Barcelona has long been associated with an arty crowd – after all, this is the city where Picasso, Dali, Gaudi et al spent much of their adult lives wafting around and making things look pretty. Writers have also been drawn to this city of contradictions over the years – a provincial city that feels more like a capital, at the forefront of many political and cultural movements and yet where everyone stops for siesta. In the new millennium, Barcelona’s literary star continues to rise as this traditional publishing hub has become home to a new generation of writers and artists.
Good bookshops are relatively plentiful, and the first place we head to whenever we need something to wrap our heads around is La Central, which has well-stocked branches in both El Raval and on Calle Mallorca in the Eixample. Also in the Eixample is Laie, which has a popular restaurant and hidden terrace, ideal for posing with a hardback and a coffee. For books in English, head to Hibernian (Montseny, 17) in Gràcia for the city’s largest selection. Altaïr (Gran Via Corts Catalanes, 616) is the best bookshop for travel books of all descriptions including a great selection of tomes on geography, anthropology and photography. Norma (Paseo Sant Joan, 9), with its huge range of comic books, is the place to come for all of your superhero needs – we have seen grown men swoon at the selection on offer. Bookish bars are scattered throughout Barcelona too.
We like Babelia (Villarroel 27, 08011 Barcelona) in residential neighbourhood Sant Antoni, especially its microterrace and multilingual selection of second hand books. They also run a number of different events including book clubs and book launches – check the Babelia Facebook page for up to date listings. Just up the road is the Sunday book market on Carrer Comte d’Urgell (Sunday, 9am to about 3pm) – worth a shufty, if not just to check out the frenzied trading card swapping that goes on at the same time between hard-faced kids and equally tough grownups.
In bohemian Raval, Horiginal (Ferlandina 29) hosts regular open mic poetry – a rare thing in Barcelona, where open mic tends to mean ‘drunken guiri singing Van Morrison’ – and has a decent restaurant and bar to boot, with 3 course lunch menu at a little over €10. Just around the corner on Calle Joaquin Costa, Lletraferit (Joaquin Costa 43) combines the best things in life: cocktails and books. Owned by author Alexandre Diego Gary, the bar is quiet, relaxed and has lots of lovely window seats to watch the neighbourhood goings-on while you finish off your masterpiece. A little further from the city centre, Gràcia is home to Heliogabal (Ramon y Cajal, 80), a bar and performance space that often hosts book launches and poetry readings as well as live music and general carousing.
Unmissable for any book lover is the annual celebration of Saint George’s Day (Sant Jordi). This local festival is the Catalan equivalent of Saint Valentine’s Day: women traditionally receive roses and men are given books as gifts (although given the fact that as gifts go, a book is much better, the modern Catalan lady may well expect to get a book-shaped something from her special someone). In the days and weeks leading up to the 23rd April, Barcelona’s bookshops begin to bubble over with excitement until they spill out onto the street for the big day: Plaza Catalunya, the Paseo de Gracia, Ramblas and Rambla Catalunya are all lined with book stalls, rose sellers and big-name authors signing books and living the writerly dream.