All about the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona
LA BOQUERIA MARKET: A PARADISE FOR FOOD LOVERS
The Mercat de la Boqueria in La Rambla is the oldest food market in Spain and the second largest in Barcelona (after the recently renovated Mercat de Sant Antoni). Often compared to the Borough in London, or Pik Place in Vancouver, it’s been voted as the best market in the world several times and it’s at least one of the most spectacular in the world. But there’s also rumors that it’s become a tourist trap – and that saddens me.
I’ve been giving tours of the Boqueria Market in Barcelona for over 20 years and I’ve certainly seen an evolution, but very few places compare to what La Boqueria is. I’ve developed a relationship with many of its vendors and got to learn and appreciate their products. Today I’ll share the secrets of the market with you, so you can also learn to love it and see it as one of the highlights of your trip to Barcelona.
Is La Boqueria a tourist trap?
Ok, first things first. A tourist trap is seating on a terrace along La Rambla and order a sangria. The sangria will be bad, oversized, and you'll pay an arm and a leg just for the location (you get the same location and bad food for cheaper a the terrace of Mc Donalds). Is the Mercat de la Boqueria full of tourists? Of course, what did you expect being in the middle of the busiest street in town. Is it worth seeing? It depends: how much do you like grocery shopping at home? If you think of markets as a fun an interesting place, you don't want to miss this one.
Do locals shop at la Boquería market?
Ok, this is where things get interesting. And the honest answer is less and less. Is it because of all the tourists? No: that’s just an snobby excuse. Hear me well, because this is what the media and the blogs don’t tell you but I’ve seen happen with my own eyes through the years.
Mercat de la Boqueria relied too much on customers that weren’t its natural clients. Shoppers that turned to la Boqueria when their usual markets closed for refurbishment works (Mercat de Santa Caterina in El Born between 1999-2005, then Mercat de Sant Antoni in the other end of Raval between 2009-2018). And when those markets reopened, Mercat de la Boqueria suffered from that. Plus all of a sudden it had strong competitors like it had never had, with smaller crowds and easier access.
The three years it took (2007-2010) to renovate la Boqueria food market parking lot also kept clients from other districts away, and they never came back after finding alternatives closer to their homes. Because coincidentally, these last years the city council has made a tremendous effort to renovate the district markets, modernizing them and having them open also in the afternoons. When 20 years ago La Boqueria Market was the only market open after lunch, now the competition has increased.
And while 20 years ago you couldn’t find exotic foods from Asia or Latin-America anywhere but in La Boqueria, now even small grocery shops owned by immigrants carry it. Locals don’t need to cross the city to find extravagant ingredients anymore: they can even order them online. Plus the expansion of food chains such as Bonarea for meats, La Sirena for seafood (frozen, but who cares?) and Casa Amatller for fruits and vegetables has made the Mercado de la Boqueria way less attractive for daily shopping.
But is it touristy and overprized?
See it like this: tourists where the only ones that kept coming to the market despite everything we’ve mentioned before (except during the pandemic, but even then locals weren’t shopping at the market either). The vendors that could reorient their offer to cater tourists, did it. You’ll see now way more stalls selling food to go than 15 years ago. But you’ll still see many normal and many specialty stalls mostly selling to locals… if you have the patience to walk around.
As for the price, it depends. The stalls towards the entrance tend to be more expensive than those at the back. And if you want something and they don’t display the price, just ask and decide if it’s worth for you or not. But it’s definitely not going to be the rip off of sangria in a terrace on La Rambla… And sure, the tapas bars there aren’t cheap: but the quality and freshness you get is totally worth the price.
History of the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
When in 1777 the gate was demolished, the stalls were moved out. During the next decades their exact location would change a few times, but always stay near where the current market is nowadays. In 1853 a riot burnt down the nearby Convent of Sant Josep (click here for a story about monk ghosts haunting the market), and the convent site was planned to become a porched plaza similar to Plaça Real down La Rambla. The works of the columns around it started (you can still see them around three sides of the market), but some issues with the plumbers in charge of the decorative fountains delayed the rest of the works.
The farmers along La Rambla needing more space, they occupied the middle of the plaza and they wouldn’t leave that location anymore: in 1840 the food market, now Mercat de Sant Josep after the convent, was officially inaugurated, and in 1914 was added the modernist wrought iron roof.
Shopping in the Mercado de la Boquería
Shopping for food to take home
- Spanish ham. Jamón is one of the most appreciated meats in Spain, but before you buy any, make sure to get familiar with the different types of ham so you can make an informed purchase and buy the right thing. Don’t buy a large piece unless you own a restaurant at home: it’s hard to cut if you don’t have the appropriate tools, and it’ll start drying up once you open the package. Go for vacuum packed envelopes of small quantities instead. My favorite place to buy are the Mas charcuterie stalls.
- Olive oil. Certain stalls such as Graus and Eva Lugo carry lovely Spanish olive oil. Keep in mind that you don’t want to pay for extra weight on your flight back, so stick to small size bottles. Their mini-bottles packages also make a great gift to bring back to your foodie friends.
- Saffron and pimenton de la vera paprika. There’s several stalls carrying all kinds of herbs and spices, the colorful Jesus y Carmen being my favorite. Keep one thing in mind, though: pretty packaging means more expensive. If you just want a cute gift, go for a pretty glass jar or decorated tin. But if you are a cook, go for the simple plastic boxes that have more quantity for the same price.
Shopping for cooking
If you are lucky enough to have rented an apartment with kitchen near La Boqueria market, here are some of my recommendations:
- Llegums La Boqueria. The have two stalls selling cooked beans and traditional homemade food. Ask them to give you as many portions as you need. You’ll only need to heat them up when you are back to the apartment and ready to eat.
