Taste of the city: Barcelona

Emma Lahiffe recently enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of some of Barcelona’s best eateries. 

They say that the atmosphere in a tapas bar should match the spirit of a well-loved pub in Ireland. Passers-by should be drawn in by the chatter of friends and the clatter of plates piled high with tasty bite-sized treats. With that in mind, every great trip to Barcelona should start with a feast of tapas.

BEST FOR TAPAS: For the patrons crowded around the noisy tables in Barcelona’s best tapas bars, the focus of the visit isn’t the food or the decor – the true purpose is to spend time with loved ones.

El Xampanyet (The Champagne) in Barcelona’s El Born district (just around the corner from the Picasso Museum) is the perfect place to eat, drink and be merry – Spanish-style. Start with a chilled glass of bubbly – the homemade Cava is a must-try.

Tastiest tapas in Barcelona 🍴🍾

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Highlights during my recent visit included grilled Iberico pork with salted green peppers, a comforting dish of chickpea stew, crusty slices of tomato bread, anchovies straight from the tin, and grilled octopus with mashed potato and paprika.

For another authentic tapas experience, head to La Cova Fumada (The Smoked Cave) in Barceloneta, the city’s seaside neighbourhood. This no-frills former wine cellar is the birthplace of Barcelona’s most beloved tapa, La Bomba – a deep-fried spicy potato meatball.

Other favourites on the blackboard-scrawled menu include the calamari, salted cod, homemade black pudding and an assortment of fresh seafood. The house wine is also excellent.

SECRET ROOFTOP BAR: For a change of pace, pop into 1881 by Sagardi, a stylish rooftop bar just a five-minute walk from La Cova Fumada. This is a real hidden gem. Head into the Catalan History Museum (history buffs should take the time to enjoy the exhibitions – entry is €4.50) on la Plaça de Pau Vila and take the lift to the fourth floor – you’ll see the entrance on your left.

Barcelona coffee break ☕🇪🇸

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Grab a perch overlooking the harbour and sit back and relax with a cold beer, clara or a cocktail. The sweeping panorama of the palm tree-lined boardwalk, glamorous yachts glistening in the marina, and the cable cars gliding to and from Montjuic mountain is one of the best in the city.

BEST FOR SWEET TREATS: Patisseria La Colmena (metro stop: Jaume I) sells a heavenly array of homemade baked goods. Sitting pretty on Plaça de l’Àngel, right in the heart of the city, this gorgeous bakery opened its doors in 1849 – don’t miss the beautiful plaque before you step through the door.

La Colmena is the place to go if you’re craving a good coffee and a pick-me-up treat. Don’t leave with trying a panellet. These marzipan-based sweets are traditionally prepared for All Saints’ Day – La Colmena is a treasure trove of these classic Spanish desserts, and the good news is that they bake them all year round.

BEST FOR BRUNCH: Instagram-worthy brunch places are popping up on every corner of Barcelona. Try Brunch and Cake for fabulously fluffy pancakes and great iced coffee.

Super cool Picnic, on the corner of Passeig de Picasso and Carrer del Commerç, is a great location to start your day in Barcelona. Work off your pulled pork tacos or eggs Benedict with a leisurely stroll through nearby Parc de la Ciutadella.

If you’d prefer to leave the tourists behind and start the day with a more traditional breakfast, head to the family-run Xurreria Dels Banys Nous in the Gothic Quarter for incredible freshly-made churros.

SNACKS ON THE GO: If you’re visiting the beautiful Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar (the €8 guided tour offers a great insight into the La Ribera neighbourhood and gorgeous views of the city), don’t miss out on Casa Gispert, just across the street on Carrer dels Sombreres.

This is one of Barcelona’s oldest food shops – the in-store wood fire oven has been roasting nuts since 1851. Head to the back of the shop to see it in action before picking up some savoury treats – the roasted almonds are the best I’ve ever tasted. The chocolate-covered macadamia nuts also come highly recommended.

GRANDMOTHERS KNOW BEST: Traditionally, Spanish cooking relied on the creativity of the matriarchs to make the most of the food they had at their disposal. That meant that across Spain, the ingredients available dictated the recipes, rather than the other way around.

If you’re planning a picnic at Bunkers del Carmel or a day at the beach, why not stock up on fresh local produce from one of Barcelona’s 39 food markets? These colourful and chaotic marketplaces are cornerstones of Catalan communities.

As Miguel, my charming secret food tour host advised during our visit to the Santa Caterina Market, ‘Follow the abuelas (grandmothers) doing their weekly shop. They haven’t been going to the wrong places for 50 years.’

BEST MARKETS TO VISIT: As well as the 173-year-old Santa Caterina Market in the El Born district, the newly revamped Sant Antoni Market is also well worth a visit. The spectacular space in Sant Antoni, one of Barcelona’s coolest barrios, has been treated to a €80 million facelift.

Stock up on fresh fruit, bread and pastries, and choose from an incredible array of Spanish cheeses. Manchego and the melt-in-your-mouth Payoyo cheese from Cádiz are well worth sampling.

JAMÓN JAMÓN: Choosing the best ham at a Spanish market can turn into an overwhelming task. According to Miguel’s grandfather, a ham producer in Salamanca (the home of jamón ibérico), the best ham is simply the one you enjoy the most.

Santa Caterina Market, Barcelona
Santa Caterina Market, Barcelona

Follow his advice and sample everything from jamón ibérico and paleta serrana, to chorizo ibérico bellota and chorizo piccante until you find the one that tastes the best!

PAELLA BY THE SEA: For a tasty and authentic dish of paella, head to family-owned Salamanca in Barceloneta. The walls of this charming seafront restaurant are adorned with hundreds of photos of celebrities with the well-moustached owner.

Order a jug of the house Sangria and start with a salad or a plate of salchichón – it’s best to have something light and fresh before the main event. As is tradition, the waiter will come to the table to show you the entire dish of paella that’s been specially prepared for your table.

Afterwards, grab an ice cream on the go and find a spot to relax on the beach!

Do you have any foodie recommendations for Barcelona? Let us know on Twitter or InstagramCheck out Secret Food Tours for more information about the best places to eat, drink and enjoy Barcelona.

FLY DIRECT: Choose from daily direct flights to Barcelona from Dublin or seasonal flights from Cork.

Planning your next city? Don’t miss our guide to 48 hours in Lisbon, check out 6 of the best summer music festivals in Europe or read our 9 brilliant reasons to visit Munich.