Whether you’re on a short weekend break or have a full week to discover Barcelona, there’s plenty of bookish spots and hidden corners to get your literary fix in the city. From cafés still holding the mystical air of old-time writers to literary festivals and street celebrations with books and roses, the capital of Catalonia offers endless opportunities for book lovers. To truly get the literary flavor of Barcelona, get out and explore these unique places scattered throughout the city.
Café Els Quatre Gats
One of the most touristy cafés in Barcelona, Els Quatre Gats is hidden on a narrow street behind the more bustling shopping pedestrian avenue, Portal del Angel. The original café was open only for six years, between 1897 and 1903, but it gathered such a fame that it was reopened in 1989 after restoring it to its original condition. In its day, the café was the meeting point of modernist artists like Antoni Gaudi, Pablo Picasso or the poet Rubén Dario. They even published a literary review for a few years, to promote the Catalan modernism. Touristy as it is, it would be a pity to miss it. Stop by for a drink at least to inhale the breathable artsy and literary air of Barcelona in the 1900s.
Walking through the colorful and noisy borough of Raval in Barcelona’s old town, it takes just a step in the right direction to enter an oasis of serenity. It’s the orange tree-filled courtyard of the old Santa Cruz hospital, an ensemble of buildings from the 15th century. Now the seat of the Library of Catalonia, it hosts about three million books, and offers guided tours to the public. If your thing is to hang about in libraries and feel that unique air of dusty paper and old stories waiting to be read, this is the place for you. Combine that with its setting under the medieval arches of the former hospital, and you have a perfect book lover’s afternoon.
Set in a beautiful modernist building in the Eixample neighborhood, La Central is one of the most appreciated book stores in Barcelona, with two whole floors filled with thousands of books from literature to architecture, photography and art. They regularly host book presentations where you can spot your favorite contemporary writers, and also writing workshops. Getting lost in the labyrinth of books on the first floor, towards the back you’ll reach a small café corner with a charming, quiet terrace. They serve coffee and cakes and a daily lunch menu you can enjoy while browsing their books and art albums.
On April 23rd, the stands with books and stalls selling red roses spill over throughout the entire central area of Barcelona. It’s the UNESCO World Book Day, but in the Catalonian capital it’s been ‘The Day of the Rose’ since the 1400s. The locals celebrate it by offering books and flowers to each other. The bookshops in the city dust off their volumes and take them out under the spring sun to fill the central streets like Rambla de Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia. For a few days it’s hard, if not impossible, to walk on these streets; all you see around are books and more books.
Bar, Spanish, Pub Grub, $$$
At almost 200 years old, and with a reputation just as impressive, Bar Marsella is one of the oldest watering holes in town. Its shabby old furniture, the stained ceiling from endless decades of cigarette smoke, and its baroque style chandeliers stand proof of it. But why is it a place for a book lover? Legend says it was Hemingway’s favorite spot in Barcelona, where he loved to go and have a glass of absinthe. Or more. And to this day, absinthe is still the house drink, so if you want to feel closer to Hemingway, stop by there and have a glass of the green, anise-flavoured potion.
Barcelona hosts two literary festivals in various locations around town, all connected in a way with literature. The Kosmopolis festival takes place at the Contemporary Culture Centre, CCCB, every two years. You’ll get to attend workshops, symposiums and even readings by well-known writers if you’re lucky. The second festival, BCNegra, takes place every year and is dedicated to lovers of crime literature and noir fiction. The events range from round tables, radio talks and audiovisual shows, concluding with the grand literary prize, Pepe Carvalho.
If besides loving books, you also enjoy travelling and discovering various cultures of the world, the Altaïr bookstore is the perfect place to explore. The largest bookstore in Europe specialized in travel, it also has an adjoining café and a shop for travel accessories. You can get sucked in for hours browsing the collection of more than 60,000 volumes on cities and countries, anthropology, photography and even maps and ethnic decorations. Located right in the center of the city, you can enter it as an excuse for a morning filled with armchair travel reading or an afternoon coffee.
Every Sunday for more than 130 years, the trendy Sant Antoni neighborhood boasts its own book market. The busy four-lane road of Carrer Comte d’Urgell gets cut in two and becomes pedestrian for one block, to host the booksellers who fill the road with their stalls. It’s a Sunday tradition among residents and curious tourists to stroll from one stand to the next, in search for old books and magazines, vintage postcards and video games. The market is open from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm and most of its sellers are old-timers, displaying their merchandise there for decades.
Initially called the Popular Women’s Library, this was the first library in Europe destined exclusively for women, to help them get access to culture and education. More than a hundred years old, the library is now set in a restored medieval building, with beautiful interiors with squeaking floors, wooden railings and grand central rooms. You can browse thousands of books on crafts, scientific or artistic subjects while you marvel at one of the best examples of Barcelona’s massive medieval architecture.