Top 10 Ways to Experience Barcelona like a Local

Top 10 Ways to Experience Barcelona like a Local

Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world, but more and more, the city is getting a name as just another party city in Spain. That’s really a shame, because there’s so much more to the city than it’s beaches and nightlife! Even if your Spanish is rusty (or nonexistent), there’s no reason for you to confine yourself to the touristy bits of the city. Instead, get out and explore! You never know what could be waiting for you around the next cobblestoned corner…

Here are my suggestions for ten ways to visit Barcelona beyond the cathedrals, beaches, and busiest streets:

# 1. Get away from Barcelonetta Beach

Most people come to Barcelona for its beaches—and it has some truly great beaches! But don’t let yourself get sucked into touristy Barcelonetta beach. Sure, it’s an easy walk from La Rambla and from many of the city’s hotels, but you’ll find that it gets pretty crowded—and you’ll be hassled by club promoters, mojito sellers, and masseuses every couple minutes. If you head further away from downtown though, you’ll find a much more local crowd on the Playa del Coco, Playa Badalona, and other beaches further out. Not only will you escape the majority of the sellers, but you’ll also find plenty of space to spread out your towel or play an impromptu game of volleyball. You can walk out to them if you have a little time, but they’re also easy to get to on Barcelona’s extensive bus and metro networks.

Playa Badalona, Catalonia, Spain

Playa Badalona, Catalonia, Spain © Shutterstock

Playa Badalona, Catalonia, Spain

Playa Badalona, Catalonia, Spain © Shutterstock

#2. Eat some tasty tapas

I love tapas, but I’m not talking about those stale, overpriced ones that you can find in restaurants and bars around La Rambla. Everyone has their favorite place for tapas; mine is a little bit beyond Avenida Parallel, on the quaint Carrer de Blai. There are a number of different places there that specialize in tapas—and each tapa is only €1, meaning you get to try a bunch of different bites and still wind up with a pretty inexpensive meal! Another of my favorite tapas places is La Xampanyeria, where you can pair your tapas with bottles of local cava. The place can get crowded, but it’s a great place to take a group of friends and trade off buying rounds of tapas and bottles of cava.

Can Paixano, Barcelona

Can Paixano, Barcelona. Photo by Luca Cise

Tapas, Barcelona

Tapas, Barcelona © Shutterstock

#3. Visit Montserrat

This monastery stands high in the hills beyond Barcelona, and it makes a great day trip that is popular with both tourists and locals. The place is an important pilgrimage site for many people, but beyond the religious aspects of the place, it’s also a great place to come for a hike. It’s incredible to view the surrounding landscape at sunrise—but really, it’s pretty impressive no matter what time of day it is. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hike up all 4000 feet to the summit; there are cable cars and funiculars to get you there.

Montserrat, Barcelona

Montserrat, Barcelona © Shutterstock

Montserrat, Barcelona

Montserrat, Barcelona © Shutterstock

Montserrat, Barcelona

Montserrat, Barcelona © Shutterstock

#4. Climb up Mont Juïc

Because of the irregular shapes of the buildings in Barcelona—and the way it’s built on a slight hill, giving it tons of layers—it’s amazing to get a good view of the city. Many people love the views that you can get if you take a boat out onto the water, but personally, I prefer viewing Barcelona from above. You don’t need to pay for expensive drinks at the W Hotel, though. Because of the hilly landscape in the region, there are a number of different places that you can visit for a great view—in fact, right in downtown, you can climb up Mont Juïc for a beautiful vista! It’s also a great place to take a picnic when the weather is warm.

Aerial View on Placa Espanya and Montjuic Hill with National Art Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain

Aerial View on Placa Espanya and Montjuic Hill with National Art Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona © Shutterstock

The skyline of Barcelona from the Montjuic

The skyline of Barcelona from the Montjuic © Shutterstock

#5. Shop the markets

Barcelona has plenty of fancy shops for you to spend your money in, catering to a number of international brands. And of course, many travelers will visit the iconic Boqueria Market on La Rambla. But there are a number of smaller markets around the city where travelers can find everything from food to clothing and more—plus, grabbing a bite to eat and people-watching in the markets is one of the best ways to experience the local culture! Els Encants Vells is one of the best-known flea markets (and one of the oldest flea markets in Europe). Or head to the Mercat de Sant Antoni—even though it’s located right in downtown, it’s mostly frequented by locals looking for a good deal on produce and other foodstuffs.

