Barcelona is one of my favorite cities and I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend quite a bit of time there. Many of these books set in Barcelona (and beyond) have accompanied me on my travels to the capital of Catalonia and enhanced my travels along the way. This list aims to provide a varied perspective on the city, giving insights into Catalan (and Spanish) culture. 🇪🇸
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Books Set in Barcelona: Introduction
There are so many incredible books set in Barcelona, and this list introduces just a selection of those available in English. My most beloved title from this list is The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Centered around a library in Barcelona, it is one of the bestselling novels of all time. It’s the first novel in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, which is followed by The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven and The Labyrinth of the Spirits.
Another classic on this list of books set in Barcelona is the historical novel Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones. Set in the fourteenth century, it’s based on the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar; an iconic gothic church in the heart of the city and one of my favorite places in Barcelona. Netflix recently developed the tale into a drama series of the same name.
Books Set in Barcelona: Shortlist
If you’re short on time, these are my personal picks for books set in Barcelona:
- Nada by Carmen Laforet
- The Time of the Doves (aka In Diamond Square) by Mercè Rodoreda
- The City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
- The Color Of A Dog Running Away by Richard Gwyn
- Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
- Confessions by Jaume Cabré
Books Set In Barcelona
1. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, 1938
In 1936, originally intending merely to report on the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, George Orwell found himself embroiled as a participant – as a member of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity. Fighting against the Fascists, he described in painfully vivid and occasionally comic detail life in the trenches – with a “democratic army” composed of men with no ranks, no titles, and often no weapons – and his near fatal wounding. Note: this is set in the Catalonia region, including Barcelona.
2. Nada by Carmen Laforet, 1944
Carmen Laforet’s Nada ranks among the most important literary works of post-Civil War Spain. Loosely based on the author’s own life, it is the story of an orphaned young woman who leaves her small town to attend university in war-ravaged Barcelona. Residing amid genteel poverty in a mysterious house on Calle de Aribau, young Andrea falls in with a wealthy band of schoolmates who provide a rich counterpoint to the squalor of her home life.
3. The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet, 1949
The Thief’s Journal is perhaps Jean Genet’s most authentically autobiographical novel, personifying his quest for spiritual glory through the pursuit of evil. Writing in the intensely lyrical prose style that is his trademark, the man here reconstructs his early adult years – time he spent as a petty criminal and vagabond, traveling through Spain and Antwerp, occasionally border hopping across to the rest of Europe, always trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities. Note: This is set throughout Spain, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and Belgium.
4. The Time of the Doves (In Diamond Square) by Mercè Rodoreda, 1962
Barcelona, early 1930s: Natalia, a pretty shop-girl from the working-class quarter of Gracia, is hesitant when a stranger asks her to dance at the fiesta in Diamond Square. But Joe is charming and forceful, and she takes his hand. They marry and soon have two children; for Natalia it is an awakening, both good and bad. When Joe decides to breed pigeons, the birds delight his son and daughter – and infuriate his wife.
5. Marks of Identity (Trilogía Álvaro Mendiola #1) by Juan Goytisolo, 1966
An exile returns to Spain from France to find that he is repelled by the fascism of Franco’s Spain and drawn to the world of Muslim culture. In this novel, Juan Goytisolo, one of Spain’s most celebrated novelists, speaks for a generation of Spaniards who were only small children during the Spanish Civil War, grew up under a stifling dictatorship, and, in many cases, emigrated in desperation from their dying country. Note: this is set in Spain and France.
6. Tattoo (Pepe Carvalho #2) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, 1976
In a Spain still stifled under the rule of Franco, former CIA operative – and former Communist – Pepe Carvalho has become so cynical he seems to care about nothing except food and sex. He’s even taken to burning the occasional book in his Barcelona apartment, just so he can have a fire going in the fireplace when he eats some bacalhao. But when he sees the cops bungling a case he’s hired to investigate – that of a body pulled out of the sea – he’s roused by a sense of injustice. Note: this is part of the Pepe Carvalho series.
7. The Angst-Ridden Executive (Pepe Carvalho #3) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, 1977
When Antonio Jauma, a director of the multinational conglomerate Petnay, is murdered, his widow seeks out private investigator Pepe Carvalho, who had met and forgotten the playboy executive after their single chance encounter – back when Carvalho still worked for the CIA. Note: this is part of the Pepe Carvalho series. It takes place between Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Barcelona.
