How to enjoy Barcelona and be a thoughtful tourist
With its heady mix of Modernista architecture, five-star glitz, kilometres of beaches, and old town charm, few cities can compete with Barcelona as a holiday destination. And, its star looks set to keep rising. In 2016 alone, Barcelona welcomed over 30 million extra people to its streets.
Traditionally a friendly and welcoming city to outsiders, Barcelona’s international standing is a big source of pride to local residents. However, the busy streets and rising rental prices in the city centre have led people to wonder if the influx of visitors is having a negative effect on daily life. Venice has dealt with its tourism phenomenon by introducing a ‘code of conduct’ to encourage tourists to act in a way that is respectful to the local people. A similar idea has been suggested for Barcelona. In the meantime, we’ve come up with our own rules on how to help the city by being a thoughtful tourist and enjoying its most authentic side. Follow these and not only will you be keeping to the sustainable tourism model, but you’ll reap some personal benefits too.
Choose your accommodation carefully
The most contentious issue with local residents is the rapid rise of illegal tourist flats in the city centre. These apartments have been blamed for many things, from noisy parties to pushing up house prices, and avoidance of the tourist tax that other (legal) accommodations pay. The council has fought a long battle against these apartments and issues heavy fines to their owners. Our advice is to stay clear of accommodation that is not legally licensed. That way, not only do you ensure that you are contributing to the local economy through the tourist tax, but it also guarantees a hassle-free stay for you. If you want to see if a flat you are thinking of renting is licensed, you can use the local council’s checking tool here.
Escape the beaten track
Barcelona is a varied city with many fascinating areas to stay beyond the historic centre. Go further afield and you’ll find places with significantly fewer tourists and a more authentic feel. Accommodation prices tend to be lower outside the centre and you’ll enjoy seeing a slice of true neighbourhood life. We like Horta for its friendly down-to-earth vibe, or Sant Antoni, an upcoming area just out of the old centre. Every area in Barcelona has its own market which, though perhaps not quite as glorious as the Boquería, will be a lot less crowded and just as much fun. Equally, there are tasty restaurants, traditional bars and sunny squares in just about every corner of the city. The metro system is extensive and efficient, so getting around needn’t be a problem. The city council is trying to encourage people to stay outside of the centre through legislation controlling the number of tourist apartments in certain areas. For the city, this helps to take the pressure off the most crowded areas while encouraging spending in places that don’t normally benefit.
Consider an off-season holiday
Barcelona enjoys blue skies all year round, and an autumn or winter break from the grey skies at home can be all the more uplifting. You could also extend your stay and take in more of the region’s sights. Catalunya is a fantastic destination with a rich variety of landscapes and activities to explore, from rocky beaches and secret coves on the Costa Brava to traditional wineries in the Penedès, and stunning Pyrenean mountain scenery. You could even take a weekend trip to another Catalan city. To the north, Girona offers quiet pedestrian streets, and excellent shopping and dining, as well as some fine historic sights, such as its imposing cathedral and well-preserved Jewish quarter. To the south, you can visit Tarragona, once known as Tàrraco, one of the most important cities in the Roman empire. Explore the ancient ruins, including the stunning amphitheatre that overlooks the Mediterranean. By avoiding peak season, you’ll be helping redress the balance of tourism throughout the year.
Made in Barcelona
The city is home to many creative and artistic souls who create some beautiful wares. From jewellery to home textiles and clothes, it’s easy to buy quality gifts that have been made locally. This design conscious city excels in good-looking, eco-friendly products. So, leave the shops on the Ramblas behind and look instead try the hitting the streets of the Barri Gòtic, Gràcia, the Raval and the Born to uncover small boutiques and galleries selling locally designed gifts. Try concept store Rollitoasi in Gràcia for some fabulous accessories, gifts and souvenirs, or OMG BCN in the Born for gorgeous decorations, jewellery and more, all made in Barcelona by local designers and crafters.
Use your holiday as a time to engage with the local culture and people. Catalunya and Barcelona have many rich traditions and festivities which you will be very welcome to join or watch. From the castellers who build human towers, to running the streets in a correfoc with fire breathing dragons and devils, or indulging in the many different seasonal foods, some immersion in the local culture will be very rewarding. And, why not give the language a go? Locals generally speak both Catalan (the local language of Catalunya) and Spanish. Try your hand at either and your efforts will be much appreciated.