Els Encants Vells, Barcelona

Els Encants Vells, Barcelona © Shutterstock

The Mercat de Sant Antoni was designed in 1882, an important time of the catalan modernisme

The Mercat de Sant Antoni was designed in 1882, an important time of the catalan modernisme © Shutterstock

#6. Take a bike tour of the city

Barcelona is a great city to walk around, but it’s also a big city to tackle by foot. Rather than limiting yourself to the Gothic Quarter like a lot of tourists do, why not take a bike tour? Free Bike Tour Barcelona will take you around to all the best places in the city, as well as telling you the history of the places that you’re seeing (but don’t worry, they’re suitable for all fitness levels). What’s more, all their guides live in and love the city, so if you’re looking for further recommendations on places to eat or things to do during the rest of your trip, they can definitely help you out. And the best part of all? Although tips are appreciated, the tour and the bike rental are technically free, meaning it can make for a relatively cheap outing!

Riding bicycle through old street of Barcelona

Riding bicycle through old street of Barcelona © Shutterstock

#7. Stroll through the Parc de la Ciutadella

Most tourists in Barcelona get drawn in to the Gaudi craze—and while La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guëll, and other famous Gaudi sites are definitely worth a visit, they can be crowded and a bit stressful. I love to head to the Parc de la Ciutadella to relax with a picnic on a sunny day. The landscaping is beautifully done, and the unique buildings in the park date back to the late 19th century. There’s also a zoo in the park, as well as a small lake where you can rent boats, so if you’re looking for a good outing to someplace other than the beach, this is sure to please everyone!

Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona © Shutterstock

A stunning view in Citadel Park in Barcelona

A stunning view in Citadel Park in Barcelona © Shutterstock

Children enjoy soap bubbles within Ciudadela Park, Barcelona

Children enjoy soap bubbles within Ciudadela Park, Barcelona © Shutterstock

#8. Do some yoga

The real way to fit in with the locals is to stay active—and stay outdoors! From cafés with sidewalk seating to aimless strolls along the beach, Barcelona’s residents enjoy it all. One of my favorite things to do while soaking up some sunshine—once you’re tired of lazing around on the beach, of course!—is to take a yoga class. Mana Yoga offers various types of yoga classes, and frequently, they’re held outside, where you can appreciate being there in Barcelona while at the same time working with some amazing teachers to improve your flexibility. Nothing says “zen vacation” like a little bit of yoga beneath a bright blue sky!

Yoga in Barcelona

Yoga in Barcelona © Shutterstock

#9. Visit a microbrewery

When you get tired of the sangria and the loud, crowded clubs, go where the locals go for a better nightlife experience. Microbreweries are an up-and-coming thing in Barcelona, and although many of these cater towards a more international crowd, there are also a number of them that are popular with Catalans as well. La Cervesera Artesana is the oldest brewpub in the city, and it’s usually a pretty happening place to be; another favorite is Barcelona Beer Company. Both places also offer a good selection of tapas.

Barcelona Beer Company

Barcelona Beer Company

La Cervesera Artesana, Barcelona

La Cervesera Artesana, Barcelona

#10. Visit other places in the area

As much as I love Barcelona, it’s nice to get out of the city and see the Spanish countryside. Barcelona is the perfect jumping off point for the rest of Catalonia and beyond. There are a number of beautiful small towns in Spain that will show you Spanish culture at its finest. Within an easy drive (or train ride) from Barcelona, you could visit Besalu or Girona, with their extensive medieval old towns; or Cardona, with its impressive castle; or…. The opportunities are endless, so get out and explore!

Sunrise in Cardona, Spain

Sunrise in Cardona, Spain © Shutterstock

Medieval bridge of Besalu, Spain

Medieval bridge of Besalu, Spain © Shutterstock

Have you visited Barcelona? Share your insider tips

About the author
Kylie Dingman is an avid traveler, writer, and skier who has been on the road for about four years now, exploring various parts of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. At the moment, she's traveling around Southeast Asia before heading down to New Zealand to ski away the summer; after that, who knows!