Tapas are a dish meant to foster conversation, and in no place does the quintessential Spanish cuisine make more of a buzz than in the capital of Catalonia.

A tapas crawl is the definitive Barcelona custom. Join the locals at the best of the city’s taverns and bars, where the dishes on offer range from gourmet creations to longstanding neighbourhood favourites.

Bar del Pla
is casual, but culinary standards are still high at this bar close to the Museu Picasso. The menu is more ambitious than in most taverns, with pig’s trotters and tempura-esque artichokes. Standards like pa amb tomàquet (toasted bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil) are among the most outstanding in the city (Carrer de Montcada; closed Sun & Mon; from £1.30).

Two tiny rooms with stools by a counter where chefs prepare the food on the spot, Cal Pep is a Barcelona institution. Seafood is the speciality here, with the trifásico – a combination of battered whitebait, shrimp and calamari – a favourite with locals. The size and popularity of the place mean that queuing is inevitable, but this makes chatting with the regulars even easier (Plaça de les Olles 8; closed Aug; from £3).

Set up by Ferran and Albert Adrià, the former head chefs at internationally renowned – and sadly now closed – restaurant El Bulli, the more laid-back Tickets takes Barcelona’s tapas tradition to new heights. Specialities adapted from the El Bulli menu include baguettes emptied of bread and filled with Iberico ham, liquid ravioli, and candyfloss trees filled with fruit (Av del Paral.lel 164; closed Mon & Sun, & Aug; from £4.50).

There are no seats at Quimet I Quimet, just two small tables. Yet this glorified wine cellar serves delicious tapas – cold meats, cheeses, seafood, caviar, jams – to crowds that spill onto the pavement. Quimet is said to be one of the favoured tapas haunts of El Bulli’s Adrià brothers: try the salmon and truffled honey montaditos to see why (00 34 93 442 3142; Poeta Cabanyes 25; closed Sun & August; from £1).

La Cova Fumada, a family-run, hole in the wall bodega, is rarely less than bursting with locals. Legend has it that the potato bomba (balls of mashed potato stuffed with meat, rolled in breadcrumbs and served with spicy sauces) was invented here. Small octopus, marinaded sardines, and grilled breads in garlic mayonnaise are three other specialities that are equally as deserving of your attention (00 34 93 221 4061; Carrer del Baluard; closed Sun; from £2.40).

El Quim is one of the highlights of the Boqueria – the food market just off La Rambla which provides the raw ingredients for just about every restaurant in the city. It is more street stall than restaurant, and all the better for it: get stuck into a menu of freshly prepared seafood, Serrano ham, eggs and patatas bravas, in an atmosphere that’s buzzing with chatter and camaraderie (del Mercat de la Boqueria; closed Sun & Mon; from £3).

The back alleys of the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) are the heart and soul of Barcelona’s food scene. Bar Celta is classic Barri Gòtic: tiny, unpretentious and friendly. Octopus tentacles served with salt, olive oil and paprika, and lacón con grelos (boiled gammon) are old favourites. White Albariño wine is served in ceramic bowls (00 34 93 315 00 06; Carrer de la Mercè; closed Mon; from £1.60).

Walls covered with Barcelona football shirts and memorabilia indicate that this is a local hangout, and the dishes on offer explain why it’s always very busy. Favourites include escalivada (aubergine with peppers), salt cod with tomato and onion salad, and llonganissa cured sausage. On Thursdays it serves excellent paella (00 34 93 218 7387; Carrer de Luís Antúnez; closed Sun & August; from £1.60).

Bullfighting was banned in Catalonia in 2011, but its spirit is kept alive at Los Tereros: the décor is resolutely 1960s, and the walls are covered in matador memorabilia. The speciality of the house is rabo de toro (bull’s tail stew), which is best washed down with jugs of sangria. Tapas plates are priced differently depending on the time you visit (00 34 93 318 2325; Carrer d’en Xuclà 3–5; from £2).

Where to stay
El Jardí Hostal
is one of the better budget options of the Barri Gòtic and La Rambla. The most attractive rooms have balconies overlooking one of the prettiest squares in the city (Plaça Sant Josep Oriol 1; from £50 excl breakfast).

H10 Racó Del Pí is stylishly carved out of a historic Barri Gòtic building, and its 37 guestrooms have dark-wood beams, parquet floors and colourful mosaic-tiled bathrooms. The aesthetic is modern – light colours with navy blankets and occasional art prints – and the central location is terrific (Carrer del Pi 7; from £105).

Claris Hotel, concealed in the 19th-century Palacio Verdura, is one of the city’s best-known designer digs, with an art collection on show. Some rooms have modern décor, while others cede to more classic looks. There’s a swimming pool on the roof and city views from most guestrooms (Carrer de Pau Claris 150; from £130).

BA, bmibaby, easyJet, Jet2, Monarch and Ryanair fly to Barcelona El Prat airport from airports including Birmingham, Heathrow, Liverpool and London City (from £90; easyjet.com). Barcelona has an easy-to-use and efficient Metro system, with good connections to most parts of the city. Targetes multi-trip tickets can be bought at any station (10-trip tickets from £8; tmb.cat).


The article 'Mini guide to tapas in Barcelona' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.