El Raval, Barcelona: Ultimate Guide (2023) – 11 Must-Dos

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So you’ve got El Raval on your Barcelona radar, huh? It’s an area that sparks intrigue, often leaving travelers pondering if it’s the right fit for their adventures. 

After all, it’s easy to see how El Raval, with its edgy charm, bohemian vibes, and that undeniable hustle and bustle that somehow feels so authentically Barcelona, can make it such an appealing place to visit – especially if you’re up for some seriously good nights out.

At the same time, you may have heard that there are some especially dodgy parts of El Raval – and you wouldn’t be wrong, with certain areas of this barrio being better avoided, especially at night.

Having lived in Spain and wandered Barcelona more times than I can count, I’ve gathered some essential details about El Raval, including from friends of mine who live in the area. Dive into this article, and I’ll give you the ins, the outs, the must-dos… and even the maybe-nots of this vibrant neighborhood. 

The maritime museum as one of the things to do in El Raval, Barcelona, Spain

What is El Raval known for?

El Raval is known for being one of Barcelona’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. On the positive side, it’s home to some of the city’s top museums and cultural centers, like the MACBA contemporary art museum and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB). 

The neighborhood also has a buzzing nightlife scene, centered around the iconic Carrer de Joaquín Costa. You’ll find great bars and music venues, from indie rock to flamenco.

However, El Raval has somewhat of a sketchy reputation in parts. It’s historically been a working-class area and still has pockets of poverty and crime, especially around the southern end closer to the port. 

As a tourist, you’re unlikely to have any real safety issues, but it’s good to keep your wits about you at night, just like in any big city. In particular, although violent crime is rare, make sure you stick to well lit streets and don’t let your personal items out of sight (which, to be honest, is good advice for a lot of Barcelona, especially around La Rambla).

Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. One of the besr structure to visit in El Raval in Barcelona.
Source : G.Rogers (Rodge500) (CC BY-SA 2.5)

There can also be some seedier characters hanging around, which some visitors may find uncomfortable. Some parts of the neighborhood definitely see more drug use and prostitution, which is generally more likely the closer to the port end of town you get – but it’s always good to keep your wits about you everywhere

Overall, El Raval is an exciting, eclectic area to explore. If you don’t mind a little urban grittiness, it’s a fascinating window into Barcelona’s culture past and present. Just use common sense when you’re out at night and you’ll likely have no issues at all.

What to do in El Raval in Barcelona?

While El Raval isn’t as “neat” as the likes of Eixample or even the Gothic Quarter, there are still definitely some must-sees around here.

1. MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona)

The acclaimed Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona (MACBA) is one of El Raval’s top attractions. The stark white modern building contains a collection of thought-provoking works by Spanish and international artists. 

Don’t miss the exhibits specially commissioned for the atrium space – it’s worth checking the MACBA website before coming to plan your visit and make sure you have enough time.

2. La Boqueria Market

I mean, it’s only technically in El Raval, but you have to see it… so it’s earned its place on this list.

So come and soak up the sights, sounds, and smells at La Boqueria, the busiest produce market in Barcelona. You can take the opportunity to sample fantastic fresh fruit or even sit for tapas at one of the bars interspersed between the vendors. 

While it can be touristy, at the same time, it’s a fun glimpse into daily Barcelona life.

Mercado de La Boqueria is one of the best place to visit in El Raval Barcelona.

3. Palau Güell

This elaborate mansion designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudí provides a window into turn-of-the-century Barcelona high society. The remarkable interior features Gaudí’s signature style, like colorful mosaics, carved wood ceilings, and chimneys modeled after palm trees.

4. Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB)

Located in the former Casa de la Caritat complex, this cutting-edge cultural center presents exciting exhibitions, films, lectures, and performances. Make sure to give yourself enough time to browse the on-site bookshop and cafe too.

5. Carrer de Joaquín Costa

Stroll along this atmospheric street lined with bars, clubs, and vintage shops to soak up El Raval’s eclectic culture. 

There’s no Zara and Mango around here. Instead, pop in and out of quirky boutiques and street art murals between stops for tapas and vermouth.

