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13 mistakes tourists in Spain are bound to make

If you're planning a holiday in Spain, there are a few faux pas you should be aware of. These are some of the most common mistakes tourists make when visiting Spain.

Parc Guell, Barcelona
Tourists in Spain. Photo: Danor Aharon / Pixabay

Eating too early 
Spaniards have very specific meal times and if you try to eat too early, you’ll find that many places are not serving yet or are not even open. The Spanish don’t eat lunch until at least 2pm and don’t even think about finding a restaurant for dinner before 8pm, as it won’t be open. Most locals will eat dinner even later than this. 

Ordering paella for dinner
In Spain, paella is a lunch dish and should not be ordered in the evening. Typically the main meal of the day is eaten at lunchtime, while smaller and lighter meals such as tapas are eaten in the evening. 
Not knowing that different regions have different languages
Whatever region you’re visiting, you’ll want to be aware of what the local language is – hint: it’s not always Spanish. There are actually five official languages in Spain including Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese. However, there are also other languages spoken, such as Valencian in the Valencia region, which has similarities with Catalan. 
Walking around with no shirt on 
In countries such as the UK and Australia, when it gets hot, the shirts come off (typically for men), everywhere from public parks to the streets and even supermarkets. In Spain, this is a no-no. Going shirtless is only for the beach and is actually considered illegal in some places. You may be refused entry if you try to shop half-naked. 
Falling for tourist traps
This applies particularly to eating and drinking around famous tourist sites. You’ll find that if you don’t stray far enough, normal meals will be almost double the price and half the quality, you may also find that you’re charged for the most expensive bottle of wine possible, even if you had wanted the house wine.
Not buying tickets in advance
Some of the most popular tourist attractions can get incredibly busy and be booked up days, if not weeks (and sometimes months) in advance. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Spain is the second most visited country in the world with 83 million visitors in 2019, this means that you definitely need to buy tickets well in advance for sites such as Granada’s Alhambra and Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.


Going shopping after lunch
Hoping to fit in a spot of shopping after lunch? Forget it, shops in most places in Spain close between 2pm and 5pm. There may be exceptions in the centres of big cities and tourist souvenir stores will often stay open. 
Trying to do errands on a Sunday
Sunday is a strict rest day in Spain. Everything closes, from shops and supermarkets to banks and post offices. Make sure you’re not trying to send a postcard or exchange money on a Sunday as it will be a waste of time. Tourist attractions and museums will generally stay open. 
Unlike in countries such as the US, wait staff in Spain are paid a salary, so it’s not necessary to tip 15-20 percent on top of your meal. If the restaurant is particularly nice or you feel you had exceptional service, you can tip 10 percent, but otherwise just leaving your change is perfectly acceptable. 
Ordering sangria 
You know someone is a tourist in Spain when they order a sangria. This fruity wine-based concoction is rarely consumed by local Spaniards. They will instead order a tinto de verano – wine mixed with a fizzy lemonade-like drink or just a wine on its own. 
Expecting locals will always speak English 
Many tourists will come to Spain expecting to not have to speak much Spanish at all and assume that locals will speak English. While many Spaniards working in hospitality do speak basic English, if you head away from the tourist centres, try to do anything out of the ordinary or visit more rural areas, you’ll find that it’s not that great. Maybe try learning some basic Spanish to help you get by. 
Being too careless with your belongings 
Unfortunately, pickpockets are common in Spain’s most popular tourist cities, including Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Don’t make the mistake of putting your phone in your back pocket or leaving your camera on the table while you eat as you’ll find it won’t be there for long. 
Thinking that tapas is a cheap meal 
Many tourists assume that tapas is a cheap meal, however the reality is that going out for tapas can get pretty expensive – particularly if there are only two of you. Each small plate typically ranges in price from €4 – €10, depending on where you are in Spain, but it can go up to €12 – €15 in nicer restaurants. Ordering just 4 different dishes for the table can soon rack up. You’ll also find that sometimes you don’t want a huge plate of jamón (ham) just for the two of you, but are unable to order less. 

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FOCUS: Mass tourism returns to Barcelona – and with it debate

Visitors are once again jamming the narrow streets of Barcelona's Gothic quarter as global travel bounces back from the pandemic, reviving tensions over mass tourism in the Spanish port city.

FOCUS: Mass tourism returns to Barcelona - and with it debate

Hotel occupancy in the city rose in April, which included the Easter long weekend, to nearly 85 percent, close to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Barcelona Hotel Guild.

“There are more and more cruise ships, more and more tourism, more and more massification,” said Marti Cuso, a high school biology teacher who has long campaigned against mass tourism invading the city centre.

“This has been a shock after two years of pandemic,” said Cuso, 32, who had hoped the city would use the pandemic pause to change its tourism model.

Cuso, who grew up in the Gothic quarter, said he enjoyed the calm that descended on the neighbourhood, which is normally flooded with tour groups visiting its mediaeval buildings.

After receiving a record of nearly 12 million visitors at its hotels and tourist apartments in 2019, arrivals plunged by 76.8 percent in 2020, mirroring declines across Europe.

“People reclaimed the squares, children played in the streets again,” said Cuso.

The pandemic also showed the dangers of having an “economic monoculture based on tourism,” he said.

“The majority of residents who worked in tourism found themselves out of work overnight,” said Cuso.

Tourist arrivals in Barcelona had risen steadily before the pandemic and the tourism sector accounted for around 15 percent of the economy of Spain’s second-largest city before the health crisis.

Tourists on bicycles listen to a tour guide at Plaza Real in Barcelona, on May 11, 2022. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

‘Control the damage’

The boom in tourism sparked a backlash, with regular protests, including one in 2017 where vigilantes slashed the tyres of an open-top tourist bus and spray-painted its windshields.

Barcelona residents identified tourism as the city’s main problem in a poll carried out that year by city hall.

“We must change the model to reconcile the two worlds. We can’t have the tourists’ city on one side and the city of locals on the other,” Francesc Muñoz, who heads an Observatory studying Urbanisation at Barcelona’s Autonomous University, told AFP.

With terraces once again full of tourists drinking sangria, Barcelona’s leftist city hall said recently it plans fresh measures to tame the sector.

Access to the busiest squares could be restricted, and the circulation of tourist buses more tightly regulated.

Barcelona city hall has already cracked down on illegal listings on online rental firms like Airbnb and banned tour groups from entering the historic La Boqueria market during peak shopping times.

“Tourism is an important economic, social and cultural asset for Barcelona,” said Xavier Marcé, the city councillor in charge of tourism.

“We need to optimise the benefits and control the damage. This is the debate which all European cities are having,” he added.

Tourists eat a paella and drink sangría on Las Ramblas. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

‘Find a balance’

Marcé rejected the argument that the city did not use the two-year slump in arrivals due to the pandemic to change the city’s tourism model.

“Two years have not been lost. It is very difficult to solve the problems of tourism when there is no tourism,” he said.

Tour guide Eva Martí, 51, said she understands the concerns of residents, but believes formulas must be found to maintain an activity which provides a living to many locals.

“During this 13 years I have worked as a guide, it is harder and harder to show tourists around,” she said in a reference to measures such as rules limiting the size of tour groups to 15 people in some areas.

“We have to find a balance,” she added at a sun-drenched esplanade in the Gothic quarter before taking a tour group back to their cruise ship in Barcelona’s port.

Cuso, the anti-mass tourism campaigner, agreed with her.

“We are not asking for zero tourism. There will always be tourism, but we have to have a diversified city, where tourism coexists with other types of economic activity,” he said.