- The Raval’s reputation precedes it. Sitting just to the west of the Ramblas, it’s probably the most hotly debated neighbourhood in Barcelona. If you’ve been doing some research into the city before your trip, the chances are you’ve already heard its name (often accompanied with words of warning about how dodgy it’s rumoured to be). It has to be said that the area won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The streets of the Raval are hectic, noisy, and sometimes seedy. So what’s the upside of this controversial neighbourhood?
Moving with the times
It really depends on what you’re comfortable with, and what you’re aiming to get out of your stay in the city. The Raval is unrivalled when it comes to nightlife, for example, and has the advantage of being centrally located. Formerly infamous as the red-light district of the city (at least towards the Port end), the area has been undergoing a much-needed gentrification process over recent years. In fact, the Raval has started to trade successfully on its notoriety – the newly invented verb ‘ravalear’ playfully highlighting the district’s trendsetting aspirations.
Know your neighbours
The Raval is a real melting pot of different cultures and you can see the influence of both foreign and local customs in its streets. It’s a magnet for people from all walks of life, who have settled here over the last few decades. There are a good number of Catalan residents too, particularly young people who’ve been attracted by the cheaper rents in comparison with other areas.
Chic boutiques and second-hand outlets are what you’re most likely to find if you’re on a clothes shopping spree around the Raval. Many of the shops are retro in nature and one-of-a-kind, so it’s an ideal place to pick up something with a quirky, unique character. When it comes to food shopping, you’ll find plenty of small supermarkets (many of them offering products aimed at different ethnic groups), which tend to stay open quite late. You can also take advantage of the Raval’s proximity to two superb markets – the bountiful Boquería, just off the Ramblas, and the less well-known but equally handy Sant Antoni market,
Metro stops are dotted virtually at every compass point around the Raval’s borders – to the south there’s Drassanes (which means ‘shipyards’), to the east Liceu, right on the Ramblas, Universitat to the north and both Sant Antoni and Paral•lel to the west. The Raval’s location, with the Ramblas to one side and the old port at the bottom, means you’ll never be too far from many of the city’s sights. Many of the area’s streets are pedestrianised (especially closer to the Ramblas side) and getting around on foot isn’t a problem.
- Don’t let the Raval’s reputation put you off exploring. Many of the district’s streets, especially towards the upper end, are well-lit and accessible for walking. Pickpockets do tend to favour this area, among others, so applying common-sense precautions is advisable.
The Raval is home to several tourist sights, which are scattered throughout the neighbourhood. Down near the Port you’ll find the impressive Maritime Museum, while at the top end there’s the new pretender – the renowned Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). The little-known Església de Sant Pau del Camp, (Saint Paul of the Countryside) holds the title of the oldest church in Barcelona, and is worth taking some time to visit. Then there’s the Güell Palace (Palau Güell), designed by Antoni Gaudí and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Palau Güell tends to be ignored by tourists, but it’s a Modernista highlight right at the heart of the Raval.
Given the Raval’s multicultural make-up, it’s not surprising that the area boasts a bunch of ‘ethnic’ restaurants. Pakistani, Indonesian, Arabic…it’s got them all, jostling for position with local Catalan venues. And if you’re vegetarian, you’re in for a treat in the Raval. It’s definitely the most veggie-friendly district in Barcelona (although you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s not an awful lot of competition for this title). One of the longest-running vegetarian eateries is Biocenter, which dishes up sizeable portions in a relaxed atmosphere. Up near MACBA is Mama Café, a Mediterranean style restaurant which isn’t strictly vegetarian, but does serve a good range of non-meat or fish-based dishes from its open kitchen. A decent option for a leisurely Sunday brunch is Marmalade, which is probably better known as a swinging cocktail bar. We also recommend El Mesón David, where you’ll have to fight the locals for a table any time after half past nine at night. It’s a laid-back locale with a very welcoming feel about it, and the Galician fare is extremely good value.
The bars of the Raval may well be one of the reasons you’ve chosen to stay in this district. There is indeed a seemingly endless list of them. A Raval institution is the Moroccan-style La Concha, and is the place to head if what you really want is to smoke an Arabic pipe. If an Aussie vibe is more your thing (not to mention eye-watering cocktails and hearty hamburgers) you’ll love Betty Ford’s, on the jumping Joaquin Costa street. For an alternative, gay-friendly bar, you could try La Penúltima, a small, kitsch place that always has a great atmosphere. Meanwhile, the semi-clandestine bar/restaurant Sifó has a particularly bohemian character, and turns the tables at 11pm to become an animated place to dance and mingle.
Late night revelry, Raval-style
Some would say that late at night is when the Raval really comes into its own. Electronica enthusiasts and techno fans will love MOOG, just off the Ramblas and open faithfully every night of the year. Another beloved basement bar-cum-club is 7Sins, which attracts quite a mix of people and keeps things fresh with a constantly changing programme of themed nights.
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