Barcelona - idyllic sunset on the beach of La Barceloneta (Catalonia/ Spain)

The local’s guide to Barcelona, Spain

Want to see the authentic side of Barcelona, one of Spain's most beautiful cities? Our local expert reveals her favourite things to see and do in the city outside of La Rambla and Gaudi's La Pedrera

Where are the best places to go in Barcelona?

1. El Garraf beach

If you want tourist-free beaches, head out of town. This one, half an hour by train, is where my friends and I go. It’s got fishermen’s huts and is quiet compared to big places like Sitges, where out-of-towners swarm to chiringuitos – those wooden beach bars. At El Garraf the closest thing is Chiringuito de Garraf. Join local couples sipping tinto de verano (red wine with lemon soda) on the seaview terrace.

2. O-Retorniño

In Barcelona, Galician restaurants tend to be old, so locals and tourists pass by. That’s why I love them. My mother is Galician, so we meet here for a plate of lacón – it’s like Galician serrano but is cut thicker, like gammon, and tastier. The tarta de Santiago, a Galician almond cake with lemon zest and sweet wine, is delicioso and good before a siesta! Carrer del Rosselló 147.

3. Mossèn Costa i Llobera Gardens

Or as my friends and I call it, “the cactus gardens”, for the spiky plants sprouting along the pathways. It’s a botanical garden influenced by deserts – and not many people know it, so it feels like a real desert, even though it belongs to Montjuïc hill, the city’s major green space. You will find some great tortilla de patatas stands nearby, and vermouth cocktails with a lovely view from the terrace of restaurant Martinez.

Costa i Llobera gardens in BarcelonaShutterstock Images

4. Laie Cafe

In the week, this cafe is an extension of the university campus – with many students working on laptops . But at 4pm they’re all in class so you can find your own corner in this library-cafe. The window seat has views of a courtyard and you can look up at balconies, with beautiful plants. Carrer de Pau Claris 85

5. Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Serra de Collserola Natural Park

This cathedral, on Tibidabo mountain, is for us like Christ the Redeemer for Rio. But without the crowds. It is in the Collserola Natural Park, maybe an hour from the centre by Metro. The views – hills in the north and sea in the south – are really beautiful. You can walk to the city afterwards, through the park. But the funicular train is more fun.

6. Gràcia district

Many tourists go to Gaudí’s Park Güell, in the north of this district, but they miss all that is interesting in the middle. Quiet squares with trees and a bar on each corner, or little streets with vintage shops and stalls selling homemade food and drinks. In Gràcia, Gaudí built his first house, Casa Vicens.

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Barcelona FAQs

What’s the cheapest time to go to Barcelona?

January or February, when you’ll get blue skies, sunshine and A-list sights such as the gothic cathedral, Sagrada Família, mostly to yourself, allowing you to explore it at a relaxed pace. Mid-January weekend returns from Stansted cost about £55, less than half what you’ll pay over the Easter holidays or a summer weekend on public transport. Some city hotels also slash rates by 20% in low season.

Where should I stay in Barcelona?

For a neighbourhoody feel, cute restaurants and walks in the parks of Montjuïc, the Poble-Sec is your district, between Plaça Espanya and the sea, and about 15 minutes’ walk to the centre. Stay at Hotel Brummell, with its loft-like rooms, pool and yoga studio. Or use a reliable rental firm. The Gothic Quarter is great if you’re looking for somewhere photogenic outside of the city centre.

Should I eat in the Boqueria market? If so, what and where?

It’s no guidebook secret, but don’t let that put you off — the market fizzes with atmosphere, and a roaming lunch at its kiosks is a must. Get in before 1pm to avoid the queues, starting with a flute of Cava at El Quim de la Boqueria, followed by grilled giant prawns at Kiosko Universal that would beat most served at the tapas bars. With hearty botifarra amb mongetes (sausage and beans) to finish at Bar Pinotxo, you’ll still come away with change from £20.

What’s the coolest bar in Barcelona?

Balius occupies a converted ironmonger’s with cosy, wood-panelled walls, smoked-glass mirrors and a marble-topped bar in the Poblenou. This old industrial quarter is now filled with groovy mums and dads, designers and architects, all taking advantage of bigger living spaces, and few tourists. Go on a Sunday afternoon for live jazz and a Bambino — bourbon, Noilly Prat and chocolate bitters.

What do the locals recommend in Barcelona?

Ride the cog railway up from Peu de Funicular (get the Metro from Plaça de Catalunya), then stroll on to Tibidabo (about 8km; a tram takes you back to the city) along the Carretera de les Aigües trail for breathtaking views across the city and over the Med. This is where locals come to stroll and run at the weekend, often stopping at Cal Martí for an alfresco lunch.

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