This part of the old city brings you to the water-to the medieval age of Barcelona's maritime empire, and the rebirth of its modern waterfront.
From the Plaça de Catalunya, walk east to Via Laietana and turn right toward the port. Turn left at Plaça de Lluis Millet to Domènech i Montaner's (1) Palau de la Música Catalana at Palau de la Música 4-6 (www.palaumusica.org). An over-the-top confection of ornamental brick, friezes and marble sculpture, mosaic tile, and stained glass, it's one of the most important modernista works in Barcelona. Take the guided tour in English on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Return to Via Laietana, turn left on Carrer de la Princesa and right on Carrer de Montcada. The street is lined with the 14th-century noble houses built when Barcelona was a Mediterranean power, most of them now museums and galleries. The (2) Museu Picasso at Carrer de Montcada 15-23 (www.museupicasso.bcn.es) occupies three adjoining palaces; the core of the collection is his series of paintings based on "Las Meninas" by Velázquez. Farther down, at Carrer de Montcada 12-14 on the opposite side, are the (3) Museu Tèxtil i d'Indumentària (www.museutextil.bcn.es) and the (4) Museu Barbier-Mueller d'Art Pre Colombí—both with pleasant courtyard cafés.
At the end of Carrer de Montcada, on the right, is (5) Santa Maria del Mar (Plaça de Santa Maria 1). The church suffered heavily during the civil war, but retains an awe-inspiring beauty; note that it's closed to visitors 1:30-4:30 p.m. and after 8:00 p.m. (see "Must-Dos"). Turn left, and make a short detour up the tree-shaded Passeig del Born to explore the (6) Mercat del Born at Plaça Comercial; inspired by Les Halles in Paris. Recent restoration work uncovered remains of a section of the city dating to the Bourbon occupation in the 18th century. The market is now a cultural center and a venue for performances and exhibitions.
Take the Carrer d'Espaseria from the front portal of Santa Maria del Mar to the (7) Plaça del Palau, turn right on Passeig d'Isabel II, and walk to the ornate Central Post Office at Plaça d'Antoni López, where Via Laietana ends at the Passeig de Colom. En route, at Passeig d'Isabel II 7, you pass (8) La Llotja—the stock exchange—the earliest sections of which date to the 14th century. Cross the Passeig de Colom to (9) Roy Lichtenstein's sculpture "Barcelona Head," and walk east and then south along the Passeig de Joan de Borbó past the (10) Palau de Mar—the only building of Barcelona's old port still standing, now home to the Museu d'Història de Catalunya at Plaça de Pau Vila 3 (www.mhcat.net)—to where the mini-grid of (11) Barceloneta begins on the left.
This working-class barrio was once the fishermen's quarter; its narrow streets have some of the city's cheapest and best tapas bars and seafood restaurants. At the far end of the barrio begins the first of Barcelona's public beaches, stretching nearly three miles (4.8 kilometers) along the Passeig Marítim to the north.
Return toward the Passeig de Colom, turn left, and walk along the (12) Moll d'Espanya waterfront park and marina. At the far end, at Port Vell, where cruise boats depart for tours of the harbor, cross the footbridge to the Plaça del Portal de la Pau and the (13) Monument Colom. Nearly 200 feet (61 meters) high, the monument was erected for the Universal Exhibition in 1888; the statue of Columbus points—a classic misdirection—out to sea, to North Africa, and not North America. Take the elevator inside to the top, for a fine view of the port.
If time permits, cross the roundabout and visit the fascinating (14) Museu Marítim at Avinguda de les Drassanes (www.museumaritimbarcelona.com); if not, take Las Ramblas up to the Plaça de Catalunya to end your walk.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.