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Love to hate it? Or hate to love it? Les Rambles divides tourists and locals alike

Les Rambles stands out as key attraction in Barcelona connecting Plaça Catalunya to Christopher Columbus at Port Vell and the Barri Gòtic to El Raval. Yet in recent years it has increasingly gained a bad reputation amongst visitors and locals alike. CNA talks to the tourists who continue to line the street.

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28 July 2011 09:57 PM

by

Caitlin Smith

Barcelona- (CNA) Les Rambles stands out as key attraction in Barcelona connecting Plaça Catalunya to Christopher Columbus at Port Vell and the Barri Gòtic to El Raval. Yet in recent years it has increasingly gained a bad reputation amongst visitors and locals alike. Far from the authenticity of a Spanish boulevard, where artists, vendors and pickpockets mingle with the thousands of tourists who come here every day, CNA visited the street to discover what the pedestrians see in it.


Spanning 1.2 kilometres and lined by trees, cafes, shops and restaurants Les Rambles really does have the potential to be incredibly pretty\u2026and then come the people. A ramble down Les Rambles is never tranquil activity. There are three metro stops to pass, vendors selling everything from ice cream to live animals, street artists who draw in large crowds and, if that wasn\u2019t enough, there is always an abundance of high pitched whistling coming from the vendors who sell small toys which change even the sweetest voice into something which more resembles tweety-pie.

In reality, Les Rambles it is a collection of smaller streets, each with 'Rambla' in the name, giving it the plural title and its most common name of Les Rambles. According to the Association of the friends and vendors of Les Rambles, (l\u2019Associació d\u2019Amics, Veïns i Comerciants de la Rambla) the road can trace its origins as far back as Barcelona itself can, with its name coming from the Arabic for a "stream or river which passes water when it rains" and not, as it is commonly thought, from the Anglo-Saxon word to ramble.

Although official figures of the amount of visitors are practically impossible to calculate (with people leaving and entering the street from multiple side streets) it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people walk the length of Les Rambles every year. But the real question is why?

In recent years, Les Rambles has undeniably changed in character; from a street which the local people once enjoyed, to a major tourist destination with an increasingly bad reputation. From the prostitutes who come out at night to the pickpockets who enjoy a paradise of disorientated tourists, and even the staggeringly overpriced food and drink found here, it is hardly the most desirable holiday hot spot.

The Friends Association argues however that Les Rambles is culturally and historically "unique". "From the eighteenth century to the present day, writers, playwrights and poets have written and are still writing about this walk" they write on their website. The group, which celebrated its 50th birthday last year, highlights the Liceu Theatre, the Centre d'Art Santa Mònica and the Boqueria Market as examples of the streets legacy. It is in this spirit that they are fighting for UNESCO recognition of Les Rambles as an international site of heritage.

And the tourists seem to agree. Although many we spoke to mentioned the artificial nature of the street the vast majority seemed to enjoy the lively atmosphere. "It's very beautiful and I love it" said one man from South Korea. Another man, visiting Barcelona for the first time with his family, said "there are plenty of things to see. I would recommend it".

From such reviews it appears that although the appeal of Les Rambles maybe wavering amongst those who prefer authenticity over commodity, it shows no sign of loosing its main tourist audience. A Norwegian tourist summed it up perfectly, "It's quite touristy but it's entertaining!" he said, capturing the sentiment that continues to drive thousands to this controversial yet hugely popular street.

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  • Les Rambles, in Barcelona (by Caitlin Smith)

  • Les Rambles, in Barcelona (by Caitlin Smith)
Les Rambles stands out as key attraction in Barcelona connecting Plaça Catalunya to Christopher Columbus at Port Vell and the Barri Gòtic to El Raval