Although not quite in the same league as Paris or Milan, Barcelona is certainly among Europe’s cities of style. It is a natural magnet for the fashion-conscious and there is no shortage of design outlets for even the most tireless consumer. Everything from books to jewels, haute couture (local and international), designer furniture, cava and condoms is on offer. Several markets animate squares around the centre of town.
Most of the mainstream stores can be found on a shopping ‘axis’ that looks something like the hands of a clock set at a quarter to five. From the waterfront it leads up La Rambla through Placa de Catalunya and on up Passeig de Gracia. At Avinguda Diagonal you turn left. From here as far as Placa de la Reina Maria Cristina (especially the final stretch from Placa de Francesc Macia) the Diagonal is jammed with places where you can empty your bank account. The T1 Tombbus service has been laid on for the ardent shopper and eventually a tram may run the length of Avinguda Diagonal, too.
The best shopping areas in central Barcelona are Passeig de Gracia and the streets to its southwest, including the Bulevard Rosa arcade just north of Carrer d’Arago, and Barri Gotic streets such as Carrer de la Portaferrissa, Carrer de la Boqueria, Carrer del Call, Carrer de la Llibreteria and Carrer de Ferran, and around Placa de Sant Josep Oriol.
Department-store bargain-hunters should note that the winter sales officially start on or around 10 January and their summer equivalents on or around 5 July. The big department stores (such as El Corte Ingles) and shopping complexes (such as El Triangle) tend to open from 9am or 10am through to 9pm or 10pm at night, Monday to Saturday. Smaller shops often close for a few hours at lunchtime (around 2pm to 4pm).
Where to shop in Barcelona
The single best department store is El Corte Ingles (tel 93 306 38 00; Placa de Catalunya), with smaller offshoots spread about the surrounding area. It has another important branch northwest of town on Placa de la Reina Maria Cristina and a third on Avinguda Diagonal.
FNAC (Avinguda Diagonal 549), the French-owned store specialising in CDs, tapes, videos and books, is worth exploring for these items. The shop is part of a huge shopping mall – l’Illa del Diagonal – considered one of the city’s more interesting architectural developments since the Olympic Games.
A more central shopping centre, El Triangle (Placa de Catalunya) houses a branch of FNAC and a collection of other stores, including Habitat.
If you like shopping emporia, the Centre Comercial de les Glories, by the massive roundabout and metro stop of the same name, could be for you. It counts 250,000 square metres of space in the grounds of the former Hispano Olivetti factory, and is also home to a range of bars and eateries to take your mind off shopping for a while.
Hypermarket lovers in Barcelona were given the ultimate treat in 2001 with the opening of Heron City, an enormous complex of shops, cinemas, bars, restaurants and other diversions. It’s located well out of the centre of town at Passeig de Andreu Nin, just off Avinguda de la Meridiana about 4km north of Placa de les Glories Catalanes (metro Fabra i Puig). Yes, mall mentality has arrived.
The concept of the 24-hour general store has yet to reach Barcelona, but an approximation is VIPS (tel 93 317 48 05; Rambla de Catalunya; open 9am-3am daily), an import from Madrid. In Madrid the chain thrives, but in Barcelona it hasn’t really caught on. Another one to try is 7-Eleven (tel 93 318 88 63; Carrer de Roger de Lluria 2; open 7am-3am daily).
Need photocopies or films developed at 5am? Head for Workcenter (tel 902 11 50 11; Carrer de Roger de Lluria 2), a printing and reproduction centre open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Large Els Encants Vells (‘the old charms’; open 8am-7pm, and to 8pm during summer), also known as the Fira de Bellcaire, is held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday next to Placa de les Glories Catalanes. The markets moved here in August 1928 from Avinguda Mistral, near Placa d’Espanya, because the sight of such a jumble sale did not fit in with the town fathers’ visions for the 1929 World Exhibition. For years there has been talk of shifting them again but for the moment they seem set to stay put. You can find everything here – all at preus de ganga (bargain-basement prices).
In Barri Gotic, there’s a crafts market (Placa de Sant Josep Oriol) on Thursday and Friday, an antiques market (Placa Nova) on Thursday, and a coin and stamp collectors’ market (Placa Reial) on Sunday morning. On the western edge of El Raval, Mercat de Sant Antoni (metro Sant Antoni) dedicates Sunday morning to old maps, stamps, books and cards.
