Ciutat Vella

Ciutat Vella is the oldest part of the city and houses most of Barcelona’s landmarks. The history of Ciutat Vella tells the story of Roman Barcino, the first city walls, and medieval Barcelona. Barcelona was the city that dominated the Mediterranean Sea as the capital of the kingdom.

The district of Ciutat Vella is characterized by its famous promenade Las Ramblas, its Gothic Cathedral, and the churches of Santa Maria del Mar and Santa Maria del Pi, the trendy shops of El Born, the fishermen of La Barceloneta, and the multicultural Raval.

To get to know the district, read further in this guide about Ciutat Vella, with all sorts of useful information, interesting sights, and the best local tips.

Why Should You Visit Ciutat Vella?

Ciutat Vella, literally translated as “old city,” is the historical heart of Barcelona. After decades of neglect, Ciutat Vella is now hip and happening, especially El Born and El Raval are extremely popular among young city trippers, while El Barri Gòtic has become the tourist hotspot of Barcelona. You can’t leave Barcelona without seeing this neighborhood, as it is definitely one of the highlights of a city trip to Barcelona.

Carrer Ferran Barri Gòtic Barcelona
Carrer Ferran in Barcelona

Where is Ciutat Vella Located?

Ciutat Vella is located in the center of the city on the seaside, wedged between Plaça Catalunya, Ronda de Sant Antoni, Montjuïc, and Parc de la Ciutadella.

It is easily accessible by metro, as almost all metro lines pass through it. The best metro stops to further explore the neighborhoods are Jaume I (L4) and Liceu (L3).

If you’re coming from Barcelona Airport, the most straightforward way to reach it is by using the Aerobús shuttle buses that take you from the airport to Plaça Catalunya.

Ciutat Vella Neighborhood by Neighborhood

Ciutat Vella is formed by the following barris (neighborhoods): La Barceloneta | El Barri Gòtic | El Raval | Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i La Ribera. It is the oldest district of Barcelona and houses numerous hotels, museums, and landmarks. Its wide range of hospitality establishments, shops, museums, and entertainment venues make it a great place to visit.

El Barri Gòtic: The Origin of Barcelon

Barcelona originated in the same place where the Gothic Quarter – in Catalan Barri Gòtic – is now located.

This area was the site of Roman Barcino, built within the first city walls, some parts of which are still visible. This is the real Barcelona with old buildings and places full of history, such as Plaça del Rei, where the Catholic monarchs met Columbus on his return from America.

The Gothic Quarter’s central point is the square of Plaça de Sant Jaume, where the Roman Mont Tàber stood, flanked by the city hall on one side and the palace of the Catalan government on the other.

In the Gothic Quarter, you will find the oldest buildings and streets of the city, full of historical significance. Over the centuries, this neighborhood has always functioned as the center of power and politics. Don’t miss the medieval palaces around the Cathedral, such as the Casa de l’Ardiaca or Palau del Lloctinent, and the famous Pont del Bisbe, a bridge in Gothic style near Carrer del Bisbe.

👉 Follow my walking route through the Gothic Quarter to learn all its secrets.

Gothic Quarter - Ciutat Vella Barcelona
Gothic Quarter – Ciutat Vella Barcelona

El Raval: From Working-Class to Multicultural Neighborhood

El Raval: From Working-Class to Multicultural Neighborhood The Raval of the bohemians and workers from the 18th and 19th centuries, known as the Chinese neighborhood, is now just a romantic memory of the dwelling place of French writer Jean Genet. The sexually promiscuous neighborhood he showed to the world is now a leading exponent of cosmopolitan and multicultural Barcelona.

The El Raval neighborhood has the honor of having the widest cultural offering in Europe. Here you will find interesting museums such as the contemporary art museum MACBA and the cultural center CCCB, but also architectural gems like Gaudí’s Palau Güell, the Palau de la Virreina, the old Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu, and the Romanesque Església de Sant Pau del Camp.

In the retail and hospitality sector, El Raval is quickly surpassing El Born as the hippest neighborhood in Barcelona. Run-down buildings and grimy streets are being taken over by a younger generation brimming with positive energy and ideas. Visiting the neighborhood has even been given a name: ravalejar.