8. The City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza, 1986
A novel describing the rise of the unspeakable Onofre Bouvila, an honestly self-seeking mafioso who starts in the gutters of Barcelona and leaves a trail of broken egos as he climbs up to his place in the sun. A splendidly told, picaresque tale of a boy who rises from abject poverty to riches and power, and of Barcelona’s growth from a small provincial capital in to a metropolis.
9. The New Spaniards by John Hooper, 1987
The restoration of democracy in 1977 heralded a period of intense change that continues today. Spain has become a land of extraordinary paradoxes in which traditional attitudes and contemporary preoccupations exist side by side. Focussing on issues which affect ordinary Spaniards, from housing to gambling, from changing sexual mores to rising crime rates. John Hooper’s fascinating study brings to life the new Spain of the twenty-first century. Note: this one is not specifically about Barcelona, but provides great background about Spain in general.
10. The Lonely Hearts Club by Raúl Núñ, 1988
A night porter in a sleazy Barcelona hotel, the only thing the forty-year-old Antonio Castro has going for him is his resemblance to Frank Sinatra. Thinking he has nothing to lose, Antonio joins a lonely hearts club and into his life come a Perez Galdos widow, a dwarf poet, a gay barman. The Lonely Hearts Club is a novel of Barcelona. Its people and its places, the Ramblas, the Plaza Real, the Barrio Chino, are brought to life in a book that is outrageously funny but never loses sympathy with its characters.
11. Offside (Pepe Carvalho #14) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, 1988
The centre forward will be killed at dusk. To revive its sagging fortunes, Barcelona FC has bought the services of Jack Mortimer, European Footballer of the Year. No sooner has Mortimer taken possession of his company Porsche than death threats start arriving. Are they a hoax, the work of a loner or are they connected to the awesome real estate speculation that is tearing Barcelona apart? Note: this is part of the Pepe Carvalho series.
12. Homage to Barcelona by Colm Tóibín, 1990
This book celebrates one of Europe’s greatest cities – a cosmopolitan city of vibrant architecture and art, great churches and museums, intriguing port life and extravagant nightclubs, restaurants and bars. It moves from the story of the city’s founding, and huge expansion in the nineteenth century, to the lives of Gaudi, Miro, Casals and Dali. It also examines the history of Catalan nationalism, the tragedy of the Civil War, the Franco years, and the transition from dictatorship to democracy which Colm Tóibín witnessed in the 1970s.
13. The South by Colm Tóibín, 1990
Katherine Proctor has dared to leave her family in Ireland and reach out for a new life. Determined to become an artist, she flees to Spain, where she meets Miguel, a passionate man who has fought for his own freedoms. They retreat to the quiet intensity of the mountains and begin to build a life together. But as Miguel’s past catches up with him, Katherine too is forced to re-examine her relationships: with her lover, her painting and the homeland she only thought she knew. Note: this is set between Barcelona and the Pyrenees.
14. No Word From Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza, 1990
A shape-shifting extraterrestrial named Gurb has assumed the form of Madonna and disappeared in Barcelona’s backstreets. His commanding officer and best friend has sent off in pursuit, scrupulously recording his observations of a human life in the city while munching through vast quantities of churros. No stone is left unturned, no danger too much, in the search for his old pal Gurb.
15. The Man of My Life (Pepe Carvalho #21) by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, 1991
After a visit to Argentina, Spain’s most famous detective Pepe Carvalho is back in his beloved Barcelona and is swiftly embroiled in a murderous scandal amid the murky politics of 21st century Catalonia. When the son of a rich financier is murdered, Carvalho is called upon to investigate his mysterious death. In his quest for the killer, Carvalho has to infiltrate the world of Satanism and religious sects. Note: this is part of the Pepe Carvalho series.
16. Barcelona by Robert Hughes, 1992
Barcelona is Robert Hughes’s monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain. Hughes scrolls through Barcelona’s often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi’s sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern restaurant with a glass-walled urinal. The result is a work filled with the attributes of Barcelona itself: proportion, humor, and seny – the Catalan word for triumphant common sense.
