The Men’s Guide to Shopping in Barcelona

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I previously wrote The Men’s Guide to Shopping in Bangkok and it was surprisingly wildly popular, being the number one article that draws most of my new readers to HDD (hello!).

Having just returned from Europe and with my mind fresh with the shopping experience and my wallet consequently emptied as well, I thought I would start a new series “The Men’s Guide to Shopping in ________”

And what better way than to start off with the city where Zara and Massimo hails from.

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 Preliminary Information :

Always do a market survey of your potential buys

Don’t you just hate it when you buy something abroad, thinking that you got such a good deal, only to realise that it was cheaper to buy it in Singapore? You literally flew across the globe to pay more for something that you could have gotten in your home country. It is truly a #facepalm moment.

So do your research. Walk around Spanish stores in Singapore and get a feel of the prices. Be an informed shopper.

Should I pay in Cash or Credit?

Let’s face it. We are Asians. It is in our Asian blood to save every penny that we can save. This is a concept that boggles the mind of Europeans / Westerners / Non-Asians in general. Asians are the only ones that pay everything in cash. Which, on hindsight is dangerous because that would make us prime targets for robbery since we are all so cash rich. Er. If there are any robbers reading this, pretend you didn’t.

Paying in cash ensures that you control the exchange rate and you know exactly how much you’re paying for a particular item. If you choose to charge it to your credit card, you will be subjected to bank’s foreign exchange rate, which usually sucks, or you may choose to charge your purchase in SGD on the spot, at the boutique. The cashier will inform you how much your purchases would be in SGD, and you will have to recollect your composure because your jaw will drop after hearing how horrifying the exchange rates are.

SO, my advice would be to pay in cash. But of course, if you are intending to spend a lot, it might be safer to go with a credit card.

VAT Refund :

It should come as no surprise that as tourists in Barcelona, we are entitled to claim a refund of the tax that we pay for the goods we buy. If you thought that the prices in Zara are already attractive enough given that they are generally 30-40% cheaper than the prices in Singapore, let’s just go right ahead and subtract another 21% off the bill because that’s how much the VAT is in Barcelona. Does that not make your heart leap with joy?

However I must caution that even though the VAT is 21%, you will not be getting back the full 21% at the refund office because for every transaction processed, there is this devilish thing called the administrative fee. That lessens the joy a little bit, but it still exists nonetheless and the savings are still substantial, (depending on how much you buy).

What is the procedure to get VAT?

1. You purchase something in a shop (duh) and you request for a VAT refund form (explained below)

2. Before you leave the EU, you go to the VAT refund counter in the airport and you get your VAT Refund Forms chopped by the customs officer. They may or may not require you to physically show them the goods purchased.

Note that you can only do this before you leave the EU. (There is an exception for outlet stores, but that’s a Men’s Shopping Guide post for another time). I’m going to spin you a tale of woe of how six foolish young men and women woke up early in the morning to make a trip down to a tax refund counter in the city in hopes of claiming back our VAT before continuing our trip to Italy. We were turned away at the counter because we were told that we could only claim VAT if Barcelona was our last EU country before we headed back home. I swear, our faces could not have been blacker.

3. You choose either to get back the VAT in cash, or via a credit through a credit card in your name. PRO TIP : Get the amount back in credit. I did my VAT in London Heathrow Airport and if all the EU airports are the same, they will charge a transaction fee of about £2 (approx €2.7) for every receipt processed. What this means is that if you have a VAT refund of £5 for a particular receipt having spent around £50 (10%), you will only get back £3 after deducting the transaction fee. That’s nearly 40%!!! What a day-light robbery that is.

What requirements must I satisfy to get VAT refund?

1. You must spend more than €90.15 in the shop. It is not necessary you to spend the amount in a single receipt. If you are a fickle-minded shopper and you make your purchases one item at a time, fret not. You can combine your receipts to reach this amount.

2. If I’m not mistaken, you must leave the EU within 21 days after your purchase, failing which you will not be entitled to claim the VAT refund. The shop attendants will ask you when you are departing the EU when you make a request for the VAT refund form (explained below).

3. You must ask for a VAT refund form at the boutique where you purchased the item. If you don’t have this, you will not be able to receive any refund at the airport when you leave the EU. I witnessed this poor frazzled lady at the London airport wishing to claim VAT for a few stuff she bought, but because she did ask for a VAT refund form from the boutiques she purchased from, they could not process the refund for her. She walked away with such regret I cannot even…

4. ALWAYS HAVE YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU. When you are at the counter and making payment, let the cashier know that you wish to claim VAT because you are a visitor. They will require some form of identification to confirm that you are a tourist (domiciled in a non-EU country), and the best way to do that will be to ask you to produce your passport. So best to bring your passport with you.

5. Your goods must be new (apparently). Now this is highly debatable because we have heard different experiences from others, but the official position is that if you wish to claim VAT for goods purchased in Barcelona, or in the EU for that matter, you cannot use the goods. They have to be new with the tags attached. The reason behind this is, as explained above, there is a possibility that the customs officer might require you to show your purchases as proof. And they will check if these goods are new. So best to err on the side of caution.

6. You must have a credit card in your name.

Getting Around :

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Transport in Barcelona is rather reliable, so there should be no fear of getting lost. I strongly recommend downloading this app called Citymapper (Android / Apple). For nearly the entire trip, we relied on this app to get us from point to point. It tells you what bus to take, what metro to catch and how long it will take you to get there. It was a life saver.

