There are some things you can be fairly sure of when you’re visiting Barcelona — a city that, as a travel destination, is not exactly untread territory. First and most reliably, there will be jamón. There will be Gaudí. There will be crusty hunks of bread rubbed with tomato and tall glasses of vermouth spritzed with soda — the latter preferably consumed in the late morning near a gathering of loud elder Catalonians. There will be football. There will be mind-bending tasting menus with six-month wait-lists and platters of paella (better yet, fideuà) scarfed by the seashore. There will be 11 p.m. dinners. And typically, yes, there will be people. A lot of them — at times crushing throngs from all manner of countries and cruise ships that have, rather unfortunately, choked much of the city for years. (Many of us have been among the guilty.)
While most of these Barcelona signatures blissfully remain, a global pandemic has a way of changing even the most fundamental givens of a city — especially one that cut off the flood of outsiders for more than a year, an act that, in itself, altered every aspect of city life. Visit today, for instance, and you’ll find the tourist-swarmed Gothic Quarter with fewer T-shirt shops and goblets of sangria and more independent, local-leaning restaurants and cafes — an increasing number of which proudly write their menus exclusively in Catalan. (The language was banned for much of the 20th century, so its use means something bigger; it’s also why this guide defaults to Catalan spellings.)
With more space, it’s easier to appreciate other, longer-standing bits of Barcelona life, like the quaint covered markets beyond the famed Boqueria, the cherished neighborhood bakeries selling classic Catalan treats, and all the excellent, excellent wine. Tapas still aren’t as big a thing here as in, say, Seville, which gives you extra time to relish potato-stuffed samosas on the beach and other staggering examples of immigrant cooking from Ecuador, Peru, Pakistan, and Morocco. Or hop a bus or tram just beyond the city center headed to a tucked-away hamlet, remote beach, or rural winery where everyday local life abounds, and hordes of foreigners do not.
Eater’s guide to Barcelona will help you navigate your way through both the expected and now slightly less-expected Barcelona — essential destinations each, but which you could very easily get all wrong or miss completely without the proper know-how. More importantly, this is a city that feels refreshed, renewed, and recommitted to itself, a palpable vibe you can (yes, even as a traveler) experience firsthand. If it’s not on your post-pandemic travel list, consider this a not-so-subtle hint to reconsider. Here, then, is a collection of stories to help you travel and eat your way through whatever flavor of Barcelona you happen to be craving — with a few slabs of pa amb tomàquet on the side.