Living Like Locals in Barcelona

living like locals in Barcelona

This was our third trip to Barcelona, Spain, truly one of my favorite cities in the world.  But this time, it felt like it was our first.

In the past, we have always booked hotels close to Las Ramblas, the main tourist drag between Placa Cataluyna and the water.  The Gothic Quarter is on one side, and the famous La Boqueria market is on the other.  It is the epicenter of tourism in Barcelona. Street performers and touts are rampant on Las Ramblas, as are pick pockets.  It is still fun, but it is uber touristy.

We hung around these neighborhoods during our first two visits because we didn’t know any better.  We had a couple of places that we frequented, for roast suckling pig and for tapas.  During our second visit it was all very familiar, and very comforting.  It is what we imagined our third trip would be – reorienting ourselves with our old stomping grounds and experiencing Barcelona much like we had before. 


Check out more tips in our Ultimate Spain Food Guide – How To Travel in Spain


Living Like Locals in Barcelona

Avoiding Touristy Areas in Barcelona

This time, though, we rented an apartment in a completely different part of town, near the Arc de Triomf. Before this, I didn’t even know there was an Arc de Triomf in Barcelona.    We were nowhere near Las Ramblas or the Gothic Quarter.  It was like experiencing Barcelona for the very first time.  We were living like locals in Barcelona, and I loved it!


living like locals in Barcelona

We wandered the neighborhood and explored little bars where there were few other tourists in sight.  We bar hopped in El Born, an increasingly trendy little neighborhood, which is quickly becoming an alternative to the Gothic Quarter.  We ended up one night in a little passageway bar surrounded by Spanish hipsters.  We sat in one of the quiet squares, sipping cava, and eating tapas. One morning, we stopped for churros and chocolat.

We shopped where the “locals” shopped, ate where the locals ate, and we drank where the locals drank.  We visited Santa Catarina market, just a five minute walk from the apartment.  We grabbed an early morning wine, some tapas, purchased a bottle of wine and some cheese from one of the gorgeous food stalls and walked back to the apartment.  I imagined this was what we would do if we were truly living like locals in Barcelona.  I final felt like I was experiencing Spain food travel as it was meant to be.

How had we missed this experience during our first two times in Barcelona?

living like locals in Barcelona

Living Like Locals in Barcelona

In fact, on one of our last days in town, we walked from one side of the city to the other.  We quickly passed through the Gothic Quarter, almost embarrassed that this was all we knew of Barcelona before.  Once we reached the eastern edge, and continued a few more blocks, we found our way into El Born, and into our neighborhood, each of which seemed like light years away from the bustle of the Gothic Quarter.  How, in past trips, had we been so close to such an amazing neighborhood, but failed to just cross the busy street to find it?

Well, during those trips we were tourists, through and through. We wandered the streets that surrounded our fancy Las Ramblas hotel.

In our cozy little apartment was very European, surrounded by cafes, wide boulevards, and parks where people brought their children to play on the weekends, we felt like we were living like locals in Barcelona. We sat on a bench in the park, soaking in the autumn sun. We watched the dogs run and play and the events and festivities that took place in the shadows of the Arc de Triomf.  It made me want to move to Barcelona!

Living Like Locals in Barcelona I don’t know that I would ever return to Las Ramblas or Placa Cataluyna to stay during future visits.  I have always enjoyed Barcelona, but this trip I truly fell in love with it, because I got to see Barcelona as the locals do.

Living Like Locals

We were hosted by GowithOh for this experience.  They are experts in helping people create their own experience living like locals in loads of cities across Europe.

If you click through, I do get a smidgeon of a little something something but, as always, my opinions are my own!

33 thoughts on “Living Like Locals in Barcelona

  1. Steph says:

    This is great. I stayed at a hostel in Barcelona and it was nice, but I can’t help but think that if I’d stayed longer and stayed local-er I really would have gotten to know the city a lot better. Reason to go back I guess!

    • says:

      Agreed Steph. I think hostels have their place, but there is something so nice about having your own space, preparing your own breakfast – having a couch!

    • says:

      Lisa, I cannot wait to return. It was a happy little moment for us in our cozy apartment, so close to a fabulous food market. Can’t get any better.

