For many who visit Barcelona, a trip to one of the city’s oldest and most vibrant barrios, El Raval, won’t make it onto the itinerary. This is a shame. El Raval is a cultural melting pot that celebrates its confluence of culture in the minutiae of everyday life. Down the narrow tangle of the area’s medieval streets, you hear Catalan, Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, and Tagalog pouring over balconies, out of shop fronts, from cafes and in squares. Thai and Indian restaurants sit alongside tapas and pintxo joints. Boutique shops sell pricey crafts next to fruit and vegs stalls, and the sweet smell of apple flavored shisha snakes through the air and up unsuspecting nostrils. In El Raval, things come together, interweave, overlap, and the result is a rich, multicultural tapestry of life that is both unstoppable and undeniable in its beauty. So, with this, a full day of things to do in El Raval, there’s no excuse, time to visit Barcelona’s best barrio.
You know what they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So, kick your day off with a morning feed to fuel you through yours. Or, at least until lunch.
Komo en Kasa
Komo en Kasa or, like at home, is a wonderful little cafe located a couple of streets up from the top of La Rambla del Raval. Here, they serve quiches, empanadas, croissant and a whole lot more delicious breakfast fare all with a smile. The place is small with little room to sit. But, if you’re lucky, and there early enough, you might be able to grab a couple of seats in the window nooks which open out onto the street. Service is friendly and fast, and the coffee is great. Once you’ve had your fill and the caffeine’s put you in gear it’s time to start exploring all the El Raval neighborhood has to offer.
Rambla del Raval
Before you go off-piste and disappear down one of the many side streets in the area, first take a stroll along La Rambla del Raval. Raval’s Rambla is not the one which has become synonymous with Barcelona located in the city’s Gothic Quarter. In fact, this avenue, which cuts down the middle of the Raval area, Barcelona, is a relatively new addition to the neighborhood.
In the 1980s, as El Raval continued to fall into disrepair, local government turned its attention towards the area. There were growing concerns that the neighborhood was a suffocating space that couldn’t “breath.” So in an attempt to open things up, La Rambla del Raval was conceived. Completed in 2000, it now serves its purpose excellently and buzzes with life, young and old.
El Gato del Raval
Two-thirds of the way down sits a giant statue of a cat referred to by the locals as El Gato del Raval. Sculpted by Colombian artist Fernando Botero, the statue first arrived in Barcelona in 1987. Over the years it moved to various locations in the city, before taking up permanent residence in the El Raval district, Barcelona.
It’s a unique statue that has a magnetic draw. Perhaps it is the cat’s size or his strangely serene expression. Whatever it is, children spend afternoons clambering over it and hiding underneath it. Passersby stop to admire it. And, tourists are quick to snap a photo with it.
Overshoot Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary art by about 250 meters for one of the most obscure things to do in El Raval, the Orphan’s Hole. It’s very easy to walk by this site as it is quite literally a hole in a wall. But, take the time to seek because attached to it is a unique and interesting story.
Embedded into the facade of La Casa de la Misericordia is a wooden hole about the size of motorcycle’s wheel. La Casa de la Misericordia, founded in 1583, was an orphanage. The hole in the wall, known as the orphans wheel, was where young women placed children they could not care for. The hatch gave way to the orphanage, and by using it, children could be safely transferred into the care of the sister who ran the building.
The orphans wheel points to the history of El Raval. In the 17th century, the neighborhood was Europe's densest working-class neighborhood and housed much of Barcelona’s textile industry. Families worked long hours for little money. And, with no social support or child care, many that struggled could often not support young children. There was also the social stigma attached to women who had children out of wedlock. This too contributed to babies being put into the orphanage.
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Next, head up to Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, MACBA. But, before you head in, take a second to drink in the little square in front of the museum. This buzzing spot probably has one of the highest concentrations of contemporary culture in all of Barcelona. Skateboarders shred the ledges while onlookers suck down beers, listen to music and hang around. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll catch Paul Rodriguez doing another big spin heelflip down the floor block.
