El Raval may be far from your radar when it comes to checking out the well-known hot spots of Barcelona, but skip it and you’ll miss out on experiencing one of Catalonia’s most unique districts.
Saying adios to its once sketchy past, El Raval has emerged to become a vivacious and multicultural neighbourhood with Rambla del Raval at the heart of it. It’s a stark contrast to Spain’s busiest boulevard, La Rambla, with Rambla del Raval’s bars and restaurants sprawling onto its central plaza, entertaining travellers and locals alike. The feel considerably changes as the sun sets, from its relaxed daytime coffee vibes to lively sangria sessions, with people enjoying late night drinks and scrumptious eats under its palm and eucalyptus tree-filled skyline.
Although its location appears to be right in the heart of the city, this low-key plaza has only been in existence since 1995, built to encourage social integration and cultural events. The famous resident that captures both of those initiatives, is the unmissable and endearing Raval Cat (el Gato del Raval). An icon in its own right, this huge bronze sculpture of a cat was created by renowned Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero. This famous cat is kept busy with snap-happy travellers and children playing around its voluptuous body — an over-amplified physique of a teddy bear with a tail like a drawn-out party balloon. With whiskers firmly in place on its ever-complacent face, this cat is never short of attention, being a central meeting point for many.
Beyond the plaza, El Raval is sprawling with avant-garde bars and restaurants serving up unique flavour fusions. A notable mention is neatly tucked away backstreet restaurant Candela Raval. Stepping away from the usual tapas fare, the must-try dish here is seriously addictive honey and cinnamon-coated aubergine fries. Walk off the fries with a bar hop along El Raval’s Carrer de Joaquín Costa — one of Barcelona’s great bar-hopping streets. Bar 33/45 is popular choice for the young at heart for its hipster and grunge vibe across two adjoining rooms. Nearby is Beirut 37, a cosy bohemian bar serving up cocktails amongst dapper lamp shades, circus-inspired ornaments and kitsch decor.
Creative flair isn’t just limited to what’s on the menu with El Raval being home to one of celebrated architect Antoni Gaudi’s medievalist masterpieces, Palau Güell (1886-1890). Designing this one-time home for the Güell i López family was one of Gaudi’s first important commissions in his career. Being Gaudí, this historical-artistic domestic monument captures his uniquely creative ways to intertwine nature with bold designs in the style of Art Nouveau.
Visit the area’s other artful attractions while cooling off from the prevailing Barcelonan sun by stepping inside the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and adjacent Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.
From Gaudi to gaudy street art, El Raval is filled with vibrant colour in and out, and this buzzing neighbourhood is a place you should definitely know all about.
If you want to experience (and taste) even more of El Raval, our Barcelona Tapas “El Barrio” tour visits this lively neighbourhood.