What the Locals Do in Barcelona

If you want to get a sense of local culture, start with these few highlights in the rituals of daily life—activities and events you can share with the leisure-loving inhabitants of this most dynamic of cities.

Grazing: Tapas and Wine Bars

Few pastimes in Barcelona are more satisfying than wandering, tippling, and tapas hunting. By day or after dark, exploring Barri Gòtic, Gràcia, Barceloneta, or the Born-Ribera district offers an endless selection of taverns, cafés, bars, and restaurants, where you ballast your drinks with little portions of fish, sausage, cheese, peppers, wild mushrooms, or tortilla (potato omelet), lovingly prepared on the premises. If you find yourself on Passeig de Gràcia or La Rambla in a bar that serves microwaved tapas, know this: you’re missing out. The areas around Passeig del Born, Santa Maria del Mar, Plaça de les Olles, and the Picasso Museum are the prime tapeo (tapa-tasting) and txikiteo (tippling) grounds.

Openings, Presentations, Lectures, and Musical Events

Check listings in the daily newspapers El País or La Vanguardia, or the online edition of Barcelona Time Out (www.timeout.com/barcelona) to find announcements for art-gallery openings, book presentations, and free public concerts. Often serving cava (Catalan sparkling wine) and canapés, these little gatherings welcome visitors (if it’s announced in the papers, you’re invited). Famous authors from Richard Ford to Paul Auster to Martin Amis or local stars such as Javier Marías or Carlos Ruiz Zafón may be presenting new books at the British Institute or at bookstores like La Central. Laie Libreria holds jazz performances in its café; the travel bookstore Altair has frequent book signings and talks by prominent travel authors. Events in the town hall’s Saló de Cent are usually open to the public.

Soccer: FC Barcelona

If FC Barcelona is playing while you’re in town, get thee to a sports bar—the bigger the flat-screen TV, the better. The pubs down around La Rambla with fútbol on the tube are usually packed with foreign tourists; the taverns and cafés in Barceloneta, El Raval, Gràcia, and Sarrià are generally local penyas (fan clubs), where passions run high. Learn the club song in Catalan so you can join in when Barça scores. To watch in person, head to Camp Nou stadium—though tickets can be pricy.

Sunday Sardanas, Puppets, and Castellers

The Sunday-morning papers carry announcements for local neighborhood celebrations, flea markets and produce fairs, puppet shows, storytelling sessions for children, sardana folk-dancing, bell-ringing concerts, and the fascinating castellers. The castellers, complex human pyramids sometimes reaching as high as 10 stories, are a quintessentially Catalan phenomenon that originated in the Penedés region west of Barcelona; they’re performed at neighborhood fiestas or on major holidays. Most Sunday-morning events are over by 2 pm, when lunchtime officially reigns supreme, so get an early start. The Barcelona town hall in Plaça Sant Jaume is a frequent venue for castellers and sardanas, as is the Plaça de la Catedral.

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