Barcelona is high on my list of the top 10 cities in the world: it is small enough to explore on foot; it has great places to eat and drink; it has its own beaches; it has exciting and beautiful architecture; and last, but not least, it has fantastic shopping.
When to go?
Any time you like, is the simple answer. The weather is pretty good all year round and, even if it rains, there is plenty of indoor shopping, eating and drinking to be done. It has been known to snow but that is a rarity.
My favourite times for shopping are just before and just after Christmas. From early December, the Christmas fairs are in full swing. Be sure to visit the Sant Lucia market in front of El Seu cathedral.
And if, by Boxing Day, you’re missing Christmas already, try an early January visit to Barcelona. Spanish children celebrate their Christmas on 6 January when the three kings arrive in town to distribute presents, and the festive atmosphere and the toy markets continue until then.
On 5 January the city echoes with the cheers and laughter of the children watching the Cavalcada dels Reis (Parade of the Kings) as it make its way through the streets of Barcelona.
The three kings and their helpers collect christmas letters from the hundreds of excited children and distribute sweets galore.
The following day the children finally receive their presents. Amongst their gifts may well be sweet lumps of “coal” and even miniature potties filled with edible “poo” to remind them of the bad things they did during the year – the Catalans have a strange attraction to all things scatalogical.
The 6th January is a holiday in Barcelona and a good day to wander and take in the sights (from outside, as everything, including the shops, is closed).
The 7th sees the start of the Christmas sales, so if you shopped at home and didn’t get all that you wanted, you can try again here!
Where to shop?
The list could be never ending, but for this article I’ll concentrate on some of the main shops and markets. I’ll cover the less well known areas and quirkier shops another time.
When I’m staying in Barcelona I like to be close to El Seu, that way I’m close to everything.
From the main Cathedral square, turn up Portal de l’Angel. It’s not a very long street but it features all the main fashion stores. Amongst others, you’ll find Zara, Mango, Bershka, Stradivarius, Massimo Dutti and a large H&M. There’s also Uterque, for great accessories, plus Six, Iam and Bijou Brigitte for fun and cheap fashion jewellery. For a present with a difference, pop into Happy Pills: looks a bit like a psychedelic pharmacy from outside, but in reality it’s a sweet shop. You can fill your own pill bottles and boxes from a wide range of coloured sweets and then add a humorous label such as “per als dies i les nits sense mi” (for the days and nights without me) or “pink clouds for grey days”. I also love the shoes at Tascón, maybe its because this Spanish chain was founded in the year I was born!
I can’t write an article about Barcelona shopping without mentioning its markets. The most famous, of course, is La Boqueria on Las Ramblas. Come here for a wide range of meat, fish, vegetables and sweet things. The displays are mesmerising:
The other centrally located market of note is Santa Caterina, totally renovated in 2005 with a stunning design by architects Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue.
Where to eat?
Barcelona overflows with restaurants and tapas bars. If I’m there on a short trip, the place I absolutely have to visit is Tapas 24 at Diputació 269, baby sister of Comerç 24. It is a buzzing tapas bar with a strong local following: be prepared to queue for a table – they don’t take reservations.
Happy shopping and eating!