What to do in Raval Barcelona - Explore the district

What to do in El Raval

What to do in Raval Barcelona Spain - Explore the district

BEST THINGS TO DO IN EL RAVAL

Barcelona El Raval district is the area of the Old Town to the east of the Gothic Quarter, left of La Rambla. It was the last area to be surrounded by walls in the middle ages, and it sheltered services such as hospitals and orphanages, besides crop lands. 

During the Industrial Revolution it became a dark working class district. There were factories and workshops where workers suffered the worst working conditions. There were hideouts of anarchists and revolutionaries. There was crime and prostitution. And in the 1980’s joined the already difficult fabric of the neighborhood.

The 1992 Olympics wrought some change: new cultural institutions started changing the landscape. The demolition of entire blocks allowed opening wide spaces for the local population to breath. It helped, but it wasn’t enough. Nowadays, part of El Raval has achieved an alluring personality. But there’s still sections of it that you’ll want to avoid, just in case.

The average visitor with 2 days or less in the city will do fine skipping the Raval and sticking to the Gothic and Born districts of the Old Town.

But if you have more time in the city and are well travelled, exploring El Raval area will add a certain dose of adventure to your trip.

What to do in El Raval if you want to find its true soul:

1

Palau Guell

The Count Eusebi Guell was the second richest person of Spain in the early 1900’s. A forward thinking businessman, he decided to have his main residence built facing the “bad streets” of Raval, in a time when the high society was moving to the fancy Passeig de Gracia. He wished his elegant visitors would inspire change into the neibhour community.

His father in law, the Marquis of Comillas, owned a palace in Las Ramblas, and the two mansions would be connected. Antoni Gaudi, still a young but promising architect, was in charge of the project. Visiting Palau Guell is a great opportunity to get to know about Gaudi’s early beginnings, as well as to get a feel of how El Raval has (or hasn’t) evolved during the last century. 

LOCATION AND SAFETY: Being half a block from Les Rambles, it’s reasonably safe except for the occasional pick-pocket.

2

Rambla del Raval

Despite the name "rambla" suggests having been a former seasonal watercourse that eventually dried up, that's not the case of this boulevard. This green boulevard was open in 2000 after the demolition of 5 city blocks (62 buildings), becoming a place where locals could socialize.

Today it features several attractions: the Cat sculpture by Fernando Botero, the Filmoteca de Catalunya (a film archive and movie theater for cultural productions), the Barcelo Raval hotel with a cool rooftop bar with 360º views over the city… Its many cafes, bars and restaurants are another great excuse to hang out here.

LOCATION AND SAFETY: Located in the heart of the city, getting there can feel more daunting, specially at night. Avinguda Drassanes is the most reassuring entrance, mostly because it’s a wide street. When coming from la Rambla, Hospital street feels usually safer than Sant Pau. Do check our Raval safety map to make sure you don’t end up in a wrong street.

3

MACBA and CCCB

The area around Plaça dels Angels played a key role in the regeneration of El Raval in the occasion of the Barcelona Olympics. More demolitions allowed to create a large open space around which where designed several cultural institutions. The medieval convent in one side became an art center. A church in the another side became part of the Barcelona University.

The American architect Richard Meyer designed the new Contemporary Art Museum, the MACBA, with a crystal façade that was supposed to let culture open up a neighborhood with low educational levels. While with the years this museum hasn’t reached a world-class level, it is still interesting for contemporary art lovers that want to learn what’s going on in the local art scene and don’t care about not seeing famous pieces or even names.

Behind the MACBA, the old Charity House was remodeled to become a busy exhibition and cultural center focused on urban themes. Tucked out in a far corner, a graffiti mural by Keith Hering continues to remind you of the drug and AIDS drama that was lived in the district in the 1980’s.

LOCATION AND SAFETY: This upper Raval area is probably the friendliest zone of the district. Arriving from La Rambla, Bonsucces and Pintor Fortuny streets are lined up with bakeries, cafes, mom and pop shops, vintage and local designer stores… Plaça dels Angels is always lively with skateboarders showing off their skills.

4

Sant Pau del Camp Monastery

The monastery of "Saint Paul of the Fields" is a rare example of Romanesque architecture in Barcelona dating as far back as 977. Its name reminds us of the countryside that surrounded the Old Barcelona before the second row of medieval walls was built.

The monastery is open to the public for small entrance fee, and it allows you to travel back in time and stroll around its silent cloister, with capitals decorated with daily life scenes, monsters and plants.

LOCATION AND SAFETY: The easiest access is from Avinguda Paral·lel via Sant Pau street. It’s just a couple of blocks into the Raval and it should be safe if you don’t venture into the side streets.

5

Hospital de la Santa Creu

The Hospital of the Holy Cross was the largest sanitary facility in the middle ages, and it was in use until the early 1900's when it was substituted by the modernist Hospital de Sant Pau near the Sagrada Familia Church. Antoni Gaudi is actually said to have died here, when it still was a hospital for the poor.

The Hospital consisted of a series of buildings surrounding a cloister with orange trees and a fountain. One wing is now a public library, another is home to the National Library of Catalonia (only accessible to researchers) and the arts and crafts school of La Llotja, and in the other there’s an outdoors cafe.

Two adjacent buildings house the Institute of Catalan Studies and the Pharmaceutical Board. In this last one are organized periodical guided visits to show you their unique anatomic theater, a room where students learn anatomy by watching their professors run dissections.

LOCATION AND SAFETY: Getting there from la Rambla is quite safe despite the occasional pick-pockets. You can access it from both Hospital and Carme streets. Unfortunately, the arched galleries around the gardens are sometimes taken by homeless or (in bad times) even drug addicts. The good news is that you don’t need to enter the galleries to explore the ensemble. 

6

Bar Hoping

The Barcelona Raval is a popular destination to see the local (young) nightlife. From emblematic beer bars such as L’Ovella Negra, to decadent clubs serving a legal version of absinth like Bar Marsella, to modernist bars with a retro feel (London bar, La Confiteria, Casa Almirall, Muy Buenas…), to classic cocktails at Negroni and kitch surprises such as Granja de Gava, La Cobra or Bar Piscis.

LOCATION AND SAFETY: Joaquin Costa street is popular for its bars and nightlife, beware the end by Ronda de Sant Antoni is often frequented by prostitutes. Another popular area at night is Rambla del Raval, which we discussed earlier. For other locations, check out our Raval safety map.

AND BONUS! What to do near El Raval

7

La Rambla and Sant Antoni

I usually consider La Rambla as an area of its own, rather than something part of the Gothic or the Raval districts. But technically, the buildings in the western side of La Rambla belog to El Raval, and those to the right are "Gothic Quarter".

The famous Boqueria Market is technically Raval, even if its main entrance gives it back to the district. There is however a back entrance from El Raval – the one in Plaça Gardunya. Same happens with the Liceu Opera House, also facing Las Ramblas. A bit further down and near the Port Vell, the Maritime Museum also lives oblivious to Raval daily life and the drama of the drug addiction center adjacent to one of its wings.

The Sant Antoni District surrounds el Raval from the other side. Its hipster restaurants and cafes are a new local favorite. And its recently refurbished Market of Sant Antoni is the choice of those who want to avoid the crowds of La Boqueria.

That was plenty of great ideas for what to do in El Raval, Barcelona! Enjoy!

Marta

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