A Food Market Founded in 1217 Is Still the Best in the World

Barcelona’s oldest market is still top of mind for travelers who live to eat. It remains, in every sense of the word, dazzling.

<p>John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Image</p>

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Image

I was in my 20s and it was my first trip to Europe. Barcelona didn’t have the top billing in my mind back then as an inexperienced traveler. I wanted London, Paris, and Rome, but the city in Spain happened to be my cruise port. And in just a couple of short days, the capital of Catalan culture blew me away. Not least of all because a visit to the market, La Boqueria on La Rambla, marked the start of a lifelong love affair with European-style open-air food markets.

Clearly, this revelatory experience isn’t exclusive, or I wouldn’t be penning this ode to the 2024 Global Tastemakers winner of Best Market for Food and Drinks, among the best culinary destinations around the world. Barcelona’s oldest market, founded in 1217, is still top of mind for travelers who live to eat. It remains, in every sense of the word, dazzling.

The minute you slip through the packed entrance, marked by Modernist arches with its formal name, Mercat de Sant Josep, you’re met with stimulation for every sense. Fresh fruits – whole, juiced, and blended in varieties both familiar and less so – perfume the air between what is now over 200 stalls scattered across 27,000 square feet. Dried fruit and nuts splay out in terraced boxes, tempting you to stick your hands right in to feel the soft polish and test the plushness of the prunes. Loose candy, neon and sparkling with sugar, doubles that childlike impulse.

The gloriousness of the produce shouts loudest, a riotous explosion of vibrant colors that our scientifically developed supermarket lights can only hope to emulate. The hues, the types seem almost profligate until you realize that all will be sold by market’s close at 8:30 p.m., when buyers will strike the best bargains.

Rest assured, you’re never the only one to stand fixed, mesmerized before these stands trying to identify the seller’s wares. What is that, whole sugar cane? A spring onion, largely bulbous, glowingly pregnant with flavor to be unlocked by chargrilling? From there, the shopkeepers will tell you where to stop next to find the right accompaniment.

They’ll point you to their butcher friends, identifiable by whole haunches of ham strung up on their awnings by the trotter. Follow the scent of big spices to the dried sausages floating among them, cured and whitewashed with just enough salt that a whiff as you pass will have you doubling back to see what you just missed. But watch your step when you make your way to the fish market, where the pavement underfoot becomes slippery as the ice beneath the day’s catches melts with the hours. Here, you’ll find razor clams bundled tightly while their insides droop loosely, fishmongers wielding enormous cleavers fileting fish to order or using smaller knives to shuck an oyster on the spot — a refreshing snack offered with wedges of lemon and napkins for the juices of either.

This snack-and-go approach is a quintessential part of the experience. Between stalls of food for later is food for now: a glass of Spanish wine here, a wedge of cheese or parcel of olives there, a small sandwich of fresh crusty bread with jamon Ibérico you can’t resist picking up while wandering. Grab a seat along a counter where you can, as few are available. Some stands offer as little as eight seats for nine-course tasting menus that are only available on a first come, first served basis. No matter where you stop, the chances of it not being exceptional are slim – competitive, hungry La Boqueria spits out mediocrity.

Related: Make the Bikini, Barcelona’s Favorite Sandwich, at Home

For that reason alone, this 13th-century market remains relevant. Its age is not its sole justification for the title of Global Tastemaker, it’s the constant pursuit of evolution and improvement that keeps it current, even as it preserves the sanctity of its history. Restoration to the Ionic columns of the market and a remodel that brought it back to its arcaded square roots occurred in tandem to the installation of glass awnings that let in natural light and protect market-goers from the elements. In 2015, a new section was built into the rear façade as part of the Placa de la Gardunya landscaping project that added new stalls and better logistics for purveyors. Be sure to grab your copy of the quarterly updated Boqeriamap, which lays out the stalls, eating, and service areas – it’s free. Even savvier, attend a workshop or event in the Boqueria Classroom on the third floor if you can.

Best of all, unlike certain other markets, you don’t have to rush to rise before the sun for the best of La Boqueria. A leisurely 10 a.m. start positions you perfectly for prime-time shopping, snacking, and falling hopelessly in love with open-air markets … just as I did.

Global Tastemakers is a celebration of the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. We asked more than 180 food and travel journalists to vote on their favorites, including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. We then entrusted those results to an expert panel of judges to determine each category’s winners. In many categories, we’ve included a judge’s pick, hand-selected by our expert panel, to shout out more culinary destinations we don’t want our readers to miss. See all the winners at

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