6. Rambla del Raval

This wide, palm-lined boulevard is a hub of El Raval community life. Watch street performers, mingle with locals at outdoor cafes, or relax in the benches and gardens. 

Don’t miss the striking Miró mosaic sculpture as well as the last Cat sculpture by Fernando Botero – if anything, it’s a great meeting point!

The sculpture El Gato de Botero on November 21, 2013 in Barcelona. The sculpture is a main attraction at the Rambla del Raval in Barcelona

7. Sant Pau del Camp Monastery

This Romanesque monastery, named for Saint Paul of the Fields, dates back to the 9th century, with a name that evokes the fields that would have been just outside the walls of the Old Town of Barcelona at the time the monastery was built. 

Take some time to wander the tranquil cloister and reflect in the simple chapel, some of Barcelona’s oldest surviving architecture. In particular, make sure you look for the ornate door – it’s a must-see.

8. Hospital de la Santa Creu

Founded in the 15th century, this historic former hospital is considered one of the earliest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture. It also used to be the biggest hospital in Barcelona in the Middle Ages, until it was closed down.

The hospital had one last dark claim to fame to make before that though, as a month before the hospital was closed down in 1926, Antoni Gaudí actually died here, three days after he was hit by a tram.

The elegant courtyards and ornate details offer a glimpse into medieval Barcelona as you wander the cloisters.

9. Shopping

El Raval is known for its eclectic mix of hip boutiques and vintage shops, so take the chance to browse for high fashion, quirky souvenirs, artisanal wares, and offbeat items. 

Highlights include La Portorriqueña (Puerto Rican coffee and snacks), Fantastik (retro pop culture gifts), and Holala! Plaza (indie designers).

10. Nightlife

El Raval is very much known for its nightlife, with some of Barcelona’s biggest clubs and bars being in this part of town. Keep reading to see some of my main recommendations on where to go out at night around here. 

Group of friends taking a selfie while partying in a club in El Raval Barcelona.

11. Restaurants

In addition to all those clubs and bars, the restaurant scene in El Raval is actually one of the best in town. I’ve got a list of places further down that I’d suggest you check out but safe to say that no matter what you’re in the mood for, there’s going to be a restaurant in El Raval that’s for you.

Where to stay in El Raval, Barcelona

So, you’re eyeing El Raval for your Barcelona stay? Wise choice! After all, El Raval is known for its dynamic vibes and rich culture, making it perfect if you’re after a lively stay (and especially if you plan to hit up the area’s famed nightlife).

At the same time, it’s worth noting that there are some areas that can feel a tad unpredictable. However, the great news is that all three of my top picks for hotels in El Raval are actually on La Rambla! 

This puts you in a sweet spot – you’re on the edge of El Raval, soaking in its artsy ambience, yet close enough to main attractions, buzzing nightlife, and a plethora of eateries. 

And, the best part? You won’t accidentally wander into any iffy spots when heading home.

Overall best hotel in El Raval: Yurbban Ramblas Boutique Hotel

Found right in the heart of Barcelona, the Yurbban Ramblas Boutique Hotel is a haven of comfort and style. With a picturesque terrace and an in-house restaurant, this hotel ensures a relaxing stay. 

Beautiful view in the terrace of the hotel in El Raval Barc;elona.

Its close proximity to attractions such as the Passeig de Gracia Metro Station, Tivoli Theatre, and the iconic Casa Batllo makes it an absolute favorite among travelers.

Whether you fancy a room with a balcony or panoramic city views, there’s something for everyone. And yes, their breakfast? Let’s just say it’s the kind of spread that kick-starts your day just right.

Best luxury hotel in El Raval: Hotel Bagués

Step into a realm of opulence at Hotel Bagués. Located on Las Ramblas, this 5-star boutique hotel boasts a rooftop pool and bar, offering jaw-dropping city vistas. 

And as an added bonus, every room displays a unique jewelry piece from the Masriera Museum! You see, the hotel once was the El Regulador Palace, a former jewelry workshop. 

