Barcelona's most famous street is both a tourist magnet (beware the pickpockets and con artists) and a window into Catalan culture, with cultural centres, theatres and intriguing architecture. Flanked by plane trees, the middle section of La Rambla is a broad pedestrian boulevard, crowded with a wide cross-section of society. Though it won't appeal to everyone, a stroll here is pure sensory overload. Horrific terrorist attacks in 2017 did little to diminish La Rambla's popularity either with visitors or with its hawkers and performers.
La Rambla takes its name from a seasonal stream (raml in Arabic) that once ran here. From the early Middle Ages, it was better known as the Cagalell (Stream of Shit) and lay outside the city walls until the 14th century. Monastic buildings were then built (many of them were later destroyed) and, subsequently, mansions of the well-to-do from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. Unofficially, La Rambla is divided into five sections, which explains why many know it as Las Ramblas (or Les Rambles, in Catalan).
The initial stretch from Plaça de Catalunya is La Rambla de Canaletes, named after a turn-of-the-20th-century drinking fountain and lamppost, the water of which supposedly emerges from what were once known as the springs of Canaletes. It used to be said that a proper barcelonin was one who ‘drank the waters of Les Canaletes’. Nowadays people claim that anyone who drinks from the fountain will return to Barcelona. This is the traditional meeting point for happy FC Barcelona fans when they win cups and competitions.
The second stretch, La Rambla dels Estudis (Carrer de la Canuda to Carrer de la Portaferrissa) is named for a 15th-century university that once stood here. It's also known as La Rambla dels Ocells (ocells means 'birds') because of its former bird market, which closed in 2010 after 150 years in operation.
From Carrer de la Portaferrissa to Placa de la Boqueria, what is officially called La Rambla de Sant Josep (named after a now nonexistent monastery) is lined with flower stalls, which give it the alternative name La Rambla de les Flors. Here you'll find a vibrant, swirling 1976 mosaic by Miró and, more recent, a 12m-long memorial for the 14 victims of the 2017 terror attack, engraved with an anti-violence message in multiple languages.
La Rambla dels Caputxins, named after another former monastery, runs from Plaça de la Boqueria to Carrer dels Escudellers. The latter street is named after the potters’ guild, founded in the 13th century, whose members lived and worked here. Below this point La Rambla gets seedier, with the occasional strip club and peep show.
The final stretch of La Rambla, La Rambla de Santa Mònica, widens out to approach the Mirador de Colom overlooking Port Vell. This section is named after the Convent de Santa Mònica, which once stood on the western flank of the street and has since been converted into the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica.
As one of the most touristed spots in Barcelona, there's no denying that La Rambla can feel a bit life like a packed-out circus. Swing by first thing, around 8am, to enjoy this historic leafy boulevard with far fewer crowds. Alternatively, you could seek out some of the city's quieter rambles instead, such asRambla del Raval or Rambla del Poblenou.