Gothic Quarter Walking Tour, Barcelona

Gothic Quarter Walking Tour (Self Guided), Barcelona

A walk around the Gothic Quarter is a journey through time to Barcelona’s oldest history, going back to times of Roman rule; in fact, the typically Roman grid plan is still visible today in the quarter's layout. Only a few roads are open for car traffic, so there will be little in the way of enjoying the many narrow, atmospheric streets filled with superb food, high-quality architecture, coffee shops and boutiques. You can wander around for many hours without getting bored, finding little surprises around every corner.

This walking tour starts right in the Old City's center, near the waterfront, where a towering La Seu cathedral – the main purely Gothic attraction – incorporates some remaining fragments of the ancient Roman walls. If you have enough time (and the proper attire), take advantage of the opportunity to go up to its roof and get an eyeful of the spire up close as well as some prime city views.

Other notable sights include Plaça Nova with its Roman towers and aqueduct remains; Casa de L'Ardiaca (Archdeacon's House) – a 15th-century Gothic building with sculptural reliefs and motifs; Plaça del Rei and the wonderful 16th-century Palau del Lloctinent, as well as another Gothic church – Santa Maria del Pi, with a statue of Madonna and a large rose window.

One of the hidden features is the Roman Temple of Augustus, built in the Barcino settlement in 1 B.C., of which four columns remain, tucked away in a small courtyard in a residential complex.

The Gothic Quarter is one of those medieval urban landscapes where it's easy to get lost, so follow our self-guided walking tour to appreciate its main historical landmarks, squares and curiosities – a nice way to “lose yourself” while staying on the right course.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Gothic Quarter Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Gothic Quarter Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Barcelona (See other walking tours in Barcelona)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Catedral de Barcelona (Barcelona Cathedral)
  • Placa Nova (New Square)
  • Casa de l'Ardiaca (Archdeacon's House)
  • Museu Frederic Mares (Frederic Mares Museum)
  • Palau del Lloctinent (Lieutenant’s Palace)
  • Placa del Rei (King's Square)
  • Capella Reial de Santa Agata (Royal Chapel of St. Agatha)
  • Placa Sant Just (St. Justus Square)
  • Placa de Sant Jaume (St. James's Square)
  • Temple d'August - MUHBA (Temple of Augustus)
  • Pont del Bisbe (Bishop's Bridge)
  • Palau de la Generalitat (Palace of the Generalitat)
  • Placa de Sant Felip Neri (St. Philip Neri Square)
  • Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine)
  • Placa de Sant Josep Oriol (St. Joseph Oriol Square)
Catedral de Barcelona (Barcelona Cathedral)

1) Catedral de Barcelona (Barcelona Cathedral) (must see)

With its intricate architecture and inviting ambiance, Barcelona Cathedral presents a captivating sight, offering a serene alternative to the renowned La Sagrada Família, all without an admission fee. The cathedral's spacious front courtyard provides a clear view of its impressive façade, while stepping beneath the soaring vaults of the nave can transport you to another era.

Unlike many other churches in Barcelona that were destroyed during the Civil War, this compact Gothic cathedral, dedicated to the city's patron saint St Eulàlia, was spared. Its construction began in 1298 under Jaime II, on the foundations of a site with roots dating back to Visigothic times. However, it was not fully completed until the late 19th century, resulting in a unique appearance that distinguishes it from the rest of the Gothic Quartet.

Within the cathedral's crypt, visitors can find the white marble sarcophagus of St Eulàlia. An intriguing feature is the presence of thirteen geese in the cloister, symbolizing St Eulàlia's age at the time of her martyrdom.

Make sure to take your time exploring the cathedral's exceptional interior, as well as venturing up to the lofty roof terrace and strolling through the peaceful cloisters.

Why You Should Visit:
A delightful combination of a church, mini-park, and a place to relax and pray.

Cathedral Visit (Choir entrance + Access to the rooftop + Chapter hall + Virtual Audio guide) €9.00
Cathedral + Museum (Choir entrance + Access to the rooftop + Chapter hall + Virtual Audio guide + Museum) €15.00
Placa Nova (New Square)

2) Placa Nova (New Square)

Plaça Nova, or the New Square, offers a rich experience for history and art enthusiasts. It holds significant historical value as the birthplace of the ancient city of Barcino, and visitors can marvel at the monumental gateway that once formed part of Barcelona's Roman wall. Among other highlights is the renowned Architects' Association of Catalonia building adorned with sand-cast friezes designed by Pablo Picasso. The square also showcases splendid examples of Gothic art and architecture.