- Boket. A spectacular gourmet butcher’s with the best selection of veal meats and burgers.
- Ous de Calaf. Two stalls selling all kind of eggs. Wouldn’t it be fun to make an ostrich egg omelet?
- Cal Neguit. My choice for local produce, most of it coming from sustainable (although not organic) agriculture.
- Angelina i Miquel and Pep i Eva. Fishmongers selling seafood from local fishermen. They sometimes have sting ray, moray or sword fish when it’s in season.
- Menuts Rosa. And if you are adventurous enough, head to this offal stall owned by the same family for 4 generations. Rosa is also a chef, and in her professional kitchen next to the market cooks her products following old traditional recipes, then vacuum packs it so you only have to warm it up at home.
Eating in La Boqueria Market
- Food to go. Most stalls selling fast food to go such as croquettes, tacos, wraps and empanadas are located in the right hand side of La Boqueria, as you enter from la Rambla. They are pretty much the same, and their prices are similar, so take your time to walk around until you find your favorite find. This is probably the cheapest (but most “touristy”) way to eat in El Mercado de la Boquería, as they cater mostly to tourists (and me, when I’m in a hurry and I need a bite!). Special mention for the Greek take away Simposion (on the other side of the market) and the vegetarian choices of Organic.
- Small tastings. A more fun way to eat your way through La Boqueria barcelona market is to make small purchases here and there: a ham cone here, some olives there, a strawberry skewer a bit further… In the outside lane of the fish section you’ll also find fried fish to go, but in my opinion it doesn’t look too fresh: you’ll be better off with some oysters or sea urchins from the inside lane of the fish section. Also, beware of the candy and chocolate stores: they go by weight and it can get expensive real quick! Start small and add up until you reach your budget.
- Tapas bars. My favorite way to eat at the market! Its so much fun to seat at one of their stools along the counters and see them cook and talk to their regulars! It’s not cheap, though: you are paying for their premium location and their super fresh food. But so worth it! These are my favorite Boqueria tapas bars.
Tours of the Mercat de la Boqueria
So… here is where I’m going to tell you to book one of my food tours! LOL, where you expecting it? Well, the thing is that there are so many people giving Boqueria market tours, now. What we do are personalized private food tours of Barcelona, sometimes of just the market, sometimes the market and other food shops and tapas bars, sometimes the market mixed with some sightseeing. They are always private tours, only for you, no one else. And they aren’t cookie-cutters. We don’t’ include tastings ,so you can freely decide where to spend your money rather than having to go with whatever a random guide has decided in advance. Each one of our tours is different, because we adapt to you and your preferences.
Ok, but what if you don’t have enough budget for a private tour? My blog is for everyone, and I also have some recommendations for you (even if the tours below aren’t run by ForeverBarcelona).
How to get to La Boqueria in Barcelona
- Address: La Rambla, 91. See on a map >>
- Closest subway station: Liceu (L3, green line). Attention: Liceu is one of the few stations in Barcelona where the platforms aren’t connected. That shouldn’t be a problem to get to the market, but when leaving the market make sure you are entering the station by the entrance to the platform going on the direction where you are going. Otherwise you’ll end up having to get out and pay again to get to the other platform (or hop on the train and switch platforms on the next stop).
- Closest bus stops: Lines 59 and V13 have stops less than one block away.
- Closest tourist bus stop: Plaça de Catalunya, then walk 7 minutes down La Rambla.
Opening hours of La Boqueria food market (and when to go)
La Boqueria market is open MON-SAT, from 8AM to 8.30PM. But don’t be misguided: until 10AM most stalls aren’t ready yet and you’ll still see lots of boxes in the middle of the way as the vendors are still unpacking and arranging the goods on the stalls. Crowds start arriving around 11AM.
Similarly, around locals lunch you’ll see a lot of stalls (specially the fish section and those to the bottom of the market) start closing. The beans stalls and the farmers market on Plaça de Sant Galdrich will usually be gone by 2PM. After 4PM all the bars will have closed, and only the to-go stalls, the fruit/vegetable and some meat shops will still be open, as well as only a couple of seafood shops. I don’t think I’ve ever been there later than 7PM, but I would not expect to find much open that late: it’ll be mostly vendors packing up.
Final tips and rules to visit the Barcelona Boqueria market
- There's a public toilet at the end of the market, going down some stairs. If you've already made a purchase, show your ticket to be allowed to use them for free. Otherwise you'll have to pay some cents.
- If you are visiting with kids, to the back of the market opens a big plaza with some seats (La Gardunya), and to the bottom of it to the right there's one more plaza (Jardins del Doctor Fleming) with a small playground.
- Arrive to Mercat de la Boqueria after 6PM to find good deals (like 2 juices for the price of one). On Saturday afternoon the vendors are interested in selling out and often might give you a good deal or throw in a free goodie, the later it gets (but that only applies to fish and some groceries).
- Since the pandemic, most stalls take now credit cards besides cash.
- Be kind and respectful. No making fun of “weird” foods.
- Don’t touch anything even if you want to buy it: point at it and the vendor will do the rest.
- Don’t take pictures of the vendors (specially DON’T use flash – some vendors suffer migraines because of constant flashes), unless they have given you permission. Pictures of the food are OK.
- Don’t block the way of locals with shopping carts.
- Don’t try to haggle (that’s considered very offensive)
- At the bars, ask a waiter where to seat: at some they don’t care, whereas at others they go by strict order of arrival and they’ll tell you when it’s your turn and where to seat.
Are you planning to visit La Boqueria Barcelona Market?
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
RESEARCHING FOR A TRIP IS TIME-CONSUMING...
Need more inspiration?
Our 100% FREE Barcelona Collection will give you everything you need to organize the trip of your lifetime to Barcelona.
BEST INSIDER TIPS FROM THE PROS!