If you are using the metro, get the T10 card. The T10 card entitles you to 10 trips, which can be shared among multiple people so it was really worth it for my group of six. More importantly, if you are transferring between buses / metros within the time period of 1 hour and 15 minutes, it counts as a single journey and there will be no deduction from your card. How awesome is that?!

Shopping :

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La Rambla

Where is it? : Central Barcelona

How to get there? : Take a metro to Catalunya

Now that we have dealt with all the nitty gritty details, it’s time to talk substance. In my short, short stay in Barcelona, I only visited one shopping district, and that was already sufficient enough to fill my entire day hopping from one shop to another.

La Rambla is a street in central Barcelona that is peppered with brands everywhere. Twitch your head and you’ll see a Zara. Squint your eyes and you’ll catch a glimpse of a Massimo Dutti. Crack your knot in your neck and you’ll chance upon Bershka. Better yet, do a double take as you see a second Zara. Is that an aberration? Nope, it’s not. Zara is really just everywhere. In fact, I walked into at least three Zara outlets when I was at La Rambla. Each Zara carries largely the same range of clothes, but some may be tailored more to street-wear, while another focuses exclusively on executive wear. You’ll be spoilt for choice.

You’ll notice that I have only mentioned Zara and Massimo Dutti. That is because, of all the shops that I frequented in Barcelona, these two appeal to me the most. I’ve walked in Mango Men, Bershka, Springfields, H&M, and I still find myself going back to Zara and Massimo. The prices and the designs are really that good.  Girls will be girls, and they will be attracted almost all the stores that they walk past. But for the guys, focus your energy on these two brands. You simply cannot go wrong.

Because there are many shops / outlets within La Rambla, this is what I suggest you should do. Take note of the things that you wish to buy, and walk around. There might be other collections which pique your interest more, and you’ll be grateful that you didn’t make an impulse purchase. It is very easy to get sucked in to the attractive prices. In my head I was trying my darnest to fight all the demons within, telling me to “JUST BUY, IT’S SO DARN CHEAP”. Being level-headed is key.

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Actually, I might not have been very level headed at all.

Food :

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What will we be but emptied shells if we don’t fuel up for an entire day dedicated to shopping for new threads? I’ve theorised (hopefully accurately) that Barcelona is famous for two things : (1) Tapas and (2) Sangria. I’m crazy about the latter, ambivalent about the former, only because Tapas features mainly seafood and I’m not such a big fan of eating things from the sea. Unless its stingray I love stingray.

So, when I say that the below-mentioned places are must-gos for Tapas, they really are must-gos.

Cerveceria Catalana

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Where is it? : Calle Mallorca 236 , 08008 Barcelona , Spain

How to get there? : It is very near La Rambla, so I suggest walking here after shopping

This was my first time at a Tapas Bar and I must say I enjoyed myself thoroughly. The food was incredible, the price was reasonable, and the service was efficient and personable. There were hardly any pictures taken of the food because we were so damn hungry by the time the food arrived, everyone devoured it within minutes.

If I have to recommend what you must order, I would recommend the : (1) Potato Bravas (2) Beef Tenderloin (photographed above) and (3) Spanish Omelette. If you are in a group, order a jug of Sangria. You’ll note that I’ve failed to mention any seafood tapas. That’s because I’m biased and don’t like seafood. I like meat.

But what the heck, you can’t go wrong with the above-mentioned three recommendation.

Quimet & Quimet

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Where is it? : Calle Mallorca 236 , 08008 Barcelona , Spain

When does it open? : Monday to Friday from 1200hrs – 1600hrs & 1900hrs – 2230hrs. Saturday from 1200hrs – 1600hrs. Closed on Sundays.

Described as Barcelona’s best and most iconic tapas bar, this quaint little tapas bar saw 8 law-grads huddled over a tiny tiny table, filling the entire restaurant with raucous laughter interspersed with random outbursts fueled by alcohol.

Eating at this bar was a dining experience because it was so crowded, everyone had to stand up, and orders were being shouted over patrons’ heads while we jostled others in hopes of reaching the counter to receive our order. If there is a phrase that can accurately describe the restaurant’s operating motto, it would be no frills. There will be no pleasantries exchanged at the entrance of the bar, no host to wait on you while you take your time to browse through the menu, no cups of water served while you wait for your food. They have stripped everything down to its bare minimum. You find a table, you make your order, you’ll get your food when it is done. Period. Think of it as a Spanish incarnation of a Hong Kong dim-sum restaurant.

It might sound horrifying, but it was actually an incredible experience.

I won’t lie and wax lyrical about the food because I can barely recall how it tasted, but if I am to interpret the ecstatic looks my friends gave when they sank their teeth into the canapes, I’d have to say that the food must have been really amazing. Plus, it had a 4.5 star rating out of 152 reviews on Yelp.com, so you can bet that you’ll have a culinary feast when you dine here.

I have to warn you though, if you are claustrophobic, you might want to give this place a miss. Or you might just wish to overcome your phobia and immerse yourself in this epitome of Barcelona culture.


That is all that I can recall from my experience in Barcelona. It was truly a beautiful city and I regretted not being able to spend more time in it. But, I’ve decided to regard this trip as a sample trip. Now that I know how Barcelona is like, I’d be sure to return again one day.

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