The Plaça Reial (plaza Real in Spanish), located in the Gothic quarter in the old town, is one of Barcelona´s most iconic squares. It is situated behind an archway just off Las Ramblas as you walk towards the sea. It was designed by Francesc Daniel Molina I Casamajó and was built in 1848 on the remains of the Santa Madrona Capuchin monastery.
It has been remodeled several times since then and has so many unique characteristics that it is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever been there. The plaza is studded with palm trees which gives it a Mediterranean feel and is decorated with two iron street lamps. Take a close look at the lamps, as they were designed by none other than a young Antoni Gaudí, and are said to be his first public works.
The plaza is surrounded by pastel colored neo-classical buildings and in the center you´ll find the Fountain of Three Graces. It was built at the end of the 19th century and the name refers to the statue of the three women. The women are the daughters of Zeus; Euphrsyne, Aglaea, and Thalia, who are said to represent beauty, charm, and joy.
Plaça Reial attracts a very mixed crowd, and at any given time you´ll find tourists taking photos of the fountain, locals and expats having a drink on the terrace, street performers, and immigrants who pass by selling beer (illegally) on the street. During the day most of the visitors are tourists, but in the evenings you will find more locals who are attracted to the many restaurants and bars. During La Mercè, the city festival that takes place in September, open air concerts take place. It is also quite croweded during other festivals and celebrations, such as New Year´s Eve. On Sunday mornings a coin and stamp market is held from 10am to 2pm, attracting collectors from all over the city.
For a coffee or drink on the terrace, Glacier (Plaça Reial 3) is the place to go. There are plenty of outdoor tables where you can enjoy the fresh air and do some people watching. And if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds you can always move to one of their two upstairs rooms. In addition to drinks they also serve a wide range of tapas.
For restaurants, Taxidermista (Plaça Reial 8, http://www.taxidermistarestaurant.com/) and Les Quinze Nits (Plaça Reial 6, http://www.lesquinzenits.com/) are the most popular. Taxidermista is famous for its eclectic history. It opened in 1859 as the Gran Cafè Espanyol, and Angel Guimarà used to have his literary gatherings here. It later became the Museum of Natural Sciences, with a taxidermy workshop, and during this time it was frequented by Dalí, Miró, and Ave Gardner. In 1999 it was restored and became the Taxidermista restaurant. It serves Mediterranean food using seasonal market produce at a decent price.
Les Quinze Nits is part of a group of restaurants across Barcelona, and is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the city. At weekends there is nearly always a queue, but the excellent Mediterranean style food and reasonable prices are worth it. They are also open for lunch, and if you go during the week you can usually get a table on the terrace without having to wait.
For an after dinner drink without the tourists check out Pipa Club (Plaça Reial 3). Historically it was frequented by pipe (pipa) smoker´s. True to its roots, it´s still quite smoky, but the jazz music and mellow atmosphere make it ideal for a late night drink. You´ll have to ring the bell for admission and then go up the stairs, but don´t worry, the bar is open to the public and everyone is allowed entrance.
If you feel like dancing, Sidecar Factory Club (Plaça Reial 7) is your best option. The music is a fusion of rock, pop, and urban styles. There is frequently live music, and there are always DJs after 12:30am. Entry typically costs between €5 and €7 and includes a drink, although live shows may cost a bit more. Check out the agenda at http://www.sidecarfactoryclub.com to see what´s on when.
Jamboree and Tarantos are two clubs located at the same address (Plaça Reial 17, http://www.masimas.net/). Jamboree offers jazz sessions (from 9pm, €8) and Tarantos has live Flamenco performances at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30pm (€6). Later in the evening Jamboree becomes a popular dance club, offering funk, hip hop, and R&B until 5am.
Karma Disco(Plaça Reial 10) has a terrace bar which is open until 2:30am and a dance club that´s open until 5:30am. It is frequented by students and young people and has pop/rock music. Entry to the club costs €10 and includes a drink.
Plaça Reial is a great place to visit during the day or in the evening, at any time of the year. Whether you´re in the mood for a coffee on a sunny terrace or dancing all night in the basement of one of Barcelona´s best clubs, the Plaça Reial is to the place to do it.