Today, while it exudes luxury, it still holds true to its roots, housing the Masriera Jewelry Museum. With plush rooms adorned in deep colors, ebony furniture, and gold leaf details, it’s a feast for the senses. 

A short stroll will take you to the Barcelona Cathedral, and if you fancy exploring further, Plaza Catalunya Square with its robust transport links is nearby.

Best budget hotel in El Raval: Hostal Las Flores Ramblas

Budget-friendly yet brimming with charm, Hostal Las Flores Ramblas is a stone’s throw away from the Liceu Metro Station and the bustling La Boqueria Market. Each room is a cozy cocoon, equipped with air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs. 

When you want to step out, Barcelona’s jewels are easily accessible – the stately Barcelona Cathedral is a brief walk, and the monumental Sagrada Familia is a quick metro or bus ride away. 

Clean and cozy bedroom in El Raval Barcelona.

The cherry on top? The 24-hour front desk ensures you can relish El Raval’s vibrant nightlife without a hitch.

Should I stay in El Raval, Barcelona?

Whether to stay in El Raval really depends on your travel style and priorities. For culture buffs who want easy access to museums and galleries, El Raval is an excellent base. Avid nightlife goers will also appreciate being steps away from the neighborhood’s famed bars and music venues. 

Overall, if you’re seeking an authentic, lived-in Barcelona vibe, El Raval offers a vibrant urban experience.

However, some visitors may prefer lodging in a more polished district like Eixample or Gothic Quarter. Parts of El Raval can feel gritty or edgy, especially at night. 

It’s also very densely populated and lacks green spaces. If you want a quieter, more relaxed Barcelona stay, other areas may be better suited.

When choosing accommodations in El Raval, aim for a spot along the Rambla del Raval or closer to MACBA and the Boqueria market. Avoid the southern fringes of the neighborhood which tend to be sketchier. 

In addition, check for soundproofing and accessibility since noise and narrow streets can be an issue.

Overall, an open mind and spirit of urban adventure are essential for appreciating El Raval’s charms as a place to stay. Lean into the quirky local vibe, and you’ll have an authentic Barcelona experience that more sterile tourist zones lack. 

Just make sure to factor in your own travel preferences and safety concerns when deciding where to bed down in this complex, captivating neighborhood.

What is the history of El Raval?

El Raval has a long, winding history intertwined with Barcelona’s growth into a major city. Its name comes from the medieval-era Arabic word “arrabal” or suburb that sprung up outside the walls of Barcelona’s old city center. Back then, El Raval was home to guilds, convents, and working-class residents.

Museu d'Història de Catalunya, aerial view of El Raval Barcelona.
Source : Enfo (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By the 19th century, El Raval had become overcrowded and unsanitary as factories moved in during Barcelona’s industrial boom. 

The neighborhood became known for its impoverished conditions, crime, and brothels. But El Raval was also a hotbed for radical politics and avant-garde arts.

In the 20th century, improvements like the opening of Las Ramblas boulevard in the 1920s helped to revitalize El Raval. 

However, it maintained a seedy reputation until Barcelona’s urban renewal for the 1992 Olympics. Old factories and slums were demolished to make way for cultural facilities and new housing.

Today, El Raval retains its distinct multicultural character. Its past can be seen through historic sites like the 9th century Romanesque church of Sant Pau del Camp and remnants of the medieval city walls. 

The neighborhood continues to adapt to waves of immigration and changing economic tides. For visitors, El Raval provides an authentic taste of Barcelona’s storied past and dynamic culture.

Is El Raval in Barcelona dangerous?

While parts of El Raval have a gritty reputation, violent crime is fortunately rare in the neighborhood today. However, tourists should take some basic precautions, especially at night.

Petty theft like pickpocketing and bag snatching is probably the main risk. 

Keep valuables secured, avoid flashing expensive items, and be wary of common scams like someone spilling something on you as a distraction. Solo women may want to avoid unlit side streets at night.

The southern fringes of El Raval near the port tend to have more issues with drug use and minor crime. Tourists are advised to stick to busier main streets in this area after dark. However, violent muggings are very uncommon.

Reeanactment of a Robber in El Raval Barcelona.

