My long-awaited trip to Barcelona materialized last week, and my love of books encouraged me to find the best literary destinations in the city.
Barcelona’s unique and varied bookshops rarely get the top billing thanks to its other more prominent cultural attractions. These literary sanctums often get relegated and don’t feature at all on many visitors’ itineraries. I feel they should.
While I did not mind seeing some of the other famous attractions, like Casa Batlló, the Gothic Quarter, Sagrada Familia and more, my heart was set on seeing the little hideaways where books come to life as the main attraction.
Here are the literary destinations that became a part of my itinerary during my trip to Barcelona:
#1. Casa del Libre
If you are a book-lover and you are visiting Barcelona, there is no way you can give this amazing bookstore a skip.
Casa del Libre sits right on the posh Passeig de Gracia Avenue in central Barcelona, a few blocks away from Gaudi’s famous Casa Batllo.
Translated into English, Casa del Libre means House of Books. However, trust me, it is more of a Mecca of books than a mere house.
I have seen full-scale bookstores half the size of the Children books section they have.
The vast expanse of the bookstore and the sweeping repertoire of books from varied domains could enthrall anyone.
The bummer for an English-speaking tourist is that only a small percentage of books are in English. But that ain’t no hindrance to bibliophiles. We live off the sight and smell of books no matter what the language, you know.
Do keep this bookstore on your hit list if you are shopping for Spanish literature or simply, want to feel like a kid in a well of books.
I never deny myself a great cup of coffee, especially when it is going to be served alongside a plethora of books.
Babelia Books and Coffee is a fabulous place with an exhibition space, a small library, and a designated room for workshops.
I walked down to this bookstore one rainy morning to enjoy my cup of coffee with their mouthwatering Victoria cake.
Be forewarned, however. Babelia books & coffee is not a book sanctuary. It is a coffee shop doubling up as bookworms’ hangout. So there you have it. Step in only if you want a dose of caffeine together with a classic novella or two.
If you are lucky, you may get into a rousing discussion with the fellow book-lovers. While I was there, I decided to linger for a while, as I enjoyed a second cup of coffee and read selections from a stack of books.
From Babelia Books & Coffee, I continued through Carrer de la Riera Alta to the National Library of Catalonia. Situated in the old town of Barcelona, this library was opened to the public in another location in 1914.
The National library can now be found in the 15th-century building where the medieval Santa Creu Hospital was once located. It moved to its current location back in the year 2000.
I knew that I would not be able to see each one of the three million books that are within the walls of The Library of Catalonia, but I was lucky to get a guided tour which gave me a good start as I learnt more about the history of this fascinating library.
Once I completed my tour, I visited the general reading room, where I perused the collection of books, newspapers, and journals from the 19th century to current times. I was there for a while, as I sat and read the gems that I found.
#4. ALTAÏR BOOKSTORE
Another must-visit destination if you happen in Barcelona is Altair bookstore.
This is the largest bookstore that specializes in travel within Europe. Altair turned out to be the perfect spot for me to stop after a morning of seeing some of the other sights in the city.
It lies in close proximity to Universitat de Barcelona and Hard Rock Cafe. Club Coliseum (live shows and movies) is also right across the road.
The best part about them is that they have books on almost every country. In Asia section, I found hundreds of books on India – both in English and Spanish – many of which I had never heard of.
While I was flipping through books, a small chat with a fellow book-lover ensued. She alerted me to the fact that Altair houses more than six hundred thousand books about travel, anthropology, politics, music, cookbooks, and photography. Frankly, I found the figure a little incredulous going by what I saw.
She also let me in on a little secret. Apparently, many bookstores in Barcelona stock books written by the authors in exile. But they are not usually accessible to the public; they are hidden away in a secret room.
With my curiosity at its peak, I enquired if Altair had one such room. She put a damper on my spirits, “No, not at Altair”.
This bookstore is comprised of two floors and it takes a while to go from one section to another, due to the enormous amount of books there are to go through.
I spent almost two hours at Altaïr and collected a pile to look over more carefully as I sat in one of their comfortable chairs. Later I made a side trip to their café for a little snack to hold me over until I finally got to dinner.
#5. Sunday Book Market
Sunday Book Market is a great opportunity for any book lover to not only see a plethora of books but also the trendy Sant Antoni neighborhood. It has been taking place there every Sunday for more than one hundred years.
I absolutely loved the amazing vibe of this place. The market is a little gem of Barcelona that brings together all kinds of treasures on paper, from vintage books to coins to postcards to vintage porn magazines (oops), which do not disappoint.
As I went hopping from one book stall to the next, I actually got into a conversation with one of the sellers there who luckily spoke good english, too. He enlightened me that the market began in 1920s as a recognition of intellectuality of that time.
In short, the Mercat Dominical de Sant Antoni is an endearing symbiosis of charm and mystery that, although repeated weekly, is never the same. Do not hesitate to approach and be part of the incredible number of different people who share space around a table of hundreds of books.
This library was not in my plans. I rather stumbled upon it while I was visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana. I finished my tour of Palau and whipped out Google maps to help with navigation to La Ramblas. And, it popped up on the map, barely two blocks from where I was standing.
Francesca Bonnemaison opened this library back in 1909. Women were the only ones allowed inside in the beginning. History has it that this library was where women gathered to learn many artistic, manual, and scientific skills that would help them further their education.
Housed inside a medieval building, the rooms are large and full of intricate details. The aesthetics only added to my excitement of being there.
Anyone can now visit here to see the expansive reference library that is dedicated to feminist literature. There is also enough books about fashion and food to satisfy any contemporary bibliophile.
I had nothing short of a spectacular week in Barcelona. With an opportunity to spend quality time in bookstores, libraries, and literary cafes, I felt fully rejuvenated.
Barcelona brims with bookstores, libraries and literary cafes as much as it does with Antoni Gaudi attractions. If you love books, and if you are visiting Barcelona, I highly recommend you go check out these six places. You won’t be disappointed.