Finding the time
When to visit Barcelona is a matter of debate. USA Today noted that the city, now the most-visited destination of Spain tours, has become a year-round attraction. Summer offers the largest crowds of tourists and the most unbearable heat, but also some of the most enjoyable Mediterranean swims and the liveliest nights. Spring and fall hark to pleasant weather in the shoulder seasons. Winter, meanwhile brings temperatures in the 50s and plenty of rain. However, it also means the unforgettable Three Kings Day, and a more intimate view as locals retake their claim on the quarter.
The question of when, however, may be better applied to the time of day. In the light of morning, travelers can admire the stark relief of the neighborhood's old stones and the many monuments they form. The grand and ornate Catedral de Barcelona shines brightest from across a sun-baked square, while the Casa de L'Ardiaca's exotic courtyard - featuring a fountain, palm tree and swans - is best experienced as an oasis from light and crowds.
At the other end of the spectrum is the nightlife, when Barcelona displays its surreal and lively side, dancing and drinking well into the morning. Like the rest of cosmopolitan Spain - and many other European countries - Barcelona starts its nighttime activities later, beginning with a casual dinner between 9 and 11 and moving into bars at 11 or 12. The serious clubs often don't get going until well after midnight. The charming streets of day become the blurred string of sights, sounds and tastes of the evening, a surreal experience of anachronism as modern culture echoes through ancient streets.
Fading and gleaming
The truth is that travelers should experience the Gothic Quarter at all times. However, if they must choose, then perhaps they should visit at sunset, when the darkening day gives way to the burnished glare of manmade lights. At this hour, streaks of sun will light up Gothic arches and twisted spires, and the neighborhood dies down in preparation for evening activities. It can be a momentary respite from the tourism of the day, while setting you up to witness the neighborhood's transformation. You can hole up at Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, which is sometimes considered the most charming in the area, according to Frommer's, or else sip at a cappuccino at the 114-year-old Mesón del Café. As night falls you can also keep watch of the growing crowds in the restaurants and bars, before joining in for a tapas crawl and a few rounds of Catalan wine.