👉 Follow my walking route through El Raval along the coolest streets, shops, and dining addresses.

El Raval - Ciutat Vella Barcelona
El Raval – Ciutat Vella Barcelona

Sant Pere, Santa Caterina, and La Ribera: Trendy Born

Between Via Laietana and Parc de la Ciutadella lies the neighborhood of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina, and La Ribera, now known as the trendy El Born. The neighborhood used to represent most of the city’s trade. Even the names of the many streets are still owed to the professions that took place there: streets like Mirallers (mirror makers), Sombrerers (hat makers), Argenteria (silversmiths), originated from the occupational names of their residents. The name “El Born” comes from the jousting games of the high lords that took place around the church of Santa Maria del Mar during the Middle Ages.

Today, El Born is known for its trendy shops, cozy restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. Visitors can enjoy a visit to the Santa Caterina market hall, the Palau de la Música Catalana, the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, the Picasso Museum, or the old Mercat del Born with its impressive excavations.

👉 Discover all my favorite addresses in El Born with this walking route.

El Born - Ciutat Vella Barcelona
El Born

La Barceloneta: Sailor at Heart

There is no other place in Barcelona that showcases the close relationship between the city and the sea as well as the La Barceloneta neighborhood. The area where La Barceloneta now sits didn’t exist in the past; it was formed by the gradual accumulation of sand in the harbor, due to the breakwater built here in 1474.

The urban development of the area began in the 18th century, as a result of the defeat in 1714, to house the homeless residents of the nearby La Ribera neighborhood. To move them, the new neighborhood of Barceloneta was built, becoming the city’s first artificial neighborhood.

La Barceloneta was a true fishing neighborhood until the mid-19th century. After that, industrialization began to encroach as a result of the proximity of the port and the Estació de França train station.

Now, the neighborhood has transformed into the premier beach and recreational area for both residents and tourists. The many fish restaurants and old taverns, the kilometers-long sandy beach, and the harbor area make La Barceloneta especially in the summer months a real attraction.

La Barceloneta - Ciutat Vella Barcelona
La Barceloneta

Guide to Ciutat Vella

The old city center of Barcelona has something to offer for every visitor. If you want to experience the district like a true local, follow my tips! Visit the main attractions, eat at local eateries, shop for souvenirs at the best stores, and discover the charm of this historic neighborhood by walking.

Essential Landmarks in Ciutat Vella

Ciutat Vella hosts most of the city’s museums and attractions. From the Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona to the famous Ramblas and the Boqueria market, don’t miss the following must-sees in Ciutat Vella.

  • The Cathedral: Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral, La Seu, is an icon of the city and a must-see.
  • Las Ramblas: Barcelona’s most famous promenade stretching from Plaça Catalunya to the Columbus Monument by the sea.
  • Mercat de la Boqueria: a true attraction amidst the Ramblas is the famous Boqueria market.
  • Gran Teatre del Liceu: Barcelona’s opera house.
  • Plaça Reial: one of the city’s most beautiful squares, surrounded by arches and full of terraces and restaurants.
  • Picasso Museum: the art museum dedicated to Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.
  • Santa Maria del Mar: the beautiful basilica of El Born, offering interesting tours that take you to the church’s rooftop.
  • Santa Maria del Pi: this beautiful church has the largest rose window in Catalonia and is located on a lively square where art and regional markets are often held.
  • Palau de la Música Catalana: the modernist concert hall by Domènech i Montaner. A true eye-catcher in El Born.
  • Parc de la Ciutadella: a lovely place to relax after all the sightseeing. For many, Barcelona’s favorite park.
  • Columbus Monument: a monument in honor of the discoverer of America with a 360-degree viewing platform.
  • Pont del Bisbe: a striking bridge in neo-Gothic style connects Casa dels Canonges with the Palau de la Generalitat. Though the bridge of Carrer del Bisbe appears very old, it was only designed in 1928 by the architect Joan Rubió i Bellver, and quickly became popular among tourists, who still love to take photos of it. It is indeed a very photogenic spot!
Carrer del Bisbe Barcelona
Carrer del Bisbe in Barcelona

Fun Things to Do in Ciutat Vella

In Ciutat Vella, you can enjoy shopping, going out, dining, and of course visiting many famous attractions. Here are some suggestions to experience Ciutat Vella like a local.