With roots dating back to 1358, when it served as a hay market, the square allows visitors to witness remnants of the Roman wall and gateway that once led to the Forum. Flanking the gate are two circular towers, which were added during 12th-century renovations, although the original defense towers and walls trace their roots back to the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD. Adjacent to the Archdeacon's House, visitors can observe a replica of a section of the Roman aqueduct, serving as a reminder of the city's water supply. Across from it, a visual poem by Catalan artist Joan Brossa spells out the word "Barcino", further enhancing the square's artistic charm.

On Thursdays from 9am to 8pm, the square transforms into a market featuring antique dealers. Plaça Nova is also a venue for festivals and Sardanas, particularly around August 16, the day of Saint Roch. This festive celebration showcases unique traditions and adds a distinct charm to Barcelona's cultural tapestry.
Casa de l'Ardiaca (Archdeacon's House)

3) Casa de l'Ardiaca (Archdeacon's House)

The 15th-century edifice known as Casa de l'Ardiaca, which currently houses the Municipal Archives on its upper floor, offers magnificent vistas of the remnants of Roman watchtowers and walls from the 4th century. A closer inspection of the Montjuïc sandstone reveals a fascinating sight: intricately carved and beveled blocks from other structures, a testament to the Romans' hurried fortification of the site as the Visigoths approached from the north during the collapse of the Pax Romana.

Despite its location in one of the busiest tourist squares in Barcelona, entry into the building is free, and the inner courtyard exudes a surprising tranquility, making it one of the most evocative spaces in the city. The courtyard showcases exquisite tile work, and at its center, a tall and graceful palm tree towers above a flower-adorned fountain. This fountain holds a curious tradition: on Corpus Christi Day in June, it supports an impressive spectacle known as "l'ou com balla" or "the dancing egg," where eggs are made to bob atop jets of water in various locations across the city.

Adjacent to the building stands the atmospheric Romanesque chapel of Santa Eulàlia, constructed in 1269 and one of the oldest sections of the adjoining cathedral.

At the front entrance of the Casa, look out for what may well be the most attractive letter box you've ever seen! Crafted from marble and created in 1895 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for the Lawyer's Professional Association, it holds a symbolic meaning. Doves represent the lofty flight towards justice, while turtles symbolize the slow pace of administrative procedures.
Museu Frederic Mares (Frederic Mares Museum)

4) Museu Frederic Mares (Frederic Mares Museum)

Renowned for its founder, Frederic Marès (1893-1991), and his extensive collections, this museum offers a captivating journey through time. Since its completion in 1946, the museum has undergone various modifications, yet the original courtyard garden has remained intact, preserving its timeless beauty.

Marès revolutionized the concept of sculpture, breathing new life and meaning into traditional forms. His collection encompasses a wide range of Hispanic sculptures, spanning from the ancient world to 19th-century Catalonia. These exquisite pieces, accompanied by religious polychrome carvings, offer a glimpse into the rich artistic heritage of the region.

In addition to the sculptures, one can feast eyes upon the fascinating "collector's cabinet", a treasure trove of 19th-century artifacts that depict the lifestyles of the era. From old photographs and documents to jewelry, clocks, reliquaries, and an impressive array of everyday objects, the collection offers an interesting insight into the past.

To enhance your experience, consider using the audio guide, allowing for a deeper immersion in this time capsule. With affordable admission fees, the museum provides an ideal setting for a peaceful afternoon of exploration.

Why You Should Visit:
If you have a passion for Baroque, Medieval, Renaissance, or ancient sculpture, this is the place for you. Be sure to take a look at the many stone treasures from ancient Roman times on the lower -1 floor as well.

For a delightful escape, discover the secluded tree-filled café during the summer. It may be slightly hidden (follow the steps leading down into the courtyard), but it offers a warm and friendly atmosphere, along with delicious food and drinks. Enjoy sitting amidst medieval buildings, surrounded by the tranquility of nature.
Palau del Lloctinent (Lieutenant’s Palace)

5) Palau del Lloctinent (Lieutenant’s Palace)

Just past the Frederic Marès Museum, a handsome doorway beckons you into the refined courtyard of the Lieutenant’s Palace, adorned with its three facades. As part of the former royal palace and boasting a typical late Gothic / early Renaissance Catalan design, this graceful structure, built by Antoni Carbonell between 1549 and 1557, stands as one of the most elegant buildings in the Gothic Quarter.

