The shopping scene in Barcelona juxtaposes charismatic shops that have been serving locals for centuries and fashion-forward boutiques. Spain's culinary capital also boasts an exciting array of food shops and markets.
From espadrilles in every possible colour and pattern to quirky handmade stationery, our expert shares her favourite haunts for a spot of retail therapy below.
This spectacular market with its unparalleled choice of magnificently fresh produce dates back to the 13th-century, but the current structure and its charming Modernista sign were erected in 1914. The best way to experience it is to get there really early (as most chefs do), before the camera-wielding tourists and the trolley-wheeling old ladies arrive in their hordes. Enjoy breakfast at one of the counter bars before taking a stroll around the stalls, heaped high with fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, spices, and sparkling displays of fresh fish.
La Manual Alpargatera
The classic Mediterranean shoe, made of canvas with a hemp sole, has come a long way from its roots as cheap footwear for peasants, and this traditional shop claims to have put the espadrille (espardenya in Catalan) on the fashion map. It’s Barcelona's oldest espardenyeria, opened in 1943, and scores of celebrity clients – Jack Nicholson, Salvador Dalí and even a pope or two among – have purchased handmade shoes here. There are styles for men, women and children, from the beribboned classic espardenya used for dancing the traditional Catalan sardana to modern versions in bright colours, stripes, and prints.
You could spend inordinate amounts of time with your nose pressed up against this shop window full of beautiful bags, created from the softest leather in the most spectacular colour combinations. They are designed and produced in Barcelona, and recent collections have included pretty, vintage-style bags with a chain strap, snap fastenings and a gingham lining, and slim, envelope-style satchels in three shades of leather. The range has been expanded to include some accessories such as belts, purses and a few shoe styles: the beautiful and surprisingly affordable pouches with a single zip make unusual phone cases or make-up bags.
The Born neighbourhood may have changed beyond recognition in the last few decades, but the Casa Gispert, established in 1851, remains gloriously untouched by the passing of time. The store, which specialises in dried goods, is redolent with the rich aroma of roasting nuts and coffee. Take a peek at the original roasting machine: still in use after nearly 170 years, it's Europe's oldest, still-functioning roaster. The nuts and coffee are every bit as tasty as you'd expect, and are accompanied on the burnished wooden shelves by saffron and spices, and all kinds of olive oil and locally made preserves.
La Comercial Hombre
La Comercial has wrapped up this corner of the chic Born neighbourhood, with various shops dedicated to fashion for men and women, as well as one which contains beautiful items for the home. In this branch, you’ll find everything that the well-dressed man about town requires, from designer clothing to a gorgeous range of fragrances and Diptyque candles. These are complemented by a small, carefully chosen selection of jewellery, wallets and other accessories. You'll find more designer goodies for men, including a range of shoes, all from the Paul Smith label, in their adjoining shop at no.75.
Helena Rohner is one of Spain’s most celebrated jewellery designers, whose work is characterised by its unusual combinations of materials and organic forms. Silver predominates, often combined with wood, glass or ceramics, and usually in lovely shades of blue, green and yellow. This boutique displays pieces from her collections for men and woman as well as from items from the home, including teapots, bowls – particular favourites, for their soft curves and pure lines – and candle holders. The prices are very reasonable for the quality and originality on offer, making this a great place to pick up a special gift.
Ici et Là
If you’re looking for something original for your home, then this airy showroom-cum-gallery may have the answer. Its team of talented designers has created unusual furnishings, lamps, mirrors and artworks, many of which are unique or else part of a one-off series. My favourites are the pieces that use recycled objects, but there are plenty of other quirky items, from Indian textiles to charming painted glassware, which would fit more easily into your cabin baggage. Ask the staff about custom-made items, if you want your very own completely original piece.
