Europe’s biggest food market began as an open-air market nearly 200 years ago. The founders decided to set up along the heavily travelled La Rambla to attract more passers-by. As the space gained popularity, more and more shops popped up along the streets, making the area the massive shopping and tourist attraction it is today.
On any given day in La Boqueria, you can spot hundreds of tourists searching for a bite of Barcelona’s gastro magic and usually ending up with a pre-sliced quarter of overpriced pineapple. Even though some of the food is double the price you'll pay in another of the city's markets and the space is jam-packed, La Boqueria is still an essential stop for every visitor. You can’t miss taking in the rainbow of fresh produce ready to be transformed into a delicious meal like the orderly stacks of ridged Montserrat tomatoes, the wet sacks of snails and the oozing razor clams on the fish stalls.
But if you’re not particularly fond of cooking a fish that still has its eyes fully attached, try some of the pre-made options around the market. Inexpensive calzones heated upon order, organic falafel smothered in sauce, cones of the famous 'jamón' and more tapas bars than would ever be necessary pepper the rows, giving you plenty of options.
However, when you choose to make your obligatory stop at La Boqueria, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
First, this is a huge tourist attraction. The loud noises and hundreds of distracted visitors and shoppers crammed into one place make this prime pickings for pickpocketers. As you wander the aisles and feast on the sights and sounds, keep an eye and maybe a hand on your bags. Don’t be so concerned about your bag that you forget to enjoy the market; just be cautious.
Second, remember that locals who live near the market come here to shop, not browse. Respect them. Don’t touch what you don’t want to buy, ask before taking photos, and watch out for humour-challenged old ladies with ankle-destroying wheeled shopping bags.
Third, the market is huge. The first thing you see isn’t necessarily the best quality or price. Look around, compare prices and buy later. If you're lacking in patience, you’ll end up paying €2 for a plastic cup of juice that you'll find for half the price mere minutes later. Avoid buyer’s remorse by not forking out for eye-catching treats as soon as you step inside.
Finally, visit in the early morning hours. You'll see the best produce, including the smallholders' fruit and vegetable stalls in the little square attached to the C/Carme side of the market, where prices tend to be lower. It will also be less crowded, which lets you spend less time stressing about your belongings and more time enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the market.