In our 5 Shops series, we’ll point you in the direction of our favorite independent shops across some of the world’s best cities. From food markets to bookshops, vintage and homegrown design, we’ve found a diverse and exciting mix of local retailers where you can pick up one-of-a-kind pieces.
In Catalonia’s lively capital, a rich artisanal heritage that stretches back centuries meets fresh, forward-thinking design trends, along with some of Spain’s most wonderful markets. Here are five of our favorite independent shops in Barcelona, each telling a snippet of the city’s ever-evolving story.
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Best vintage/second-hand store
Barcelona has a thriving world of vintage design, with El Raval its main hub. For Ibiza-born Holala! Plaza, garments are collected from flea markets, textile factories and shops all over the world, then shown off in this wonderland of vintage design overlooking Plaça de Castella. Inside, there’s a fun vibe, with posters all over the walls and decorative surfboards dotted around.
I always make a beeline for the rails of preloved denim jackets, often including Levi’s numbers. At any given moment, the constantly refreshed stock might also include Burberry trench coats, Hawaiian shirts, sequin-covered party dresses, Converse sneakers and floppy beach hats. El Raval hosts several popular secondhand markets, too, including El Flea and Fleadonia.
Best food market
Mercat de Sant Antoni
The 2018 reopening of the 1882 Modernista market in Sant Antoni kicked off a wave of local creativity and put this once-sleepy neighborhood on the map, with new restaurants, cafes and shops. It took nine years to sensitively restore the building designed by Catalan architect Antoni Rovira i Trias, as archaeological remains kept emerging; you can still see 17th-century defensive walls and part of the Roman-era Via Augusta.
Most people are here for the fabulously fresh local produce – Catalan cheeses, just-cut pernil (jamón in Spanish), fish from the Vilanova dock – and perhaps a stop at one of the low-key cafe-restaurants, such as Casa Blanca. It will be hard to resist the stands selling home-cooked meals to go (I often pick up a chunk of tortilla for lunch). Don’t miss the Mercat Dominical, a 1936-founded secondhand-book market that sets up shop outside every Sunday.
Best place to pick up a souvenir
A soothingly converted perfume shop in the thick of multicultural El Raval is the setting for this carefully displayed selection of products from small, local brands, where all products are vegan, cruelty-free and sustainability-focused. Australian owner Amy Cocker (who has been a Barcelona local for years) named Grey Street after where her grandparents lived in Canberra.
I always end up taking home one of the beautiful home pieces. The Annick Galimont whale mugs are handmade in the town of La Bisbal d’Empordà, which is famous for its ceramics; M.A.E.V.O does whimsical one-of-a-kind ceramic mugs, too. Then there are Spain-made tarot decks, delicious incense and essential oils, colorful earrings, a few international treats like Rains backpacks, and more. Along the same leafy street you’ll find several other boutiques and craft shops, so plan on lingering a while.
Best local design
La Manual Alpargatera
In the heart of the ancient Barri Gòtic, La Manual Alpargatera makes gorgeous artisanal espardenyes (espadrilles), typical of rural Catalonia. In business since 1940, this shoemaker played a key role in bringing this rope-soled shoe into the fashion world; celebrity fans have included everyone from Penélope Cruz to Ralph Lauren to Salvador Dalí. Each pair of shoes is made by hand using traditional techniques that go back thousands of years, whether you fancy a classic rustic-style Pinxo set or some stylish lace-up wedges.
You can also join an espadrille-making workshop to craft your own. This is one of Barcelona’s historic comerços emblemàtics (emblematic businesses), which have been officially protected from development since 2014; there’s a second branch in El Born.
Fabulous bookshops are something of a Barcelona speciality. I can never resist a browse at Llibreria Finestres in Esquerra de L’Eixample, for both the creatively styled interiors and the wonderfully varied book collection (in a range of languages). Local designers Quintana Partners have put a fresh stamp on the landmark early-20th-century building by Barcelona architect Enric Sagnier: now, it’s a flowing delight of a bookshop, with lounge-y armchairs, a lush back garden, a lively events calendar and titles covering everything from botanical plants to the Spanish Civil War. Finestres has a second space devoted to comics and art just across the street.
A 10-minute walk east, Laie is another favorite, with book-stacked shelves beneath whitewashed arches in a traditional Eixample building. This humanities-focused Barcelona brand has several outlets around town, but the Carrer de Pau Claris branch is its flagship. Most titles are in Catalan or Spanish (local cinema, Catalonia’s history, the Spanish arts, etc) and there’s a lovely tile-floored cafe upstairs.