The late Mey Hofmann was one of Barcelona's most celebrated chefs, with a prestigious cooking school and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Her pastisseria produces gorgeous cakes, pastries and what I can confidently affirm after extensive research to be the finest butter croissant in the entire city. The French-style gâteaux are complemented by delicate macarons, biscuits and cakes, as well as exquisite chocolates. While they don’t have a café per se, they do serve coffee, which you can drink at a counter bar while having one of their selection of French pastries – perhaps a pain au chocolat or an almond croissant.
Vila Viniteca was established in 1932 and is among the largest and most prestigious wine merchants in Spain. The shop in the Born contains more than 4,000 labels, attractively arranged on floor-to-ceiling wooden shelving and in traditional wooden crates. There is an excellent selection of Catalan wines, along with Spanish and international choices, including some which are exclusive to Vila Viniteca and prices run from the affordable to the stratospheric. Head next door to their fancy delicatessen, La Teca, to pick up gourmet cheeses and other treats to complement your purchase and round out a picnic.
A pocket-sized store and workshop in the Raval, this features handmade wooden and rattan items, from candle-holders and coat hooks to stools and side tables. Many of the items are given a lick of Provençal blue or green paint. They are complemented by a wonderful selection of linen bags, available in a host of colours, from sage green and cream, to mustard and scarlet, as well as covetable linen lampshades and cushion covers in earthy tones. The stripy shopping bags with plenty of pockets are ideal for the beach.
One of Europe’s largest travel bookshops is popular with travellers and adventurers of every kind (including the armchair variety). Altaïr is also a travel publisher, and produces its own guides and books, as well as an excellent magazine. Arranged on two huge floors, with a scattering of armchairs and friendly, informed staff always on hand to help, it’s a genuine pleasure to shop here. There are hundreds of guidebooks, many in English, plus glossy photography books, handy travel gadgets, notebooks and novels. On the lower level, you’ll find a café where you can flick through your finds.
Bimba & Lola
The Bimba & Lola fashion collections – which include bags, shoes, and accessories – are always bang on trend and feature a charming logo of a leaping greyhound, one of the founders’ favourite pets. Although the whole collection is usually very strong, the bags stand out: if you're looking for luxury at an affordable price, they are a fantastic buy. The company must be doing something right: even in these times of economic crisis, it has become the fastest-growing fashion brand in Spain. This is the most central of the Bimba & Lola outlets in Barcelona.
Established in 1898, this charming Modernista deli preserves its original façade bearing colourful mosaics advertising wines and liqueurs (look out for the one for Anís del Mono by prestigious local artist Ramon Casas). The interior is equally enticing, the century-old wooden cabinets and shelves packed floor-to-ceiling with carefully selected gourmet treats from olive oil to champagne. Courtly staff preside over a deli counter filled with local and international delicacies, which include French cheeses, Russian caviar, Iberian ham and Belgian chocolates. Among the wines, which lean towards Spanish and French labels, you'll also find their excellent own-label wines and cavas.
Mar de Cava
If you like your design relaxed and fun, this colourful showroom will tick all the right boxes. It's an Aladdin's cave, filled with funky cushions, bags, and scarves, as well as ceramics, design books and lamps. It's a great place to pick up some easy-to-pack and unusual gift items. There is also a small selection of furniture, from charming wicker chairs and tables to beds and sofas. You won’t find their full range in the gallery, so do your homework and check out the online shop first.
If stationery sets your heart aflutter, head to this elegant, uptown emporium, where you’ll find all the writing paper, wrapping paper, and craft paper that you could possibly desire, available in every imaginable shade and texture. You’ll discover a giddy array of multi-coloured ribbons, decorative tape, and all kinds of stamps, as well as diaries and notebooks in rainbow colours. Crafters will be happy with the selection of scrapbooks and stencils, and you can get a great selection of hard-to-find washi tape in all kinds of lovely prints and colours – perfect for all your crafting projects.
