It’s easy to fall in love with Barcelona’s beaches, parks, shopping, and fine gastronomy. Add in the happening cultural scene, charming nearby villages, and architecture, and it’s no surprise that more than 30 million tourists visit every year, which is 18 times the total population. Imagining a crowd of that size is difficult, and trying to find a free spot on La Barceloneta, Barcelona’s main beach, during the high season is even harder.
While mass tourism is a real challenge in the city, it’s still possible to explore and enjoy Barcelona in a sustainable and authentic way. Many exciting local companies have popped up that offer sustainable travel experiences that support the economy, the environment, and the city’s creative entrepreneurs.
1. Celebrate something special (or life in general) on a picnic.
Take in Barcelona’s ambiance on a secluded picnic with Spanish wine, artisanal cheese, and local delicacies from family-run providers. The idea of getting to know Barcelona in a different way is what Picnic Barcelona is all about. Founded in 2014, the brand is an upgrade on the traditional picnic — why else would you pay someone to arrange one, after all — with an elaborate, hand-picked menu to ensure that you end up at the right place with the right basket for your proposal, birthday, event, or a treat on a regular day (don’t we all need those sometimes?). This is a great option if you’re looking to escape the crowded markets and restaurants without sacrificing good food and being surrounded by incredible architecture.
2. Experience football culture like an insider.
Whether or not you’re a football fan, there’s something special about experiencing the 99,000-seat Camp Nou stadium like an insider. Run by a team of sports journalists who cover the games, Visit Camp Nou lets you explore Europe’s biggest stadium as if you were about to play a game with FC Barcelona. Access the changing room, the tunnel to the field, the benches, and the trophies room. Learn about the club’s history and tactics, as well as where the motto of Barca (“More Than One Club”) really comes from.
Along with visiting Camp Nou, the tour digs into the city’s sports culture. From the Colón area to the restaurant of legendary player Luis Suárez, you’ll see how football culture is reflected all over the city. Private experiences can be arranged too, such as meeting in a bar before a game to discuss strategies over a caña (beer). It doesn’t get much more FC Barcelona than that.
3. Choose between tapas or biking and photography.
Photo Bike Tour Barcelona started after the founder, Alfredo, returned from a two-year, round-the-world trip. Centered around photographing the city’s most popular sites, the tour takes visitors around the city on electric bikes. The standard four-hour Discover Barcelona tour explores highlights all over the city, and the electric bikes make cruising down the streets in groups of four to six people a seamless experience. The tour stops at places to eat along the way, though if you’re more about food than architecture, the walking Tapas Tour is a better option. On the latter, you’ll try local specialties matched with Spanish cava. Just be careful — you might end up a little tipsy.
4. Experience Barcelona gastronomy with a local chef.
Inspired by the concept of food sharing, Born to Cook launched in 2014 to connect people with the city’s gastronomy. The activities are led by chefs and event planning specialists and focus on cuisine, cocktails, and wine. The Market & Cooking Class tour lets you step into the world of real Catalan cuisine. The La Boqueria and Santa Caterina markets are on the agenda, and, after shopping with the chefs, you participate in a paella cooking class. The meal is paired with cava and other wines.
The action takes place in El Born, one of Barcelona’s most historic neighborhoods, in buildings that date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The Barcelona Food Safari tour is another option, which takes you to a series of tapas bars while learning about tapeo, the “art” of eating tapas.
5. For women only, discover the city while practicing your visual storytelling.
Barcelona Travel Girls is like touring the city with a good friend who knows the best spots for a photo. The founders, who previously ran Barcelona travel blogs, first connected via Instagram. Barcelona Travel Girls’ experiences are centered around photography perfect for social media and travel blogs with a focus on sharing the story of a place.
The Instagram tour introduces you to the city’s main attractions, as well as to a few secret corners that most visitors overlook. History, photography techniques, and tips on how to get the most out of social media are part of the experience. There are also escapes to nearby towns and meetups like brunches, workshops, and workouts for women who live in Barcelona or are visiting.
6. Disconnect from the rest of the world in the birthplace of cava.
Cava, a sparkling wine unique to Spain, is a regular feature of many tours. On this one, however, it’s the whole show. Cava is primarily made in the Penedés region, which is a 40-minute drive from Barcelona. Experience the region with a guided tour — Sant Sadurní d’Anoia – I love Cava and Vilafranca del Penedès are two great operators with tours that take guests to wineries to sample the goods and pair them with locally sourced foods. Three-day tours are available to better experience the region though single-day tours are available if you’re short on time.
While the bigger, well-known wineries have contributed to Penedés’ global fame, the real charm is found in the smaller, family-run businesses. The tours focus on these smaller operations. You’ll have breakfast outside your rural hotel surrounded by wine fields or even create your own wine. Along the way, you can detour to visit one of many castles in the area or get lost in the Natural Park of Garraf.