Looking to experience the real culture of Barcelona without looking like a tourist? I’ve got you covered! Here’s everything you need to know about immersing yourself in local customs and attractions.
Situated in the northeast corner of Spain along the sea, the city of Barcelona is a must-see for many travelers in Europe. Boasting its own culture, unique to the rest of Spain, you’ll find a city rich with history, cuisine, friendly locals and plenty to see and do. While tourists love the city, you’ll find the locals love it even more – because they’ve found the things that make Barcelona a true gem.
I’m all about getting a more authentic traveling experience and for a real taste of Barcelona, strive to see the city as locals experience it. While you may still want to incorporate some traditional, tourist-friendly Barcelona attractions, there are lots of different ways you can make your vacation experience more authentic. Not sure how to achieve that? Here are some tips and tricks to help you make it happen:
Look for the beaches that the locals visit.
Barceloneta Beach is easy to get to, but it’s typically overrun by tourists, making it a not-so-relaxing spot to soak up some sun. Instead, look for the spots where the locals hang out along the shore. Those looking for a quiet, laid-back experience should check out Nova Mar, while families will have the most fun at Bogatell Beach, which offers plenty of facilities without as many club promoters and partygoers as you’ll find at some of the other beaches in the area.
Explore the city’s smaller markets.
Most tourists hit up the Boqueria Market along Las Ramblas, but those who overlook the smaller markets scattered throughout Barcelona are missing out on a great experience – and an excellent opportunity to pick up some one-of-a-kind souvenirs. You can find everything from flea markets to food markets around Barcelona with a quick Google search (or by asking your hotel receptionist or a friendly local). A couple of local favorites include the Mercat de Santa Caterina, open every day but Sunday, as well as the Mercat de la Concepció, known for its impressive assortment of flowers.
Admire the view from El Bunker Del Carmel.
Many locals consider this the best spot to enjoy a gorgeous view of Barcelona. One glimpse, and you’ll understand why. It’s far less crowded than some of the well-loved tourists spots for admiring the view and watching the sunset, like Montjuïc, making it a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Bring a picnic to enjoy at the top or simply travel up to enjoy the view and snap some photos. It’s not the easiest spot in the city to find, especially if you’re relying on public transit, but if you ask a friendly local to point you the way, odds are you’ll find the right spot!
Eat a late dinner…
You might be used to an early dinner back home, but if you’re striving to live like the locals while visiting Barcelona, you’ll want to shift your schedule back a bit. Many locals have a light breakfast, a late lunch (somewhere around 2:00 p.m.), and an even later dinner. It’s not uncommon to head out for dinner as late as 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., with meals stretching late into the night. As long as you aren’t committed to an early bedtime, try to have some fun and enjoy this late-night local custom.
… and indulge in the local cuisine.
Barcelona is known for its food. Home to lots of fresh seafood, tons of seasonal ingredients, and a variety of local specialties that incorporates the best of both, you can experience a tremendous amount of Barcelona’s culture through its cuisine. Look for restaurants off the beaten path, away from the tourist-filled parts of town, for a more authentic experience, or ask locals to recommend their favorite spot.
Catch a football game.
Football – known as soccer in America – is incredibly popular in Spain, and in Barcelona, local team F.C. Barcelona reigns supreme. If you’re a sports fan, consider splurging on tickets to a game to experience an energy you won’t find anywhere else. And even if you aren’t? It’s still worth the experience. F.C. Barcelona plays in Europe’s largest stadium, making it a sight to behold even if you aren’t in love with the same.
Grab a jersey before you go – not only will it help you blend into the crowd, it’ll make a great souvenir!
Get outside and get active!
The people of Barcelona are an active bunch, and it’s easy to see why. With so many easy outdoor escapes at their disposal, it’s easy to find somewhere to play outside and escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Head to nearby Montserrat and hike one of the area’s trails for a lung-busting trek, or explore Tibidabo Mountain, which rewards climbers with some of the best views in the area.
Stay in an Airbnb.
While there’s nothing wrong with choosing a hotel for your accommodations, if you’re really looking to experience a city like a local, why wouldn’t you choose to stay in authentically local accommodations? There are plenty of well-equipped vacation rentals in the heart of town for families and solo travelers alike to rest and relax at the end of a long day. Aside from the architectural touches and decorative elements that give vacation rentals a slight edge when it comes to authenticity, you’ll often find yourself staying in a neighborhood you wouldn’t otherwise explore as a tourist – which isn’t a bad thing!
Make new friends.
It won’t take long before you realize that the locals in Barcelona are a friendly bunch. They’re quick to strike up conversations in line, at bars, and in public spaces. Don’t hesitate to engage and talk back – it’s a fast way to make a new friend and find yourself loaded up with recommendations for the best things to see and do throughout the city from the perspective of someone who lives there.
While there’s nothing wrong with taking the tourist approach to exploring an unfamiliar place, there’s plenty of merit in trying to experience as much of a place as possible in a handful of days – and that often means seeking out the most authentic approach possible. Embrace these tips before you arrive in Barcelona for your next vacation, and you’ll have a blast experiencing the city like a local.