“Barcelona,” Don Quixote exclaimed, is a “fountain of courtesy, shelter of strangers, hospice to the poor, land of the valiant, avenger of the offended, reciprocator of firm friendship, a city unique in its location and beauty.”
– Miguel de Cervantes, 1605
And I’m not going to lie – I think it’s pretty fabulous!
But. Over the past few years, things have changed a bit in Barcelona. In just the five or so years I’ve been here, there’s been a sharp uptick in things that are making the city much less enjoyable, both for visitors and for locals.
So – is Barcelona overrated? Let’s talk about what’s people don’t like about the Catalan capital and have a look.
“Barcelona just wasn’t as amazing as I’d expected.”
Have you ever gone to see a movie that everyone said was incredible – and walked out thinking it was just OK?
Having sky-high expectations is definitely one of the reasons people end up feeling a little bit disappointed by Barcelona. It’s really hard for anywhere to measure up to the expectation of being the most amazing place ever.
One of the reasons I loved Barcelona so much when I first visited was that it was a total surprise to me. I had no idea what the Sagrada Familia was, and just one person I knew had said Barcelona was a fun city to visit. Yep, total blank slate.
Is it really that amazing? Well, I love it. But honestly, I’m not sure if I would have loved it so much had I visited for the first time this year. That brings me to my next point…
(Quick side note – if you’re interested in expectations and how they can affect your perception of a place, this article is a fascinating read!)
“Barcelona is too crowded”
One biiiig issue in Barcelona is the sheer amount of tourism the city receives. It’s not a big city, whether you count in terms of population or in terms of the physical area it takes up.
In other words, there isn’t that much space, and there are whole lot of visitors.
It’s definitely noticeable how much tourism has exploded in the city just in the past five years.
Going to once mostly local events can be a nightmare with the crowds. I didn’t even bother going to one I liked this year because last year’s event was so packed. When the Gràcia neighborhood’s summer festival was on, it turned my regular 10-minute walk back to my apartment into a 30-minute crawl inching through streets shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people.
It gets to the point when you have to line up to walk down a regular street at some popular events. This is not fun for anybody.
“Barcelona is too touristy”
Of course, the number of visitors is only part of the tourism problem. Not only are there tons more people, but there are also tons more tourist traps – tacky souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants serving terrible food, and massive tours everywhere you go.
Vacation rental apartments are so popular that some areas of the city have as many short-term rentals as actual residences. Imagine that an entire half of your neighborhood is visitors – and what that might mean for local neighborhood life. It also pushes up rental prices.
And it doesn’t help that Barcelona is known as a party-friendly destination. That means a lot of people come here to really let loose. Having a good time is not the issue; being destructive and/or disgusting because you’re only here for two days is.
Getting off the tourist track has become increasingly difficult. That’s a real shame for both visitors and residents.
There are so many fantastic things to do and see here, but a lot of traditional stuff is disappearing to be replaced by souvenir shops. That’s no good for locals, but it also takes away the special thing that makes Barcelona worth visiting.
Nobody wants to go somewhere else to feel like they’re at a theme park, complete with waiting in line and overpriced, terrible food.
As I stopped to check Facebook briefly, a news article popped up about a contest to take back the Ramblas for residents to enjoy again – to give you an idea. That’s one of those places that used to be a place locals and visitors liked, but now it’s all tourists.
“Barcelona is nothing like other places I visited in Spain”
There are lots of Catalans who will be pleased to hear you say that! Barcelona really is a bit different, and a lot of things that people typically associate with Spain (tapas, flamenco, etc.) aren’t traditional to Barcelona.
The city’s overall vibe and attitude is also quite different, and simply by virtue of being a big city, it’s distinct from smaller places in Spain (say, Sevilla).
That’s part of what I love about Spain; traveling around the country can feel like going to lots of different smaller countries rather than one unified one. But, that also means what you love about one place in Spain might not exist in Barcelona.
“Barcelona is too expensive”
Barcelona is relatively inexpensive, though that’s in comparison to other major European cities. Compared to other places in Spain, you’re looking at one of the most expensive places in the country.
The summer before last, I went to the south of Spain with a couple of girlfriends. We challenged ourselves to stick to a €5 per person limit for eating out, and it was totally possible.
Here? Under €10 you can definitely do, but it’s not insanely cheap like, say, Sevilla is. It can also be tricky to find places that are in that price range, especially near major sights.
Then, depending on what attractions you want to visit, you may end up spending some cash. The Sagrada Familia, for instance, start from €15 per person – and double in price if you want to see the towers, too.
That’s not to say there aren’t free and cheap things to do; there are! Still, you may want to build a bit of extra padding into your budget. After all, once you’re here, it would be silly to not go to the Sagrada Familia.
“I got all my stuff stolen”
Yep, this unfortunately happens. Keep an eye, or even better a hand, on your stuff at all times. Barcelona does have a big pickpocket problem.
“I just didn’t like Barcelona”
It happens! I didn’t love Paris, either; if you just don’t like somewhere, there’s no need to fuss about it. It really is no big deal, and there are definitely lots of reasons people don’t love it. No matter how many famous writers say it’s amazing. 🙂
So, do I think Barcelona gets too much credit? I think it’s hard for it to live up to its huge reputation; I also think it’s hard to enjoy a lot of the visitor aspects of it just because they haven’t done a great job of balancing promoting the city and protecting what makes it special. The city has changed over the past few years, and not for the better.
Having said that, I love it and still think it’s a fantastic place to visit! But I’m hoping the local government manages to find a way that the city can keep being appealing to both visitors and residents.
What do you think – is Barcelona overrated? What should the city do about the tourism issue?