How to find authentic experiences in Barcelona in tourist-crazy August


With its arresting architecture, prolific culture, vibrant life, winding old town streets and wide boulevards Barcelona is very high up on the list of Europe’s most impressive cities, if not the leader. Architecturally, for me it definitely is Europe’s finest (Sorry, Prague, you’re only my number two!). And while its grand museums, boutique shops, and atmospheric bars offer countless opportunities for enjoyment, we had to dig a little deeper below the surface to experience its authentic side during our last visit there this August.

We wouldn’t normally visit a major European city during such a busy touristic time, but the choice was ‘beyond us’ because I wanted to spend my birthday there. And as a considerable amount of the over 8 million tourists which visit the city annually seemed to have chosen the same time as we did, we struggled a little at first to find restaurants thriving with locals rather than tourists and to feel the authentic Barcelona vibe. And then we discovered Barceloneta!

Barceloneta is a seaside neighbourhood in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona. It was developed in the 18th century as a quarter for factory workers’ and fishermen, and nowadays it’s characterised by its narrow streets, spacious and lively squares under maple-leaved plane trees, bohemian neighbourhood bars and low-key restaurants. Roaming its charming backstreets buzzing with young and trendy locals and breathing in its relaxed vibe will give you a sense of the real Barcelona.

Most of the seafood restaurants, which Barceloneta is famed for, are dotted along the harbourside or on the backstreets, hidden behind its palm-tree lined promenade, which stretches for 4.5km. Mercat de la Barceloneta, an impressive glass and steel structure elegantly refurbished in 2007, offers some eating options, too, scattered between the fresh vegetables and seafood stalls.

So if you want to escape the touristy centre, here are some of our favourite places:

Barraca – an elegant and trendy seafood restaurant serving excellent paella and fish. The ambience is fresh, modern and spacious with bare floorboards, wooden chairs and candle-lit tables, and big windows looking out to the seafront.

Absenta Bar – everyone who’s into bohemian bars with decadent ambiences and creative decors will fall in love with this place. Adorned with vintage lamps, rusty street signs, old paintings, and hand-painted 1980s TVs, it serves excellent cocktails and house-made vermouth.

Jai-Ca – is a small, bustling tapas bar with a charmingly chaotic atmosphere, brimming with locals enjoying their food around the wooden bar. It has a dozen of inside and outside tables tightly packed together and serves great seafood.

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