Ladies selling in one of the stalls of the Sant Antoni Market (Barcelona)

Exploring The Sant Antoni Market

Pere Vidal Stall, Sant Antoni Market (Barcelona, Spain)

WHAT YOU NEED TO SEE AT THE MERCAT DE SANT ANTONI

When people thinks about Barcelona markets, everyone immediately thinks about the Boqueria Market. Its offer is incredible, it’s a historical landmark and it’s conveniently located in the heart of La Rambla. However, it’s not a place to see locals on their daily errands. Word is now you need to head to the Santa Caterina market, but I don’t agree.

In order to see the locals you need to head to the real Barcelona. The Sant Antoni district is a section of the Eixample district mostly ignored by tourists because there’s no Gaudi sites to see there. However, locals love it. The district had already become a destination for young hipsters attracted by its trendy restaurants and vermouth tapas bars.

And it also happens that its old market was reopened in 2018 after years of restoration works, its food stalls are a foodie's dream, the venue is the largest market in Catalonia (La Boqueria comes second), and there's also clothing offer and a Sunday flea market. So it's the only marketplace in town with activity 7 days a week!

This is what you need to know about the Sant Antoni Market (Barcelona, Spain):

1

The origins of the Mercat de Sant Antoni

In the mid-1800’s the walls were demolished and the engineer Ildefons Cerdà planned the new expansion of the city: the Eixample district. And he decided to give a permanent structure to the market, occupying an entire block of the new city grid. The design was commissioned to Antoni Rovira i Trias, who had curiously been the first choice to design the Eixample plan, but he was dismissed by the Spanish Government and substituted by Cerda. 

A bastion protected the city gate on Sant Antoni Abat street when Barcelona was still surrounded by medieval walls. The area was busy with people coming and going, and that attracted vendors that created an outdoors market. This is the origin of the Sant Antoni Market of Barcelona.

The elegant metalwork structure was inaugurated in 1882, the same year the works of the Sagrada Familia church started. It was the first market open outside of the medieval perimeter.

2

Food Stalls

Food has been sold in the Sant Antoni Market from the start. And while many of the stalls have been run by the same families for generations, after the market renovation the stalls look almost like small food boutiques. So if you like to cook, renting an apartment in the area is a decision you won't regret.

You can find here high quality meat products like the burgers from El Pagès or from Carns Esca stalls, with tempting toppings. And emu eggs at Ous de Calaf. The best Spanish ham and cold cuts can be bought at Casa Sendra. The fruit and veggies from Giro and from Parra are just spectacular. The fish stalls are located in the crossing of the “X”.

You can buy nuts, cooked beans and ready made Catalan food specialties at the two stalls owned by Pere Vidal. His family has been in the market since 1949. And don’t forget the olives and pickles from Joan Argudo, another emblematic stall since 1958. 

But if there’s one stall that can be considered legendary, that is Masclans. The Masclans family have been selling salted cod in Sant Antoni since 1882, when the market structure was inaugurated. Nowadays they have two stalls and a bar there, besides running shops in other Barcelona markets. Make sure to check them out and buy some cod fritters or tuna pie to snack on. They even have a small counter where you can eat.

3

"Encants": Clothes, shoes and accessories

Soon after the market was innaugurated in 1882, local cloths vendors started installing tables outside, under the large metal pergola that surrounds the building. For years, that gave the market a lively and colorful touch. But being outdoors was tough for the vendors and not great for their products.

The fashion stalls, also known as Encants, have been moved inside the market after the market renovation. The building structure follows an X-shape, with the food stalls occupying the core of the X. The Encants clothing stalls are now organized along the perimeter around the X. Like a second skin, but still under its roof. And if in the old times their displays looked a bit like a gipsy market, now they appear more like mini-stores.

There’s stores for her, for him, for the kids, as well as stores selling shoes, bags and trinkets. You won’t find here brands or high end staff, but lovely affordable pieces that are fun for binge shopping.

4

Sant Antoni Sunday Flea Market

In the old times when the cloth stalls were mere foldable tables that the vendors took away at night, the space under the metal pergola was vacant when the market wasn't open. After 1936, that space started being used by second-hand book vendors on Sundays.

Soon they were joined by people selling vintage postcards, old magazines and stamps for collectors. And later on, music (from vinyl records to CDs), movies (videotapes and DVDs), videogames, comic books, toys and figurines. And that’s how was born one of the coolest Barcelona outdoor markets. Not the average furniture flea market, but a “cultural” (and “cult”) one. The restoration of the market included open pergolas to continue hosting the Sunday flea market. You’ll find them outside of the building, in the open spaces between the branches of the “X” structure.

There’s one more thing going on on Sundays, not officially run by the Mercat de Sant Antoni institution, but inspired by the flea market. Locals gather near the corners of Comte Urgell / Tamarit and Manso / Comte Borrell to exchange trading cards. You haven’t been raised in Barcelona if you’ve never been there with your swaps!

5

Archaeological remains

I mentioned before that the location of the market was right outside one of the gates of the medieval walls of Barcelona. They were knocked down with the construction of the Eixample district after 1852, 30 years before the market building was built.

In 2007 started the very needed works of refurbishment of the marketplace. The shops were moved to giant tents that would block the traffic in some streets for a long time. The finding of medieval and Roman ruins delayed the works, so the market wasn’t reopen until 2018.

The medieval ruins can now be seen in the basement, under the Urgell / Manso wing. Besides part of the bastion, they also found the remains of a sewerage system that collected water from a nearby street to dump it into the walls moat. As for the Roman ruins, namely a necropolis (cemetery) and part of the Via Augusta road, aren’t open to the public yet, but the Museum of History of Barcelona archaeologists are working on them.

6

Where to eat

When the market renovation was planned, one of the things the city council was very serious about was that the market had to be first and foremost a service for the locals. It had to be a place where locals will want to go shopping… not a place where people would go eating.

And that’s why compared to the Boqueria Market, Sant Antoni has very few eateries. There’s the café Mariana by the Manso / Urgell entrance. There’s the restaurant and café Casa Blanca in the center of the market, where you can eat lovely tapas, nice sandwiches and bakeries or some hot chocolate.

And then the Masclans family of codfish vendors we mentioned before own a tapas bar by the Manso / Borrell access and a small tasting counter by their stall on the opposite access, Urgell / Tamarit. There’s no eateries in the Borrell / Tamarit wing.

AND FINALLY! What time is the market open?

7

Sant Antoni market hours

  • The food section of the Mercat de Sant Antoni is open Mon-Sat from 8AM to 8PM. However, like in any other Spanish market, on Monday many stalls are closed because there’s no fresh fish (fishermen don’t go out fishing on Sunday). And after lunch (this is Spain, so I mean around 3 or 4pm), many stalls close as well as their produce sells out.
  • The clothes and accessories section is open every day except Tuesday and Sunday, 10AM to 8.30PM.
  • The Sunday flea market takes place every Sunday from 8.30AM to 2PM.

Are you planning to visit the Mercat de Sant Antoni when you come to Barcelona?

Marta

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