The weighty stone arches adorning the entrance, the central patio, and the intricately adorned wooden roof above the staircase all exemplify the noble architecture of the 16th century. The door on the stairway, dating to 1975, showcases scenes from the life of Sant Jordi and the history of Catalonia.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Palau del Lloctinent served as the residence of the king's official emissary or viceroy in Barcelona. Today, it houses the historical materials of the Archivo de la Corona de Aragón (Archive of the Crown of Aragon) and offers an excellent exhibition on the life and era of Jaume I, one of Catalonia's prominent figures from early times.

The courtyard also occasionally hosts concerts featuring early music. Additionally, during the Corpus Christi celebration, it becomes one of the main venues for the "ou com balla", where an egg appears to "dance" on the fountain amidst an elaborate floral arrangement.

Take a stroll up the main stairs to the gallery/balcony and look up at the stunning carved wooden ceiling!
Placa del Rei (King's Square)

6) Placa del Rei (King's Square)

Barcelona is renowned for its wealth of historical attractions, and when it comes to Roman-era sites, the Gothic Quarter stands out. Within this captivating neighborhood, one of the most picturesque and ancient places to explore is the harmonious enclosed square known as Plaça del Rei, or King's Square. This square serves as the heart of the old royal city, and its main royal edifices can be accessed through the impressive Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA).

Ascending the stairs from the square leads to the palace's central hall, the 14th-century Tinell Hall ("Saló del Tinell"). According to some historians, it was on these very steps, spreading out from the corner of the square, that in 1493 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella welcomed Christopher Columbus and his crew upon their return from the first successful voyage to the New World. Once used as a meeting place for the Spanish Inquisition, the hall capitalized on the popular belief that its walls would reveal any lies spoken within. Nowadays, it hosts temporary exhibitions, and occasional concerts take place within the hall or outside in the square.

The palace complex also encompasses the exquisite 14th-century Royal Chapel of Santa Agata and the romantic Renaissance Tower of King Martí. While public access to the tower is restricted, visitors can usually admire the interiors of the hall and chapel during a visit to the adjacent Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA).

For history enthusiasts, the MUHBA (Tue-Sat: 10am–7pm; Sun: 10am–8pm) is a must-visit destination. Not only does it provide insights into the history of Roman and early Christian times, but it also allows visitors to explore underground Roman ruins dating back to the earliest settlements. The tour begins in the subterranean depths of the 2nd-century level and gradually ascends, concluding with an exit right on this captivating square – a very relaxing spot for a drink (if nothing else, enjoy a cervesa, tapa, or a mojito here!).
Capella Reial de Santa Agata (Royal Chapel of St. Agatha)

7) Capella Reial de Santa Agata (Royal Chapel of St. Agatha)

The Royal Chapel of Saint Agatha, commissioned by King James II of Aragon and his wife Blanca of Naples in 1302, was constructed as an extension to the Royal Palace, replacing its old chapel. Built in the Catalan Gothic style, the chapel features a single nave with a rectangular apse and a small transept leading to the Chapel of the Queens, where the coats of arms of Maria of Navarre and Eleanor of Sicily can be seen. Adjacent to the sacristy is a 14th-century octagonal bell tower adorned with eight triangular pediments resembling a royal crown. The tower also boasts sixty clay tiles decorated with images of angels and the coats of arms of Aragon and Sicily.

Why You Should Visit:
Another beautiful Catalan monument in the beautiful Gothic Quarter, that should not be missed when visiting the Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA). Admission is included in the MUHBA entrance fee.

Visitors are permitted to take non-commercial photos inside the chapel, as long as flash photography is avoided. Don't miss the intricately decorated ceiling timbers by Alfonso de Córdoba, the stunning Epiphany altarpiece painted by Jaume Huguet in 1465, and the Taule de Santa Agata in the Queen's Chapel, dating back to around 1500. Keep an eye out for temporary exhibitions in both the chapel and the Tinell Hall ("Saló del Tinell"), as they offer access to these remarkable buildings without requiring a full museum tour.
Placa Sant Just (St. Justus Square)

8) Placa Sant Just (St. Justus Square)

On Hèrcules Street, just off to the left side of city hall, you'll find a square and the site of one of Barcelona's oldest Christian churches. This historic church is dedicated to the boy martyrs Justus and Pastor, who, as recounted by the Roman poet Prudentius, bravely opposed the persecutions of Christians led by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. They were eventually captured, whipped, and beheaded near the Spanish city of Alcalá de Henares. Some of the relics associated with these saints have been preserved in a chest and are housed within the 14th-century church. Meanwhile, underneath the square, it is said that Christian catacombs have been discovered.

