Birdseye view of the city, with Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia church at its heart.

A food guide to Barcelona, from historic markets to atmospheric vermouth bars

The Catalan capital's food scene is thriving, thanks to a new wave of chefs from Spain, South America and beyond.

Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia church sits at the heart of Barcelona's grid of streets.
Photograph by Michele Falzone, AWL Images
This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

The Catalan saying ‘amb la panxa buida no hi ha alegria’ (‘you can’t be happy if your stomach is empty’) neatly sums up the Barcelonian attitude to dining. Food is more than just fuel — it’s a joyful celebration of tradition and an expression of fierce regional identity. And as any Catalan is quick to point out, while you can find tapas here, it’s not native to the area. Instead, the local cuisine centres around larger dishes like mongetes amb botifarra (pork sausage with beans), calçots (chargrilled green onions with romesco sauce) and esqueixada (salt cod salad) that have been shaped by Catalonia’s position between mountains and sea.

Like the city itself, Barcelona’s dining scene is a heady mix of historic and contemporary, regional and international. There has long been a sizeable South American population, and recent years have seen a surge in Latino chefs launching new ventures in the city, such as Mexican Paco Méndez’s restaurant Come, Argentinian Francisco Seubert’s bakery Coush Armó, and Venezuelan Juan Martini’s grill joints, Fat Barbies and Fat Veggies. Elsewhere, storied institutions that have served Catalan classics since the days of Gaudí stand alongside natural wine bars. And while the pandemic did force a handful of beloved local restaurants to close their doors, the majority of casualties were more tourist-leaning spots in the historic centre, the closures of which made way for more exciting, independent ventures.

At the crest of this new wave is a crop of young chefs and restaurateurs putting a contemporary spin on regional cuisine. One of the most celebrated examples is seafood restaurant Besta, which opened in 2021 with a menu showcasing a refined mix of Catalan and Galician influences. There’s also Maleducat, in the San Antoni neighbourhood, which is an updated version of a casa de menjars, an old-school style of Catalan canteen serving traditional, homely food.

It’s not just restaurants pushing Barcelona’s food scene forward, however. From bakers to winemakers, the Catalan capital is filling up with ambitious young producers setting up new ventures. There’s Pinullet, in Gràcia, where Francesco Cerutti uses organic milk from local dairies to produce nine different varieties of cheese, bean-to-bar chocolatier Lot, in Eixample, and a plethora of artisan coffee roasteries around the city. The best of the bunch can be found at the All Those Food Market, which brings together more than 150 makers and food trucks run by the city’s best restaurants in the grounds of the National Theatre of Catalonia. It’s held several times a year and is known locally as the place to get a taste of what’s hot in the city. It’s this foodie vanguard that’s been pushing Barcelona beyond being a destination for art and architecture towards becoming one of Europe’s most exciting culinary capitals. 

How to spend a day in Dreta De L'Eixample

As Barcelona’s population swelled during the industrial era, a new district was built to link the city to the surrounding settlements. The result is Eixample, a grid of grand residential blocks split into L’Esquerra de l’Eixample (‘the left side of Eixample’) and Dreta de l’Eixample (‘the right side’), with Passeig de Gràcia running down the middle.

Start at Granja Vendrell, a bistro that opened in 1921 and was recently restored to its art deco glory. There are sweet and savoury breakfasts on offer, from bikinis (grilled ham and cheese sandwiches) to cream-filled brioche buns.

Afterwards, head to Manzana de la Discordia, on Passeig de Gràcia. This block contains buildings by four of Barcelona’s best-known architects: Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier. Here you’ll find the surreal fever dream that is Gaudí’s Casa Battló, its curving facade coated in colourful ceramic tiles designed to resemble dragon scales. Book ahead to explore the inside. A five-minute stroll from here is Boro Bar, a slick tapas joint serving excellent patatas bravas.

Spend a while exploring the Fundació Antoni Tàpies, which houses more than 200 works by Antoni Tàpies, a Catalan artist known for his abstract paintings and mixed-media works. From here, head to Llibreria Finestres, a bookshop spread across two elegant 20th century buildings. There’s a large selection in English, not to mention a wine bar.

As evening falls, head back across the Passeig de Gràcia to Café Del Centre for some old-world glamour (its interiors have been faithfully restored to evoke how it looked when it first opened, as a casino, in 1873). Chef Victor Ferrer’s menu pays tribute to local tradition with dishes like pork cheek terrine and confit cod.

How to spend a day in Gràcia

For centuries, Gràcia was a small district on Barcelona’s outer fringe, only officially becoming part of the city in 1897. Today there’s still a villagey feel to its vibrant warren of low-rise streets dotted with leafy plazas where locals sit and chat.

Start your day with a cafe con leche at Bar La Camila, a small hole-in-the-wall cafe that combines the city’s flourishing artisan coffee scene with the old-school charm of a traditional neighbourhood watering hole. For a proper Catalan breakfast, order pa amb tomàquet — crusty toast topped with tomato and olive oil.