  • Shopping in Ciutat Vella: Besides the famous shopping streets of Portal de l’Àngel and Portaferrissa, Ciutat Vella has many charming shopping streets like Carrer de l’Argenteria in El Born for trendier shops and boutiques, or Carrer Tallers and Carrer de la Riera Baixa in El Raval for second-hand items. The shopping center Maremagnum is also open every Sunday.
  • Enjoying Terrace Time: The intimate squares and cozy terraces of Ciutat Vella invite you to sit down. For example, sit at the terrace at Plaça dels Àngels and watch skaters in front of MACBA practice their tricks. Or sit at Plaça dels Traginers next to the remains of a Roman city wall. Follow this walk to visit the most beautiful squares in the Gothic Quarter.
  • Discovering History: The best part of Ciutat Vella is getting lost in its narrow streets and being surprised by the weight of history. Take a walk through the history of La Ribera, the Jewish Quarter, or Roman Barcino. Also, visit one of my favorite museums; the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, where the remains of Roman times are still visible, and the old Mercat del Born, where excavations from Barcelona in 1714 have been uncovered.
  • Visiting Museums in Ciutat Vella: You can choose from various types of museums in Ciutat Vella, such as the Picasso Museum, MACBA, or Moco Museum for art lovers, CCCB and Casa dels Entremesos for culture enthusiasts, or the MUHBA Plaça del Rei for history buffs.
  • Eating Churros: In Ciutat Vella, you’ll find some of the best granjas in the city where you can enjoy the tastiest churros con chocolate, such as Granja M. Viader and Granja Dulcinea.
  • Exploring Churches: In Ciutat Vella, you’ll discover some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the city, with Barcelona’s cathedral undoubtedly taking the crown.
  • Spotting Street Art: Among all the historical buildings in the old center, there are also some modern art pieces. Examples include Joan Miró’s colorful pavement ‘Pla de l’Os’ on the famous Ramblas, the beautiful mural by Sixe Paredes on Carrer de Sant Pau, Keith Haring’s AIDS mural, or the large kiss by Joan Fontcuberta at Plaça d’Isidre Nonell.
  • Visiting the Zoo: Zoo de Barcelona is a suitable outing for both young and old. At the zoo, you’ll find a beautiful variety of animal species, including some you can only encounter in Spain.

Staying in Ciutat Vella

Staying overnight in Ciutat Vella is highly recommended. You are beautifully situated in the old center and within walking distance of most attractions, from the trendy El Born neighborhood to the multicultural Raval, and not to forget: the beach!

With Kids in Ciutat Vella

If you’re visiting Ciutat Vella with children, there are plenty of options to entertain them. For instance, visit the Museu de la Cera (wax museum) and the imaginative café Bosc de les Fades. Then enjoy a boat trip with the Golondrinas, visit the Barcelona Aquarium, and climb the Columbus Monument for a fantastic view over Barcelona, the Ramblas, and the sea. Also, don’t forget to visit the candy store of Papabubble, where cheerful sweets are made in a traditional way.

Also fun with kids is the Big Fun Museum (museum of illusions) and the Museu de la Xocolata (chocolate museum).

Those who love manga and fantasy series like Harry Potter will also enjoy the renewed Galeries Maldà, where several stores for true fantasy fans can be found. Don’t miss the Super Friki Market, a supermarket where all sorts of items we only know from TV are sold (such as Willy Wonka’s chocolate).

Chocolate Museum Barcelona
Chocolate Museum Barcelona

Events in Ciutat Vella

As a tourist and historical center of the city, numerous events are held in Ciutat Vella throughout the year. During these events, it is especially fun to visit the Ciutat Vella district!

