Whether you're a frequent visitor or a first-timer, taking a local approach when it comes to eating, drinking and other amusements offers a rewarding way to experience the city. Catalans are a friendly bunch, but they have seen their city taken over by tourists in recent years; you’ll find them much more open if you try and blend in as much as you can. This means not walking around in beachwear, not carousing in the streets late at night, and perhaps attempting to learn a few words in Spanish (or, even better, Catalan).
When to Dine
In Barcelona, and elsewhere in Spain, meal times run late. Most restaurants don't open for dinner until 8.30pm or 9pm and close at midnight or 1am; peak dining time is around 10pm. Locals commonly have lunch between 1pm and 4pm. This is then followed by a nice long siesta (a loll on the beach or in one of the parks is a fine choice when the weather is pleasant). Locals aren't big on breakfast – a croissant and a cortado (espresso with milk) is a typical way to start the day.
Water & Wine
Lunch or dinner, wine is always a fine idea, according to most barcelonins. Luckily, many restaurants offer menú del día (daily set menu) lunches that include a glass of red or white. If you become a regular, waiters may give you complimentary refills or even leave the bottle. Of course, you can also opt for another drink.
A word on water: no one drinks it straight from the tap (taste it and you'll know why). Order agua mineral, either con gas (sparkling) or sin gas (still).
When hunger pains arrive in the afternoon or early evening, locals head out for a pre-dinner tapa. This means heading to the local favourite for a bite of anchovies, sausage, squid, wild mushrooms, roasted peppers or dozens of other tempting morsels. Wine, cava and beer all make fine accompaniments.
Many tapas spots are lively stand-around-the-bar affairs; Bormuth and Vaso de Oro are great places to start. When it's time for a change of scenery, barcelonins might make their way to dinner or just head to another tapas bar and skip the sit-down formality altogether.
Local Meal Spots
La Rambla is fine for a stroll, but no local would eat there. The same holds for Carrer Ferran and other tourist-packed streets in Barri Gòtic. The Gòtic does, however, have some local-favoured gems, particularly on the narrow streets of the east side – such as Onofre and Cafè de l’Acadèmia. For a more authentic neighbourhood dining experience, browse the streets of El Born, Barceloneta, El Raval and Gràcia.
Many barcelonins head out of town at the weekends. That could mean skiing in the Pyrenees in winter, or heading up the Costa Brava in summer. Those that stick around might check out flea markets or produce markets, head to the beach or have an outing in the park. The parks are liveliest at weekends, when local musicians, picnickers, pop-up markets and playing children add to the city's relaxed air. Culture-craving locals might hit an art opening – openings at CCCB and MACBA are good fun – see a rep film – Filmoteca de Catalunya has intriguing fare – or catch a concert, at Jazz Sí Club or Sala Apolo, perhaps.
The Sunday Feast
Sunday is typically the most peaceful day for Catalans, and a fine occasion for gathering with family or friends over a big meal. Lunch is the main event, and many restaurants prepare Sunday-only specials. Lots of places close on Sunday nights too, so it's worth lingering over a long multi-course lunch. A rich paella in Barceloneta – try Barraca or Can Ros – followed by a long leisurely stroll along the waterfront is always a hit.
Festivals & Other Events
One of the best ways to join in local amusement is to come for one of the city's big festivals. During summer (June to August), Música als Parcs features 30 or so open-air concerts at a dozen parks in Barcelona, and free concerts are held at various venues around the city. Stop in at a tourist office for the latest schedule. Other great open-air concerts that goes through summer include Festival Piknic Electronik and Festival Pedralbes.
If you can read some Spanish (Castilian), browse the latest art openings, film screenings, concerts and other events in the Guia del Ocio (www.guiadelocio.com), Time Out Barcelona (www.timeout.cat) or daily papers like La Vanguardia (www.lavanguardia.com) and El Periodico (www.elperiodico.com). Friday papers list the weekend's events (most with pull-out supplements) and are often worth a read, even if your Spanish is limited. The council website (barcelonacultura.bcn.cat) also lists upcoming events.
FC Barcelona plays a prominent role in the city's imagination. Heading to a match at Camp Nou from September to May is the best way to catch a bit of Barcelona fever, but watching it on screen at a tavern can be just as much fun depending on the crowd. For the most fervent fan base, head to Barceloneta, El Raval, Gràcia or Sarrià, where you'll find lively spots to catch a game. The daily journal Marca (www.marca.com) gives the latest on sporting news.
Tickets can be bought at www.fcbarcelona.com or FC Botiga.
The traditional Catalan folk dance sardana still attracts a small local following. On weekends aficionados gather in front of La Catedral for group dancing to a live 10-piece band. The action happens at 6pm on Saturday and noon on Sunday and lasts about an hour.
Need to Know
- Miniguide (miniguide.es) Culture, food, nightlife, fashion and more; published 10 times a year.
- Barcelona Cultura (barcelonacultura.bcn.cat) Upcoming cultural fare, including concerts, exhibitions and festivals.
- Spotted by Locals (www.spottedbylocals.com/barcelona) Reviews of favourite spots – restaurants, bars, cinemas, galleries and more, written by local residents/expats.
- Barça Central (barcacentral.com) The latest about FC Barcelona.
- In & Out Barcelona (www.inandoutbarcelona.net) New restaurants, bars, cafes, shops and clubs with lovely photos – in Spanish.