Barcelona the Local Way
Tips on the city's best coffee, art, dining, shops and more, from those who know best.
Even Better than you Think
When you ask people from around the world which European cities they want to visit, Barcelona will almost always be near the top of the list. And no wonder: The city is famous for its astounding array of Modernista architecture, art and design scene, and lively city beaches.
But it’s also so much more than that.
Spend your time here getting lost among the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, marveling at the grand towering buildings of the Eixample district and admiring the grungy street art of El Raval — each area of the city has its own distinct character. Barcelona also has many hidden corners, which visitors rarely explore, and a strong cultural identity totally distinct from the rest of Spain.
Locals Know Best
These features make for a one-of-a-kind city that locals Kat Affleck and Maria Rubio can’t get enough.
After coming to Barcelona eight years ago, Kat fell so completely in love with it that she decided to stay. Kat has a background in art and is the founder of ArtSpace, a company offering art and photography tours around the city. The tours focus on showing visitors the hippest contemporary galleries and the city's underground street-art scene. She also offers tours with a professional photographer and innovative art-themed fine-dining experiences.
Local Maria Rubio is from Barcelona and has lived here all her life, but she too knows how exceptional it is and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Maria is a musician who is currently studying music at university. She plays the clarinet in various groups, including Safolk, a popular Catalan folk band.
We asked both to share their favorite places in the city with us, so that visitors can enjoy Barcelona like a local too.
Tourist Trap to Avoid
While they’re not exactly tourist traps, Maria says she finds places like Gaudí’s Parc Güell and the Sagrada Familia far too busy and stressful, so she prefers not to go.
Kat, meanwhile, would never go to the Jamón Experience — a huge shop and cured ham museum, basically selling lots of overpriced ham. “It’s totally overrated and not just because I’m a vegetarian,” she says.
Tourist Trap That's Actually Really Cool
Maria says there are a few places where you can watch Spanish music and flamenco dancing, and “some are tourist traps, but some are really great, like at the grand Palau de la Música.” A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Modernista concert hall designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner features a stunning array of sculpture, mosaic, stained glass and ironwork.
Kat admits that all the Gaudí buildings are legitimately cool, even though they’re crowded and expensive. She suggests going to Palau Güell, because it’s one of Gaudi’s oldest buildings but also among the least visited.
Best Place to go for Live Music
Maria explains that top international acts play at the Palau Sant Jordi stadium on top of Montjuic hill, but that she prefers classical music at Palau de la Música, the grand Modernista music hall. She also likes Jamboree for live jazz.
Kat likes Sala Razzmatazz — a massive old-school nightclub located in the industrial part of the Poblenou district, and one of the most popular nightlife venues in the city. “I saw Canadian electronic singer Peaches perform there,” she says.
Best Fancy Dining Spot
Maria likes 7 Portes, a very traditional Catalan restaurant. “It’s one of the oldest restaurants in the city and has beautiful old wooden rafters,” she says. For a different kind of dining experience, she suggests El Nacional, an expansive 1920s-style dining hall filled with glittering old-fashioned lamps. “It has a few different restaurants inside, as well as a couple of bars.”
On special occasions, Kat likes to go to Cometa Pla — a biodynamic bar serving ecological cuisine. It uses fresh seasonal produce and stocks wines from small artisanal winemakers across the region.
Best Cheap and Greasy Dining
Maria says that Spanish fast-food chains such as Pans & Company, serving satisfying baguettes, and König, known for its German frankfurters, are her go-to places. For cheap cuisine with a bit of character, she heads to Pizza del Born, an old-fashioned Argentinian pizza bar, where pies are sold by the slice and 30 different options feature on the menu.
Kat agrees that Italian street food in Barcelona is both very good and very cheap. She loves the huge €2 pizza slices at Les Dues Sicílies, which has a few different outposts across the El Born district.
Best Place to See Local Art
Maria likes all the big art museums here, “such as the MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) or the Fundació Miró, which have their own collection, as well as changing exhibitions.” She also likes wandering around the area of El Born looking at all the small, charming galleries.
Kat says her art tours offer a great way to get to know the local art scene. She takes people around the Gothic Quarter, El Born and El Raval, showing them everything from street art to small galleries and outdoor sculptures, while also giving them an insight into the history of the areas. She also recommends Artevistas, “a contemporary art gallery in the Gothic Quarter, located in the same building where the artist Joan Miró was born.”
Hippest Shop in Town
“There are so many hip shops in Barcelona,” says Maria, “but I love the more quirky and independent ones in the district of Gracia the most.” She particularly likes Olokuti, a hippy-ish store filled with hand-stitched clothing, funky lamps, and books on yoga and healthy eating. She says the “owners are really kind” and even let people just hang out in their garden in the back if they need some quiet relaxation time.
Kat loves Base Elements, an urban art gallery featuring street and graffiti art for sale, tucked in among the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. She says the “owners are very cool, laid back and love to chat about the local street artists.”
