A “Locals” Guide to Barcelona, Spain

I might be using the term ‘local’ loosely, but I feel after a month in Barcelona, I definitely have a good sense of where to eat, what to do and where to go. So if you’re visiting the area, here is what I’d recommend:

Where to Eat in Barcelona:

Café Lolea: This tapas restaurant is known for their sangria. They actually started bottling it (in the cutest polka dot bottles) and selling it at local bodegas, and surprisingly, on Vueling flights. Which is actually pretty cool considering they’ve only been around for a few years. While I enjoyed the sangria, I actually enjoyed their tapas a lot more. In my opinion, one of the top three tapas restaurants in Barcelona.

Bo de B: An unassuming, tiny sandwich restaurant tucked right above the harbor. Be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes in line and then order through the open door before shuffling inside to pay. For €3.50, you get an overflowing sandwich, wrapped in foil for easy transport to the beach. They hollow out a delicious, freshly baked roll and fill it with freshly grilled chicken, steak or salmon and an odd mix of veggies (corn, lentils, olives, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cabbage). The secret to this incredible sandwich is the mix of four sauces they squirt on before and after filling it – tzatziki, spicy, some unknown green sauce and a mysterious white sauce. It sounds (and looks) kind of sketchy but trust me, it’s worth it. 

Bar Bodega Quimet: This is another of my top three tapas restaurants, this time in Gràcia, on a quiet side alley. It was a lively bodega with the quintessential wine barrels lining all four walls, a small beer tap when you walk in the door and a handful of tables scattered around the middle. It was packed when we walked in but we were seated fairly quickly. The tapas were pretty straight forward, but everything was delicious and it had a wonderful “neighborhood-hangout” feel. Before we left, a girl from the table next to ours leaned over to ask how we found out about this place. Jillian had read about it on a blog and the girl gave us kudos, she said this was a true locals place and it didn’t get many tourists. Just call us Catalonyan.

Brunch and Cake: Words cannot do this place justice. They take the oddest combination of foods and turn it into an edible masterpiece.

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This was a veggie burger with curry hummus, an ice cream cone, radishes, spinach and sweet potatoes. Their salads come in dustpans. Their sandwiches with a syringe filled with guacamole. And their red velvet cake is making my mouth water just thinking about it. They have a second location, Brunch and Cake by the Sea, near Barceloneta Beach and both always have a line, but it’s worth the wait.

Travel and Cake: Brunch and Cake’s sister restaurant that is lesser known, aka, doesn’t have a wait. It has a similar menu as the two Brunch and Cake restaurants, with a wider variety of dessert options – which makes this one my favorite of the three (and yes, I sampled all of them). I also ate the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had here. A bit of a walk to get here, but think of the extra steps as earning your dessert.

NAP: We were skeptical of finding good pizza in Spain after spending a month in Italy. But NAP hit the spot…and was a block and a half from our apartment! Tasty crust, perfectly cooked in a wood-fire oven, wine served in a water glass – what’s not to love?

Casa Gràcia: My friend told me about this place and I’m so glad she did as it rounds out my top three favorite tapas restaurants. It’s in the back of a hostel right on Passeig de Gràcia, the ritzy street in the middle of the L’Eixample neighborhood. The staff is incredibly friendly and the tapas delicious. The bathroom sink downstairs is hilarious:

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You wash your hands in the donkey’s stomach, from which the extra water drains into a bucket as if he’s peeing, and the hand dryer comes from the ass’ ass. There’s also a hidden door by the bathroom that leads you to an awesome bar with live music. It felt like a speakeasy where they mix fancy cocktails.

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Milk: A cute brunch/lunch spot near the beach with delicious salads and sandwiches. It feels a bit American so I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you’re only in town for a few days, but if you’re craving an American lunch, head here.

Surf House: The best place to eat on the boardwalk of Barceloneta Beach. I normally chalk these restaurants up as tourist traps, but this one offers great hamburgers, tacos and smoothies with a beautiful view of the ocean and front row seats to people watching.

La Pubilla: This one was pure luck that a) we found it and b) it happened to be so good. After enjoying the Gràcia Festival, we were walking around trying to find a place for dinner. Everything was PACKED, as in lines out the door and an hour plus wait. We were able to at least open the door at this little gem and they told us it would be a 10-minute wait, but we could grab a beer at the bar. Yes please! It turned out to have rather gourmet meals at a very reasonable price. We Googled it when we got home and it had a 4.6 star rating – lucky indeed.

FOC: This was another place I figured would be a tourist trap as it was on the main road by the harbor. But the margaritas were incredible and all nine of us had excellent meals. FOC offers a wide variety of Latin meals ranging from burritos to lomo saltado to homemade guacamole.

Coffee Shops: 

Barcelona is full of wonderful coffee shops and I found quite a few of them. I loved them so much, I figured I’d give them their own section.

Nomad Coffee: A true hipster hangout where they offer everything except normal drip coffee. Aeropress? Yep. Chemex? Of course. Cold Brew? Would you even consider it a hipster coffee shop without it? Nitro Cold Brew on tap? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll try it! When I ordered a Chemex, it took about 10-minutes for them to artfully brew it. The cappuccinos were some of the best in the city. And the Nitro Cold Brew was refreshing but so filled with caffeine that I was shaking for an hour afterwards. Nomad roasts all of their own beans so the shop smells wonderful all day long.

