Serious collectors should check out the maze of streets around the Calle Palla near the Plaça de Pi in the Barri Gòtic; while there are few bargains to be had you will find everything from bric-a-brac to old posters and lace. Consell de Cent in L'Eixample houses a range of shops selling fine antiques and antiquities. Every Thursday, many of these traders set up stalls outside the cathedral, transferring to Port Vell (the port end of La Rambla) at the weekend.
To Market, to Market . . .
There are lots of outdoor markets held in the streets of Barcelona. Practice your bartering skills before heading for El Encants flea market, held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday in Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes (Metro: Glòries). Go anytime during the day to survey the selection of new and used clothing, period furniture, and out-and-out junk (although the traders will try to convince you otherwise). Coins and postage stamps are traded and sold in Plaça Reial on Sunday from 10am to 8pm. It's off the southern flank of La Rambla (Metro: Drassanes). A book (mainly Spanish-language) and coin market is held at the Ronda Sant Antoni every Sunday from 10am to 2pm (Metro: Universitat), with a brisk trade in pirated software and DVDs around the periphery. Fine-quality antiquarian items can be found at the Mercat Gòtic every Thursday 9am to 8pm, on the Plaça Nova outside the city's main cathedral (Metro: Liceu), but don't expect any bargains. More like a large flea market is the Encants del Gòtic, Plaça George Orwell, Saturday 11am to 4pm (Metro: Drassanes). The wide promenade of the Rambla del Raval (Metro: San Antoni) is taken over by hippie-type traders all day every Saturday, hawking handmade clothing, jewelry, and boho crafts. Nearby, the vintage and retro clothing traders of the Riera Baixa (Metro: San Antoni) hawk their goods on the street (some real bargains are to be found here). Over 50 painters set up shop every weekend in the pretty Plaça del Pi (Metro: Liceu) in a Mostra d'Art that is of a surprisingly high standard. If food is your thing, over a dozen purveyors of artisan cheese, honey, cookies, olives, chocolate, and other Catalan delicacies can be found in the Plaça del Pi, on the first and third weekend of every month from 10am to 10pm.
La Boqueria: One of the World's Finest Food Markets -- The Boqueria market, La Rambla 91-101 (tel. 93-318-20-17; www.boqueria.info; Mon-Sat 8am-8pm; Metro: Liceu), is the largest market in Europe (and probably the greatest in the world) and a must-see in the Catalan capital. It's located right in the middle of the famous boulevard La Rambla. While many markets have little to offer a visitor in terms of practical shopping, the Boqueria displays great produce, boasts some of the best bars and cafes in the city, and offers a chance to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers who have put the city at the forefront of world gastronomy.
It owes its central location to an historical twist of fate. In the mid-1800s, the demolition of the city's medieval walls began. Pageses (Catalan peasants) had been touting their bounty on the spot of the present market (originally one of the city's gates) and around the perimeter of the neighboring Convent de Sant Josep for centuries, and the authorities saw no reason to move them when the work began. When the convent burned to the ground in 1835, the market expanded, and 30 years later, the engineer Miquel de Bergue finished his plans for a grandiose, wrought-iron market of five wings supported by metal columns, a project that wasn't finished until 1914. The official name of the market is Mercat de Sant Josep (a reference to the Capuchin nuns' old dwelling), although the term boqueria (meaning abattoir or butcher shop in Catalan) has stuck since the 13th century, when the site was a slaughterhouse.
The Boqueria's 330 stalls are a living testament to the fertility of the peninsula (Spain produces the widest variety of farm produce in all Europe) and its surrounding seas. What lies inside is a gastronomic cornucopia that changes its palette from season to season. Early fall sees the hues of burnt yellow, orange, and brown in the cluster of stalls selling the dozens of varieties of bolets, wild mushrooms from the hills and forests of Catalonia. In spring, the candy colors of fresh strawberries and plump peaches, and in early summer the greens of a dozen different lettuces, from curly bunches of escarole to pert little heads of endives and cogollos (lettuce hearts), make an appearance.
