District of Ciutat Vella

Barcelona's Historic Old Town

Ciutat Vella is Barcelona District I and spreading up from the harbour in an uneven wedge, it is bordered by the Parc de la Ciutadella to the east, Plaça de Catalunya to the north and the slopes of Montjuïc to the west.

With La Rambla as its central vein, this is the area where as a tourist, you are likely to spend most of your time.

As you can see from the accompanying map, the district comprises the four ancient barris - or neighbourhoods - of the Barri Gòtic and Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, both to your left as you walk down the Ramblas, El Raval on your right and La Barceloneta, which veers off to the left once you reach the Columbus statue at the bottom.

These were originally separate medieval parishes and settlements and they retain certain distinct characteristics to this day.

I have created a separate section for La Rambla, which runs between El Raval and Barri Gòtic, because although not a neighbourhood in itself, its importance to understanding the essence of Barcelona demands that it be treated as a separate entity.

By the way, Ciutat Vella literally means Old City in Catalan and, along with the Eixample District, makes up Barcelona City Centre.

It is quite likely that you'll decide to look for accommodation in this part of the city so make sure read my recommendations for Hotels in Ciutat Vella.


Ciuat Vella Hotels

El Raval

To your right as you walk down La Rambla from Plaça de Catalunya, El Raval's curious mixture of ancient and modern quite possibly make it Barcelona city centre's most exhilirating neighbourhood.

Centuries ago this area was open fields behind what is now the world famous La Boquería Market, where produce was grown to feed a hungry and overpopulated city, but its proximity to the Port of Barcelona meant it gradually turned into a red-light district known as El Barrio Chino.

Much of it, particularly close to the port, is still quite rundown and you may well be accosted by a prostitute of indeterminate age and gender but it has also become a centre for artists and the gentrification is noticable as luxury hotels set up shop.

There are oases of interest such as, MACBA - Barcelona's Contemporary Art Museum or CCCB - the Centre for Contemporary Culture and many more smaller galleries and projects.

Not surprisingly, El Raval has some particularly good restaurants and bars and is also home to some fine ancient monuments, such as the medieval Les Drassanes shipyards, the Gothic Hospital de la Santa Creu or the Romanesque Sant Pau del Camp church.

La Rambla

It is almost impossible to write about Ciutat Vella without mentioning La Rambla - Barcelona's most famous avenue, which poet Federico Gracía Lorca described as the street he "wished would never end".

The street marks the line of a seasonal river that ran outside the medieval city walls dividing the old city of Barcelona - now the Barri Gòtic - from what were once the open farmlands of El Raval.

Running from Plaça de Catalunya down to the Port, La Rambla is known as the plural Ramblas (in English and Spanish, Les Rambles in Catalan) because it is actually five streets in one - La Rambla de Canaletes, La Rambla dels Estudis, La Rambla de Sant Josep, La Rambla dels Caputxins and La Rambla de Santa Mònica.

The avenue is positively jammed with sights such as the Boqueria Market, the Liceo Opera House or the imposing Monument to Christopher Columbus but in many respects the attraction is The Ramblas itself - a living breathing barometre of Barcelona life.

Barri Gòtic

The Barri Gòtic is most easily reached from The Ramblas by walking down Carrer Ferran just by Metro Liceu or from Jaume I Metro Station on Via Laietana.

It is oldest part of Ciutat Vella and contains the best-preserved Gothic city centre in Europe with its origins dating back even further to Roman times.

Its heart is Plaça de Sant Jaume, which houses the Generalitat and Ajuntament, and is consequently the political and administrative centre of both Barcelona and Catalonia.

The way to discover the Barri Gòtic is to explore its backstreets and squares around the Cathedral, including Plaça del Rei, Plaça del Pi and their connecting alleyways all throb with history and cultural interest.

If you wander down Carrer Ciutat, next to the Ajuntament building, you'll find old bodegas and great places to eat and a fantastic way to finish your day is in the bars around Plaça Reial and the nightspots of Karma, Jamboree or Tarantos.

Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera

After crossing Plaça Sant Jaume, you soon reach busy Via Laietana which marks the border between the Barri Gòtic and the neighbourhoods of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera on the other side.

The most important sites here are the sumptuous church of Santa Maria del Mar, fifteenth century Carrer Montcada, where you'll find the Picasso Museum, and further up the hill in the mini-district of Sant Pere, Lluís Domènech i Montaner's magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana.

Tired of tramping the city streets, you can rest your weary feet in the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is originally the site of a citadel built by the Castilians to subjugate the people of Barcelona and transformed into a park for the Universal Exhibition of 1888.

The park is also the site of the Barcelona Zoo and the Parliament of Catalonia, and is just a few minutes away from El Born, one of Barcelona's hippest places to eat and drink and home to the recently renovated Mercat del Born with its permanent El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria exhibition and archaeological site commemorating the Siege of Barcelona in 1714.

La Barceloneta

From El Born, you can make your way across Marquès d'Argentera to the old fishing neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, which originally sprang up in the mid-eighteenth century to house the people who'd been displaced by the building of the citadel 50 years earlier.

As you approach La Barceloneta along Passeig de Joan de Borbó, which gives on to the luxury marina and is lined with swish seafood restaurants, the barri looks quite upmarket.

From here you can look across Port Vell to the Columbus Monument at the bottom of La Rambla and see the Mountain of Montjuïc in the distance.

Behind the seafront façade, this is still the rough and ready Barceloneta of old with rundown bars and squares where children play and drunks sleep off their last session.

Winding through the backstreets to the Passeig Marítim, you can make your way to the blue flag Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià beaches, which were cleaned up for the 1992 Olympics and are now amongst the finest city beaches on the Mediterranean coast.

Ciutat Vella Tourist Information Offices

  • Plaça Catalunya, 17 is the main tourist office giving the most complete information service, including restaurant and accommodation booking, and should be an early stop on any visit to Barcelona. Unfortunately, it's the most difficult to find, as it's under Plaça Catalunya outside El Corte Inglés - just look for the big 'i' signs on the pillars.
  • Carrer Ciutat, 2 is on the ground floor of the Ajuntament building and also offers a very complete service.
  • Plaça Portal de la Pau is located close to the Columbus monument 
  • La Rambla, 115 offers a more limited service of leaflets and guides.

OACs in Ciutat Vella

For prospective residents, the Oficina d'Atenció Ciutadana or Citizens Help Centre is where you need to go to get most of official paperwork, such as the empadronament, done:

There are two OACs in Ciutat Vella.

Oficina d'Atenció Ciutadana de la Plaça Sant Miquel
Plaça Sant Miquel, 3
El Barri Gòtic
Ciutat Vella
08002 Barcelona

Oficina d'Atenció Ciutadana del Districte de Ciutat Vella
Carrer Ramelleres, 17
El Raval
Ciutat Vella
08001 Barcelona

Telephone from Inside Barcelona Metropolitan Area: 010

Telephone from Outside Barcelona: 807 117 700

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