Asul Café: For as fancy as Nomad Coffee is, Asul offers regular ol’ drip coffee. It’s a mini mug and it’s not the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, but it’s still a cup of coffee. They also offer really good cakes to enjoy with your late-afternoon coffee while working.

Satan’s Coffee: Oddly, Satan’s Coffee is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, no idea why? But their aeropress made up for that frustration. It’s tucked into a back alley of the Gothic Quarter so it’s also a nice escape from the crowds.

Onna’s Coffee: This was recommended to me by my food tour guide and it was an awesome find. They make the best Flat Whites and they also taught me what a Flat White is: cappuccino with two shots of espresso. Although, I have since confirmed that a Flat White is not an Italian coffee, but rather an Australian drink that has recently become trendy. I’ll take it though.

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Milk and Co: Still undetermined if this is related to Milk, but it was the coffee shop place attached to our co-working space. Their coffee was pretty good and it’s definitely more of a coffee shop, which is why I list it here and they make a mean sandwich that I’d highly recommend.

What To Do In Barcelona:

EatWith (preferably Papa Serra): EatWith is huge in Barcelona, so sign-up for one and check out a local’s house, meet a few new friends and eat some delicious food. I’m partial to EatWith Tapas with Papa, but I’m sure there are others that are equally as great.

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Antoni Gaudí: You can’t go to Barcelona without seeing Gaudí, it’s literally everywhere (even the tiles you walk on down Passeig de Gràcia). My Gaudí recommendations are Park Güell and Sagrada Familia, although there are plenty of others you can check out, like Casa Milà, Casa Battló, Palau Güell, Cascada Fountain at Park de la Cuitadella…the list goes on and on.

Barceloneta Beach: This is the main beach of Barcelona. Fun fact: there was no beach in Barcelona until 1992. While the organizers of the Olympics were cleaning up the area, they flew in sand from the Sahara and built out what is now Barceloneta Beach. It’s crowded, the sand is oddly dusty and there are constant hawkers trying to sell you drinks, massages and shawls, but it’s so convenient to the city and let’s be honest, a beach is a beach. Apparently all of the locals hop on the train and head north or south to the real beaches. But it takes an hour plus to get to any of them and I was able to walk to Barceloneta, so I was happy to deal with the crowds and beach-sellers.

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Gràcia Walking Food Tour: Devour Barcelona is a great resource for finding wonderful restaurants. But their food tour was the perfect way to discover a neighborhood and the local cuisine.

Búnquers del Carmel: Although it takes close to an hour to make the trek up here, the view is 100% worth it.

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Lluis Manuel: Several years ago, my Mom and I discovered how comfy espadrilles are. I knew they were a Mediterranean shoe, but never really thought more about it. Turns out, they’re a Spanish shoe, originally from the Pyrenees but found throughout Spain. Lluis Manuel offers countless varieties, from traditional, flat espadrilles to heeled espadrilles to sneaker espadrilles. It’s rather fun to go in and see all of the styles and try on a few… but be prepared for the faint smell of feet that follows you in.

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Casa Milà/La Pedrera Jazz: Jazz on a roof, at sunset, with a glass of cava, enjoying Gaudí’s architecture. Is there any better way to experience it?

Paddle Boarding: I rented SUP paddleboards from Pukas Surf Eskola multiple times; it was a relaxing, peaceful way to spend the morning. The rental shop is right on the boardwalk and you’re free to paddle as long and as far as you’d like. But beware, one of the times we went, there were jellyfish EVERYWHERE! They were cool to look at from the safety of our paddleboards, but I made damn sure I stayed on that board!

Sunrise at the Beach: Barceloneta Beach faces west, which means it offers a gorgeous sunrise. It’s well worth the early morning wake-up call to check it out. And for added entertainment, a lot of people are still out from the night before, so you can people watch their drunken antics as they too, wait for the sunrise…before going to bed.

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Mercat de Santa Caterina: Take a walk through this huge, indoor farmer’s market and admire all of the fresh fruit, veggies, meat, fish and prepared foods. While I never made it to La Boqueria, I heard this was a much more local feel compared to the tourist market closer to La Rambla.

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Enjoy Bodega Wine: It doesn’t really matter what bodega you check out, just make sure you enjoy the novelty of filling up a 1.5 liter water bottle with cheap, tasty wine.

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Where To Go Around Barcelona:

Kayaking and Snorkeling in Costa Brava: Costa Brava is an hour north of Barcelona but feels worlds away. For as crowded and commercial as Barceloneta Beach is, this one feels like Europeans simply enjoying the ocean. The sea kayaking was really fun and although I’m not really one for snorkeling, it was pretty cool.

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Parc de Pedralbes: Need a break from the crowds? Feeling a bit overheated? Hop on the metro and head to Parc de Pedralbes. It’s a lovely park with huge trees that offer glorious shade with different fountains and statues tucked in small inlets as well as a beautiful castle at the top.

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Portugal: There are several cheap, short flights over to Portugal everyday. The country is absolutely worth a trip to check it out.

Valencia: Catch a train south to Valencia and experience another Spanish town, a bit smaller and quainter than Barcelona.

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