What to buy in Barcelona
If you can’t break away from the old town, Carrer dels Banys Nous in Barri Gotic is lined with antique shops and is a good area to start. The side streets in the immediate area, including Carrer de la Palla, also hide a bevy of antique shops. While you’re wandering along Carrer de la Palla, glance up at No 21 – it was once the Hospital de Sant Saver – founded back in 1462.
There are alternatives. Bulevard dels Antiquaris, Passeig de Gracia (part of the Bulevard Rosa arcade complex) is jammed with more than 70 antiques shops, most of a general nature (furnishings, paintings, decorative items) with a few specialists: Brahuer (jewellery), Dalmau (wooden picture frames), Govary’s (porcelain dolls) and Victory (crystal).
You could start hunting for art in several places. Along Carrer de Montcada are several commercial galleries, the biggest being Galeria Maeght (Carrer de Montcada 25). Others include the Galeria Surrealista, next to the Museu Picasso, the Sala Montcada of the Fundacio La Caixa (Carrer de Montcada 16), Galeria Beaskoa next door and Galeria Montcada (jammed in next to the Palau de Dalmases). In Barri Gotic you’ll find several galleries in Carrer de Petritxol.
Predictably enough, the presence of the Museu d’Arte Contemporani de Barcelona in El Raval is turning the surrounding area into an artsy zone. You’ll find a half dozen small galleries and designer stores on Carrer del Doctor Dou, Carrer d’Elisabets and Carrer dels Angels.
The classiest concentration of galleries – about a dozen of them – is on the short stretch of Carrer del Consell de Cent between Rambla de Catalunya and Carrer de Balmes. A particularly interesting place is Galeria Victor Saavedra (tel 93 238 51 61; Carrer d’Enric Granados 97). Saavedra, himself an artist, has been promoting all sorts of artists from around Europe since the late 1980s.
The Guia del Ocio also carries a limited list of art galleries.
For many, a big Miro print or a Picasso poster would make the perfect gift. The Fundacio Joan Miro, Museu Picasso and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Macba) are all well stocked. The souvenir shops in the Oficina d’Informacio de Turisme de Barcelona (Placa de Catalunya 17), and Palau de la Virreina (La Rambla de Sant Josep 99) also carry limited offerings.
For high-quality postcards of Barcelona, prints and the like investigate Estamperia d’Art
There is no shortage of decent bookshops in Barcelona, but the local product is pricey, largely due to high printing costs in Spain.
Llibreria & Informacid Cultural de la Generalitat de Catalunya. This is a good first stop for books and pamphlets on all things Catalan, although a lot of it is highly specialised and technical.
Llibreria de la Virreina. Here you’ll find an assortment of art/architecture and art history books, many with at least some relevance to Barcelona.
Barri Gotic & El Raval
Antinous. This is a good gay bookshop and cafe.
Complices. It has gay and lesbian books.
Documenta. Documenta has novels in English and French, and maps.
Proleg. Proleg is a women’s bookshop.
Quera. It’s a specialist in maps and guides, including for walking and trekking.
Alibri. This is one of the city’s best general bookstores, with a wealth of material and foreign language books too.
Altair. Altair is a great travel bookshop with maps, guides and travel literature.
Casa del Libro. With branches elsewhere in Spain, the ‘Home of the Book’ is a well-stocked general bookshop.
Come In. It is a specialist in English-language teaching books; there are also plenty of novels and books on Spain, in English and French.
The English Bookshop. A good range of literature, teaching material and children’s books can be found here.
Laie. Laie has novels and books on architecture, art and film in English, French, Spanish and Catalan. It has a great cafe where you can examine your latest purchases.
Clothing & Fabrics
If you’re after international fashion, Avinguda Diagonal is the place to look. Shops along here include Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace and Gucci. Jean Pierre Bua hosts designers ranging from Jean Paul Gaultier through to Helmut Lang.
Loewe is one of Spain’s leading and oldest fashion stores, founded in 1846. There’s another branch, which opened in 1943, in the Modernista Casa Lleo Morera.
Zara is one of the country’s most successful outlets for women’s fashion.