17. Shanghai Nights by Juan Marsé, 1993
In impoverished post-civil war Barcelona, fourteen-year-old Daniel fills in time between school and starting work as a jeweller’s apprentice by taking on the care of an elderly and eccentric sea captain, whose campaign against a suspected gas leak exposes him to the ridicule of his neighbours. With little to enliven the grey atmosphere and dull routines of the battle-scarred city, Daniel becomes increasingly drawn to the beautiful and bed-ridden Susana, who spends her days dreaming of seeing her fugitive father, Kim, again.
18. A Light Comedy by Eduardo Mendoza, 1996
In the late 1940s the Civil War is over, and Franco is still very much in charge. Prullas, a once-popular playwright, pursues a crowded life in the stifling city. His producer wants him to persuade their rich patron Vallsigorri that they cannot use the third-rate actress Lili whom the backer has foisted on him. In the course of playing honest broker, however, Prullas starts an affair with Lili. Fate intervenes – Vallsigorri is murdered and Prullas is prime suspect, but as this is a light comedy, the ending is, to some extent, a happy one. Note: this is set in Barcelona.
19. A Woman Unknown by Lucia Graves, 1999
This beautifully nuanced memoir is a profound meditation on the three cultures – Spanish, English, and Catalan – that have shaped Lucia Graves’s life and thought. It is also a complex portrait of Spain under Franco. The author explores the patterns of love, sacrifice, and forbearance that mark not only her own life but those of many other Spanish women she has known.
20. Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 1999
In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts. His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. Note: this is a young adult novel.
21. Lizard Tails by Juan Marsé, 2000
A family of Republican sympathisers are still recovering from defeat in Spain’s harrowing Civil War. David has been deserted by his father, an alcoholic, political fugitive, and left alone with his pregnant mother. The fantasy world young David inhabits is fuelled by the films he sees at his local cinema and by images of war – Spitfires crashing into the sea, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima – and by the image of an RAF pilot, Captain O’Flynn, whose photograph from a magazine cover is pinned on his bedroom wall. Note: this one is set in Barcelona.
22. The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #1) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2001
Barcelona, 1945 – just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world.
23. The Best Thing That Can Happen to a Croissant by Pablo Tusset, 2001
A best seller in Europe, Pablo Tusset’s wickedly funny debut novel follows the hilarious, boozy, libidinous, and occasionally dangerous travails of Pablo “Baloo” Miralles, the wholeheartedly dissolute thirty-year-old black sheep of the staid Barcelona finance titans of Miralles & Miralles. This renowned Internet blogger, daytime sleeper, and dedicated hedonist is yanked into family business matters when the president of the business, his older, accomplished brother, disappears.
24. Gaudi: A Biography by Gijs van Hensbergen, 2001
At the time of his death in 1926, Antoni Gaudí was arguably the most famous architect in the world. He had created some of the greatest and most controversial masterpieces of modern architecture, which were as exotic as they were outrageous. But little is known about the shadowy figure behind the swirling, vivid buildings that inspired the Surrealists. This masterful biography brings both man and architect powerfully to life against the changing backdrop of Barcelona and Catalonia.
25. Barcelona the Great Enchantress by Robert Hughes, 2001
Robert Hughes has been a regular visitor to Barcelona since the 1960s and published a book about the city in 1992 that was quickly hailed as a classic. In Barcelona the Great Enchantress, Hughes crafts a more personal tale of his nearly forty-year love affair with the Spanish metropolis, one of the most vibrant and fascinating cities in Europe. Note: this is an update of Hughes title Barcelona, first published in 1992.
26. The Color Of A Dog Running Away by Richard Gwyn, 2005
Lucas, a musician and translator living in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, comes home one day to find a cryptic invitation. When he appears at the appointed time, he sets in motion a series of bizarre, seemingly interconnected events that disrupt his previously passive existence. He meets the alluring Nuria and they begin an intense love affair. He is approached by a band of Barcelona’s mythic roof dwellers and has a run-in with a fire-eating prophet.
27. Cathedral Of The Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, 2006
Cathedral of the Sea follows the fortunes of the Estanyol family, from their peasant roots to a son, Arnau, who flees the land only to realize spectacular wealth and devastating problems. During Arnau’s lifetime Barcelona becomes a city of light and darkness, dominated by the construction of the city’s great pride – the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar – and by its shame, the deadly Inquisition.
28. Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett, 2006
The appearance, more than sixty years after the Spanish Civil War ended, of mass graves containing victims of Francisco Franco’s death squads finally broke what Spaniards call “the pact of forgetting”—the unwritten understanding that their recent, painful past was best left unexplored. At this charged moment, Giles Tremlett embarked on a journey around the country and through its history to discover why some of Europe’s most voluble people have kept silent so long. Note: this one is not specifically about Barcelona, but provides great background about Spain in general.
29. Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, 2006
When Samuel, a lonely linguistics lecturer, wakes up on New Year’s Day, he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing more than passive verbs and un-italicized moments – until an unexpected visitor slips into his Barcelona apartment and refuses to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a stray, brindle-furred cat, leads Samuel from the comforts of his favorite books, foreign films, and classical music to places he’s never been (next door) and to people he might never have met (his neighbor Titus, with whom he’s never exchanged a word).
30. The Gaudi Key by Esteban Martín, 2007
In the early twentieth century, when Barcelona was celebrated as the center of modernist art and design, the grand master of an ancient religious brotherhood prepares to die – passing the care of a sacred relic to a prominent member of his order, the revered artist and architect Antonio Gaudi. The relic, an artifact dating back to the early Christian era, could prove disastrous if it were to fall into inappropriate hands and many secret societies, some driven by purest evil, inhabit the dark underworld that exists beneath the city’s brilliant creative glow.
31. The Angel’s Game (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #2) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2008
In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man, David Martín, makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city’s underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house lie photographs and letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner.
32. The Antiquarian (Enrique Alonso #1) by Julián Sánchez, 2009
An intriguing letter from his adoptive father, Artur, turns novelist Enrique Alonso’s world upside down. Artur, a well-known antiquarian in Barcelona, reveals that he has discovered an ancient manuscript, but he feels uneasy, as though he’s in over his head. But before Artur can piece together the final part of the puzzle, he is attacked and murdered. Enrique rushes to Barcelona to investigate his father’s death and retrieve the book.
33. The Barcelona Brothers by Carlos by Carlos Zanón, 2009
A gritty noir set in Barcelona’s savage underbelly. Epi Dalmau is a desperate man. Early one morning, he carries a duffle bag into a dingy bar in a rough neighborhood of Barcelona. Four other people are in the bar: his brother Alex, his good friend Tanveer, the bartender, and a Pakistani man who wandered in to use the restroom. Epi grabs a hammer out of his duffle bag and attacks Tanveer. After a brief struggle and a couple of blows, Tanveer lies dead on the floor and Epi flees the bar.
34. The Calligraphy of Dreams by Juan Marsé, 2011
When Señora Mir lays her body across the abandoned tracks for a tram that will never arrive, she presents Ringo Kid with a riddle he will not unravel until after her death. In Ringo’s Barcelona, life endures in the shadow of civil war – the Fascist regime oversees all. Inspired by glimpses of Hollywood glamour, he finds his own form of resistance, escaping into myths of his own making, recast as a heroic cowboy or an intrepid big-game hunter.
35. The Prisoner of Heaven (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #3) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2011
Barcelona, 1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julian, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past.
36. The Summer of Dead Toys (Inspector Salgado #1) by Antonio Hill, 2011
When the death of a vulnerable young witness in a case of human trafficking and voodoo causes the normally calm Police Inspector Hector Salgado to beat someone up, he is moved off the project and sent instead to investigate a teenager’s fall to his death in one of Barcelona’s uptown areas. As Salgado begins to uncover the inconvenient truths behind the city’s most powerful families, two seemingly unsolvable cases are set to implode under the hot Barcelona sun.
37. The First Wife by Emily Barr, 2011
What if the man you love isn’t the man you think he is? Lily, a young woman left alone in the world on the death of her grandparents, finds purpose when she befriends Harry Summers, a grieving widower, whose wife Sarah recently took her own life in Barcelona. The pair fall in love and Lily finally finds the security she has never had. But Lily’s life takes a darker turn when she realises there may be more to Sarah’s death than meets the eye.