During the Middle Ages, Saint Justus Square was the only place in Barcelona where Jews and Christians were permitted to engage in legal trade together. A reminder of that era is the 14th-century Gothic fountain, where various commercial transactions and information exchanges took place. This fountain, adorned with three human faces carved in stone beneath a relief of Saint Justus flanked by two shields, is the oldest water source in Barcelona; however, its current appearance was designed in the 19th century.

Adjacent to Bisbe Caçador Street, you will find the impressive entryway and courtyard of the Moixó Palace, which once served as the town house of an influential family. Continuing down the same street, you will come across the Catalan Academy of Arts and Letters.
Placa de Sant Jaume (St. James's Square)

9) Placa de Sant Jaume (St. James's Square)

Saint James's Square, locally known as the Plaça de Sant Jaume, holds the administrative heart of Barcelona and serves as an excellent landmark for navigating the intricate streets of the Gothic Quarter.

Situated at a crossroads of significant thoroughfares, this square carries a rich historical legacy. It was once home to the Temple of Augustus and the Forum, where daily meetings of the city council took place on the porch facing the Temple. Four columns from the Temple have been preserved and can still be observed atop the hill known as Mont Taber.

Today, the square's architecture remains a prominent feature, with two striking buildings vying for attention. The Ajuntament (City Council) presides over Barcelona from one side, while the Generalitat (Catalonian government) commands attention from the other. The square continues to be a traditional gathering place for demonstrations and festivals.

With many restaurants open until midnight and a constant buzz of activity, Saint James Square becomes one of the liveliest parts of Barcelona late at night. However, it's important to exercise caution as pedestrians share the space with cars and bicycles.
Temple d'August - MUHBA (Temple of Augustus)

10) Temple d'August - MUHBA (Temple of Augustus)

Placing a Roman temple within medieval Gothic walls is quite a remarkable idea, and its preservation stands as a testament to Barcelona's deep respect for history.

Designated as a Cultural Asset of National Interest, the Temple of Augustus was constructed during the Imperial Period and served as a central structure in the city. At some point, it was demolished, and its remains remained hidden until the late 19th century when three of its columns emerged at the construction site of Catalonia's Hiking Club. Subsequently, a fourth column was exhibited at King's Square ("Plaça del Rei") and later incorporated into the structure, as it stands today.

According to research, the temple originally consisted of 11 columns on each side, including corner columns, with six columns at the front and another six at the rear. The entire building would have measured 35 x 17.5 meters, elevated on a podium approximately one-third the height of the columns. When visiting the site, keep an eye out for helpful photographs and recreations of this ancient landmark.
Pont del Bisbe (Bishop's Bridge)

11) Pont del Bisbe (Bishop's Bridge)

Carrer del Bisbe offers a popular spot for capturing memorable photographs: the elaborate gargoyle-adorned Gothic bridge that stretches overhead, connecting the Palace of the Generalitat ("Palau de la Generalitat") to the Canons House ("Casa dels Canonges") on the opposite side of the street.

Although it may appear to be a centuries-old architectural masterpiece, the bridge, known as the Bishop's Bridge ("Pont del Bisbe"), was actually constructed in 1928 by Catalan architect Joan Rubió – a keen disciple of Antoni Gaudí, with whom he collaborated until the year 1905 on different important projects among which La Sagrada Família, the Casa Batlló, and the Parc Güell.

Despite its relatively modern origin, the marble bridge, inspired by the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, seamlessly blends with the prevalent architectural style of the enchanting Gothic Quarter. Its decorative elements draw inspiration from the flamboyant Gothic forms, resulting in one of the most photographed sights in Barcelona.

For the best photo opportunities, visit the bridge in the morning or late afternoon when the lighting conditions are favorable.
Palau de la Generalitat (Palace of the Generalitat)

12) Palau de la Generalitat (Palace of the Generalitat)

This beautiful historic building nestled in the heart of the Gothic Quarter is certainly worth a visit. Serving as the offices of Catalonia's Generalitat, the autonomous regional government, it shares a Gothic origin with the neighboring Casa de la Ciutat. However, after a significant redesign, the current grand Renaissance-style façade on Saint James’s Square ("Plaça de Sant Jaume") was created. This ornate façade is truly eye-catching, particularly when guarded by armed police during official high-level events, audiences, and receptions.

The Generalitat opens its doors to the public on the 2nd and 4th weekends of each month, offering free one-hour guided tours in English (advance booking is required through the Generalitat website). Additionally, the building welcomes visitors on special occasions such as Día de Sant Jordi (Saint George's Day: April 23), the Fiesta de la Mercé in late September, and the National Day of Catalonia (September 11). Sunday noon carillon concerts provide another opportunity to glimpse inside.

