Ciutat Vella is one of the oldest districts in Barcelona—its name means “old city” in Catalan. Located in the center of town, the Ciutat Vella contains several popular neighborhoods such as the ethnic quarter of El Raval, the Barcelona Gothic Quarter, and other attractions that draw many tourists.
One of the most popular streets in the Ciutat Vella is La Rambla, a series of connected streets that form a pedestrian walkway that’s about three-fourths of a mile long. Located between the neighborhoods of El Raval and the Barcelona Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas is a perfect place to stroll under the trees while shopping your heart out. It also has an entrance to La Boqueria, an extensive centuries-old street market that is one of the top sights in the city. At La Boqueria you can marvel at the piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, and diverse goods such as candies, fish, pastries, cured meats, breads, and other artisan products. Another popular location on Las Ramblas is the famed Barcelona opera house, the Liceu, with its beautiful historic façade and opulent interior. The Font de Canaletes is located in the northern part of the neighborhood and is the most popular meeting point in Barcelona.
Ciutat Vella is also home to one of Barcelona's most diverse neighborhoods, El Raval. Also known as Chinatown, El Raval was historically known for its prostitution and scandalous nightlife. Today, the area has been cleaned up significantly and is now a haven for artists and several immigrant communities. There is a newly burgeoning nightlife in El Raval, and there are many bars, trendy restaurants, and nightclubs springing up all over the place. The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is located in El Raval; this modern white building houses art from the 1940s to the present.
The neighborhood that perhaps defines the Barcelona Old City is the El Gotic neighborhood. The Barcelona Gothic Quarter lives up to its name with stone paved streets and many imposing stone buildings dating from medieval times. Here you can walk under archways and by churches built in elaborate gothic style. One of the most impressive buildings in El Gotic is the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. This gothic cathedral was built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and it has an intricately carved façade and vaulted interior. It is also the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. Another medieval building in this area is the Palau de la Generalitat, which still functions as a governmental building for the government of Catalonia. Take some time to check out the stone carvings and gargoyles on this historic building.
When you're ready for some local food and drink, head over to the Placa Reial in the Gothic Quarter. This well-known plaza is popular with tourists and contains many restaurants and bars. During holidays such as New Year’s or the La Merce Festival in September, the plaza is used for open air concerts, dances and other celebrations. In its essence, Ciutat Vella is the center of Barcelona's historic downtown. Merely walking through the old city's neighborhoods will give you a glimpse into Barcelona's diverse and fascinating past, and its equally diverse future.