The once resolutely old-fashioned Sant Antoni neighbourhood has become a hipster enclave in recent years, and this inviting little store full of colourful children’s clothes is a magnet for local yummy mummies. Hung with cheerful strings of bunting, and filled with prettily painted cabinets and shelves, the shop offers babygros, bibs and printed muslins for babies, gorgeous stripy tees and leggings for kids, as well as bags and scarves in funky prints. After shopping, you can head across the street to the Bar Calders, a friendly café with a terrace – ideal for children to run around.
Santa Eulalia has been dressing wealthy Barcelonins since 1843, and was, 160 years later, sumptuously redesigned by William Sofield, who incorporated original elements such as the impressive oak staircase, and added an exquisite little café where you can join the perfectly groomed locals over coffee on the terrace. Although it no longer produces its own haute couture, it has become the city's top address for luxury labels such as Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Balenciaga, and is still celebrated for its bespoke shirtmaking, men's tailoring and line of women's ready-to-wear fashions.
The Carrer Parlament is the epicentre of Sant Antoni, currently Barcelona's coolest neighbourhood, and this small but perfectly formed store provides all the essentials for the fashionable man or woman about town. From limited edition Nike and Adidas trainers and Nudie Jeans to Herschel backpacks and retro Komono sunglasses, it offers a carefully curated selection of local and international fashion labels, along with jewellery, magazines, and perfumes. The walls also double as an exhibition space for emerging artists. Once you've purchased your finery, relax at one of the many bars and restaurants that are packed along the street.
In a neighbourhood famous for its small and quirky boutiques, this one is well worth seeking out. It offers a beautiful selection of contemporary jewellery created by Barcelonin designers, such as a delicate glass pendant enclosing a strip of silk. The materials, the styles and the prices vary widely, ensuring that there is something to suit almost every taste and budget and while the shop showcases mainly local designs, it is possible to commission a special piece. They also have another shop in Gràcia at C/Bonavista 1 which is worth a visit.
Mushi Mushi Collection
Gràcia's narrow streets are chock-full of shops, including some fabulous independent fashion boutiques, but this one is a favourite. It's small, but manages to offer a surprisingly wide selection of women’s fashions, from the likes of French labels Sessún, Soeur and Des Petits Hauts, and British designers Orion London. The style is cool and relaxed, with a romantic, feminine touch, and there are also accessories, including shoes, bags and jewellery, to choose from. There are only a few of each item, so keep an eye on the Facebook page to see when new pieces are added to the stock.
Montjuic and Poble Sec
Cap de Suro
Tucked down a side street in lively Poble Sec, this shrine to wine is a labour of love for owner Rafa, who created much of its charming interior himself. The carefully curated selection of wines leans heavily, but not exclusively, towards regional labels, with an excellent selection of more affordable wines and cavas. Rafa happily provides recommendations and also runs regular tastings and other events. Along with wine there are local spirits, vermouth and craft beers, and there's a cosy area at the back with big wooden barrels where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some simple tapas.
BD Barcelona Design
The most important address in the city (and one of the best in all Spain) for anyone interested in design, this strikingly converted industrial warehouse in Barcelona's '22@' business district contains award-winning furnishings, artworks and objets d’art by some of the most prestigious Spanish and international artists. Founded in the early 1970s by a group of architects and designers, the company has championed both established and emerging artists. Its catalogue features pieces by Antoni Gaudí and Salvador Dalí as well as contemporary artists such as Jaime Hayon, Konstantin Grcic, and Alfredo Häberli.
Barcelona’s biggest flea market was rehoused in a striking pavilion overlooking its old home on the Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, which is slowly being overhauled. Come to the Els Encants to find everything from old fireplaces and Modernista wrought-iron balustrades to random piles of apparent junk, which may (or may not) conceal all kinds of hidden treasures. You'll need to sift long and hard to find any bargains, but the real draw at the market is the cheerful and upbeat atmosphere. Get there before it officially opens for the atmospheric auctions.