Basically, use the same good judgment you would in any major city. Don’t go wandering down dark deserted alleys alone at 4am for instance. That said, violent crime poses no more concern in El Raval than most urban neighborhoods as it’s extremely rare, even late at night against tourists.

Where to avoid in El Raval

While El Raval is an exciting area to explore, there are a few spots where tourists may want to be extra vigilant or avoid entirely, especially at night.

  • The southernmost area below Carrer de l’Hospital is known for having issues with petty crime and the drug trade. Tourists should stick to busier streets here and avoid poorly-lit back alleys.
  • Plaça del Pedró tends to attract some seedy characters at night. It’s best to steer clear of this largely abandoned square after dark.
  • The side streets between Carrer de Sant Rafael and Carrer de l’Arc del Teatre can feel a bit dodgy at night when they are mostly deserted. Stick to the livelier main drags if walking this area after sunset.

In general, use good judgment and avoid deserted areas of El Raval late at night when walking alone. That said, violent crime is rare and tourists are unlikely to experience any real danger if they take reasonable precautions. 

Similarly, during the day, El Raval is generally safe to explore fully.

Keep in mind El Raval is rapidly gentrifying, so some of its rougher edges may soften over time. But a little street smarts will help you safely experience all this fascinating neighborhood has to offer. 

Nightlife in El Raval, Barcelona

When the sun goes down, El Raval comes alive with some of Barcelona’s best nightlife. Here are some top spots for drinking and dancing in the neighborhood:

  • La Confitería – This former bakery turned cocktail bar has a classy speakeasy vibe. Their creative mixology draws a stylish crowd.
  • London Bar – The iconic carved wood exterior leads to a cozy interior packed with Bohemian locals and travelers. Come for beers, whiskey sours, and great people watching.
  • Jazz Sí Club – Catch emerging and veteran jazz musicians in this intimate basement performance venue. The music starts late, so come ready for a night out.
  • Negroni Cocktail Lab – Their mixology menu features expertly crafted negronis with different gins, vermouths, and bitters. Also serves fab small plates.
  • Bar Marsella – Step back in time at this historic absinthe bar, perfect for a late nightcap.
  • Moog – Fun, alternative club playing great electronic music in a cool, kitschy space. Open late.
Girls night out in El Raval in Barcelona.

Restaurants in El Raval, Barcelona

El Raval’s diverse culinary scene spans classic Catalan flavors to global cuisine. These spots are a must-try:

  • Cafe de l’Opera – An iconic informal restaurant serving excellent tapas, montaditos, and house wine since 1929. A piece of old Barcelona.
  • Sésamo – Creative fusion tapas like their signature Korean-inspired bao buns and humorously named cocktails. It gets busy so come early.
  • Elisabets – Charming corner restaurant with a cozy vibe. Local institution popular for its inexpensive Catalan fare like fried anchovies.
  • Bar Lobo – Exquisite tapas and raciones at this airy, sophisticated spot run by renowned local chef Willy Moya. Worth a splurge.
  • Granja M. Viader – Lovely traditional dairy behind La Boqueria market. Famous for homemade hot chocolate and creamy flans since 1870.
  • Bar Cañete – Vividly colored tapas bar dishing up inventive bites like their ham croquettes with romesco sauce.

What are the demographics of El Raval?

El Raval stands out as one of Barcelona’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. It has historically been a gateway for immigrants and retains that multicultural flair. Around 45% of El Raval’s residents hail from abroad, especially Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. 

You’ll hear a lively mix of Catalan, Spanish, and other languages being spoken on the streets.

There’s also diversity in age and class. University students and young professionals are moving into new loft-style flats, even as some elderly longtime residents remain. While El Raval has pockets of poverty, rising property values also indicate gentrification.

Compared to other parts of Barcelona, there are more single-adult households and fewer families with children living in El Raval. It remains a neighborhood that attracts artists, bohemians, and urban hipsters.

In essence, expect a true mix of cultures, ages, and backgrounds when exploring El Raval. This diversity infuses the neighborhood with an eclectic, inclusive vibe.

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