The Ramblas – Barcelona’s most famous street?
The Ramblas is probably Barcelona’s most iconic streets and as much a destination as a thoroughfare, connecting Plaça Catalunya with the Columbus Monument near the seafront. You may see the name of the street written in different ways, such as “la Rambla”, “las Ramblas” or “les Rambles”, depending on whether it is written in singular or plural, Spanish or Catalan.
The reason for the plural is that the street is made up of five individual “ramblas” – common in many Spanish towns, an avenue that is commonly used to stroll along or a meeting point – each of which is named and has a different character, although the street itself is numbered as a whole from the bottom (Columbus Monument).
Along the way you’ll see a variety of entertainment such as street performers, artists and silver painted human statues. Traditionally locals have walked along the Ramblas, but today it is very much given over to tourism and can be quite uncomfortable to walk along due to the sheer number of people during the peak, although off peak is a little better.
The restaurants tend to be overpriced compared with other areas where you can get better value, and many of the shops now sell the usual tourist tat such as Mexican hats, with the result that much of its old character has gone.
Rambla de Canaletes
From Plaça Catalunya you’ll find a public water fountain, the site of a former spring and the source of the stream that once ran down to the sea. Today it is said that anyone who drinks from the fountain will return to Barcelona, and it is the collecting point for Barça fans whenever FC Barcelona does well, such as winning the league or Champions League, when the whole area goes crazy – in fact the riot police were called in when Barça won the Champions League title in 2006.
Rambla dels Estudis
The next stretch is also known as Rambla dels Ocells (birds in Catalan) because of the caged birds and other animals for sale. Theoretically the city’s council is taking steps to remove these stalls as they claim that the animals are not being kept well, but the stall holders are continuing to fight back and to date they are still there.
Rambla de Sant Josep
Also known as Rambla de les Flors due to the stalls selling flowers and other plants, Rambla de Sant Josep extends from Carrer Portaferrissa to Pla de la Boqueria, just above the Liceu metro, and marked by a huge mosaic by Miró.
As you walk down, you pass the Mercat de Sant Josep, more usually known as the Mercat de la Boqueria, a modernista designed food market built completed in 1840 and a riot of colour with fruit and vegetables, fish and meat on display, as well as a variety of bars and cafes where you can eat cheap and well. The Boqueria is well worth a few minutes just to take a look at what is going on and take in some real Barcelona life.
Rambla dels Caputxins
This section of the Ramblas runs from Pla de la Boqueria down to Plaça del Teatre and is notable for Barcelona’s opera house, the Gran Teatre de Liceu, which has been burnt down and rebuilt three times now, the last of which was in the 1990s. You can also visit the Café de l’Opera, famous for its hot chocolate among other things, as well as taking a detour into Plaça Reial adorned by Gaudí designed street lamps.
A word of caution here – keep an eye on your valuables as this is one spot notorious for pick pocketing and bag snatching.
From here downwards the Ramblas takes on a very different character at night as a red light district, where you are likely to be hassled for sex or drugs.
Rambla de Santa Mònica
Down here the Ramblas widens before reaching the Columbus monument, and here you’ll find Barcelona’s wax museum and sometimes stalls selling jewellery.
At the very bottom of the Ramblas towers a monument to Christopher Columbus, or Colon as he is in Catalan, built for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. Barcelona has long claimed Columbus as a Catalan, although it is unlikely that anyone will ever prove definitely whether or not that is the case. What is true is that Columbus reported his discoveries of the New World to the Spanish monarchs in Barcelona. Some people claim that Columbus was supposed to point at the Americas, rather than out to the Mediterranean as he actually does, but an error means he faces the wrong way, although this is almost certainly an urban myth.
If not on your feet, then how?
The Ramblas is a little over a kilometre long, but if you don’t feel like walking the entire length then there are metro stops at Plaça Catalunya, Liceu and Drassanes at the bottom. You can also drive, although it isn’t something I’d particularly recommend.
As mentioned above, Plaça Reial is a crime hotspot, but be wary along the entire length of the Ramblas. Typical tricks include “helping” to wipe “bird mess” off your shoulder while an accomplice helps themselves to your valuables and if anything seems strange about the way in which you’ve been singled out then assume you’ve been targeted.
While violent crime is relatively rare in Barcelona, bag snatching seems to be very common and a trip to the consulate to report a lost passport isn’t much fun.