I am one of those people who when I visit a city just love to get off the beaten track and see the real city rather than get ensnared in the unrelenting merry go round of the Tourist Trail. I love taking a peek into the beating heart of the city. I admit as a power chair user this sometimes is a bit more difficult. So you can imagine my delight and excitement to discover that Barcelona is not just remarkably accessible on the main streets, but is also really easy to access The Gothic Quarter, a maze of fascinating back streets, squares and hidden gems that most visitors miss.
The Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter stretches from the Citadel Park and Barcelona’s magnificent brick built Triumphal Arch. The Arc de Triomf was built in 1888 by the architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas as the grand entrance to the Barcelona World Fair of 1888. Today it stands at the Northern end of the Citadella Park. it is worth getting up close and taking a look at the fabulous brickwork of the arch. It is truly a stunning example of the art of the bricklayer. It is also a fantastic starting point to leave the busy streets of modern Barcelona behind and head into tranquil and slower pace of Barcelona’s oldest quarter. My advice is to cross the road at the Arc and turn left then take the first right into ancient narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter.
Carrer Rec Comtal
As you turn into the Carrer Rec Comtal you will notice a change of pace from a relatively busy city to a more sedate pace of life. You will discover a quirky urban garden centre. Whilst at first glance the city looks like it has no private gardens, as you go around this quarter you will occasionally get a glimpse of a courtyard garden or glance up at a balcony with pots of olourful flowers. Across from the Garden Centre you will pass the ultra modern Hotel Rec. Then a very stylish Tapas bar called Elsa y Fred.
This appeared to me to be a very family friendly bar with families sat outside enjoying the sunshine. However if you carry on a long the street and take the next right you will come into a beautiful square called Placa de Sant Pere. Here you will find the monastery of Sant Pere de les Puelles dominating one side of the square and the others lined with neighbourhood bars with tables outside and locals sat sharing a beer and the latest gossip. The monastery that the square is named after is a Benedictine Monastery built in the 10th Century in the Romanesque style and looks more like a fortress than a church. It is one of the oldest buildings in the quarter.
Palau de Musica (Music Palace)
Carry on through the square to the left of the church and follow the road round on to the Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Alt And follow it along you will pass some amazing little shops and businesses, schools etc and come to the Palau de Musica (Music Palace). This is a beautiful if ornate theatre that was built at the start of the 20th Century by Lluis Domench Montaner. It is known for its fine detail and floral motifs. The Palau Musica is the place to see traditional Catalan Music and Flamenco. The theatre and auditorium are wheelchair accessible and there are lifts.
Opposite the Palau Musica is a tapas bar appropriately named Tosca. Follow the little street that runs down the side of Tosca Tapas bar and you will come across a fascinating second hand book shop called Liberia On The Road. I peeked inside but knew if I strayed inside I would be in there several hours. This is just one of those streets that will be like honey to any photographers.
Placa de les Beates
At the end of the street you will rejoin the Carrer De Sant Pere Mais Baix. turn right then First left into the little street called Carrer de les Beates which will bring you into the Tiny little square called Placa de les Beates. This tiny square is very photogenic. Then follow the street out of the square and on your left you will come to an archway that leads into a courtyard where you will find a lovely bar in the courtyard of a Renaissance Merchant’s Palace. Today the palace houses an arts centre. The centre Is run by the Cercle Artistic de Sant Luc and the bar is run by Mescladis St Luc.
The Cercle Artistic de Sant Luc is one of the oldest And most prestigious Arts organisations in the city, Gaudi the architect who designed La Sagrada Familia and many iconic buildings in Barcelona was a member and the famous Barcelona artist Joan MIro took drawing classes here. The courtyard is accessible to wheelchair users and is a really cool place to enjoy a reasonably priced beer whilst soaking up the grandeur of this small courtyard. You can imagine the wealthy merchant descending down the grand courtyard staircase to greet his customers, before clinching the deal.