  2. Jac says:

    man i would love a chance to see another side of barcelona like you did! i’ve recently tried out apartment stays on my holidays and i’m quite liking the vibe of living local 🙂

    • says:

      Yeah, we spent the first two days a little jetlagged. It was: 3 hours flight, 5 hour layover, 7 hour flight, 2 hour layover, 7 hour flight. Tired.

  3. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer says:

    I also had no idea that there was an Arc de Triomf in BCN, great find!

    During my trip to BCN last summer I also stayed (a bit far) from the touristy areas in a room I rented and loved the experience of staying local. I especially loved shopping at the grocery store and cooking my own food, quite a wonderful experience 😀

  4. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds says:

    So glad you had such a great third time in Barcelona—hopefully great enough to convince you to move here! The Arc de Triomph is such a good neighborhood, located so close to Plaza Urquinaoa, El Born and Parc de la Ciutadella, but also like you say, away from the heat of all the tourists. I love living in El Raval, because tourists still kind of avoid it since it’s known as being more of a “slum,” but it’s also right in the center.

  5. Ryan Zieman says:

    I’m so happy that you experienced Barcelona from a completely different perspective. I love my neighborhood in Madrid as it’s just a few stops on the metro or a 25 minute walk from the center, yet feels like light years from the touristy commotion. ‘Local’ is the best way to describe my barrio and I envy your time in Barcelona. I’m planning my return to Barcelona soon and a weekend as a local sounds perfect!

  6. Joe says:

    I have been contemplating a trip to Spain in the next year. I have visited Barcelona and loved the city. I wanted a different experience this time and reading your post on apartment accommodations was great to read. I believe that to truly experience a city, you need to experience it the way the locals do. An apartment accommodation outside of the tourist centers sounds like a perfect idea. Thanks for sharing the info on GowithOh. I can’t wait to start planning.

  7. Kayla says:

    Great post! I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona and you’ve definitely sold me on it. I think I would personally enjoy living like a local more so than visiting as a tourist.

  8. Julie Ahlrich says:

    I hate to be the one to tell you this but Guling Guleig in Ubud now has a four pack of churros with chocolate sauce for only Rp15,000, just in case you are homesick for Barcelona : )

    • says:

      Ha! Yeah, we stayed in one hotel in Europe where we could not both walk around the bed at the same time. It was a constant tango when we were getting ready to go out. That’s why I love having the extra space in an apartment.

    • says:

      I am sure the apartments are the way to go when traveling with the family too – giving you extra space, but keeping you all within the same room. Enjoy Europe.

  9. Jeff says:

    Living like locals is the only way to travel. My wife and I went to Miami for a day trip and didn’t get the appeal. But who knows what cool things we might have discovered had we rented an apartment and settled in for a bit (away from South Beach)?

  10. Liz says:

    I just got back from 3 weeks in Spain on 3/25. I finished with 8 days in Barcelona staying in an apt. through Airbnb. I stayed in the University area, which was very nice. Some nice restaurants, quieter, a few sites to see in the area. I avoided La Ramblas. The only time I was really around it was when I did some tours that started at Placa Reial. I loved the El Born neighborhood. Lots of wonderful little shops hidden on some of the little streets/alleys.

  11. Claudia says:

    Hey! I am from Barcelona. Next time you come here I’m sure you will enjoy Gracia neigborhood, Sant Antoni and Eixample (specially around Rambla Catalunya -not Las Ramblas-. I live in el Raval and I love it. We call it Ravalkistan as a joke because there are many pakistanis living here (it’s the neigborhood that’s is to the right when you are walking down las Ramblas). It’s a very unique neigborhood from Barcelona because of the curious mix of expats, people from Barcelona, young ones, old ones… I have a lot of friends from other countries and I’m tiiiiired of telling them there’s more to Barcelona than the beach and las Ramblas! A totally tourist free area is Sant Gervasi, I recommend you Santaló street and its surroundings. And you may know it… or not: Montserrat is a beautiful famous mountain next to Barcelona and Sitges a cute coastal village/town (30min by train).
    I’m happy to know you like my city… I love it too! And thanks for a post on Prague, that’s how I arrived here 😛 🙂

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