EL INGENIO – This institution – a whimsical fantasy, old-time toy and joke shop – just off La Rambla, is crammed with Venetian masks, marionettes, theatrical accessories, wild costumes, yo-yos, kazoos, unicycles and other novelty items. The family workshop makes papier-mâche models used in many Catalan festivals.
ZOEN – In the heart of the old Jewish quarter, Zoen is a tiny shop selling finely crafted leather goods made onsite in its public workshop. It specialises in men’s and women’s accessories with an earthy yet contemporary look and feel. Handbags, wallets, belts, book covers and satchels are among the one-of-a-kind wares for sale.
CERERIA SUBIRA – Cereria Subira has been churning out candles and wax creations since 1761 and is claimed to be oldest shop in Barcelona. The interior of its store has a voluptuous, baroque quality; even if you’re not interested in myriad mounds of colourful wax, it’s worth popping in for a gawp at the olde-worlde setting.
COQUETTE – El Born in La Ribera is stuffed with designer boutiques, and Coquette is one of the most revered. Its pared-back look makes this ’concept store’ an attractive place to browse. It stocks casual feminine wear by labels such as Humanoid, Vanessa Bruno, Uke and Hoss Intropia.
MERCAT DE LA BOQUERIA – No Barcelona shopping trip would be complete without a pitstop at the Mercat de la Boqueria in El Raval. This central produce market is housed in a Modernista-influenced building, spilling over with picnic provisions including sea critters, sausages, cheeses, the finest Jabugo ham and sweets. It’s a classic, if touristy, Barcelona experience – visit in the morning to explore minus the crowds.
HOLALA! PLAZA – This Ibiza import in El Raval, inspired by the Balearic island’s long-established hippie tradition, is an excellent hunting ground for vintage treasures with one of the best selections of secondhand clothing in the city. It also hosts an exhibition space for temporary art displays and live music performances. Just south of here there’s a cluster of stores selling more pre-loved threads on Carrer de la Riera Baixa.
BAGUES-MASRIERA – This high-end jewellery store is a star amid a sea of big-name brands on premier shopping boulevard, Passeig de Gracia. In business since the 19th century, it takes inspiration from its location in the Modernista Casa Amatller, and next to Gaudfs Casa Batllo, with some of its classic pieces exhibiting an equally playful bent.
EL BULEVARD DELS ANTIQUARIS – This labyrinth of tiny antique shops merits a morning’s browsing, gathering more than 70 stores under one roof (on the floor above the Bulevard Rosa arcade) to offer the city’s most varied selection of collector’s pieces, ranging from old porcelain dolls through to fine crystal and African art.
LURDES BERGADA – The grid of streets either side of Passeig de Gracia supports chic local designers who capture the essence of Barcelona cool, including this boutique run by mother-and-son designer team Lurdes Bergadâ and Syngman Cucala. Its relaxed, classy men’s and women’s fashions use natural fibres and have attracted a cult following.
TRANSPORT – Fly to Barcelona via its El Prat airport on British Airways from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur with one stop in London Heathrow. The quickest way to get into town from El Prat is with RENFE trains, which leave every half hour and take about 25 minutes to reach Passeig de Gracia. Taxis from the airport cost about US$35. Barcelona’s metro is the most convenient way to get around town; singles cost US$2.40 per ride but the T-10 (10-ride pass) offers better value at US$11.15.
WHERE TO STAY – Quirky and colourful interiors hit you from the second you walk into the foyer of Chic & Basic Ramblas in El Raval. Each room has a small kitchen and superior doubles come with balconies.
Suites Avenue provides fancy apartment-style living secreted behind a daring facade. The apartments are good value and include private kitchens and access to a terrace, gym and pool.
Tranquil Hotel Neri occupies a beautifully adapted, centuries-old building in the Gothic Quarter, with timber furnishings and stone-clad bathrooms. There’s a bedding menu, and a roof deck.