- The small neighbourhood of Sant Antoni sits alongside the L’Eixample Izquierda district, and follows the typical grid layout of its larger sidekick. It’s bordered by several important roads in the city, with Parallel Avenue slicing down one side and the Gran Via cutting across the top. Meanwhile, the two ‘rondas’ – of Sant Antoni and Sant Pau – separate the district from the Raval. The same gentrification process that has taken place in the Raval has spread to Sant Antoni. You can see the results on the likes of the pedestrianised Avinguda de Mistral, where a relaxed, outdoor café culture has taken hold.
Know your neighbours
Most buildings in Sant Antoni were built in the early 20th-century, round about the time that the 1929 Great Exhibition was bringing in sweeping changes to Barcelona’s appearance and building projects. The area has historically been working-class, but nowadays it manages to successfully straddle the gulf between the rough-and-ready Raval and the more posh L’Eixample Izquierda. The streets have a lively feel, with people simply going about their daily business. Residents are mostly working-to-middle class Catalans, together with a small number of foreigners.
Being based in an apartment here means you’ll be centrally located but with the bonus of being far removed from the loud, overly touristy areas. Flats here also tend to be more spacious than in districts such as the Gótico or the Raval, for example, where the streets are smaller and living spaces more compact.
The stand-out site in the district is the Mercat de Sant Antoni (currently closed for renovation), whose Modernista metal structure covers an entire block. From Monday to Saturday traders sell the full array of meat, fish, fruit and veg, clothes and shoes. On Sunday mornings bargain hunters come out in their droves to browse through the vintage books, magazines and stamps on sale. This market slightly has the edge over the Boqueria market in that it’s well off the beaten tourist track, so you’ll find yourself bargaining with the best of the locals for the juiciest-looking sliver of cuttlefish.
British visitors might also appreciate A Taste of Home, on Carrer de Floridablanca. This small but fully stocked shop sells all sorts of British classics, from tinned tomato soup and salad cream to frozen toad in the hole. (Ah, the nostalgia.) Just in case you’re missing something vital when stocking up your apartment cupboards.
Seeing the rest of the city from Sant Antoni is as much of a breeze as the one wafting down Mistral Avenue. The red line 1 of the metro runs along the top of the district, and will drop you off at Plaça Universitat and Plaça Catalunya. On the purple line, there’s the Sant Antoni metro station, which connects directly with the Sagrada Família. The green line sits on the other side, which is the one to take if you fancy a trip up to the district of Gràcia.
Walking to the major sights is also extremely straightforward from Sant Antoni. Depending on exactly what street you’re starting from, Plaça Catalunya is around a 10-to-15 minute walk away, and it takes a similar length of time to reach the Ramblas. If you’re travelling with a car, there are several car parks in the area, and the broad, one-way streets are easy to navigate.
- Social life in Sant Antoni revolves around the numerous pavement cafés on Avinguda de Mistral, where kids clamber over climbing frames and play on swings as their parents have a coffee with friends. The area surrounding the main market is also a social hub. It’s commonplace for locals to nip in for some tapas and a drink nearby after doing the weekly shop of a morning.
Sant Antoni also has a cinema – the Renoir Floridablanca, which has seven theatres specialising in original language films from different countries.
Eating, drinking and general merriment
Although there isn’t a wealth of restaurants and bars right on your doorstep in this small area, the advantage of being based here is the choice you have in neighbourhoods nearby – namely L’Eixample Izquierda, the Raval and across Parallel Avenue in Poble Sec. There are a few highlights in Sant Antoni itself, though, amongst the countless small tapas bars.
Right across from the main building of Barcelona University (at Plaça Universitat) you’ll find Heart Burger. It’s about as far from a typical burger joint as you can imagine, with clean décor and an emphasis on healthy and wholesome fare. They also cater fully for people on a gluten-free diet. Another burger bar of merit is the superb Umami, on Floridablanca. It’s right across from the cinema there, so would be a good option for eating before or after a film.
If you’re need of a refreshment, stop in at Sirvent, one of the city’s best known ‘orxaterias’. People queue round the block here for the oddly indescribable ‘horchata’ drink, made from tiger nuts and prepared in the traditional Valencian style. The perfect accompaniment to a take-away horchata has to be a warm chocolate croissant from the Forn Mistral bakery. In business for almost 40 years, it has a great selection of buns, baps and brioches – all worth queuing for.
If you fancy getting a bite to eat over a drink later on at night, 7 Sins is a decent option. The upstairs lounge bar serves great cocktails and good-value food, while classy lighting and Chesterfield sofas give the downstairs lounge a welcoming feel. And it has exceptionally friendly staff to boot.
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