We’ve all followed a man with an umbrella around a city’s major sights, but Barcelona now offers a slew of specialist tours. Marissa Tejada signs up for a shopping tour, that incorporates design, fashion and food into its agenda…
To block the glare of the Mediterranean sun, personal tour guide Niki Robinson lifts her hand over her brow. She then peers carefully into a window of a quaint clothing boutique tucked in one of the dozens of cobblestone streets in the historic heart of Barcelona.
“It’s closed,” she confirms, quickly turning her heel. “Well, for now.” I follow her lead; she knows exactly where to go next. “That’s Spain. Store hours aren’t consistent.”
When Spanish / Catalan hours allow them, Robinson and her business partner and fellow freelance designer Lisa Richardson lead shopping and personalized tours that uncover the best of fashion, design, food, antiques and furniture. Through their business, Antiques and Boutiques, they map out a trail of the city’s hotspots for tourists that they would likely otherwise miss.
And whilst the fickle local opening times prove something of an occupational hazard for the two ex-London girls, being here in the city helps them keep right on top of the scene. “Shops open and close quickly. Although you may read a guidebook or do internet research it may not be up to date, even in design books.”
My personal tour continues through the charming maze of streets in the El Born district. What was once a mediaeval meeting place for jousts is now one of the trendiest parts of the city where a plethora of tiny shops, cafes, bars and eateries are set in and around cobblestone streets, lively squares and buildings adorned with high and tiny balconies. In her stylish loose white top and vintage flats, this English expat navigates the way with ease. She clearly has an eye for style and knows where to find it in her adopted hometown of six years.
“People want to get to know Barcelona in a different way. I think it’s a great city, a unique combination of Mediterranean and modern,” says Niki. “It’s truly a creative, amazing and exciting place. In a moment’s notice something can take a turn and everything can change.”
She happily keeps up the changes to make sure her clients get the best taste of the city’s flea markets and food markets, little vintage places, designer boutiques, fantastic shoe shops, local tapas joints and contemporary to antique furniture shops.
“We recently had a client on the hunt for devotional antique art. We also had a costume maker fly in who was searching for creative inspiration. We’ve toured the city for interior décor for yachts. One person was just interested in types of glassware.”
“People want to get to know Barcelona in a different way. I think it’s a great city, a unique combination of Mediterranean and modern,” says Niki.
Niki also adds that no tour is the same. They are prepared with where to go and what to suggest.
“We do research and have a questionnaire. We ask what brands they like, what color palette, price range or labels they prefer. We can introduce them to local designers they’d love in Barcelona, local designers like Menchen Thomas, Hoss Intropia or Cortanta. But there are a range of international designers here too. Then if they are looking for vintage we take them to districts like Born, Gotic, Champleau, Gracia which rival for the best of it.”
My tour gave me the works of what Antiques and Boutiques reveals to its shopping aficionados. We admired beautiful dresses by Spanish designers, browsed selections of leather belts and handbags, compared local jewelry designs and headed into a few shops lined with unique pairs of leather shoes.
In just a few hours time I had discovered the endless shopping possibilities in Barcelona and one of Niki’s best suggestions was yet to come. She highly recommended a stop at a little tapas joint in El Born called El Xampanyet. It turned out to be one of the city’s best known champagne or cava bars famous for its delectable and simple tapas. With a full bottle of fizzy, cold cava at my disposal, I easily mapped out my next full-shopping day in the city. I realized it was a rare kind of plan that a tourist can acquire; it was one solely based on my style preference.
“Our focus is toward the individual city we are in and that shows because sometimes people get emotional,” says Niki. “They really have a great time and feel like they’ve discovered the city in a unique way seeing the things they are interested in but probably wouldn’t find on their own.”
Marissa was an invited guest of A&B. Prices are €240 per person for a four-hour tour. For more information about their services, or to book a tour, check out: www.antiquesandboutiques.com.
Other Alternative Tours in Barcelona
A&B aren’t the only original way to explore the Catalan capital… here are three more innovative tour companies changing the way tourists discover the city.
Steel Donkey Bike Tours
One of the first proponents of alternative tourism in the city, Steel Donkeys explore the ‘hoods and hidden treasures that most bike tours simply don’t reach. Underground stories, contemporary architecture, squat houses, street art, vintage shopping and stopping off for chocolate and churros or tapas at a neighbourhood joint are all part of what make this different to your mainstream biking experience. They only ride in groups of 2 to 8 people, so you won’t feel like another tourist on the treadmill.
Barcelona Street Style
This being a hip, liberal, counter culture city there’s a vibrant street art scene taking place across the City of Counts. Shutter art, murals, doctored street signs and even sculptures made out of household garbage can all be scene. Barcelona Street Style in fact have three tours… a separate walking tour of Gotico/El Born and Raval, and a bike tour of Poblenou. The walks are free (although tipping is highly encouraged!).
The Barcelona Taste
There’s been an explosion of Barcelona food tours in recent years, but kudos to The Barcelona Taste who pretty much started it all. Their in-depth tours mix in culture and sightseeing as you go for a tapas crawl around the labyrinthine streets of the Gothic Quarter. A fraction pricey, but foodie’s should find it a worthwhile experience indeed.
Foto Ruta BCN
Exploring the Catalan capital through the eye of the lens is a great way to see the little details of a city that can make it so fascinating, whether it’s laundry blowing in the wind, people watching in a picturesque plaza, or the reflections in a barber shop window. Find out what happened when Urban Travel Blog blazed a trail through the city with their DSLR right here, or check out their website for more on their streetscape and iPhonegraphy tours.
For even more ideas of what to do in Barcelona be sure to check out our all-you-need-to-know weekend guide to the city.