The Pati dels Tarongers, a 16th-century courtyard adorned with orange trees, is perhaps the most renowned part of the palace and a frequent backdrop for official photographs. Once inside, you'll have the chance to admire other notable areas such as the Gothic courtyard adorned with pillars and gargoyles, the President's Office, the ornate Gothic Chapel of Saint George, the frescoed Torres Garcia Room, the Gilded Room featuring a stunning coffered ceiling, and more.
Placa de Sant Felip Neri (St. Philip Neri Square)

13) Placa de Sant Felip Neri (St. Philip Neri Square)

Saint Philip Neri Square is a romantic quaint square in the Gothic quarter, one of the hidden secrets of Barcelona.

The square rests upon a burial ground that once served as the final resting place for Barcelona's executed heroes and villains before all church graveyards were relocated to the south side of Montjuïc, where the municipal cemetery now stands. The Church of Saint Philip Neri, located within the square, is a frequent venue for classical concerts. The pockmarks on the church walls, remnants of a bomb explosion during the Civil War, silently bear witness to that tragic event.

In today's peaceful atmosphere, it is difficult to imagine that this square was once the site of summary executions during the late 1930s, following the fall of Barcelona to the nationalist forces led by Franco.

If you're fortunate, you may encounter musicians who appreciate this place for its unique acoustics. Additionally, a café is situated within the square, along with the stylish Hotel Neri, housed in a beautiful 18th-century mansion.
Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine)

14) Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (Basilica of St. Mary of the Pine)

This remarkable early Catalan Gothic church stands as one of the most fortress-like structures you'll encounter. It exudes a sense of grandeur with its imposing, dark, and massive presence, punctuated only by the main entrance and the huge rose window, reputedly the largest in the world. To witness the window's vibrant colors at their best, try to view it from inside during the late afternoon.

The church derived its name from the solitary pi (pine tree) that once stood in the marshy lowland beyond the 4th-century Roman walls. A previous church from the 10th century preceded the current one, which commenced construction in 1322 and was ultimately consecrated in 1453.

Upon entering, two interesting features await: the original wooden choir loft and the painting "La Mare de Deu dels Desamparats" ("Our Lady of the Helpless") by Ramón Amadeu. It is said that the artist used his wife and children as models for the Virgin and children in the painting. The church frequently hosts classical guitar concerts by renowned soloists. Guided tours of the basilica and bell tower are available in English, with prior reservation.

Why You Should Visit:
Very nice in its simplicity; a peaceful place to sit quietly and cool off while marveling at the world's largest stained glass rose window.

If you visit early or late, admission to the church is free (otherwise, there is a nominal fee). For a few extra euros, you can ascend the bell tower and enjoy a panoramic 360-degree view of the city. However, do take note of the timing, as the tower closes after dusk.
Placa de Sant Josep Oriol (St. Joseph Oriol Square)

15) Placa de Sant Josep Oriol (St. Joseph Oriol Square)

Saint Joseph Oriol's Square and the adjacent Pine Square ("Plaça del Pi") are among the most vibrant and captivating areas within the Old Town ("Ciutat Vella") of Barcelona. These squares are bustling with popular outdoor cafes and often serve as venues for markets selling natural products or artworks, as well as impromptu concert halls for musicians. It is intriguing to note that this lively atmosphere exists atop the grounds of a former graveyard.

The square itself was named after Josep Oriol, a 17th-century priest who dedicated his life to caring for the sick and needy in the nearby parish of Santa Maria del Pi. While his statue adorns one of the doorways overlooking the square, it may require some effort to locate.

There are several attractions here worth noticing, namely:
~ the bronze statue of Angel Guimerà, an esteemed figure in Catalan literature, created by Josep Cardona i Furró;
~ the 16th-century Fivaller Palace, commissioned by the Fivaller family and now housing the Agricultural Institute, standing at Nº4;
~ Bar del Pi, one of the city's most iconic bars, occupying an 18th-century building at Nº1;
~ a plaque on the wall of the of Santa Maria del Pi Church marking the historic and rather lucky escape of builder José Mestres, who fell from the top of the church and miraculously survived without sustaining serious injury;
~ the "Square of the Unknown Soldier" inscription painted on the northern wall of the church by a soldier during the Civil War in 1939 (although the inscription was covered during Franco's regime, it was restored to its original form in 2009); and finally
~ Placeta del Pi, tucked in behind the church, with its outdoor tables, convenient for a coffee or tapas.

Carrer de la Palla, located near the square, is a charming street adorned with a variety of shops offering antiques, clothing, and books.

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