A 15-minute walk will take you to Casa Vicens, the very first house Gaudí designed. It’s a riot of colourfully tiled turrets and intricate wrought iron balconies, with an equally eccentric interior that’s open for ticketed entry throughout the week. If you’re in need of an extra Gaudí fix, head across Gràcia to Park Güell and explore its collection of mosaic-clad sculptures, terraces and whimsical gatehouses.

When hunger hits, head to seafood Lluritu for lunch. The restaurant’s menu is an unfussy array of super-fresh local catch and is renowned for its succulent grilled octopus and cuttlefish tartare.

A short stroll away you’ll find Plaça de la Virreina, a picturesque square overlooked by the towering 19th-century brick facade of Sant Joan de Gràcia Church. Pick up a scoop of creamy pistachio ice cream at Amma Gelato and grab a seat on a bench to watch the world go by.

For a spot of retail therapy, head down Carrer de Verdi, a buzzy street lined with independent retailers such as toy shop Bateau Lune, Revolution Vintage Clothing, and SKFK, a chic boutique specialising in ethical and sustainable clothing.

Come dinner time, pull up a chair at one of the gleaming marble tables at Fonda Pepa, a hip reimagining of a traditional Catalan restaurant. Don’t miss the flame-grilled tuna, and wash it down with a glass of locally produced natural wine.

Three new restaurants to try


This new venture from the team behind local favourite Besta is a modern take on a traditional marisquería (seafood restaurant). Chef Manu Núñez’s menu is at times experimental but always delicious. A changing roster of cocktails features the likes of rum with fresh camomile.

Bar Lombo

Late last year, former El Bulli chef Eugeni De Diego joined forces with Sardinian chef Andrea Ortu to launch this chic Italian restaurant in San Gervasi. Word soon spread about the quality of the pasta, particularly the pappardelle with osso buco ragú. Booking ahead is recommended.


This cosy Sant Antoni spot serves dishes that draw upon the head chef’s Scandinavian roots. Expect plates of grilled chicken liver with stilton and chard, lamb chops with new potatoes, and steak tartar with shoestring fries. It also has a natural wine menu plus homemade vermouth.

Three bars to try


Housed within hip hotel Casa Bonay, on the Gran Via boulevard, Libertine (above) is a lively late-night spot with stylish interiors and a long cocktail list. Try the Paper Plane (a tangy blend of bourbon, armagnac and lemon) or the smoky Penicillin, which mixes smooth malt whisky with mezcal and honey. There’s also an array of locally sourced natural wines and craft beers.

Bar Marsella

Established in 1820, this absinthe bar has seen everyone from Picasso to Hemingway walk through its doors. Today, there’s a sense of faded grandeur to this historic institution; the service is charmingly gruff and the bar packs out quickly on weekends, so arrive early for a taste of old Barcelona.

Bar Cugat

This chic-but-unpretentious spot in Eixample de Dreta used to be a stationery shop and has a large marble-and-carved-wood counter that now serves as the bar. And it’s more than just a good spot for a drink — the menu is an inventive take on Catalan cuisine, with dishes like grilled scallops with leek confit and red tuna tartare. 

Three markets you should visit

Mercat de la Boqueria

Just off the main drag of La Rambla is Barcelona’s best-known food market. Opened in 1836, the grand, modernist hall is filled with vendors selling everything from snails to pigs’ trotters. Settle on a stool at El Quim (one of the market’s small tapas bars) and order some crispy calamari.

Mercat de Sant Antoni

For real local flavour, head to this recently refurbished market that’s been feeding the city since 1882. Most of its 157 stalls have belonged to the same families for at least half a century, selling the likes of seafood, jamón and olives from within a grand, steel-framed building in Sant Antoni.

Santa Caterina Market

This market in La Ribera dates back to 1845 but its most remarkable feature was added in 2005 — an undulating roof covered in a multicoloured mosaic of ceramic tiles. Beneath it are myriad stalls and cafes like Bar Joan, a no-frills tapas spot serving a particularly good capipota (pork-based stew).

Three vermouth bars

From noon ’til night, Barcelona’s terraces are filled with people sipping ice-cold vermut (vermouth). This bittersweet fortified wine isn’t native to Barcelona, but the city has adopted it as its own. Italians introduced it to Catalonia in the 19th century and it became the drink of choice for Barcelona’s bourgeoisie. While elsewhere in Europe, vermouth is usually used for making cocktails, in Spain it’s an aperitif in its own right, usually enjoyed poured over a few ice cubes and served with a slice of orange and a couple of olives in the glass.

Bar Electricitat

One of the city’s oldest vermuterías (vermouth bars) is Bar Electricitat in Barceloneta. Little has changed since it opened in 1908 — waiters will put a bottle of vermouth on the table and measure the amount missing when calculating your bill.

Bodega E Marin

Another old-school joint is Gràcia’s Bodega E Marin, a narrow bar lined floor-to-ceiling with bottles and barrels. It’s also garnered a reputation for producing some of the city’s finest croquetas.

Morro Fi

Morro Fi is a more recent addition to Barcelona’s vermutería scene. The first branch of this bar, selling homemade vermouth, opened in Eixample 2011 and there are now three lively locations around the city that draw in a young, cosmopolitan crowd.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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