Leaving the courtyard turn left and follow the Carrer Dels Mercaders to the end and turn right. This will bring you temporarily out of the small backstreets of the Gothic Quarter. You will find yourself on the busy Via Laetana, one of the main arteries of the city. Passing the taxi rank follow the pavement round to the right and you will find a controlled crossing with drop kerbs.
Cross the road and follow the road round to the left and you will come into Avenue de Catedral. On the left Is Taverna Del Bisbe. This is one of the cities longest established tapas bars and restaurants. They serve great tapas, paella, and traditional Spanish and Catalan cuisine. It is always busy and popular with local office workers and residents, particularly at lunchtime when they do a workers lunch menu during the week and on a Sunny day tables outside are usually full. The Taverna is wheelchair accessible.
Avenue de Catedral
Carry on along the Avenue de Catedral past the the Diocesan Museum and you come to the Placa de la Seu in front of the Cathedral. The frontage you see today looks ancient but is in fact modern and was completed around 1913. Behind this modern facade is the medieval Gothic Cathedral that was built by the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Bernguer the old and his wife Almodis (who just happen to be my ancestors).
The cathedral is wheelchair accessible and the accessible entrance is around the corner in Carrer del Bisbe, through the cloisters. The Cathedral cloister is very beautiful and has an unusual feature that it is home to 13 white geese. There are 13 geese to represent the age Saint Eulalia was when she was martyred. Her body was buried in the Cathedral until it was moved and hidden to protect her from the Moorish invaders and miraculously found in another church safe and sound.
There are many beautiful chapels in the cathedral, many of them werepaid for by the merchant and crafts guilds, some of which are still in existence To this day and are active in the life of the cathedral. You can also see a rare Black Madonna in one of the chapels.
Leaving the cathedral by the cloister turn left and you will see a bridge between two palaces over the street. IT is reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs. It is known locally as the Bishop’s Bridge but like the front of the cathedral is relatively modern being built in the 19th century.
The Carrer De La Pietat
Follow the street round the back of the cloisters and cathderal this is called The Carrer De La Pietat. This is the oldest part of the city and the palaces along this street and the Carrer Dels Comtes date back to the medieval period. One palace worth taking a look at it the Lieutenant’s Palace. It has a a beautiful courtyard that is worth visiting. The courtyard has a beautiful moorish style garden and a fabulous gateway dedicated to St George.
Returning to the Carrer dels Comtes retrace your steps to the corner of the palace where it meets Carrer de La Pietat and turn left into Baixada De Santa Clara keeping the Lieutenants Palace on your left. This will bring you into Placa del Rei. This as the name suggests was where the royal palace was. It also had a dark side. This is the square where Barcelona’s most feared man lived, the royal executioner
Leave the Placa del Rei by the Carrer Vaguer and follow the street to the end and turn and turn left on to Baixada De La Libretaria. Follow the street for one block then turn left on to Carrer Tapineria. Along this street you will see the oldest structure in Barcelona. The Roman Wall. This portion of the wall and the tower were built in the 3rd Century to protect the city from the Franks and the Alemanni invaders. It was built on the foundations of an earlier wall built in the 1st Century BCE. In the square you will also find a very impressive statue to Ramon Bernguer Count of Barcelona.
Carry on along the street keeping the Roman wall on your left and at the end of the street you will find what is one of my favourite lunch spots, Cafe Victor. The food is really tasty, friendly staff, reasonably priced and you get entertained for free by the buskers who are really very good. You can get a 3 course lunch with a drink for about €25 – €30.
Leaving Cafe Victor and return to AvenIda Catedral and turn right cross the Via Laetana and go up the Avenida Francesc Cambo. This will bring you to one of the best food markets in Barcelona, Santa Caterina Market. It is worth taking a mooch around the stall of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and bread. This is where many of the locals come to shop, but it is also home to some of the best restaurants and tapas bars in the city. Many of the locals come here to enjoy excellent tapas, wines and restaurants serving food from the very best and freshest produce that the market offers.
So here is an excellent place to end the tour of the Gothic Quarter, off the beaten track and joining the locals for authentic tapas.