The streets and squares of Spain are lively with people day and night. Whether it’s in La Rambla, or the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona or the Calle de las Huertas in Madrid, Spanish culture is best enjoyed at street level.
The Spanish word ‘paseo’ translates to a leisurely walk or stroll through city streets. It is also the traditional way to experience life in Spain. Paseos are usually taken in the evenings or around meal times as people head out into the plazas and squares and enjoy drinks, tapas or their late evening meal.
Here are some incredible Spanish streets you just have to walk down for an authentic taste of this local custom.
While in Spain’s capital, you should be sure to take a paseo along Calle de las Huertas. This means the ‘street of gardens’ and is so named because of the lush fields that once grew here in the 17th century. Today, the street runs between two bustling squares, from the Plaza del Ángel to the Plaza de la Platería de Martínez.
This area in the heart of the city is known as the Literary Quarter or the Barrio de las Letras. Some of Spain’s most acclaimed writers have lived and worked in this historic neighbourhood. You can still visit the house where Cervantes lived 400 years ago. Plaques commemorating the lives and writing of towering figures from Spanish literature, decorate the cobblestone streets.
This district is also known for its bohemian atmosphere, tapas bars, shopping and lively entertainment. Narrow city streets that are pedestrian friendly and lined with sidewalk cafes connect parks and plazas.
At one end for the Literary Quarter is the Parque del Buen Retiro (which translates to the ‘Park of Pleasant Retreat’). Also known simply as El Retiro, this is one of the largest parks in the city of Madrid. Covering 350 acres near the centre of the city, El Retiro is filled with numerous statues, fountains and monuments making it an open-air sculpture museum. There is also a large lake where street performers and fortune tellers congregate. Boat rentals are available and horse-drawn carriages offer rides around the lake.
Stroll the lush gardens, take in some local artists showcasing their talent and then head back into the ancient city streets for una caña (small draft beer) to enjoy on your paseo.
The main people-watching street in Barcelona is La Ramblas. The heart of the Barcelona experience, this bustling, tree-lined boulevard runs from the waterfront through the city’s Gothic Quarter. Strolling along its wide sidewalks you’ll be entertained by Flamenco dancers, the famous human statues and a lively variety of other street performers and artists.
The street is lined with shops, restaurants and sidewalk cafes. Near the bottom of the street, close to the water, is the bohemian Fira Nova Artesania – an artists’ marketplace selling unique creations and local crafts you would be unlikely to find anywhere else.
Further north along the road is the Market La Boqueria. Operating since 1836, this popular local food market features over 200 vendors selling a sumptuous array of local and international foodstuffs.
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in Barcelona and still houses the remains of the original Roman city walls and Medieval landmarks. The bustling La Ramblas is a great spot to grab lunch and soak in the culture. This street also serves as a hub from which you can duck down the narrow alleys and streets alongside to explore this historic district.
While in Barcelona, be sure to also take a paseo along the Passeig de Gràcia. One of the most expensive streets in all of Spain, this is home to high-end fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton to Gucci. However, even if you’re not shopping, it’s worth the trip. Passeig de Gràcia is renowned for its architecture. The street is dotted with Art Nouveau masterpieces by Antoni Gaudi and other Spanish masters of the movement.
The streets of Pamplona are famous for the annual San Fermín festival which features the running of the bulls. However, there is much to see and do in this historic walled city, even if fleeing a stampeding herd of angry bovine isn’t your thing.
You can walk the bull run without being chased when the San Fermín festival isn’t on (it takes place the second week of July every year). The route runs almost a kilometre (875 metres) through the narrow streets of the old quarter of Pamplona from the corral to the bullring.
Another popular walking tour of Pamplona is along the old city walls. Dating from the 1500’s, these medieval fortifications are some of Spain’s best preserved historic military structures. The walking path along the walls runs between the Media Luna and Taconera parks and offers breathtaking views of the landscape and city below as well as a fascinating look back into history.
A visit to Granada will be unlike any other stop off in Spain. The rich history of the diverse cultures that have called this spot home, makes it a unique destination.
Just a short distance from the famed Alhambra – the ancient Medieval fortress and palace from when the Moors ruled the region in the 13th century – you can find yourself walking through the bustling streets of a lively Spanish city with trendy tapas bars and cafes.
Then just a kilometre to the north, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world entirely. The Sacromonte is where modern-day gypsies still inhabit a complex of caves that the Roma community has called home since the 15th century. The main road through this mountainous district is called Camino del Sacromonte. It is lined with caves that serve as restaurants and bars offering Flamenco shows. The Sacromonte offers stunning views of the towers of the Alhambra, the Darro River and the valley below.
The vibe and the lust for life, that is evident everywhere in the character of Spain, is best experienced at street level. Take up the Spanish tradition of paseo and stroll historic streets teaming with music, performances, history and of course great food and drink. Plunge into this immerse culture feet first.