Experience Barcelona like a local
I have the good fortune to have a friend, born and bred in Barcelona, who kindly took me by the hand, sometimes literally, to let me experience Barcelona like a local. Of course, there are many places every visitor to Barcelona just has to see, like the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi buildings, the Liceo and Palacio de la Musica or the Montjuic mountain and park. But, there is plenty left that only insiders know about and here they are revealed to you.
Gothic Quarter and Synagogue
Stretching between La Rambla and Via Laitana, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a warren of alleys and side streets, punctuated by lovely squares. You’ll find some medieval buildings, churches, museums and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
The insider tip is this: look down not up, and you’ll see plaques inlaid in the pavement. These are a ‘walk of fame’ awarding particular merit to Barcelona’s most traditional shops. All of them are worth a visit because they are so quaint and all specialized in one thing only. There are those which make baskets, hats, perfume, buttons and ceramics. On weekends, Plaza del Pi turns into an open air art market. Local painters exhibit their works and are more than happy to explain them to you.
If it hadn’t been for my friend, I would have walked right past one of the most impressive buildings. It’s one of the oldest and smallest synagogues in Europe. Known as Synagogue Mayor in the Middle Ages it was used for many purposes and built over until Archeologists did research and discovered the original synagogue. The entrance is so tiny that you have to bend in half to be able to get through. For a small fee, a guide will explain the history to you, or you can read more about the History of El Call and the synagogue here.
Carrer de Marlet 5
Then make your way to Carrer del Bisbe and admire an elaborately carved and adorned bridge which connects two buildings.
Experience Barcelona like a Local – Shopping
La Boqueria is the name of the oldest and most famous market in Barcelona. The wrought iron and stained glass structure has a fascinating history. Upon entering, you find yourself surrounded by a riot of color and scent. There isn’t a fruit or vegetable in the world that isn’t on offer in La Boqueria. It may be a tourist attraction, but locals frequent it as well. Go further inside and walk around the fish section. The best and freshest fish is sold here, including different kinds of oysters, live lobster, and caviar.
Address La Boqueria
La Rambla 91
For bread, pastries and a Barcelona specialty called ‘flauta’ which is a very crisp short baguette, Barcelona housewives make their way to the Bakery Fleca. The shop is small and old, the merchandise fresh and delicious and the service attentive and personalized.
Address Bakery <flece
Carrer de Balmes 156
As far as department stores are concerned, Barcelona has a unique option. Las Arenas is the former main bullring. It took ten years and a lot of money to convert the bullring into a futuristic shopping mall, preserving the unique shape and the outer façade. You’ll find many brand names as well as smaller stores, three cinemas, a huge supermarket in the basement and restaurants from Spanish to Italian to Chinese and more on top. Take the outdoor glass elevator which affords a splendid view over the city.
Address Las Arenas
Carrer Pierre de Coubertin 10
Fashionistas and there are plenty in Barcelona, stroll along Paseo de Gracia. One designer boutique after another from Chanel to Gucci invite to window shopping, so you are up to date with the latest fashion trends. And if you want to spend a few nights feeling like a star, check in at the El Palauet – a unique and luxurious Boutique Hotel with a stunning design.
Where Locals Eat
The people of Barcelona like to go out for a meal or to entertain. The choice is enormous, so I’ll restrict myself here to just two local favorites.
La Bombeta is as quirky as they come. The tiny tapas bar in the former fishing district Barceloneta offers a signature dish called: Bombeta. It’s like a huge croquette filled with mashed potatoes and ham or mushrooms, served with a very spicy pink sauce. What makes this restaurant so unique is the atmosphere. It’s famous for having the rudest waiters in the city! It’s very crammed and you have to wait in line for a table. The owner stands at the door, writes down your name and shouts it inside. In due course, you are called in. In the meantime, he entertains his customers with magic tricks, like pulling a coin out of your ear. It’s just a fun experience you will find nowhere else.
Address La Bombeta
Calle de la Maquinista 3
El Nacional is quite the opposite. Located in a passage just off Paseo de Gracia, the building alone is worth a visit because of its colorful history. Built in 1889 it served as a theater café, a factory, a car dealership and a garage until it was finally converted into an upscale restaurant preserving the ¡industrial¡ decoration complemented with pillars, glass and plenty of plants and palm trees. It’s divided into several sections, each of which specializes in another typical dish of the Spanish peninsula. You find a Brasserie, a seafood section, a cheese section, a cocktail and an oyster bar as well as the best beers, wines and spirits Spain has to offer. Tables seat no more than four at a time to avoid it becoming popular with coach tourists. Or you can sit on a bar stool, having your steak prepared before your eyes. Naturally, there is another island with mouth watering desserts and fruit.
Address El Nacional
Paseo de Gracia 24 bis
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Hotels in Barcelona range from Budget to Luxury and you can choose from a wide variety of options. First, you should pick an area within the city, that speaks to you. Take a look at our article on where to stay in Barcelona about the various neighborhoods and hotel recommendations for each area or search directly for the best deals on Hotels in Barcelona here.
Experience Barcelona like a Local: Nightlife
There is only one location for the insider: the port of Barcelona. The latest in cool venues is a bar called Blue Wave. Sitting on top of the multi-million dollar yachts in the private marina, the bar has won several interior design awards. The theme is water and waves, and it’s implemented beautifully. The bar is in the shape of a wave, the outer perforated wall which faces the water, symbolized the foam and spray thrown up by breaking waves. At night it’s illuminated in magical blue. The terrace with wooden floors and booths is a reminder of Barcelona’s rural surroundings. But it’s more than just a bar. From 26th February onwards, they stage events from 10 am to 10 pm every Sunday. There will be painters who will do your portrait, fashion shows, events for kids and presentations from famous gin and whiskey brands where you get drinks at half price. The DJ is keen on playing the songs of up and coming bands.
Address Blue Wave
Carrer de circumval Iacio Tram
If you wish, you can party all day and all night.
Barcelona like a Local – General Useful Information:
To get around use the Metro not the bus. Buses get stuck in traffic. The metro system is widespread, and the trains run frequently. Get a Metrocard, and you are off.
If you stay a minimum of three days, you might want to get a Barcelona Card. Admissions to museums are quite expensive; even churches charge entry fees. With the Barcelona Card, you can save time and money.
Remember the Spanish siesta from 2 pm to 5 pm. Smaller shops close, department stores stay open. Spanish people eat later. Lunch starts at 2 pm, dinner at 8 pm or even later.
Enjoy Barcelona like a local with these insider tips and don’t be put off by the Catalan language. People will quickly switch to Spanish, and many speak English.
And if you have an extra day, you should plan to go on a day trip outside the city – to Montserrat, to be exact. The landscape is mesmerizing and you can enjoy splendid views of this amazing scenery.
Recommended Guidebooks for Barcelona and Spain:
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