After crossing the eastern side of Plaça Catalunya continuing to head seaward but not down Las Ramblas but to the left on Portal d’Angel from a distance all that appears is a sea of people ebbing and bobbing in and out of buildings that date back to the XIX century. The details on some of the facades are exquisite much like some of the buildings on Paseo de Gracia for example but it’s doubtful you’ll pay much attention to the architecture if you have your eyes set on shopping. Portal d’Angel is an enchanting shopping hub where anyone can find just about anything to buy.
Nestled between Plaça Catalunya and the main plaza of Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral, Portal d’Angel is a main artery that takes you to the heart of El Barrio Gotico as narrow cobblestone alleyways bleed off from its main path. Although I recommend getting lost down one of the smaller streets that shoot off from Portal d’Angel to see what curiosities and goodies can be found, spend some time wandering down this foot-traffic only promenade that has a certain charm that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
On either side of the wide walk-way stores hawking goods are butted up against one another much like that you would see at a shopping mall however this one happens to be outdoors. And like most shopping malls it is always packed with people that have consumption on the mind or bored teenagers that have nothing better to do than congregate in a public place. But shop owners don’t seemed to mind the hordes of people, which mean steady business especially for the smaller and older mom and pop shops that pre-date the majority of big branded stores that dominate the street like Massimo Dutti, Benetton, and Casas.
Here you can also find jewelry shops, ladies hosiery at the colorful Calzedonia as well as two Zara shops and two H&Ms. At the lower end of Portal d’Angel is a new and huge ESPRIT along with a bi-level Desigual.
Taking up a major part of the promenade is another El Cortes Inglés, which makes many people wander why and how would they build the same store less than a block away from its flagship store in Plaça Catalunya however this outlet is a tad smaller and its stock is primarily dedicated to sporting and entertainment goods. In need of a new tennis racket or DVD, go there. Teenage girls love the Bershka for its trendy clothing and accessories collection while just next door their more mature big sisters and moms pop into System Action for their boho fashions.
Nestled in between stores there are places for you to refuel or at least sample some of the foodie delights of the city. There is a requisite McDonalds for the less adventurous but you will also find plenty of hole-in-the wall heladerias selling fresh gelato and gofres (waffles drizzled with the sweetest syrups topped with whipped cream).
One of my favorite places is an incognito candy store tucked inside the entrance of a non-descript building that sells a variety of homemade turron (nougat confection that usually has almonds or other nuts). Look for the System Action and it´s in between that and this fun store that sells costume jewelry where the shop attendants give you mini-baskets to hold all your jewels while you shop.
At the other end of Portal d’Angel in the section nearest Plaça Catalunya is a small artisanal market set up on the side of the old Banco de España building. It’s comprised of a dozen little booths manned by artists selling handicrafts from handmade espadrilles made for toddlers to leather bags and bracelets. Be sure not to skip over the booths as you might find something irresistibly unique to take home with you. This area is also the only section that has seating for those worn out from shopping however good luck in finding a seat. The competition is fierce amongst elders and families with small children that need a break from walking.
Portal d’Angel also provides great people watching and entertainment. On any given day street musicians turn the promenade into their stage gathering huge crowds of people to watch in amazement. Some of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in Barcelona have been free and unscheduled down in Portal d’Angel so don’t be surprised to catch a dancing acrobat flying in the air in front of El Cortes Ingles and if you feel obliged leave a coin or two.
The only suggestion while ambling down Portal d’Angel is keep close watch on your belongings. The crowds can get very thick creating a pick-pocketers dream. During the heavy tourist season and on weekends the area is heavily policed but it’s wise to keep your wits about you as well as your wallet and all that you may have purchased.