Best Cup of Joe
Maria says that coffee is really good most places in Barcelona, but she prefers Tostaderos Bon Mercat — a cozy coffee shop in her local district of Sant Andreu. “They have different coffees from all over the world, and grind their beans onsite,” she says. In the last couple of years, the store opened up another branch in the center of the city near Plaza Sant Jaume, so it’s easier for visitors to try their coffee, too.
For her caffeine hit, Kat loves anywhere serving coffee from Cafés el Magnifico. Many cafes, she says, pour Magnifico brews, but her favorite is Enkel Bar, which also offers tasty brunches and craft beer.
Best Glass of Wine
“I love a glass of cold white wine from the local Penedès region of Catalonia,” says Kat. You can find this at Bodega Maestrazgo, a fourth-generation bodega in the heart of the El Born district, where you can sip vino surrounded by old wine barrels and shelves stacked with thousands of bottles.
Maria says she doesn’t often drink wine, but that Celler Cal Marino in the area of Poble Sec has a cool vibe, and is “decorated with wine barrel tables and bare brick walls.”
Maria explains that, while Barcelona doesn’t have its own special cocktail, vermouth is very popular. “It’s a strong fortified wine served ice cold, and it usually comes with a slice of orange or an olive.”
Kat, meanwhile, loves the pisco sours at Elephant — a hip and elegant restaurant and lounge bar located near Passeig de Gracia in the Eixample district.
Best Place to Learn About the City's History
“I learned most of it at school,” says Maria, “but there are lots of history museums for visitors.” She suggests booking yourself a local history walking tour to see vestiges of the past and look around the city while you’re learning.
Kat thinks the Barcelona History Museum is the best place to learn. It’s built over the ruins of the old Roman city and features walkways that allow you to view them from above.
Best Way to Entertain a Family
Maria likes to take her family to local neighborhoods that most tourists don’t know about, such as Sant Andreu, which dates back a thousand years and today features urban parks and modern facilities; La Sagrera, a quiet neighborhood with a popular historic center; and Horta-Guinardó, which features some of the city's best green open spaces.
Kat takes families visiting from out of town to eat, one of her favorite pastimes. She prefers many of the old, hidden tapas bars in the district of Gracia, some of which are owned by third or fourth generations of the same family.
Best Spot for a Day Trip
Maria thinks beach towns such as Calella, Blanes or Sitges are ideal places for a day trip because “the beaches in Barcelona city are far too crowded and touristy.” Kat prefers the beach town of Sant Pol de Mar — a pretty sweep of sand backed by rugged cliffs on one side and a charming little town on the other.
Maria also enjoys going to the mountains when it’s not hot enough for the beach. Her favorite place to go nearby is Montserrat, “which has some really great hiking routes.”
Best (and Worst) Month to Visit
Maria says that her favorite month is April, because “it’s neither cold nor hot, the air is fresh and everyone has a spring in their step.” Her least favorite is February, because “it’s so cold and is always raining.”
Kat “loves the time just before summer,” as the summers can be too hot and crowded with tourists.
Best Hidden Spot for Romance
Maria says that “anywhere with amazing views of the city is great for romance.” She likes going up to the Bunkers del Carmel, old war bunkers on the top of Turó de la Rovira hill, or to Collserola Natural Park, a mountain range tucked between the Besòs and Llobregat rivers.
Kat thinks “the Cactus Gardens on Montjuic Hill are both quiet and unique.” Officially called the Jardins de Mossèn Costa i Llobera, they feature over 800 different types of cacti.
Weirdest Barcelona Destination
“Barcelona is a pretty weird city in general,” exclaims Maria. “You can always find something strange going on." In particular, she says, "there are some pretty weird bars.” She recommends El Ciclista cocktail bar in Gracia, where all the furniture and decorations are made from old bikes.
Kat agrees, but she thinks the weirdest goings-on in Barcelona “can be found wandering around the streets.” The city, she says, is full of cool, quirky people.
What to Buy Before you Head Back Home
Maria believes that “Barcelona has the best food in the world, so you should take back a local product with you.” She suggests chorizo (a spicy type of sausage) or a local Catalan cheese.
Kat thinks there’s nothing better than buying a piece of local street art by Koniar or Pez “because you can find most types of tacky souvenirs in other cities. Art is the perfect thing to take home with you to remember your trip. Who knows, you might pick up something by the next Banksy.”
Barcelona Described in 5 Words
Maria simply exclaims: “The best place to live,” while Kat says: “Creative, Energetic, Changing, Colorful and Weird.”
Why Barcelona is Objectively the Best City on Planet Earth
Maria believes that Barcelona is the best because it’s surrounded by beaches and mountains, has many lively cultural festivals and is filled with amazing pieces of unrivaled architecture.
Kat keeps it simple, encouraging visitors to “come and see for yourself.”
What are you waiting for?