El Raval is the colorful, slightly sketchy, yet endlessly fascinating younger brother of the better known Gothic Quarter. It consists of a densely populated and multicultural swathe of the city, overflowing with distinctive cafes, restaurants, museums and boutiques. For a trip to an authentic and multifaceted barrio that, unlike the rest of Ciutat Vella (Old Town), has not yet been overrun by tourists, cross La Rambla and delve into the Raval.
To understand El Raval, one must first become acquainted with its history. Waves of immigration in the late 19th Century brought thousands of laborers to Barcelona, many of whom ended up living in overcrowded tenements in El Raval close to the factories. The part of the Raval near the port, quickly became known as the city’s red light district, catering for the many sailors who docked in the port. Since the 1980s however, major rejuvenation projects have transformed the neighborhood, making it significantly more user friendly by creating light squares, cultural hubs and perhaps most famously, the Rambla del Raval.
That’s right, La Rambla isn’t the only leafy boulevard of cafes and restaurants in Barcelona. In the Rambla del Raval some of the best cocktail bars and al fresco seating in the city can be found beneath its palm trees, along with the famous larger than life Botero cat sculpture - possibly the only feline in the otherwise dog-crazy Barcelona. This picturesque plaza is just one of the many hidden gems awaiting the intrepid explorer. Along its winding streets and busy squares you can find treasures such as the MACBA - the city’s main collection of modern art, and the magnificent Palau Güell (because Gaudí also loved El Raval!).
The district is also the ideal central place to stay when you visit Barcelona. Modern hotels such as the Hotel 1898, Le Meridien or the elegant Hotel Espanya loom over the surrounding buildings and offer stunning views from their rooftop pools, BUT you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy these terraces. What’s more, the barrio also boasts not one, but two markets - including the world famous La Boqueria Market and the soon to be re-opened Mercat de Sant Antoni. Both sites are the perfect place to cool off with a freshly squeezed juice, or find tender jamón ibérico and delicious cheeses.
Whilst any trip to Barcelona is incomplete without visiting El Raval, any review of the neighborhood is similarly unfinished without a word of warning. Despite decades of revival, the area is nevertheless still has pockets of unsavory characters such as pickpockets and prostitutes, many of whom operate in daylight. Avoiding narrow, poorly lit alleyways and keeping a close eye on your possessions at all times will keep you and your family safe in the Raval. On the other hand, this advice is no different from recommendation for any large city and as long as you use your better judgement you have enjoyable time!
Sara Siddeeq: Born and raised in Buckinghamshire (England), Sara is a recent graduate from the University of Leeds. She primarily works in digital marketing and PR, however she is also a journalist in Barcelona, contributing to over half a dozen websites in the city alone.