38. Confessions by Jaume Cabré, 2011
At 60, Adrià Ardèvol re-examines his life before his memory is systematically deleted. He recalls a loveless childhood where the family antique business and his father’s study become the centre of his world; where a treasured Storioni violin retains the shadows of a crime committed many years earlier. His mother, a cold, distant and pragmatic woman leaves him to his solitary games, full of unwanted questions.
39. Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sánchez Piñol, 2012
Why do the weak fight against the strong? At 98, Martí Zuviría ponders this question as he begins to tell the extraordinary tale of Catalonia and its annexation in 1714. No one knows the truth of the story better, for Martí was the very villain who betrayed the city he was commended to keep. The story of Catalonia and Barcelona is also Martí’s story. A prestigious military engineer in the early 1700s, he fought on both sides of the long War of the Spanish Succession between the Two Crowns – France and Spain – and aided an Allied enemy in resisting the consolidation of those two powers.
40. Bay of Secrets by Rosanna Ley, 2013
Spain, 1939. Following the wishes of her parents to keep her safe during the war, a young girl, Julia, enters a convent in Barcelona. Looking for a way to maintain her links to the outside world, she volunteers to help in a maternity clinic. But worrying adoption practices in the clinic force Sister Julia to decide how far she will go to help those placed in her care. Note: this is set between Barcelona and Dorset.
41. Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss #3) by Stephanie Perkins, 2014
Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart. Note: this is set in New York, Paris and Barcelona.
42. The Time of Our Lives by Jane Costello, 2014
Imogen and her friends have had their fill of budget holidays, cattle-class flights and 6 a.m. offensives for a space by the pool. So when one of the group wins a VIP holiday at Barcelona’s hippest new hotel, they plan to sip champagne with the jet set, party with the glitterati and switch off in surroundings of unapologetic luxury. But as they mingle with movie stars, mafia bosses and millionaires, it becomes clear – with riotous consequences – that even in the most glamorous of locations, things can go wrong.
43. Meet Me in Barcelona by Mary Carter, 2014
A surprise trip to Barcelona with her boyfriend, Jake, seems like the perfect antidote to Grace Sawyer’s current woes. The city is dazzling and unpredictable, but the biggest surprise for Grace is discovering who arranged and paid for the vacation.
44. A Million Drops by Víctor del Árbol, 2014
Gonzalo Gil is a lawyer stuck in a disaffected life, in a failed career, trying to dodge the constant manipulation of his powerful father-in-law. This monotonous existence is shaken up when he learns, after years without news of his estranged sister, Laura, that she has committed suicide under dramatic circumstances. Her death pushes the fragile balance of Gonzalo’s life as both a father and husband to the limit. Note: this is set between Russia and Spain.
45. Origin (Robert Langdon #5) by Dan Brown, 2015
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement – the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Note: this is set across Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid and Budapest.
46. Nona’s Room by Cristina Fernández Cubas, 2015
An award-winning collection of six uncanny and atonal stories; from one of Europe’s most celebrated contemporary writers of short fiction. A young girl who is envious of the attention given to her sister has a brutal awakening. A young woman, facing eviction, puts her trust in an old lady who invites her into her home. A mature woman spends the night in a hotel in Madrid and falls into a time warp. Cristina Fernández Cubas takes us through a dark looking-glass into a world where things are never quite what they seem. Note: these stories are set in Barcelona & Madrid.
47. The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 2016
In this unforgettable final volume of Ruiz Zafón’s cycle of novels set in the universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, beautiful and enigmatic Alicia Gris, with the help of the Sempere family, uncovers one of the most shocking conspiracies in all Spanish history. Nine-year-old Alicia lost her parents during the Spanish Civil War when the Nacionales (the fascists) savagely bombed Barcelona in 1938. Twenty years later, she still carries the emotional and physical scars of that violent and terrifying time.
48. A Taste of Barcelona: The History of Catalan Cooking and Eating by H. Rosi Song, 2019
Barcelona is an international destination and culinary hot spot. It’s rich history and culture is of interest to both foodies and casual diners alike. This tour of the history and culture of the city, and its food scene over the centuries, will offer readers a glimpse into life in Barcelona.
What do you think of these books set in Barcelona?
Have you visited Barcelona before? Do you call Barcelona home? Do you know some great books set in Barcelona that we’ve missed? What are your favorite books set in Barcelona? I’d love to hear more about your own travels and tips for books set in Barcelona in the comments below!
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