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El Raval, Barcelona

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Spain's insider take:

In 1925, journalist Àngel Marsà described fetid El Raval (the slum) as a warren of thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes; the (mostly deserved) reputation stuck until recently, when a flurry of private and public initiatives—spiffed-up parks, museums, restaurants, and fashionable boutiques—infused El Raval, which borders the Ramblas close to the waterfront, with new life. The lower swath, nearest the port, still attracts some fairly unsavory characters, although regular crackdowns by police and mushrooming gentrification help. First up, visit MACBA a modern art museum surrounded by the best of the barri's new streets and plazas (1 Plaça dels Angels; 34-93-412-0810). Then head south along the palm-filled boulevard of Rambla del Raval, where the ethnic Monraval market thrives on Saturdays. About halfway down, the cylinder-shaped Barceló Raval hotel stands loud and proud, while next door a new film theater is taking shape.

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