The fish and seafood section takes prime place in a central roundabout known as the Isla del Pescado (Island of Fish), a pretty marble and shiny steel affair dating from the Boqueria's overhaul back in 2001, which brought more natural light to the market and provided more space for customers. The variety of produce is awesome -- from giant carcasses of tuna that send Japanese tourists into a camera-flashing frenzy to the ugly but tasty scorpionfish, prawns the size of bananas, live crayfish, octopi, bug-eyed grouper, and countless other species. Other stalls range from game and delicatessens to bewildering businesses specializing in one product, be it lettuce, potatoes, or smoked salmon.
If you are up early, visit the Boqueria in the early morning as it is being hurled into life. Cartloads of produce are dragged to the stalls to be arranged into patterns and combinations that border on food art. Have breakfast at Pinotxo (tel. 93-317-17-31) on the right of the main entrance. Here you will rub shoulders with the city's innovative chefs before they embark on their daily sourcing spree. If shopping yourself, avoid the stalls at the front unless you want to pay "tourist" prices.
Despite producing some of the world's great artists, small galleries have a notoriously hard time surviving in Barcelona. This could be due to the fickleness of the scene. At the moment, gallery hubs include the streets around the Museu Picasso, the MACBA, and Calle Petritxol in the Barri Gòtic.
Specialty Stores in the Barri Gòtic
The streets around the Barri Gòtic are packed with traditional establishments specializing in everything from dried cod to dancing shoes, some of them remnants from the days when trading was Barcelona's lifeblood. If you see a shop window that entices, don't be shy; most shopkeepers welcome curious tourists, and a brief exchange with them may be one of those fleeting traveler's experiences you cherish long after it's over.
Dating from 1761, Cereria Subira, Baixada de Llibretería 7 (tel. 93-315-26-06), has the distinction of being the oldest continuous shop in Barcelona. It specializes in candles, from long and elegant white ones used at Mass to more fanciful creations. Magicians and illusionists love the Rey de la Magia, Princesa 11 (tel. 93-319-39-20; www.elreydelamagia.com), a joke and magic shop dating from 1881. Behind the ornate Art Nouveau facade of Alonso, Santa Ana 27 (tel. 93-317-60-85; www.tiendacenter.com), lie dozens of gloves, from dainty calfskin to more rugged driving gloves, plus pretty fans and lace mantillas (Spanish shawls).
More traditional Spanish garb is to be found at Flora Albaicín, Vallirana 71-73 (tel. 93-418-23-09; www.flora-albaicin.com), which specializes in flamenco dancing shoes and spotty, swirly skirts and dresses. The Herboristeria del Rei, del Vidre 1 (tel. 93-318-05-12), is another shop steeped in history; it has been supplying herbs, natural remedies, cosmetics, and teas since 1823. Casa Colomina, Cucurulla 2 (tel. 93-317-46-81), makes its own turrones, slabs of nougat and marzipan that are a traditional Christmas treat. Nimble fingers will love the L'Antiga Casa Sala, Call 8 (tel. 93-318-45-87; www.antigacasasala.com), which has an enormous range of beads and trinkets begging to be turned into an original accessory. In the old Born food hub, Angel Jobal, Princesa 38 (tel. 93-319-78-02), is the city's most famed spice merchant, selling everything from Spanish saffron to Indian pepper and oregano from Chile. Ganiveteria Roca, Plaça del Pi 3 (tel. 93-302-12-41; www.ganiveteriaroca.com), has a range of knives, blades, scissors, and all sorts of special-task cutting instruments. Xancó Camiseria, La Rambla 78-80 (tel. 93-318-09-89), is one of the few period shops remaining on La Rambla; they have been making classic men's shirts in cottons, wools, and linens since 1820. And finally, you never know when you may need a chicken feather: the Casa Morelli, Banys Nous 13 (tel. 93-302-52-94), has sacks of them, for stuffing pillows or decorating a party outfit.
Shopping Centers & Malls
Shopping malls are a contentious topic in Catalonia. Many small traders feel they are squeezing them out of the market. The local government has reacted by limiting their construction, especially in central Barcelona. But there are still enough in existence to appease any mall fan.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.