The locals' guide to... Barcelona

If you had the chance to design a city from scratch you'd probably throw in amazing architecture, great weather, delicious food, a beach and lots of sexy people. You'd then get sued for plagiarism by Barcelona... Our top tip Panoramic city tour.

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How do I get away from large tour groups wearing matching caps?

The Spanish city has many great qualities, but - given the popularity of Barcelona city breaks - undiscovered it ain't. That said, its bustling economy and proud Catalan heritage give it a vibrancy that few other European destinations can match, and if you head beyond the medieval Barri Gòtic (gothic quarter) you'll soon leave the worst of the crowds behind. El Born, to the east of the old town, has trendy shopping and lively nightlife, while Gràcia, to the north of Plaza Catalunya, is an elegant district of wide tree-lined avenues and pavement cafés.

Where do the locals party?

The Barrio Chino (Chinatown) is just to the west of Las Ramblas, and among the trendy bars and restaurants it's also home to the Barcelona's Red Light district. Bar Marsella on Calle San Pau is an iconic absinthe bar and has been serving the ‘Green Fairy' to the city's bohemians for centuries. Hemingway, Miró and Picasso are all said to have drunk - or more likely got drunk - here. Find your way to El Bosc de les Fades on Passatge de la Banca - the name means 'Forest of the Fairies' and it looks like it. Perhaps the most bonkers bar in Europe.

Restaurants without an 'all-you-can-eat tourist buffet'?

Nou Celler in El Born is a great value place to try traditional Catalan food. Bacalao - dried salt cod - features heavily on local menus, served in a variety of sauces, stews and soups. Via Veneto is still the place to see and be seen, some 45 years after it opened. It's dressy, expensive and reservations are essential - you won't find the Barcelona city break brigade in here - but the food and wine list bear comparison with any restaurant in the world.

secret tip The locals' absolutely secret number one tip : Some of Barcelona's best bars are closely guarded secrets, with no signs, no windows and nothing to suggest what lies behind an unmarked door. It would be impossible to find even if we gave you the address - but keep your eyes peeled and go with the flow when you're out on the town. You never know what you might stumble upon.

A quick guide to where the locals hang out


The beach: There is a good beach in Barcelona, but connoisseurs take the 45-minute train journey to nearby Sitges, a bohemian town that does an excellent line in sand and sea.

The breakfast: Tuck into chocolate and churros (fritters) in Café de l'Òpera on Las Ramblas.

The pool: The Olympic Park on Montjuïc was built for the 1992 Olympics. The open air swimming pool is open to the public and the views over the city make it a great spot for sunbathing.

The view: Take the funicular railway to the summit of Tibidabo in time for sunset, and grab a table with a view at one of the bars as the city lights up beneath you.

The day trip: The beaches of the Costa Brava are within easy reach of Barcelona, while the ancient city of Girona perches on the edge of a spectacular gorge just a one hour train ride to the north.

The football: FC Barcelona is one of the world's greatest football clubs, and the experience of watching a game in the cavernous 98,000 capacity Camp Nou stadium is something no football fan will ever forget. Tickets for most games are pretty easy to come by - just head up to the stadium a couple of hours before kick off and you'll find dozens of touts who are used to negotiating with English fans.

The park: There are a number of famous Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, but the architect's Park Güell is like landscape gardening on LSD. There are great views over the whole city too.

The phallic symbol: The Torre Agbar is Barcelona's version of The Gherkin. Unfortunately, it's not open to the public, but it can be seem from across the city, changing colour as the sunlight reflects off 59,000 sheets of glass cladding.

Why not try? A dinner and flamenco show

Can I drink the water?

The eight essential questions you'll need answering

Which local animal is likely to hospitalise me?

You're probably best advised to steer clear of the stray dogs which wander parts of the city centre by night.

Which native liquor will make me think I am attractive?

Cava is the local version of champagne, and a couple of glasses should see you practising your Catalan chat-up lines.

How can I avoid a beating by the local hard nuts?

Catalans celebrate the Grand Festival each year, often by forming human towers. As tempting as it is to tickle their armpits, don't distract the people at the bottom. Once the pyramid has collapsed the ones with any bones left intact will be after you.

Will I get lost?

Travel in Barcelona is pretty straightforward - the Barri Gòtic is confusing but pretty small, and most of the city is orientated on a regular grid system. You should find your way back to your hotel.

Will I find myself?

There's no shortage of dreadlocked bongo merchants on the streets, but in general Barcelona is more hip than hippy.

Should I take an umbrella?

Barcelona is consistently warm and dry in summer, but can be surprisingly cold and wet outside of the high season.

What should I order in a restaurant to impress the locals?

Order anything in fluent Catalan and you'll get serious brownie points. Bajoques farcides, for example, are peppers stuffed with rice, pork, tomatoes and spices.

Can I drink the water?

Yes, but it tastes pretty rank - most people stick to bottled water.

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