Once a no-go area for tourists, the Raval is being transformed. Some of its gems have been around for years - Gaudí's medievalist Palau Güell was an early attempt at gentrification. But others are newer: the revival began in 1995 with Richard Meier's monumental MACBA, housing the city's main collection of modern art, and carried on in 2008 with the futuristic Barceló hotel.
Excellent home cooking at good prices. Ferran and his dynamic team provide excellent service. Marvellous rice dishes and fantastic steaks. One reason to visit this cosy spot is to try L'olleta d'Alcoi, one of Pepe Carvalho’s favourite dishes, which tops the Vázquez Montalbán menu.
With its gorgeous white interior decor, the wood and metal all creating a rustic, cosy minimalism, this tiny restaurant represents a continuation of the owner’s other restaurant, Flor Falchetti. The cuisine here represents a culinary tour of the Mediterranean, stopping off in France, Italy and Spain. The menu is very fluid, and so home-made meatballs and fresh fish are constantly on and off the blackboard, but there are always some permanent fixtures like beef tartar and herrings with tartar sauce.
The restaurant of the cool, sophisticated Hotel Barceló Raval has an extensive menu of creative dishes with an international influence, like prawns with coconut and mango curry, and rice with coriander and mustard. And on weekends they have a range of brunches focusing on healthy dishes such as gazpacho and fruit, plus cold meats and select cheeses.
This tiny, cosy bar is located in a former fish shop (where they specialised in local fave, salted cod). They've kept the fish theme, with décor that features a giant sardine can on the ceiling, itself made to look like fish scales. But never fear, the theme stops with the furnishings. If you are lucky enough to squeeze in before the place reaches maximum capacity, you can knock back a few gin cocktails, the house speciality. You'll find an extensive menu of the concoctions, created with a wide variety of gins and tonics, and added flair such as grapefruit, green apple and rose petals.
When you're wandering the Modernist route and your feet are aching and you're feeling parched, what better place to stop and recharge than the Barcelona institution that is London Bar. Once the stomping grounds of the likes of Orwell, Hemingway and Picasso, London Bar is now host to lovers of late nights, and those who dare to try a bit of absinthe.
The lamps are wrapped up in cassette tape, Radio Raheem is blasting out from behind the bar, there’s a robot drawn on the main wall, the latest in electronic music… Cassette is one of the spots to be for the hippest types in the city. Hats, skinny jeans, limited-edition trainers and Ray-Ban XXL are everywhere, and it’s all good. The bar itself is tucked away in an inhospitable alley. It hasn’t fully taken off yet and has an irresistible retro-futurist look to it. Any cooler and it would be a fridge.
Another kitsch bar reminiscent of those in post-Transition Spanish films. The aesthetic code is from another dimension, a jumble of paintings, disturbing objects hanging from the ceiling, graffiti, grotesque figurines, velvet curtains... The décor itself is enough to make the place a World Heritage Site. Piscis is a place where no one will hear your screams, be they of joy or of terror, but mainly because the staticky top 40 radio is turned up so loud and every two minutes Ibiza-type house sounds send cats running for the roof. Piscis is not just a bar. It's a mood.
Despite the fact that there are more than 76 brands of gin to hand, I opt for the house brand – Master's, a London dry made in nearby Vilanova. I order my G&T dry, with lemon and Jamaican pepper, and am sent straight to heaven. The by-the-glass brew is superb in scent and flavour, and the proportions of alcohol and tonic are perfect.Lovers of vintage design: be sure to stop and admire the sign at the entrance from way back when the bar was a grocery store. It's the aesthetic cherry on top in one of the best gin and tonic spots around.
Spain's largest cultural centre was opened in 1994 at the Casa de la Caritat, a former almshouse, built in 1802 on the site of a medieval monastery. The massive façade and part of the courtyard remain from the original building; the rest was rebuilt in dramatic contrast, all tilting glass and steel, by architects Piñón and Viaplana, known for the Maremàgnum shopping centre. The CCCB's exhibitions can lean toward heavy-handed didacticism, but there are occasional gems.
If you're used to being soft-soaped by eager-to-please art centres, you'll have to adjust to the cryptic minimalism of the MACBA, where art is taken very seriously indeed. Yet if you can navigate the fridge-like interior of Richard Meier's enormous edifice, accept that much of the permanent collection is inaccessible to the uninitiated, tackle shows that flutter between the brilliant and baffling, and, most important, are prepared to do your reading, a trip to the MACBA can be extremely rewarding. Since its inauguration in 1995, the MACBA has transformed itself into a power player on the city's contemporary arts scene. Its bookshop is fantastic for quirky gifts and artist design objects.
Since it opened in 1847, two fires, a bombing and financial crisis have failed to quash the spirit and splendour of the Liceu, one of the most prestigious venues in the world and a huge success with the public. A restrained façade opens into an elegant 2,292-seat auditorium of red plush, gold leaf and ornate carvings. The latest mod cons include seat-back subtitles in various languages that complement the Catalan surtitles above the stage. Under the stewardship of artistic director Joan Matabosch and musical director Sebastian Weigle, the Liceu has consolidated its programming policy, mixing co-productions with leading international opera houses with its own in-house productions. Classical, full-length opera is the staple, but small-format opera and contemporary classics also feature.A large basement bar hosts pre-performance talks and recitals, as well as children's shows and other musical events. The Espai Liceu is a 50-seat auditorium with a regular programme of screenings of past operas, while the swish six-floor Conservatori (C/ Nou de la Rambla 82-88, 93 304 11 13, www.conservatori-liceu.es), which is part of the Liceu, lends its 400-seater basement auditorium to classical and contemporary concerts, small-scale operas and jazz.
Even if you can't tell a caravel from a catamaran, the excellent Maritime Museum is worth a visit, as the soaring arches and vaults of the vast former drassanes (shipyards) represent one the most perfectly preserved examples of civil Gothic architecture in Spain. In medieval times, the shipyards sat right on the water's edge and were used to dry-dock, repair and build vessels for the royal fleets. The finest of these was Don Juan de Austria's galley, from which he commanded the fleet at Lepanto that defeated the Ottoman navy in 1571: a full-scale replica is the mainstay of the collection.With the aid of an audio guide, the maps, mastheads, nautical instruments, multimedia displays and models show you how shipbuilding and navigation techniques have developed over the years. The admission fee also covers the beautiful 1917 Santa Eulàlia schooner docked nearby in the Moll de la Fusta, and the Maritime often has some interesting temporary exhibitions.
La Virreina Image Centre's programme features photography, audiovisual works, election broadcasts, book publishing, literary festivals, talks, digital documentation and expanded literature in the age of the image, among others.With a mission to explore the notion of the image as knowledge and also as a way of sparking new cultural experiences, La Virreina aims to forge its own identity within the network of spaces in Barcelona, as well as working closely with other centres for visual creation.
This multidisciplinary centre for art, science, thought and communication features exhibitions set in different spaces of the building on La Rambla, including an open-air venue, lecture rooms for training programmes, a large main foyer area for large-scale functions, three exhibition galleries and rooms for exhibitions and the creation of projects related to art, science and technology.
For 40 years they’ve been fiercely dedicated to the thing they love most: vintage. And one of their headquarters can be find right in the Raval. The marché aux puces (flea markets) and the industrial furniture give life to this chain born in Saint-Tropez where you can find everything from retro clothing to furniture imported from France and the United States to accessories, books and magazines.