-1131), who won battles against the Moors and expanded his kingdom to include Tarragona. It is ringed by a semicircular park, which has a backdrop of ancient walls from a Roman fort and, nearby, a Gothic tower. Keep walking down the Vía Laietana toward the port and you will see more Roman walls; they were constructed between A.D. 270 and 310. They followed a rectangular course and were built so that their fortified sections faced the sea. By the 11th and 12th centuries, Barcelona had long outgrown its confines. Jaume I ordered the opening of the Roman walls, and the burgeoning growth that ensued virtually destroyed them, except for the foundations you see today.

The nearest Metro stop is at Jaume I or Barceloneta.

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.