Las Ramblas: the main vein in the heart of Barcelona
The long Las Ramblas promenade where a van ploughed into pedestrians on Thursday is a tree-lined walkway that starts in a huge plaza and ends near Barcelona’s harbour. It’s filled with cafes, restaurants, stalls selling everything from souvenirs to flowers, the city’s famed opera house and a baroque palace.
It stretches 1.2km, with a pedestrian-only walkway in the centre of the avenue and vehicles allowed on both sides.
Las Ramblas is one of Barcelona’s top tourist draws, a place to stroll and soak in the city’s historic charm while doing some serious people-watching.
“Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s Champs Elysees or Times Square,” said Pauline Frommer, editorial director of Frommer’s guidebooks. “It’s mostly where tourists go to see and be seen and be entertained. There’s a feeling of excitement and being at the centre of it all.”
The avenue can have a honky-tonk atmosphere because there are so many street performers and draws for tourists to spend their money, but it’s also close walking distance from many other Barcelona tourist attractions.
The walk along the entire avenue is different than other global tourism destinations because it takes visitors past buildings built centuries ago and ends at the modern harbour neighbourhood that was renovated when Barcelona held the 1992 Olympics, said Frommer, who has walked on Las Ramblas at least 10 times.
“It’s kind of a walk that takes you from the old Gothic area to a beach, which is unique,” she said. “You don’t usually get culture, culture, culture and then fresh fish restaurants and a beach.”
Just off Las Ramblas, the La Boqueria market in the Ciutat Vella district features dozens of stalls that line its large iron-roofed building, spilling mountains of colourful fruits and vegetables, rows of cured ham legs and things shoppers can’t find in their supermarkets back home – like goat heads and pig feet.
It’s a part of the city where visitors can elbow up to a bar next to locals taking a break from their shopping.
“There was a feeling of a parade there, a feeling of celebration every day of the week for tourists,” Frommer said. “Almost like the Spanish version of Main Street for Disney World. Everybody smiles when they are walking through and it breaks my heart that its innocence has been broken.”