How to avoid the tourist crowds in Barcelona, according to a local

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
How to avoid the tourist crowds in Barcelona, according to a local
How to avoid the crowds in Barcelona. Photo: Joseph Gilbey / Unsplash

The Catalan coastal city is the most-visited in the whole of Spain, meaning that getting away from the crowds can be tricky. The Local writer and Barcelona resident Esme Fox gives her top tips on how to escape other tourists.


In 2019, before the pandemic, Barcelona welcomed a record-breaking 12 million visitors and this year, 2023, the figures are on course to be even more. With tourists often far outnumbering the 1.6 million residents, it can feel very crowded, particularly in the high summer season. Luckily, there are several ways to avoid other tourists, if you know how. 

Explore other neighbourhoods

Every tourist knows the Gothic Quarter, El Born, Eixample, Gracia and possibly Poblenou, but you may not even realise that other city neighbourhoods exist, let alone think about visiting them. If you travel slightly further than the main tourist circuit, you’re sure to escape the crowds and you’ll definitely be rewarded.

There’s well-heeled Sarrià-Sant Gervasi in the northwest of the city, home to graceful old villas, boutique shops and lots of independent restaurants. Sights up here include Mount Tibidabo and the Pedralbes Monastery. Then there’s peaceful and down-to-earth Horta-Guinardo with lots of greenery and parks, including the Parc del Laberint d'Horta with its very own hedge maze. Or maybe you should try the very local and traditional neighbourhood of Sant Andreu, home to unusual sights such as Fàbrica de Creació Fabra i Coats, a modern art museum in an old thread factory or Nau Bostik, also housed in an old factory and now a cultural centre covered in some of the city’s best street art murals and home to vintage markets and festivals.

Visit some of Barcelona's lesser-known neighbourhoods. Photo: Javier Aranda / Unsplash


Choose a hotel away from the centre

While it’s true that the majority of hotels in Barcelona are in the central areas such as Plaça de Catalunya, Las Ramblas, Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya, if you choose hotels away from these areas or in some of the neighbourhoods mentioned above, then you’ll find it to be a lot quieter. You’ll also find many hotel options near the Camp Nou football stadium, which lies to the northwest of the centre. Apart from the stadium, this area doesn’t get crowded at all, it’s even close to some lovely parks and gardens such as the Jardins del Palau de Pedralbes and the rose gardens of the Parc de Cervantes.

Visit alternative sights

There’s no escaping the fact that the main city sights are going to be crowded, but there are plenty of excellent alternative ones that don’t get anywhere near as many visitors. If you’ve been to Barcelona before and have already done the big Antoni Gaudí attractions like the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló, then there’s a lot more to see in other areas of the city, that are arguably just as good.

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Just a 15-minute walk up the road from Sagrada Família is the epic Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, an old art nouveau hospital designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which definitely holds its own. Sitting right next to Casa Batlló, but way less crowded is the Casa de Amatller - it may not have been designed by Gaudí, but its Modernista style is equally impressive. While on Calle Diagonal, you'll also find Casa de les Punxes, another marvellous grand Modernista home that welcomes far fewer visitors. If you definitely want more Gaudí, visit some of his lesser-known buildings like Casa Vicens or Torre Bellesguard

Visit Barcelona's epic Modernista hospital. Photo: Manuel Torres Garcia / Pixabay


Get out into nature

Believe it or not, there are lots of opportunities to get out into nature, even within the city limits. The huge green hill to the west of the city is Montjuïc, filled with many parks and gardens, from sculpture and botanical gardens to flower gardens. While the part around the old Olympic Stadium may get crowded, make your way further up the hill and you'll always find a quiet shady spot to enjoy a picnic. There's also a fascinating cemetery and an ancient castle. One of the best places to go for nature, however, is the Collserola, a vast natural park. It lies in the towering hills above the city and is crisscrossed by many hiking trails, offering spectacular views across the skyline and down to the Mediterranean. 

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Make use of the rail network instead of the metro

The metro can get very crowded and very sweaty, especially in summer, as millions of tourists descend on the city, but the metro is not the only way to get around. Depending on where you’re staying, a faster and less busy option is the Rodalies network. Trains run directly from stations like Sants (the main rail hub) to Passeig de Gràcia (famed for its Gaudí buildings) without all the stops in between. You can also get from some of the lesser-known neighbourhoods such as La Sagrera or Clot straight to the centre of the city at Plaça de Catalunya in under 10 minutes, as opposed to 25 minutes on the metro.


Choose the outer-lying beaches

The beaches close to the centre of the city near Barceloneta and Vila Olímpica get insanely crowded in summer and locals tend to completely avoid them. Not only are they more crowded, but they’re dirtier with poorer water quality and there are several safety concerns. For example, you can’t just leave your belongings on the beach while you go for a swim, as they won’t be there when you return.

Instead, do what the locals do and head to the furthest beaches from the centre or even out of the city completely. In Barcelona itself, the beaches after Mar Bella are definitely less busy, while in the neighbouring town of Badalona (again use the Rodalies) you’ll find a whole string of beaches where mainly locals go. On the other side of Barcelona, near the airport in El Prat de Llobregat, there’s a huge 5.5km beach surrounded by nature and wetlands. 


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