Barcelona perhaps finally achieved peak hipster with the recent opening of Urban Outfitters, a massive statement of a shop in a central and symbolic location on the Plaça Catalunya, but the city has long had a tradition of quirky little boutiques, icily cool designer home-ware stores and artisanal markets.
Added to this mix is a dying breed of picturesque specialist shops that might stock only candles, say, feathers or felt. Protected rents for these – many of them over a century old – come to an end in 2015, so catch them while you can.
La Rambla & Barri Gòtic
La Rambla is, of course, home to the wonderful Boqueria food market, which is worth a visit in itself, particularly in the early hours of the morning before the tourist hordes arrive. The narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic, to the east, hide a plethora of tiny boutiques as well as the high-street chains along Portal de L’Angel. One notable new opening is It Reminds Me Of Something, a sunny little corner space that showcases designer creations – from hand-painted Russian dolls to juniper-wood fruit bowls – that have ‘a story to tell’.
The Gòtic is also home to Barcelona’s oldest shop, Cereria Subirà, whose 250-year existence is threatened with the rise of rents. It specialises in candles, and is worth seeing just for its elegant interior and Gone With the Wind staircase. Another wonderful old classic is the El Ingenio toy and joke shop, where you’ll also find some of the giant fibreglass heads used in the parades around town.
The south of the Raval is mostly residential, but the northern half is home to galleries, boutiques and a cluster of vintage shops. Many of these sit along the Carrer de Riera Baixa, but there’s something of a pre-loved superstore in the shape of Holala! Plaza, a short walk from here.
The neighbourhood has changed beyond belief in recent years, and one recent opening that would have been unthinkable even five years ago is Les Topettes, an elegant little boutique of upmarket toiletries from all the hippest brands.
The area – particularly the Carrer dels Tallers – has long been home to most of the music shops in town. These took a bit of a hit with the advent of digital music, but are regaining popularity now that vinyl is cool again. Though it has gone from three shops on this stretch to one, the mothership is still Discos Castelló.
This used to be Barcelona’s textile district, and many of the streets carry names such as "Tanners’ Street”, “Weavers’ Street” and so on. The tradition lives on in a number of tiny boutiques dotted around its winding alleyways, many of which make their clothes, bags and other accessories on an upstairs mezzanine, just as they did in past times.
The area has also become a bit of a hotbed for design, but it was Studiostore that started the trend. A ‘concept’ store, showcasing and selling work from local designers, it also functions as a gallery and a space for pop-up events.
La Ribera also has a long-standing tradition of specialist food shops, one of the oldest and most picturesque of which is Casa Gispert, which has been toasting nuts in its huge wood-fired oven since 1851. The roasting at El Magnífico is all about coffee (there is an affiliated specialist tea shop, Sans i Sans, over the road), while those with a sweet tooth will love the tartlets and chocolate creations at Hofmann Pastisseria, which also happens to have the best croissants in town.
La Barceloneta & Poblenou
Not known for much by way of retail therapy, the port area does at least hold the mighty Maremàgnum shopping mall, with all the high-street names you’d expect to find, along with an official Barça FC shop. There’s an occasional crafts market alongside the Port Vell, while, over in Poblenou is the gleaming new mirrored structure that now shelters the Els Encants Vells. Nearby is the Centre Comercial de les Glòries, a useful shopping mall with a huge supermarket.
The heart of L’Eixample, bisected by Passeig de Gràcia, is known as the Quadrat d’Or (Golden Square), which refers to the wealth of Modernista architecture but could just as easily refer to the shopping possibilities, for this is where you’ll find most of the glittering, high-end shops. Passeig de Gràcia itself is a bit of a who’s who of international shopping – you’ll find Spain’s own high-end designers like Loewe here, along with Armani, Chanel, Gucci, Stella McCartney and the rest. If you happen to be in the area late at night, Flores Navarro, a 24-hour flower market, is worth a detour.
Gràcia has acquired a certain twee chic in recent years, and its streets – particularly around the Carrer de Verdi – are now crowded with shops selling hand-stitched bibs and locally made cupcakes, along with tiny little fashion boutiques. Mushi Mushi is one such and stocks mostly French labels, while Érase Una Vez tends towards dreamy, ethereal and utterly impractical dresses that will delight your inner princess. A more recent addition to the ‘hood is Cabinet BCN, an interiors shop with a tasteful selection of things for the home that would make excellent presents.
La Zona Alta
Strictly the domain of the well-heeled, Zona Alta is home to various swishy designer clothes and shoe shops, particularly along the Avinguda Diagonal, which is where you’ll find all the big international names. The Mercat de Galvany is one of the city’s most attractive markets, with a brick façade and glass- and cast-iron interior. Stop by for the usual assortment of bakery items, fresh produce and deli items, plus craft beers from Beer Corner.
The villagey barrio of Sarrià is also worth a look for its chichi little interiors shops, bakeries and so on.