“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
In other words, people have been raving about Barcelona and how incredible it is for centuries now. It’s consistently ranked as one of the best places in the world to visit.
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?
Great insight as always Jessica. My wife and I arrived here on this day six years ago, and we are very happy here. We planned on living here for a short while, and now I can’t imagine us leaving. We also bought an apartment. Along the lines of what you wrote, I believe that seeing Barcelona as overrated is a result of high expectations. Bak in the 80s I think that most visitors thought it was underrated…
Yet as you write, things are changing, despite Colau’s statements to control tourism. The winter months are usually quieter, but we see how every year there are more tourists also during January and February. Rent and house priced leaped in 2016 in a pace that looks like a bubble. And indeed, some of what makes Barcelona special is gone.
Finding the balance between the enormous economic benefits of tourism (for quite some time, it was the only sector enjoying robust growth) and making the city livable and special, is quite hard.
I am optimistic: the awareness of this problem, as voiced by yourself and others, is growing. Acknowledging the problem is an essential step to resolving it or at least containing it.
Thanks, Yohay! 🙂 Like they say – Barcelona engancha, right? Happy six years in Barcelona!
I agree, it’s important to talk about the tourism issue, and I’m optimistic they’ll find a way to balance it.
March is a quieter month too, and we’re having great weather so far this year.
I’ve been to Barcelona several times and really love it. When I’m there I always talk about living there for a while. It is bad that some of the bars and restaurants are ripping people off – we paid €20 for one gin and tonic at a not very nice bar right near the Sagrada Familia. We wanted to sit there because of the view (I love the SF!) – a proper tourist trap and their food looked awful. Having said that I totally get Barcelona – Paris on the other hand, I’ve been plenty of times and it just doesn’t do it for me. People look at me in shock and disbelief when I say that!
Ahh yeah, that stuff is so frustrating! Fortunately, there are lots of non tourist traps – and hey, at least the view was good. 🙂
I didn’t get Paris either!
I keep trying to give Barcelona a chance. I really, genuinely try. Like you, I appreciate that Spain is so different from region to region, but I find Barcelona too impersonable, despite knowing locals and getting great recs. That, coupled with the fact that it just has never lived up to my expectations, are – I think – at the root of my “meh” feelings.
You’re meh on Sevilla, so we’re even 😉
Haha I’m not so sure we’re even anymore – I really liked Sevilla last time I went! 😀
I’ve been living in Barcelona for almost 2 years now. I have a love (that I’m sitting quite comfortably in between Mountains and Seas, or that in some weird way I just feel more at home here than I ever was in country of birth (PH)) and hate (doing the government-related tasks is almost as bad as it is back home) relationship with Barcelona. And I’m closer to the point that I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I don’t think it’s over-rated — but I’ve also learned to avoid Gothic-Born-Raval-Barcelonetta during the summer, and stay indoors during Fiesta de Gracia.
I think the only thing that really gets on my nerves right now is the renting situation. How the prices and fees are ridiculous, the chances of being scammed high, and that the town hall requires me to register every time I sneeze (I move, it’s been 2 years, etc).
You as a tourist are part of the problem
I live here. That’s not the same as being a tourist.
You seemingly write this ridiculous opinionated characterization with the mindset of a tourist. You need to embrace Barcelina. Plain and simple. This article makes me sick. And you live here?!?!
I think you misunderstood the point of my article – I was talking about things that visitors often don’t like about Barcelona. Some of those I agree with, some of them not. Perhaps have another read. 🙂
Saw this post making a search for “Barcelona overrated”. I think Barcelona is one of the most overrated cities in the world for a traveler. It’s also becoming one of the most stressful. Over the last five years it has become progressively expensive, to the point that I honestly believe is now one of Europe’s most expensive cities. Of course one of the problems is systematic: tourism has changed the city, and not for the good. The other is just a matter of personal taste: I never liked Barcelona much. Other than the vibe in parts of the Eixample and the beach, I just don’t feel the city. You really need to get out of all the central area, perhaps with some exceptions in El Born, to find what’s really authentic about Barcelona. As for the attractions, Barcelona boasts the most expensive ticket to see a church in the world and some of the most expensive tickets to see a building inside (Casa Batllo is particularly outrageous given the value).