Barcelona’s markets draw crowds. There’s something irresistible about silvery sardines twitching on beds of ice, garlands of deep-red charcuterie slung across the tops of stalls, and wooden crates overflowing with vegetables still clad in the dirt from where they were grown. And then there are the vendors. Most stalls are run by families with deep knowledge about their products — products that are the foundation of the “market cuisine” sold at the many bars and small restaurants. From prepared family specialties passed through generations to kilometer-zero produce grown in the Catalan countryside, Barcelona’s markets are stocked with visually stunning (not to mention delicious) food at every price.
But over the last decade or so, shopping at the city’s best-known market, La Boqueria, has become synonymous with fighting your way through hordes of tourists who stop without warning to get a better angle on a pile of fruit or fish. Even so, La Boqueria lives up to its hype in one very specific way: It’s one of only a few locales in Barcelona’s admittedly overcrowded center where it’s easy to find quality bar food for a quick bite as well as an exquisite tasting menu for a sit-down meal. And despite the crowded aisles, La Boqueria isn’t just a tourist attraction. Barcelona’s markets, this one included, are busy epicenters where neighbors connect and stock their kitchens, making them a key part of the cultura de barri that makes the city so vibrant.
Barcelona can support a food market in pretty much every neighborhood — there are nearly 40 here. With so many markets, it can be hard to decide which are worth adding to your already-crammed itinerary. Crowds and all, La Boqueria is a must, but it’s not the only one. From Santa Caterina to El Ninot, these eight Barcelona markets stand out for their fresh ingredients, ready-made meals for takeaway, and bars and restaurants. Markets have fed this city for centuries. It’s no surprise they’ve become some of the best places to eat.
La Rambla 91, 08001 (Metro Liceu or Catalunya)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
There’s a reason Barcelona’s Sant Josep de la Boqueria, popularly known as La Boqueria, is a can’t-miss in all the guides. Not only is it the biggest food market in town with the widest variety, it’s also home to a few of the only places on La Rambla, the crowded tourist drag, to eat good-quality, skillfully prepared local dishes made with fresh ingredients.
Dating back to at least 1217 (when it was an open-air street market), La Boqueria is still the go-to for locals in search of unusual fruits or hard-to-find traditional products. But beyond all of the cheese, olives, and wine you’ll be tempted to smuggle back in your luggage, there are seemingly endless bars and restaurants. While most of the establishments are significant improvements over the tourist traps lining La Rambla, some are better than others. Bar Clemen’s serves tapas and plates of seafood. Nearby, along the edge of the market, Direkte serves tasting menus of at least seven dishes and two desserts to just eight seats. If you’re up for braving the crowds, head to the centrally located Kiosko Universal for grilled seafood and vegetables, or to El Quim, a local legend made internationally famous by Anthony Bourdain for its fried eggs and mushrooms. And if you must eat paella near La Rambla, your best bet is Paella Bar Boqueria, just steps from El Quim (again, no relation) on the Passatge dels Coloms side of the market.
Carrer del Comte d’Urgell 1, 08011 (Metro Poble Sec or Sant Antoni)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
This recently restored turn-of-the-century market in the San Antoni neighborhood is smaller and less crowded than Boqueria. While there are far fewer bars to choose from, what’s on offer is solid and reasonably priced. Wash down jamón ibérico or pork botifarra sausages with beer at Casa Sendra, or grab a slice of potato or eggplant tortilla at Bar-Cafeteria Mariana. For fresh seafood (deep-fried or grilled), stick with Casa Blanca.
What Sant Antoni lacks in bars it makes up for in takeout options — stalls like Vitavida and Llegums Moliné offer everything from precut and washed fruit to seasonal local dishes like espinacs amb panses i pinyons (spinach cooked with raisins and pine nuts). Note that while food stands are closed on Sundays, there’s a neat outdoor second-hand book market, and you can always head to nearby Calle Parlament in search of something good to eat.
Carrer de Mallorca 133-157, 08036 (Metro Hospital Clínic)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday
There’s ample room to shop (and eat) at El Ninot. This recently renovated historic market in a less-touristy part of the central Eixample neighborhood boasts high ceilings made of steel and glass that let the sunlight filter down to shining, immaculate floors. El Ninot’s straightforward thoroughfares are far easier to navigate than the labyrinth at La Boqueria, and it’s packed with casual, inviting places to get a snack or sit down to a meal.
For a quick bite, hop on a barstool at La Bikineria. Known as a “mixto” in Madrid, a bikini is a toasted deli ham and cheese sandwich. At La Bikineria, they’re made with surprising ingredients like pigs’ feet. Or, for lunch, find your way to El Pagès Creative Chicken, an old-fashioned chicken shop that also has an eat-in area where you can feast on croquetes, chicken that’s fried and doused in your sauce of choice, or rotisserie chicken that’s much better than the stuff from the grocery store.
