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The Catalan capital abounds with popular tourist attractions, yet there are times when you just want to experience the city like a local. Here are some of the most non-touristy things to do when in Barcelona.
Once upon a time, it was the law that all restaurants in Spain needed to offer an affordable lunchtime menu so that workers could get a decent meal. Today, while no longer a law, many restaurants continue to serve a menu del día or menu of the day, which usually consists of three courses and a drink for as little as €8. Available from Monday to Friday, this is an excellent way to experience some authentic cuisine and rub shoulders with the locals.
While the Boquería market is the city’s most famous food market – and plenty of locals still shop there – avoid the tourist crowds and head to Saint Catherine or Saint Anthony’s markets instead. Don’t be lured by the punnets of freshly cut fruit or fruit juices that some stalls have started to offer, as these are designed for tourists who want a quick, on-the-go taste of the market culture. Try shopping for some edible souvenirs instead, such as jamón Iberico, tinned seafood, pimentón de la Vera or saffron.
Located in the hills that surround Barcelona, the Collserola Natural Park is easily accessible via public transport from the city centre. There are a number of hikes that take you from the Tibidabo amusement park back down into Barcelona, or over the other side of the hill towards the town of Sant Cugat. You’ll get some splendid panoramic views along the way and see a greener side to the city.
A far cry from the hustle and bustle of the Gothic Quarter, Sants is a residential neighbourhood with a strong community spirit and laid-back atmosphere. Here you’ll find old bodegas that look like they’ve gone unchanged since the 1960s and where drinks don’t cost an arm and a leg. La Bodegueta de Cal Pep is a fine example of an authentic neighbourhood haunt, which is a favourite amongst locals for enjoying a vermouth during Sunday lunchtimes.
If one of the main attractions of Barcelona is the proximity to the beach, the truth is that most locals never visit the beaches inside the city; they prefer to go out of town for more peace and quiet. If you’re not prepared to head north to the Costa Brava, a short train ride to nearby Badalona will be enough to escape the crowds and the commotion of the Barceloneta beaches.
The Camp Nou may be Europe’s largest football stadium, but it struggles to attract locals and has a reputation for a hit-and-miss atmosphere. If you want to see where the FC Barcelona supporters choose to cheer on their team, head to a local bar instead and join in the shouting, hugging and – if you’re lucky – celebrations. If Barna wins a big match, follow the crowds to the Canaletes Fountain on La Rambla, which has been the supporters’ gathering point after a victory for decades.
Here in Spain, most people have two breakfasts, or rather they have some breakfast early in the morning when they get up and then tend to have a mid-morning snack around 11 am to keep them going until lunchtime at 2 pm. For workers, this is usually a moment to grab a coffee with a colleague and have a break from work. Cafés usually get full around that time, and cheese or jamón sandwiches appear fresh on the counter. Act like a local and soak up the atmosphere of this Mediterranean way of life.