  • Sardana Dance: Every Saturday at 6:00 pm and Sunday at 11:15 am, sardanes (Catalan dances) are danced in front of the Cathedral, and you can join in! Another great opportunity to learn more about Catalan culture and folklore is the Festa Catalana.
  • Festes de Sant Josep Oriol: A cultural and kid-friendly event in the area around the church of El Pi in the Gothic Quarter.
  • Sant Jordi: During Sant Jordi (April 23), the day of love in Catalonia, Ciutat Vella becomes extra busy. Barcelonans stroll the Ramblas searching for interesting books and roses to give as gifts.
  • Festes de la Primavera de la Barceloneta: The spring festival of La Barceloneta (between April and May) with various parades, festive processions, concerts, and events for young and old.
  • Tast a la Rambla: A foodie event on the Ramblas.
  • Festes de Sant Roc: Sant Roc is one of the oldest and most tradition-rich festivals in Barcelona and takes place every year in August in the Gothic Quarter.
  • La Mercè: The city’s premier festival, La Mercè, takes place every September, with numerous free concerts and events such as human towers and fire walkers.
  • La Rambla en flor: Flower festival on the Ramblas during the Festes del Roser.
  • Fira de Santa Llúcia: The oldest and largest Christmas market in Barcelona is always held in December, in front of the Cathedral.
  • Santa Eulàlia: The winter festival in honor of Santa Eulàlia is organized in February in the streets of Ciutat Vella, including light shows and giant dances.

Eating in Ciutat Vella

Ciutat Vella has a wide range of coffee shops, restaurants, and dining establishments. Locals often visit La Barceloneta for the best fish restaurants in the city and go to El Born and El Raval for trendier eateries. Eating on the Ramblas is a big no-go for locals, although some exciting new dining establishments have opened recently, such as Opera Samfaina where you can dine. Some of my favorite dining addresses in Ciutat Vella are listed below.

Coffee and Bakeries

  • Granja M. Viader (Carrer d’en Xuclà, 4-6): Traditional granja in the house of Cacaolat (Catalan chocolate milk).
  • Satan’s Coffee Corner (Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call, 11): Quiet place for a delicious cup of coffee.
  • Satan’s Coffee Corner (Carrer de l’Arc de Sant Ramon del Call, 11): rustige plek voor een heerlijke kop koffie.

Lunch Spots

  • Picnic (Carrer del Comerç, 1): Hip and child-friendly brunch spot in El Born.
  • Pinotxo Bar (Mercat de la Boqueria, Carrer la Rambla, 89): For tapas during your visit to the Boqueria market.
  • Espai Mescladís (Carrer dels Carders, 35): Pleasant courtyard in El Born where you can enjoy a nice meal.


  • Can Culleretes (Carrer d’en Quintana, 5): A classic in the city and a fine example of Catalan cuisine.
  • Flax & Kale (Carrer dels Tallers, 74B): One of the trendiest addresses in Barcelona for a healthy meal.
  • Teresa Carles (Carrer de Jovellanos, 2): One of the best vegetarian restaurants in the city.

Tapas Bars

  • La Cova Fumada (Carrer del Baluart, 56): Old-fashioned tapas bar in La Barceloneta. Order the authentic ‘bomba’ of La Barceloneta (a spicy meatball with potato).
  • El Xampanyet (Carrer de Montcada, 22): Popular tapas bar in El Born. Don’t miss their homemade wine.
  • Bar La Plata (Carrer de la Mercè, 28): Authentic tapas bar in the Gothic quarter.

Drinks and Nightlife in Ciutat Vella

Ciutat Vella is the heart of Barcelona’s nightlife. From atmospheric cafes and fancy cocktail bars to theaters and music venues. Some tips:

  • Ocaña (Plaça Reial, 13-15): Trendy bar, restaurant, and nightclub at Plaça Reial.
  • L’Ovella Negra (Carrer de les Sitges, 5): Old-fashioned tavern and a real classic of Barcelona’s nightlife.
  • Sor Rita Bar (Carrer de la Mercè, 27): Extravagant bar for a fun start to the evening.