Revelling in El Raval
Raval. Barcelona's most colourful district by a margin of at least several rainbows and one kaleidoscope. This where it all happens: the good, the bad... and the ugly. Here you'll find many of Barcelona's best bars, hippest restaurants, contemporary culture and a never ending parade of weird and wonderful characters; but there's undoubtedly also a sleazy side about the place and it's not highly unusual to see the likes of pickpockets, prostitutes and drug dealers conduct their business in broad daylight...
Located on the opposite side of Las Ramblas to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), El Raval constitutes a major sway of Barcelona's Old Town and was located within the city walls until they were knocked down in 1859 as the city threatened to burst at the seams. As the area was urbanised gradually over time it is characterised by winding streets and vernacular architecture, rather than the grid-like urban-planning of L'Eixample, which naturally help lend the district plenty of charisma. The closest district to Barcelona's port, it's perhaps no surprise that as early as the beginning of the 19th Century the downtown area of Raval has been associated with large-scale immigration, poverty, prostitution and other social problems - characteristics that saw it dubbed Barri Xines (China Town) early in the 20th Century.
Even 20 years ago much of El Raval was considered a no-go area by well-behaved Barcelonins (naturally others were drawn in by its reputation as a red light district and by its Bohemian bars), but since 1988 the Barcelona City Council have been working hard to clean the area up and instigate a widespread urban renewal programme. That's why you'll find amazing cultural treasures like the MACBA modern art museum (sitting on a nice open square beloved by skateboarders) and CCCB, as well as a beautifully rejuventated Rambla del Raval, complete with palm trees, benches and Fernando Botero's playful statue The Cat... (for our money much nicer, and certainly much calmer than La Rambla proper!).
The district's regeneration has also provided the impetus for smart bars and restaurants to settle down, and now as well as classic drinking dens like Marsella and London Bar (two Modernista gems, both allegedly patroned by Hemingway), the modern visitor to Raval can also enjoy hip restaurants such as Kabara, smooth lounge bars like Marmalade or stop off for a cocktail at Betty Fords or one of the other cool joints on Joaquin Costa. (A far cry from the days when the notorious Vampire of Barcelona used to run child prostitution rings, and kill little ones to make love potions from their internal organs!). Later at night you might want to make your way to Sala Apolo, just across the road from the district and one of Barcelona's best electronic music venues. Their Nasty Mondays and Crappy Tuesday parties are legendary amongst backpackers!
If we still haven't convinced you to visit Raval, then maybe Gaudi can. His treasure the Palau Guell is an amazing palace built for his patron Eusebi Guell on Nou de la Rambla.
For a truly in-depth look at this diverse and fascinating district we can thoroughly recommend taking a walking tour with Walking Planets. They'll help you unpeal the many layers of Raval's history and show you some treasures that even we at Barcelona Life didn't know about... such as the burial place of Barcelona's founder Guifry the Hairy! (It's his blood that decorates the Catalan flag!).
Raval's central position in the heart of the Old Town has made it a very attractive spot for hotels and hostels alike, especially as many are seeking to cash in on the area's exploding hip factor. Barcelo Raval is one of the most famous, thanks to its sleek circular look and designer interiors, although those on a tighter budget might want to look towards Hosteria Grau, a family-run boutique hotel one minute walk back from Las Ramblas. Hostels-wise Barcelona Mar and Barcelona Sound are two superb choices that place you in the heart of the action. Finally if you prefer your own pad then there's no shortage of apartment rental agencies who will help you bed down in El Raval.
I've rated it 1/10 but for a different reason. Raval is where the offices of the CNT-AIT are located and they have a fabulous bookshop with Social works in all languages.
Raval is now being ponced up to a worryingly bourgeois extreme. I would much rather it retained some of its old character and indeed there are bits of it's more interesting side still to see but tourist Barcelona is depressingly predictable as just another European city break destination where the history has been sanitized in favour of the bourgeoisie and the sufferings and fights of its people totally ignored. The Civil War has been all but airbrushed out of the Barcelona scene which, given it's importance to the city's history is downright wrong on all levels.
It will be a shame when the social apartheid cleansing of this most interesting of districts is completed and it becomes yet another overpriced tourist trap for middle class drop outs living off the bank of mum and dad. Get there while you can and get off the beaten track an swallow your fear.
reviewed by Duncan disorderly from United Kingdom on May.04.2015
Yes this IS a colourful district and common sense should prevail.
This is a VERY mixed nationalities district,it's where the real (not neccessarily Catalunyuan) people live their lives, there is poverty and prostitution to be seen, walking around flashing the latest bling might not be the best idea, as a tourist you'll be obvious but take in the ambience and go about your day with a smile, be aware and enjoy, this is a melting pot of everything, not a typical Spanish city by any means but a European city of the 21st century!
reviewed by Graham from United Kingdom on Sep.13.2014
I recently visited this place and would like to warn any travellers, please avoid this area as there is a chance you may remember your visit other way(I was victim myself of iphone robbing) plus Police can provide little help (to english speaking people) However if you still would like to take risk please just go with 20 euros in your pocket.
reviewed by jagrut rathod from United Kingdom on Apr.15.2014
I like very much the district El Raval. It is the last rehabilitated district where it s nice to walk and why not to stay. I've just come back from there!
reviewed by Richard@onedayonetravel from France on Feb.04.2013
Welcome to Helsinki. Lot of men looking for lonely women. Forget Barcelona.
reviewed by Leo from Finland on Dec.19.2012
The Raval is one of my favourite places in Barca. It's safe for a lone female tourist, I spend plenty of time hanging around there. Just make sure your bag has a thick strap and never leaves your body, even while sitting. And don't follow anyone who promises to show you the way (if you’re lost) or get you 'stuff'. Kids and families hang about all the time and the bars are very cool. Have a great time!
reviewed by Loca from United Kingdom on Dec.06.2010
Sounds like an exciting neighborhood. Is it safe to visit as a lone female tourist?
reviewed by Jen from United States on Oct.04.2010