Avinguda de Francesc Cambó 16, 08003 (Metro Urquinaona or Jaume I)
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday; 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday
A short walk from Barcelona Cathedral, this market compensates for its reduced size (70 stands to La Boqueria’s 300-plus) with serious charm. Its wavy roof, covered in brightly colored tiles that are supposed to represent the colors of the fruits and vegetables sold inside, has made it a popular place to pose for pictures, but it’s Bar Joan that’s made it a popular place to eat. With its very respectable fixed-price lunch menu populated with local dishes like cap i pota (beef head and foot stew) and bacalao a la llauna (salt cod fried, then baked in the oven with plenty of olive oil and garlic), along with house-made desserts for under 15 euros ($18), it’s no shock that Bar Joan is always full. Go for an early lunch (in Barcelona that means around 1 p.m.) to snag a seat.
Plaça de la Llibertat 27, 08012 (Metro Fontana)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Gràcia’s 120-year-old Freedom Market has a small-town feel, which makes sense given the history; Gràcia was an independent village before Barcelona annexed it in 1897. A smallish market in Barcelona’s smallest district by area, there’s plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and more seafood than seems possible for its approximately 40,000 square feet. A few stands sell Catalan dishes, like mongetes (white beans) amb botifarra and mandonguilles (meatballs) amb salsa, by weight. Its modest size means there’s really only one bar worth visiting here — El Tast de Joan Noi, a seafood grill serving cuttlefish, razor clams, shrimp, and fresh tuna.
If there’s no room at Joan’s, vie for a table around the corner at La Pubilla, a cramped but worthy locale specializing in Catalan cooking. Though it’s not technically in the market, goods go into specials like locally harvested mushrooms and wild rice prepared in a coconut curry sauce, and botifarra d’ou (yellow sausages made with egg), served with creamy leeks and potato foam.
Plaça Poeta Boscà 1, 08003 (Metro La Barceloneta)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
If you’re looking for a market near the beach, this is as close as it gets. Situated in Barceloneta, formerly home to the city’s fishermen (many of whom can no longer afford to live there), the building is modern and covered in solar panels. The market was initially formed to keep the fishermen and their families supplied with fruit, vegetables, and the catch of the day. Perhaps because of its origins, it’s the most budget-friendly on this list.
At Mercat de la Barceloneta, the menús del día at bars and restaurants start at 12 euros ($14). Nosh on bombas (deep-fried mashed potato balls stuffed with spicy sauce and meat) that are almost as good as the ones from La Cova Fumada, the Barceloneta bar where the bomba is said to have been invented. Or, nibble oxtail croquetes and smoked anchovies in fresh tomato and olive oil sauce on the terrace at Marisma.
Carrer de Padilla 225, 08013 (Metro Sagrada Família)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
The most traditional market in town when it comes to schedules — they actually close for lunch — this market is a stone’s throw from Antoni Gaudí’s cathedral. Established in 1944 to meet the needs of the population that sprang up in the once-rural area known as El Poblet surrounding the basilica, the current market, constructed in 1993, houses about 60 stands. If you’re just shopping for fruit or a quick bite, drop by in the afternoon, but if you want a hot, hearty meal, come first thing for breakfast at El Racó del Mercat. Here, you can start your day with meatballs with cuttlefish, one of the many Catalan versions of surf and turf, or callos (stewed tripe and chickpeas). If you’re merely feeling peckish, the wine selection is limited but reasonably good (try a Penedès white or Ribera red), and there are six kinds of olives to choose from.
Carrer de Sant Jordi 6, 08028 (Metro Plaça de Sants)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday, 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
A 15-minute walk from Barcelona’s main train station in the working-class neighborhood of Sants-Montjuïc, Mercat de Sants offers the typical fresh produce that Barcelonans have come to expect, inside a structure in the modernista, or Catalan modernist, style made famous by Gaudí at the turn of the 20th century. For an excellent sandwich, head to the counter at Arrom for crusty bread layered with paper-thin slices of Iberian ham, charcuterie, or cheese. There are also ready-made meals and snacks of fideuá, stewed beans, croquetes, and empanadas. There’s not a lot in the way of restaurants and bars, but if you’re headed out of the city on a train — to the airport or beyond — and need a meal on the go, this is your market.
Originally from the Midwest, Chris Ciolli has lived in Barcelona since 2005. A writer and translator, she’s contributed to local and international publications such as BUST magazine, Afar, Miniguide, and Fathom. Gerard Moral is a Barcelona born and based photographer specializing in portrait, travel, and lifestyle photography.