This was our fourth trip to Spain, and still, after all of these visits, we can’t seem to figure out what to eat when. There are these rules about when to eat in Spain that I just can’t wrap my head around.
I know the Spaniards eat dinner late, like 10pm or later. It is part of the reason why tapas are so popular, they are almost like an appetizer. Or, you can have tapas for lunch.
There is still a tradition of siesta, although I am not sure how many people actually go home to sleep. It is more likely that restaurants and shops will just close during the afternoon for a few hours. We tended to sleep the first few days after we arrived in Barcelona due to jet lag, but Eric was struggling with sleeping from 5-7 pm, and then heading out for tapas at 8pm. He just could not wake up and was groggy at night. How do they do it, eating that late?
I also know that on a Sunday cities and towns across Europe come to a stand still. There are often a few places open, but it is quiet!
The rules on when to eat in Spain are complex, but I thought I understood them. I seemed, though, to have forgot these important rules during this last trip to Barcelona, and here was what ended up happening.
Check out more tips in our Ultimate Spain Food Guide – How To Travel in Spain
When to Eat in Barcelona
First off, when we finished our walking Barcelona food tour with Devour Barcelona, we were in need of a little more food, a glass of wine, and more important, a chance to sit for a few minutes before making our way home. We had a detailed conversation with our guide about what places would be open at 2:30pm on a Friday to serve plates of meat and cheese. To me, this seemed like a no brainer, but many of the places she thought about would be closed at that time. Who knew?
Then, Sunday came, and I realized how far off we were from enjoying the city as we should, as the locals would. We made our way back to Casa Pages, which we visited on our Barcelona food tour, to see what else they served. They were closed, which I expected. Instead, we found an Uruguayan place that served large amounts of meat. It was packed for Sunday afternoon lunch, with large families and groups of friends filling the place from wall to wall. Probably because nothing else was open.
We also tried walking through the neighborhood of Gracia, tried going to a bodega for a vermouth, all with no luck. Most of the traditional places were indeed closed on a Sunday, and what was left were the trendier, and more expensive, brunch places. It was like walking through Chicago on a Sunday.
On Monday, we returned to a place we liked for pintxos, a type of tapas, and they were open for coffee, but had not yet placed the trays of pintxos out on the bar. We jumped back on the train and headed back to Gracia, and back to Cafe Pages again, specifically to try the sausage breakfast sandwich we had around 10:30 am on Friday. I thought, it was 11:00 am on a Monday, so they should be serving that breakfast. No sir, the kitchen was not really open.
We returned to the nearby market for lunch, which was bustling and busy at 11:00 am on a Friday, but on a Monday at 11:30 – so quiet. Only a few places were open. It was as though the entire city had a hangover from the weekend. We found a small tapas bar in the back and ordered a few dishes to tie us over until our next stop.
Square Peg Round Hole
What was going on? This was when we realized that when it comes to Spanish dining, we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. There were so many more “rules” than just eating dinner late. There were certain days, where certain foods were eaten at certain times. For our final day in Barcelona we had a list of places to go and foods to eat, but we were trying to eat the wrong things at the wrong times. It would have been more easy to herd a hundred cats, than try to revisit a few of our favorite dishes from the prior few days.
It was as if Barcelona was telling us that it was not done with us. We still needed to learn the food rules, to learn when to eat in Barcelona, and to learn to truly live on the locals’ schedule. I guess it means we need to return. And, we did return, and learned the rules on when to eat in Catalunya were also troublesome for us.
In spite of all this, it seems like you can get a glass of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, at any place and at any time, including early in the morning. Well, that is at least one thing I can be thankful for when it comes to the rules of when to eat in Spain.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.
12 thoughts on “When to Eat in Spain”
How funny that everything was shut! We spent out Sunday eating paella on the beach…it was raining cats and dogs but the place was packed! Next time….
I think it depends on where in Barcelona you are, whether you are in a more touristy area or a local area. We were definitely in a local area!
I remember what an interesting time I had in Spain a few summers back trying to figure out exactly when to eat! 😀 Eating later (than my normal time) definitely took some getting used to!
Yeah, I often feel like a champ when we can wait until 8pm for dinner, but still are too early!
Yes, this resonates with us. The same cafe serves coffee and pastry in the morning and beer in the afternoon. We are living in Seville now and are greatly enjoying this wonderful city, but when it comes to dining, we know not to expect lunch until after 2 and not to expect dinner until after 8. To save both calories and euros, we recommend having one meal a day…. Lunch at 4pm!
I am starving! These pictures are amazing! I cannot WAIT to get to Barcelona now!
I’ve been to Gracia on Sundays before and was shocked at how shut down the whole neighborhood felt. Most places (restaurants) in the city center (Ciutat Vella and parts of L’Eixample) will stay open on Sundays, at least part of the day, and many actually take their rest days on Monday (similar to the U.S.). The other day I went to eat pinchos at 6:15 as a sort of “tide-me-over” till dinner, but they didn’t even put the good ones out till 7 at the earliest. I’m still getting the hang of it too, and it’s my third year!!
I will say, Barcelona seems like it’s open 24/7 compared to most other places I’ve been in Spain….
well, then I don’t feel too bad if you are still struggling with this concept…do you recognize the pinchos in this post??
Yikes! I think I’ll need a scorecard or something to keep track of all the rules when I finally make it to Spain…
Interesting! I live in Seville, and find that most places are closed on Mondays. As they say, no socialization takes place at home, so the bars and restaurants adapt to be able to accommodate the flood of patrons!
Are they open on Sundays then? Or, closed both days?
This is a fun look at food in Barcelona! Maybe the motto should be, eat all day and make it epic! We have had the most fun eating in Spain, with their love of socializing and food. It does take a while to get used to the timing, I admit!
Back at home in the States, we have even adopted a similar routine, with a large meal in the middle of the day and an evening snack.
Wishing you safe and happy travels,