Timeout dubbed it a “gentrified gem” but for locals El Raval Barcelona has yet to fully shed its reputation as the drug and prostitute epicenter of the Catalonian capital.
Yet I wouldn’t advise on skipping it out.
With so many great things to see in El Raval and a unique vibe all to its own, you’d be missing out on a great chance to understand Barcelona and all it has to offer. So let’s do this right.
Hands in your pockets, we’re going in!
Where is El Raval in Barcelona?
The neighbourhood is flanked by a variety of metro stations like Liceu and Drassanes (green line L3) – it’s also easily reachable from Universitat (red line L1), Sant Antoni (purple line L2) and Paral-lel (green line L3 and purple line L2).
From Plaça de Catalunya going down the famous La Rambla you’ll find it on your right.
El Raval Map
Why Visit El Raval?
- It’s Barcelona’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood.
- There’s a great selection of kitschy bars.
- It’s the cheapest of Barcelona’s central neighbourhoods.
- Raval is home to a big portion of Barcelona’s best museums.
- There’s lively nightlife.
What to See in El Raval
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is (to some) Barcelona’s Tate Modern or Centre Pompidou. Here you’ll find over 5000 works from modern art kingpins like Tapies, Iglesias, Fahlström, and more.
There are also great variety of rotating exhibitions relating to photography, sculpture, and painting.
Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri (11:00 am to 8:00 pm), Sun (10:00 am to 3:00 pm), closed Tues.
€10.00 €9.50 adults (online), €8.00 for students (ticket windows).
The CCCB Cultural Centre is one of Barcelona’s most visited arts and exhibition centres. Just like El Raval itself, if there’s anything cultural that’s up to be exposed or debated you’ll find it here.
Some exhibitions have been called everything from inspiring to disturbing but I promise you one thing: you won’t be bored! There’s also free wifi in the public study room.
If you’re in town for the World Press Photo exhibition make sure you attend.
Hours: Tues-Sat (11:00 am to 8:oo pm), Sun and holidays (11:00 am to 7:00 pm).
Prices: €6.00 for one exhibition, €8.00 for two exhibitions, kids under 12 free.
It’s not quite the Sagrada Familia or Casa Batllo but Palau Guell is another of the great works of the Catalan wonder architect Antoni Gaudi.
This mansion/’urban palace’ built for the industrialist Eusebi Guell was famous for entertaining high society guests and it shows. The recent restoration completed in 2011 makes it as decadent as ever.
Fans of Antonioni may recognize it as the backdrop to Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider meeting in The Passenger. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Hours: daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm (closed Monday).
Price: €12.00 (or €9.00 with the Barcelona Card).
Rambla Del Raval
This famous palm tree-lined promenade is the center-piece of Raval life.
There’s also a massive cat here! Yes, Fernando Botero’s work of art is a great meeting place for locals and it’s not uncommon to see people climbing it as the night gets older.
Also, if you you’re on a budget. You can eat 6 or 7 mini sandwiches and get a true pint of beer for less than a tenner at the Spanish institution 100 Montaditos.
Bars in Raval
There’s a great mixture of bars in Raval but the common theme would be cheap and unpretentious.
You can’t go wrong doing a bit of a crawl down Carrer de Joaquín Costa – with so many great bars you might only get half way!
€ | Classic dive bar | Carrer de Sant Pau 65 | Metro: Drassanes (L3) | Website
A simple throwback, this dusty bar looks like a prohibition-era speakeasy crossed with a Texan saloon. It hasn’t been renovated since the 20’s. People say it’s Barcelona’s oldest bar and that’s easy to believe.
Hemingway drank here. There’s beer and wine but most get absinthe with a bottle of water and a sugar cube. It’s fun to experiment with the levels of water and sugar, but take it easy!
A great place to really loosen up before going to Barcelona’s best clubs.
€€ | Value cocktail spot | Carrer de Joaquín Costa 56 | Metro: Universitat (various) | Website
Retro, quirky, and a great atmosphere.