MACBA, like La Rambla del Raval, was conceived as part of the El Raval neighborhood’s urban regeneration. In introducing the art museum, the local government hoped to bring people back to the area. It has been very successful.
Inside, MACBA is a world-class contemporary art museum. It houses a permanent collection of over 5000 works as well as rotating exhibitions that are at the cutting edge of contemporary art. Chin scratchingly good stuff. Monday through Friday, except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, it’s open 11 am to 8 pm. Saturday and Sunday it opens at 10 am with it closing on Sunday’s at 3 pm.
The permanent collection is divided into art from three time periods. The first covers the 1940-60s, the second the 1960-70s and the third is contemporary art. All the art in the permanent collection has an emphasis on Spanish and Catalan art with some international artists represented.
Time for a breather and some food. El Raval restaurants are aplenty, but for lunch forgo the three-course meal for a delicious kebab instead.
Grab a Kebab
El Raval is peppered with loads of kebab places that are cheap and cheerful and that serve up some great stuff. A two-minute walk from MACBA is Bismila Kebap. Here, everything is freshly made. And, they offer up falafels and various types of shawarma with base meats of chicken and beef. The place is regularly busy which is a testament to the quality of the food, and the service is fast. They have an inside seating area too so you can take a load off while you refuel. Alright, with bellies full and feet rested its time to move on plenty more thing to do in El Raval.
If vintage is your thing, then you’re in luck because the El Raval district, Barcelona is a hotbed of vintage shops.
Club 80s, located on Carrer Riera Baixa, stacks its shelves with retro wear from...the 80s, of course! So, if Stonewashed jeans, leather-jackets and shoulder pads are your thing, Club 80s is one to seek out.
Holala! is Barcelona’s largest vintage shop. Located in Placa Castella it is a stone’s throw away from Universitat de Barcelona. Because of its location, it will almost certainly be populated by young, hip Catalans sifted through the racks and rack (and racks) of vintage clothing from every decade.
Flamingos Kilo Vintage is unique. Not only does it specializes in American vintage clothing, but it also prices by weight. Located on Carrer de Ferlandina, rock up, find your garms and head for the scales.
Antoni Gaudi left his mark all over Barcelona, and Palau Guell is a fantastic example of the famed architect’s earlier work. Gaudi built this stunning neo-gothic mansion for his patron and friend, industrialist Eusebi Guell. While the building may not possess the same distinct Gaudi look popularised by the Sagrada and Park Guell, Palau Guell’s eclectic mix of Gothic, Islamic and art nouveau architectural styles point to the direction Gaudi would later go.
The building also holds a somber past. After the civil war, the police used the building as a prison where they tortured political prisoners in the basement. When the building was eventually abandoned, it fell into disrepair. But in 1969, after restoration, it was declared a historical-artistic monument by the Spanish government. Now it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Olgod Craft Beer
With dinner time fast approaching it's time to unwind with a beer or two. Head to Olgod on Carrer de l’Hospital where 30 taps serve predominantly Scandinavian beers.
Named after a Danish town, Olgod literally translates to God of beer. This cozy craft beer bar is the perfect place to wet your whistle. And, if you’re so hungry you can't wait, the place also serves wings, burgers and other craft beer food fare.
To round the evening off enjoy one of the many El Raval restaurants. Whether you’re after a curry, Chinese food or something local in El Raval, there is something to meet everyone’s needs.
Can Cañete is local through and through. Here, you can sit at the long bar and eat late into the night ordering from a long list of tapas. Alternatively, you can sit outside. The food is Catalan, although there are some variations and the classics are prepared with just that extra hint of imagination. Expect to find squid, artichokes, canelones de foie and bacalao. What makes Can Cañete really stand out though is its atmosphere. It is alive with life, the chatter, the hustle, and bustle, the continual ferrying of food from the kitchen to tables all add to the place’s wonderful charm.
Round the night and your full day of things to do in El Raval off with a chupito before heading home and hitting the hay. Goodnight.
Sagrada Familia Tour with Priority Access