Las Ramblas is a famous, tree-lined pedestrian street which stretches for 1.2 kilometres. It connects Plaça de Catalunya in the centre of town to the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell.
The street also forms the city boundary between the areas of Barri Gòtic and El Raval. By strolling along this street you can see many historic Barcelona buildings such as the famous Liceu Theatre. La Boqueria market is just off Las Ramblas and is one of the city’s most famous tourist landmarks.
The street name originated from the Spanish verb “Ramblar” meaning to walk leisurely or to ramble. There are five sections to this road, each with its own history and personality. This is why the street is know as both “La Rambla” and “Las Ramblas”. The first three sections are called: Rambla Font de Canaletes (The Canaletes fountain), Rambla dels Estudis (Jesuit University), Rambla de Sant Josep (also known as Rambla de les Flors) which is the open-air flower market. The next section’s name is La Rambla dels Caputxins. Formerly the site of the Capuchin monastery, this is where the Liceu Opera House now stands. Lastly, La Rambla de Santa Mònica – once the site of the Convent of St. Monica and now an Arts centre.
A busy place
Las Ramblas can get very crowded, especially during tourist season. It’s changed a great deal since it was built in the 19th-century but it is well worth the visit. We recommend a leisurely stroll in the morning before it gets too busy. There is plenty to see, from flowers or small pets to mime artists and acrobats.
The area does suffer from a plague of pickpockets, who love tourists. Late at night, it becomes a little more of a “red light district” and we wouldn’t recommend walking around as a tourist, alone. There are plenty of police about but the authorities in Barcelona appear to remain in denial about the need for a decent CCTV system in the city centre.
Serious or violent crime in Barcelona is infrequent. However, the petty crime of pickpocketing has become an accepted way of life. This can be avoided though, by just making sure that your valuables are safely tucked away and never left in an accessible or back pocket.
Places to visit
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that Las Ramblas was “The only street in the world he hoped would never end”. To the east of Las Ramblas is the Barri Gòtic or Gothic Quarter, the centre of the old city of Barcelona. The Barri Gòtic remains a fascinating labyrinth of streets and small squares, many of which connect to Las Ramblas.
One sizeable connecting square is Plaça Reial. This is a lovely 19th century square with tall palm trees and street lamps designed by Antoni Gaudí. The entrance to Plaça Reial is down a short entrance passage, just off Las Ramblas dels Caputxins. A little further into the Barri Gòtic is the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia. Nearby Plaça Sant Jaume houses the Generalitat de Catalonia and the Ayuntamiento – Barcelona’s City Council. These are the rival Catalan and Spanish Government entities of Catalonia.
To the west of Las Ramblas is the somewhat different, El Raval quarter. Once situated outside the city walls, originally this area was the site of various institutions. In later years, factories buildings appeared here, along with housing for the workers. Being so close to the port, the area has become known for its nightlife and cabarets, and also for prostitution. Today this part of the city still retains a degree of ‘edge’ especially late at night. In Barcelona though, when the sun is shining, these kinds of places are quietly sleeping.
Las Ramblas was initially a muddy stream, used as a sewer and filled with rubbish. It was often dry in summer, but as a drain it was essential to cope with the heavy rain which flowed from the Collserola Hills in the spring and autumn. In the 1400s the stream was diverted to avoid the city centre. The wide strip of land then became the town centre spot for markets and public gatherings.
In 1703, the council had trees planted to line the street to make it more attractive. Local workers planted 280 birch trees which were later replaced by elm trees.
Various conflicts over recent centuries took their toll on Las Ramblas religious buildings, most notably on St. James’s Night in 1835. Revolutionaries burned down the monasteries and churches and murdered all the occupants. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), Barcelona was under the control of anarchists who once again targeted religious buildings and massacred the monks and nuns. Artillery fire and air attacks by pro-Franco forces during World War II also caused severe damage.
Today Las Ramblas is a busy commercial centre and one of the most visited places in Europe with around 30 million tourists a year.