Make no mistake: Barcelona is a city of markets, and had been so for two hundred years. Shopping at a market is a kind of religion for locals, and visiting a marketplace first thing in the morning is the best way to learn something about Barcelonians. The markets are where you’ll find suppliers and purveyors of all kinds of foods—especially dried fruits, sausages, cured and fresh meats, fish, and lots of vegetables.
The further you move away from the usual tourist areas, the greater your chances are of finding yourself in a authentic market. It’s not that the ones in the city center are fake, but the presence of tourists has changed the nature of some of them. I'll come right out and say it: Many locals are fed up with these changes and there’s even a movement looking to restore the old-school markets, the traditional ones where you can never, ever find a smoothie.
Mercat de Santa Caterina
This is possibly the most beautiful market in Barcelona—at least from the exterior, thanks to the colorfully painted waves of its rooftop. The inside is very interesting, s well. There are three bars in Santa Caterina and all three are excellent, but the one with no views (it doesn't even have any windows) has one of the best lunch deals in town: three dishes made from the freshest ingredients, including a glass of wine, all for just $12.
Mercat de la Boqueria
This market hardly needs an introduction; La Boqueria has been chosen again and again, in all kinds of surveys, as the best market in the world. The place itself is a thing of beauty, and its bars serve the best breakfast in town (go very early in the morning, like 7 a.m., to get a place at the counter of Pinocho). But it’s best avoided between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the crowds of tourists are unbearable.
Mercat de La llibertat
This is my favorite market in the whole city, and the best one if you want buy food for a fair price. The neighborhood is full of young people, which gives the place a very nice vibe. A highlight of the market for me is the fishermen who, at the same counter where they sell the fish, can also cook it for you in a sort of pop-up restaurant. Just stand at the counter (there are no tables) and order the clams and any fresh fish that catches your eye.
Mercat de Sant Andreu
This market is far from the city center and, as a result, is generally only visited by locals. That’s why the prices are so low, even if you have access to exactly the same things that you can find at any other market in the city. The sandwiches at the bar are great, and there’s a good shopping mall just a five-minute walk away. It's only 20 minutes from the city center on the subway, so if you dare, consider renting an apartment nearby and enjoying a real Barcelona neighborhood experience.
Mercat de Sant Antoni
Sant Antoni is not a classical food market. But on Sundays, you have a good chance of finding all kinds of second hand goods here (from sport memorabilia to vintage clothing) and enjoying a good vermouth (the aperitif drink of choice) in one of the bars around the market. Enjoying a Catalan brunch is one of the best things you can do in the city on a Sunday.