Named after an alcohol rehab clinic in the USA, this ‘dive bar and grill’ could get anybody off the wagon with their specialty cocktails – oh, and their burgers might be the best in town! Try the blue cheese one and wash it down with a fine local beer called Krut.
Happy hour is from 9:00 to 11:00.
Tavern l’Ovella Negra
€ | Cheap student drinks | Carrer de les Sitges 5 | Metro: Universitat (various) | Website
There’s no messing around here – it’s a massive bar with bench seating where you’ll meet lots of people: drunk people drinking mini beer kegs, ‘panther milk’ (a bottle of alcohol-infused milk with cinnamon), and sangria.
Proper pints are only 2 euro. It’s a favourite with students and good for pool or foosball.
Take the lads here for a Barcelona stag do with insta-laughs.
€-€€ | Old school Barcelona | Carrer de Joaquín Costa 56 | Metro: Universitat (various) | Website
Super hipster Barcelona has swallowed up traditional establishments by the hundreds, but this El Raval bar has been going strong since 1860. This is easily the best bar in El Raval for history and local vibes.
The tradition here is the vermut (a spiced wine drink). I can also say the Serrano ham plate here is one of the best in the city.
The Mediterranean-style bar snacks and tapas here are second to none.
Bar 33 | 45
€-€€ | Funky cocktail | Carrer de Joaquín Costa 4 | Metro: Universitat (various) | Website
El Raval’s drinking street keeps giving with this bar. That’s also an art gallery. And a cafe.
At any rate just go there and get a spritz, an Italian cocktail with Aperol and white sparkling wine, for just €2.50.
In reality 33 | 45 is two bars in one, a trendy cocktail bar at one end and and sofa-heavy lounge room on the other. If you can’t decide what kind of an evening you want, start out here and let fate decide the rest.
Restaurants in El Raval
€€-€€€ | Carrer d’En Botella 11-13 | Metro: Sant Antoni (L2) | Website
I never shut up about this modern Spanish restaurant where tradition and adventure meet. Forget El Raval, this is one of the best spots in the city. For the (singular) seafood paella alone I’d hit this up once a week.
In particular you’ll find dishes native to Galicia but spiced up, like the fried octopus with seaweed and potato foam with paprika oil. Or the Galician clams with green curry.
Not into seafood? The Galician beef filet with smoked cheese sauce says hello.
One more no-brainer: grab a blackberry mojito.
A Tu Bola
€ | Carrer de l’Hospital 78 | Metro: Universitat (various) | Website
Here it’s all about cheap and creative gourmet street food. Try yourself some bolas (meat or vegetarian balls) stuffed in pitas or mounted on polenta with ridiculously fresh ingredients.
In addition to your order you’ll get some pickled veg, hummous, and a warm pita – how nice! Mexican chipotle pork, Asian satay chicken, and falafel are highlights here.
Fresh, tasty, and well thought out.
€€ | Carrer de Sant Pau 103 | Metro: Universitat or Liceu (various) | Website
It wouldn’t be Raval without an Indian tandoori restaurant rich in flavours and low on prices.
After three days in Barcelona eating Spanish food you’ll be dying for some cheese naan and any of their spicy curry dishes. So grab a prawn jalfrezi or a butter chicken and dine like royalty.
Harrison Ford ate here when he was in Barcelona.
Palo Santo Tapas Bar
€€-€€€ | Rambla Del Raval 26 | Metro: Liceu (L3) | Website
An intimate tapas bar in Raval with personal service.
You can get full with a bottle of wine for €25.00 (two people). All the Spanish classics are here but the aubergine/eggplant with honey or Serrano ham with artichokes can’t be avoided.
Looking to wean off Spanish food? There are also smoothies, burgers, and things like the mouth-watering burrata cheese. The bonus here is that the cocktails are amazing.
