Las Ramblas pulsates with life, from early morning when the locals come out to buy fresh flowers and breakfast pastries, until the last of the late-night party animals head for home in the wee small hours.
Las Ramblas is actually a series of streets that together comprise this much-loved and much-used pedestrian promenade. The main street, La Rambla, runs from the grand civic square of Placa Catalunya down to Port Vell, the old port, between the atmospheric medieval Gothic Quarter to the east and funky Raval to the west. The tree-shaded boulevard is lined with shops and cafés, flower stalls and souvenir kiosks, while the many street entertainers keep visitors amused with their mime, music and clowning.
Start at the northern end with a stimulating coffee at La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market, and listen to the voluble locals bargaining animatedly for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy produce and seafood. This is a good place to pick up a snack to munch on later, as prices can be high in the cafés of this popular tourist area.
As you make your way along the 1.2-kilometre boulevard, take time to admire the buildings above the shopfronts and signage at street level. This historic area of Barcelona displays a fascinating diversity of architectural styles. About half way along you will find the Liceu Theatre, a grand opera and ballet house from the 1830s famous for its lavishly gilded auditorium – if you’re extremely lucky you might be allowed in for a peep, but the building is only officially open to the public during performances. Nearby, look out for the eye-catching pavement mosaic designed by the Catalan surrealist artist Joan Miró.
The southern end of Las Ramblas terminates at Port Vell. Here you will find some interesting old maritime buildings, notably the striking customs house which dominates the waterfront overlooking the ultramodern marina. Most of the clubs and livelier bars are at this end of the street and it can be noisy and boisterous at night. Even by day, it pays to keep your eyes open, as the area is notorious for pickpockets.
Three metro stations and four bus lines offer convenient transport links to Las Ramblas.