When CNN travel included Barcelona at the top of the list of destinations to avoid in 2018 it wasn’t because of the political crisis engulfing Spain’s northeastern region.
Nor was it because of last summer’s terror attacks, when a van ploughed down pedestrians strolling along the bustling Las Ramblas in Barcelona, killing 14 people in what was the first Islamic State inspired attacks on Spanish soil.
Although both would be valid reasons to make visitors think twice about a visit to Barcelona, CNN explained that the primary reason to avoid Barcelona was because it has become “too touristy”.
It warned that the “34 million tourists visiting in 2016, a 25 percent jump from 2012” had led “to anger from locals, with anti-tourist graffiti emerging across the city”.
And although it is true that the city has become overwhelmed with tourism, prompting a backlash and new measures by City Hall to curtail mass tourism, should tourists be avoiding the city altogether?
Unhelpful clickbait from @CNNTravel suggesting people avoid #Barcelona (and other destinations) due to over tourism. How about giving travellers tools to help them visit these destinations more sustainably (rather than just pushing the problem elsewhere). https://t.co/Adq4NKkMzs
— James Blick (@theSpainGuy) January 22, 2018
So has Barcelona really had its day or is it still possible to enjoy a visit to the city by tourists without provoking anger among the locals?
The Local asked independent tour organizers in the city for their tips on how tourists can behave in a responsible and sustainable way.
Thanks to their feedback, this is our guide:
Ramble away from La Rambla!
Las Ramblas is always heaving with tourists. Photo: AFP
One of the challenges in Barcelona is that the historic centre (including the famous Las Ramblas) is very small area and it’s understandably where most tourists head. But keep in mind the city is full of beautiful neighbourhoods and by exploring them you’re not only taking the pressure off the centre, but also you'll likely enjoy a more local experience, explains James Blick, co-founder of Devour Tours.
Additionally, you’ll be helping to support businesses in areas that generally see less tourism and thus you’ll be spreading the impact of the tourist dollar across the city. Devour Tours suggest you try exploring the Sant Antoni, Gracia or Poblenou neighbourhoods.
Go Beyond the Boqueria
Of course, visiting the Boqueria Market is an unforgettable experience. But keep in mind that the city is packed with neighbourhood markets which allow possibly a more authentic and certainly a less crowded insight into market life in Barcelona. Each mercat possesses its own unique charm and atmosphere. Meet the local characters behind the bustling stalls and pick up some produce for a picnic. The Santa Caterina market in the Born or the Ninot market in the Eixample are great options.
Lisa Grace, founder of Hidden City tours, which offers tours of Barcelona with a homeless guide, has this tip: “When visiting any food market, it´s important to respect the stalls as living, breathing businesses. Don´t just look, make sure you buy something when you are there, if you´re self-catering then buy fresh meat, seafood or fish, even if you´re in a hotel then buy some olives, cheese, ham and other snacks to nibble on. If the markets are crowded by tourists that just come to look then they will turn into museums.”
Get out of the crowded city and into the fresh air
See the city from Montjuic- Photo: Patrick Down/Flickr
Visit the beautiful pine forests of Montjuic surrounding the castle of Montjuic with views to the harbour and picnic spots up at the Mirador del Migdia. Montuic is also the home of the 1929 expo and 1992 olympic games. Avoid the long queues for the teleferic and stroll up through the unique cactus gardens of Jardins Mossen Costa i Llobera and Jardins Miramar. Visit the ornate hispano arabic jardines de Laribal with its own theatre built into the rocks.
Even the Collserola hills are only a 10 minute metro-ride away from the city center, and will show you some untouched nature at the doorstep of Barcelona. There is a huge coastline as well. The further you go from the center, the more tranquil and authentic the beaches get. And the less you'll be perceived as a tourist.
Avoid high street stores
“If there is one thing that can lower the negative impact that tourism brings to the city, it's making sure that your money goes to local businesses instead of major chains,” said Julien Simon, founder of Good Goal.
“Barcelona is full of sustainable projects and businesses. From neighbourhood grocery stores offering ecological fruits and vegetables from the region, to sustainable souvenir and fashion shops, where the staff know everything about the production of your item.
Choose Your Accommodation Wisely
Banners reading “No tourist flats” hang from a balcony in Barceloneta to protest against holiday rental apartments. Photo: AFP
Locals in Barcelona are rightly concerned that home rental platforms like AirBnB are driving up property prices and making the city an unsustainable place to live. Tourist rental properties must have a council license to operate, but unfortunately there are still many places for rent that are unlicensed and therefore illegal. Check this council website to find out if the place you’re looking to rent is legal.
And don’t forget – if you are staying in a residential area, there are people living above and below you – be respectful and don’t make too much noise (especially at night).
Choose you method of transport respectfully.
Don´t clog up the gothic quarter narrow streets with bikes or segways or the beach front with motorised scooters. The city is best seen walking at a leisurely pace..
Dine like a local
Go to small, local and family run restaurants, advises Guillaume of Barcelona Slow Travel. Avoid restaurants with English menus or with pictures, and try to order something you have no idea about. If you get a chance, try to ask a local sitting nearby for a recommendation of their favourite.
Visit less popular museums
Photo: Erotic Museum Barcelona
Runner Bean Tours, which offers Free Walking Tours in Barcelona, suggests that sometimes, the best museums are not necessarily the most publicised. For example, why not visit MNAC instead of the Picasso Museum,Casa Amatller instead of Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens & Bellesguard instead of La Pedrera.
If you don’t want to miss out on a visit to the most popular ones, then try and choose the quietest times (just before closing at Casa Batlló or very early in the morning for Park Güell). When choosing a private tour to visit the sites and museums, try to find a local private tour guide.
Have an authentic experience away from the crowds
Visit a Catalan vineyard. Photo: Angela Llop/Flickr
All the tour groups we contacted offer “experience tours”, whether it’s visitng a family-run vineyard or dining on the Catalan speciality calçots.
Learn some words in Catalan
A great way to interact better with the local community and get a less negative impression of tourism is always to exchange one or two words in the local language.
Choose a Responsible Tour Operator
Go with a group that believes tourism should have a positive impact on a city or country, and it’s only when the industry is not appropriately regulated and when tourism providers eye short terms goals over long term sustainability that the locals lose out and turn against tourists.
For the purpose of this article The Local consulted five differnet independent companies over sustainable tours in Barcelona for their tips; Devour Tours; Good Goal; Runner Bean Tours; Barcelona Slow Travel; and Hidden City.