€ | Carrer de Joaquín Costa 56 | Metro: Universitat or Sant Antoni (various) | Website
When I lived in El Raval this was my go-to last minute dinner spot.
One step into the premises and you’ll see the chicken spits rotating a level above the typical kebab place. The chicken is later grilled with veg, wrapped in fresh naan bread, and squirted with homemade yogurt sauce.
The tandoor oven also makes great chicken skewers while a small buffet table with a mean chicken curry offers a few ethnic comfort staples. All piled high with flavoured rice and fresh veg.
And guess what? None of the dishes cost more than €6.00.
Hotels in El Raval
Here I’ve narrowed 143 properties down to only three, from luxury to value.
Casa Camper Hotel
☆☆☆☆☆ | €€€-€€€€ | Carrer d’Elisabets 11 | Metro: Catalunya
This design hotel lives by the motto that luxury lies in simplicity, authenticity, and health.
Here it’s about minimalist design from its space clearing vertical hanging gardens to the mini-lounges with working tables, sofa, and balcony. Forget the mini bar, here there’s the forward thinking 24 hour buffet called Tentempié.
The solar-powered water heating means you’ll use 50% less energy than competitors.
Visit chef Albert Raurich at the restaurant Dos Palillos – he used to be head of house at El Bulli, voted the world’s best restaurant. Here you’ll find delicious Spanish classics with an Asian twist.
Facilities: fitness centre, bar, restaurant, bicycle rental.
☆☆☆☆ | €€-€€€ | Rambla del Raval 17-21 | Metro: Liceu
Yes I know, another design hotel in central Barcelona isn’t breaking news.
Yet the attention to detail here is amazing. You’ll get a super comfy bed and even get your own choice of pillow hardness. Throw in huge plasma TVs, air conditioning, a Nespresso machine, and state of the art design and you’ve got an urban paradise.
And we haven’t even mentioned the breath-taking roof terrace with pool. It’s also only 400 metres from La Boqueria: arguably the world’s best food market.
Facilities: spa, gym, massage, tanning salon, sauna, room service, snack bar, restaurant.
☆☆☆ | €€ | Rambla del Raval 17-21 | Metro: Drassanes
Those looking for value without skimping out on the quality will find a home here.
The stylish and modern rooms and their super-sleek wood flooring are more four star than three, but your wallet won’t be complaining. Guests love the rooftop pool with amazing view, great customer service, and varied buffet breakfast.
Being in the lower part of Raval it’s only a 20 minute walk to the beach.
Facilities: fitness centre, infinity pool, room service, laptop safe, soundproof rooms.
El Raval Shopping
First off, if you’re looking for chain shops you best consult my article on the best shopping in Barcelona. In Raval it’s all about discount shops and boutiques at reasonable prices.
For these items I suggest heading to Carrer del Carme, Carrer del’Hospital, and Carrer Joaquin Costa.
Here you’ll find a wide range of shopping opportunities from antique stores to books to precious stones. In particular is the funky ‘Camden’ type street full of record shops and vintage clothes stops on Carrer de la Riera Baixa.
In need of an internet cafe to print out your attraction tickets? El Raval is your place.
Is El Raval Safe?
OK, so it has a bad reputation with locals. They say Raval has changed for the worse but the truth is it’s always been a working class neighbourhood with substandard housing.
The low rental prices in El Raval have attracted migrants who have given a lot of character to the area, but the flip-side is it’s become Barcelona’s drug and prostitution Mecca. This is usually at night however and only confined to a few streets.
I’ve heard it called dirty, disgusting, embarrassing… and it kind of is. My only advice? Don’t let the seediness spoil the whole watermelon. I mean what are you gonna do? Read People magazine and eat at Wendy’s until the end of time? Take a fuckin’ chance! (George Carlin)
The truth is you’ll probably never be in any physical danger. You won’t get robbed using common sense to avoid pickpockets. And nobody is going to force you to buy drugs or sex, are they?