In El Raval along Carrer de la Riera Baixa, a string of clothing stores has appeared in the past couple of years. The kind of clothes, from pseudo military through to grunge, reflects the still gritty nature of this part of the old town.
For an overview of high-quality Catalan crafts (artesania), pop into the Centre Catala d’Artesania. It is dedicated to promoting and maintaining Catalan craft traditions.
Natura Selection has a big stock of ethnic bags (leather and cloth), jewellery, pots, drums, candles, carvings, glass, baskets, tablecloths, rugs and more.
Casa Miranda offers you woven baskets of all shapes and sizes.
Galeria Africa Negra, unsurprisingly, specialises in a wide range of crafts from all over Africa.
Even if you’re not interested in all the mounds of wax, you may want to pop in to Cereria Subira just to say you have been in the oldest shop in Barcelona. It started trading in 1761.
A couple of interesting ceramics and pottery shops owned by the same people are hidden north of the Catedral. Ceramiques i Terrisses Cadi has a diverse range of plates, jugs and so on. The owners will either be here or in the twin store (simply called Ceramica) across the road.
Vincon has the slickest designs in furniture and household goods, local and imported. Not surprising really, since the building belonged to the Modernista artist Ramon Casas.
Bd Ediciones de Diseno is worth a look, even if you have left your credit cards at home. Here you will find a collection of pieces for the home by some of Barcelona’s leading designers. Opened in 1972, this prize-winning store is located in a Modernista house built by Domenech i Montaner.
Artquitect is interesting for enthusiasts of building design.
Food & Drink
Serious champagne sippers should pop by Xampany. It stocks over 100 types and brands of cava and all the associated drinking utensils. For a completely modern and international approach to wine, try La Vinia. This mega wine store has fine drops from around the country and abroad.
Need some cheese? A couple of spots are worth seeking out. Formatgeria La Seu has a nice selection on display, and you can taste a few morsels with a drop of wine for a small fee.
If coffee is more your tipple, head for El Magnifico. These guys have been roasting all sorts of coffee for most of this century.
Nuts to you at Casa Gispert, where they’ve been toasting almonds and selling all manner of dried fruit since 1851.
L’Ametller is a tiny little place stacked to the rafters with all sorts of interesting local food and drink products, lots of them with a sweet side.
Xocolateria Valor has for more than 100 years been responsible for tooth decay in countless willing victims in Alicante. It opened in Barcelona a few years back. You can buy to takeaway or try anything from ice cream to milk shakes on the spot.
Joyeria Bagues, in Casa Amatller, is a reliable name in high-quality rocks. If you want to check out a more international name, try Cartier. For gold jewellery, Vasari is reliable.
Tous aims its more light-hearted jewellery at young customers and offers other accessories ranging from original perfumes to stylish sunglasses.
If you wander down along the museum trail on Carrer de Montcada, you’ll find several silver specialists on the same street. Carrer del Call is lined with little jewellery stores, a lot of them dedicated to cheaper costume stuff.
Lladro & Majorica
These are possibly the two best-known Spanish brand names in the world. Lladro porcelain is coveted as much as the Majorica pearls that compete with it for display space in several stores around Barcelona. Garcia is a handy spot to take a look at these products. You will find Majorica pearls in El Corte Ingles department stores too.
Several small shops specialising in indie and other niche music can be found on or around Carrer de Sitges and especially on Carrer dels Tallers (El Raval), which boasts a dozen music stores.
If you’re in the mood for a little kitsch, the easiest thing to do is head for La Rambla. The place is lined with shops that will sell you all sorts of junk. However, before you flash your cash at the merchants, have a look inside Barcelona Original, the souvenir boutique in the building of the Oficina d’Informacio de Turisme de Barcelona. It has an interesting range of quality stuff, including ceramics, watches, art prints, coffee-table books and the like. Most of the major museums and art galleries have shops attached where you can ‘buy the T-shirt’ and other more substantial gifts.
El Ingenio is a whimsical fantasy store where you will discover giant Carnival masks, costumes, theatre accessories and other fun things.
For some, football is the meaning of life. If you fall into that category your idea of shopping heaven may well be La Botiga del Barca, near the team’s Museu del Futbol at the Camp Nou stadium and its branch (tel 93 225 80 45) in the Maremagnum complex. There you can get shirts, keyrings, footballs, the works – anything you could think of featuring the famous red and blue colours.