A lack of major tourist attractions, sites and museums means that the revived community of Sant Antoni and its excellent gastronomic scene are often overlooked by visitors.
Gently tucked away in the southern corner of Barcelona’s glamorous Eixample district is the small area of Sant Antoni.
A neighborhood within a neighborhood, the idyllic Sant Antoni finds itself seemingly worlds away from the hoards of map-holding tourists roaming the Gothic Quarter, the chaotic party-goers of Raval and those aimlessly wandering the main streets of Eixample admiring the modernista architecture. Despite it being just a stone’s throw away from these hotspots, Sant Antoni is an area in which you’re much more likely to encounter bohemian youth, urban creatives, passionate artisans and, if you’re lucky enough, the occasion Catalan TV star.
From the approachable nature of the locals to the everyday residential feel throughout the neighborhood, Sant Antoni paints a vivid picture of authentic everyday life in the Catalan capital – something that’s becoming increasingly hard to find. In fact, Sant Antoni is often overlooked by travel guides and casual visitors completely, making it one of Barcelona’s best kept secrets.
Located just outside of Barcelona’s historic center, Sant Antoni historically has working class roots that remain evident today. In recent years, however, the local government has set in motion a serious effort to drastically revive the community similar to the neighboring Raval. However, the overall lack of major attractions, sites or museums, means that Sant Antoni has maintained a charm that feels a lot more authentic than the other nearby areas of the old city.
At the very heart of the neighborhood lies the 135-year old Mercat de Sant Antoni. After a delayed renovation process that dragged on for more than two years due to the discovery and excavation of Ancient Roman walls, the market finally reopened earlier this summer. The revamped market, as well as the removal of the less-than-pleasing construction fences and overhead cranes, has led to a complete revival of Sant Antoni.
The dazzling iron structure can be seen from several blocks away and is surrounded by a metal canopy that loops all the way around the block. The market is crowned with a twenty-eight meter high octagonal dome in the center. The actual market is divided into three distinct sections – a food area that consists of 52 stalls, as well as the 95 stalls that make up the encants (flea market) where you can find everything from clothing to trinkets. On Sundays, it is also home to one of Europe’s largest open-air book markets.
Beyond the simple transaction of fresh fruit and vegetables, charming book stands and cheap clothing, however, the market is undeniably the beating pulse of Sant Antoni and its residents — it’s a place where locals come to interact and a sense of community exists in the truest sense. Stroll through the market in the early hours of the day and you’ll find old friends making time for one another at one of many cafés, whereas the market also runs regular programs for local elderly who feel isolated or lonely.
The ripple effect of this revival can be felt well beyond the market. The street art, for instance, even by the lofty standards of art-focused Barcelona, is incredible and it’s no wonder more and more urban creatives and young artists are opting to to call Sant Antoni their home.
The major draw of Sant Antoni is undoubtedly its excellent gastronomic scene — something that has made the area a favorite of locals and keen visitors over recent months. Home to a number of Barcelona’s trendiest spots and unique dining establishments, the contemporary food scene is among the best in Europe.
A stroll through pedestrian-friendly rondas of Sant Antoni for the first time makes it feel like everyday should be brunch day. In fact, the chic Federal Café is said to be the origin of the brunch craze that has swept over Barcelona in recent years. Sant Antoni is also credited with a number of other food trends, such as the newfound Gin and Tonic culture and the DIY hamburger.
Sant Antoni also does the classics pretty well. Between the corner bodegas are every turn, everyone from young families to stylish youth can be found along the charming patios and rooftops for vermouth, tapas or long weekend afternoons. Named after the famous Catalan author Pere Calders, Bar Calders is one of the trendiest vermouth spots in the area with a beautiful terrace in a hidden alleyway. Whereas the contrasting Bar Ramon has stood the test of time since its opening in 1939 and remains as popular as ever for its cheap prices and rock ‘n roll atmosphere.
With something for just about everyone, Sant Antoni is truly a foodie’s paradise. Besides the stylish terraces and traditional bodegas, you should have no trouble locating your classic tapas spots, plus a number of great selections for a weekend aperitif.
With its cool candor and irreverent charm, It’s easy to see why Sant Antoni has seen a steady growth in activity in recent months. Between the artisans and artists, young families, seasoned professionals and locals who simply relish their quiet time, Sant Antoni (even by Spain’s standards) forces you to slow down, sit back and enjoy the simple things in life – delicious food, refreshing beverages and the ones you cherish most. In Sant Antoni, every day feels like Sunday brunch.