If your doctor has prescribed an intense round of retail therapy to deal with the blues, then Barcelona is the place. Across Ciutat Vella (Barri Gòtic, El Raval and La Ribera), L’Eixample and Gràcia is spread a thick mantle of boutiques, historic shops, original one-off stores, gourmet corners, wine dens and designer labels. You name it, you’ll find it here.
Whether you are looking for homeware, gifts or decorations, you'll quickly realise that Barcelona is a stylish city – even the souvenirs have flair. High-end design shops are best found in L'Eixample and El Born, while arty places are scattered around El Raval, where you'll find, among other things, quirky furniture and homewares with a difference.
The heart of the Barri Gòtic has always been busy with small-scale merchants, but nowadays it is the place for a more contemporary retail fix too. Some of the most curious old shops, such as purveyors of hats and candles, lurk in the narrow lanes around Plaça de Sant Jaume. The once-seedy Carrer d’Avinyó has become a minor young-fashion boulevard. Antique shops line Carrer de la Palla and Carrer dels Banys Nous.
La Ribera is nothing less than a gourmet’s delight. Great old shops and some finger-licking newbies deal in speciality foodstuffs, from coffee and chocolate to roasted nuts. Amid such wonderful aromas, a crop of fashion and design stores caters to the multitude of fashionistas in the barri (neighbourhood).
Gràcia is also full of quirky little shops. In particular, check out Carrer de Verdi for anything from clothes to bric-a-brac.
El Raval is fantastic for unique boutiques and artists selling their own creations – fashion, prints and curios.
High Street Chains
Everyone knows that across Europe (and further afield) Spain's chains rule the high street. This is the home of the ubiquitous Zara, Pull and Bear, Bershka, Massimo Dutti and Zara Home (in fact, all owned by one company, Inditex) – and sure enough, you'll find all of them dotted around Barcelona, along with fellow Spanish brands Mango and Desigual. Women's underwear is stylish and affordable at Oysho and Women's Secret.
Spain's only surviving department store is El Corte Inglés – an enormous fortresslike main branch towers over Plaça de Catalunya. It covers all manner of things from books, music and food, to fashion, jewellery, kids' clothes and toys, technology and homeware. There are smaller branches across town. French chain FNAC is another biggie, selling books, music, computers and mobile phones.
El Raval is best for vintage fashion. You’ll discover old-time stores that are irresistible to browsers, and a colourful array of affordable, mostly secondhand clothes boutiques. The central axis here is Carrer de la Riera Baixa, which plays host to '70s threads and military cast-offs. Carrer dels Tallers is also attracting a growing number of clothing and shoe shops (although music remains its core business). Small galleries, designer shops and arty bookshops huddle together along the streets running east of the MACBA towards La Rambla.
The heart of L’Eixample, bisected by Passeig de Gràcia, is known as the Quadrat d’Or (Golden Square) and is jammed with all sorts of glittering shops. Passeig de Gràcia is a bit of a who’s who of international shopping – you'll find Spain's own high-end designers like Loewe, along with Armani, Chanel, Gucci, Stella McCartney and the rest.
El Born, particularly Carrer del Rec, is big on cool designers in small, clean-line boutiques. Some Barcelona-based designs are also sold here. This is a great area if you have money to spend and hours to browse.
Barcelona's food markets are some of the best in Europe – just think of the inviting, glistening, aromatic and voluptuous offerings to be savoured in Mercat de la Boqueria or Mercat de Santa Caterina. Every neighbourhood has its own central market, full of seasonal offers.
Several flea markets, like Mercat dels Encants, offer the opportunity to browse, enjoy the local buzz and perhaps even find a good bargain.
Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel This broad pedestrian avenue is lined with high-street chains, shoe shops, bookshops and more. It feeds into Carrer dels Boters and Carrer de la Portaferrissa, characterised by stores offering light-hearted costume jewellery and youth-oriented streetwear.
Avinguda Diagonal This boulevard is loaded with international fashion names and design boutiques, suitably interspersed with cafes to allow weary shoppers to take a load off.
Carrer d’Avinyó Once a fairly squalid old city street, Carrer d’Avinyó has morphed into a dynamic young fashion street.
Carrer de la Riera Baixa The place to look for a gaggle of shops flogging preloved threads.
Carrer del Consell de Cent The heart of the private art-gallery scene in Barcelona, between Passeig de Gràcia and Carrer de Muntaner.
Carrer del Petritxol Best for chocolate shops and art.
Carrer del Rec Another threads street, this one-time stream is lined with bright and cool boutiques. Check out Carrer del Bonaire and Carrer de l’Esparteria too. You’ll find discount outlets and original local designers.
Carrer dels Banys Nous Along with nearby Carrer de la Palla, this is the place to look for antiques.
Passeig de Gràcia This is Barcelona's chic premier shopping boulevard, mostly given over to big-name international brands.
Need to Know
Where to Go
For high fashion, design, jewellery and department stores, the principal shopping axis starts on Plaça de Catalunya, proceeds up Passeig de Gràcia and turns left into Avinguda Diagonal, along which it extends as far as Plaça de la Reina Maria Cristina. The densely packed section between Plaça de Francesc Macià and Plaça de la Reina Maria Cristina is an especially good hunting ground.
The winter sales start after Reis (6 January) and, depending on the shop, can go on well into February. The summer sales start in July, with shops trying to entice locals to part with one last wad of euros before they flood out of the city on holiday in August. Some shops prolong their sales to the end of August. Barcelona has also succumbed to the Black Friday sales craze around the last Friday in November.
- In general, shops are open between 9am or 10am and 1.30pm or 2pm and then again from around 4pm or 4.30pm to 8pm or 8.30pm Monday to Friday. Many shops keep the same hours on Saturday, although some don’t bother with the evening session.
- Large supermarkets, malls and department stores such as El Corte Inglés stay open all day Monday to Saturday, from about 10am to 10pm.
- Many fashion boutiques, design stores and the like open from about 10am to 8pm Monday to Saturday.
- A few shops open on Sundays and holidays, and the number increases in the run-up to key consumer holiday periods.