‘Visitors wouldn’t dream of behaving the way they do at home in Barcelona’

Barcelona’s staggering rise in popularity in the 1990s was generally greeted with nothing more than bemused pride by its citizens. Tourism was the golden goose that kept many bars and restaurants from going under during the financial crisis and provided employment for tens of thousands of people.

It is difficult to say when the turning point was.

Perhaps it was when the local trains started filling up with beachgoers, or the year when it seemed like an ice cream parlour suddenly appeared on every corner. Or perhaps it was when the handful of small family-run shops in the Ciutat Vella made way for neon-lit night-time supermarkets.

Was it around the time that bars replaced their zinc counters and fruit machines with banquettes of cookie cutters and subway tiles, and locals found themselves puzzling over an English-language coffee menu with bewildering permutations when all they wanted was a café-restaurant? leche?

In all likelihood, these factors played a minor role compared to the behavior of the new breed of holidaymakers: younger, less affluent and more interested in the Spanish weather, beaches and cheap beer than in Picasso’s early doodles or the flowery architecture of the modernists. .

These visitors increasingly stayed in holiday homes instead of hotels. In 2019, before Covid distorted the figures, 9.5 million tourists in Barcelona stayed in hotels, while four million stayed in rental apartments, many of them in residential blocks.

Residents of Barcelona protest against tourism

Many Barcelona residents have objected to the behavior of tourists – LightRocket

“It’s not tourism itself that is the problem,” says Barcelona resident Helena Lizari. “It’s the attitude. So many visitors wouldn’t dream of behaving the way they do here at home. It’s as if they’ve left the social norms of their own country behind and are treating Barcelona like it’s one big party.”

But it’s not just noise, litter or disrespect that bothers the locals. “There are now fewer useful services or decent food shops in the center,” says Lizari. “They have all been driven to souvenir shops and restaurants that cater exclusively to outsiders.”

Although visitors hardly encounter any direct hostility, there is still a certain amount of resentment in the form of regular protests against overtourism and lots of graffiti along the lines of ‘tourists go home’.

Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni has vowed to tackle the problem, making a shocking statement last week: none of the city’s Airbnb or other short-term rental companies will have their licenses renewed after November 2028.

“These 10,000 apartments will be used by the city’s residents, or marketed for rental or sale,” he said. He spoke about the rise in rents (about 70 percent) and house prices (about 40 percent) over the past decade, and how difficult life had become for ordinary citizens.

The plan may come to nothing – first of all, there is no guarantee that Collboni will get the second mandate he would need to follow through on it. There are also several legal moves in the works to block it, claiming it would be an infringement of property rights, but the move appears to herald a political shift and a desire to solve the problems of overtourism.

It is not the first such step. Collboni is also in talks with port authorities about restricting cruise ships, which are viewed poorly in the city, both for environmental reasons and for pushing out passengers who wander the streets but eat and drink on board and spend very little. money in the city itself.

La Rambla street in BarcelonaLa Rambla street in Barcelona

Tourists might have to pay a tourist tax of €3 per night in the future – Moment RF

Other measures include a nightly tourist tax that could add €3 or more per person, per night to hotel bills, along with restrictions in certain locations, such as a ban on large groups in the Boqueria, Barcelona’s celebrated food market.

Whether this will be enough to get tourism back on track remains to be seen.

How to become a good tourist in Barcelona?

There are simple ways to minimize your impact, such as visiting out of season if you can (and Barcelona can be beautiful in, say, January or October).

Furthermore, many of Barcelona’s problems stem from overcrowding in certain key areas, such as the narrow streets of the Ciutat Vella, but if you go to the neighborhoods outside the center you will find that they have very different characters – many of them started as discreet villages – and are endlessly rewarding for anyone who wants to explore off the well-worn tourist routes.

Holy FamilyHoly Family

Staying in Gràcia is the perfect place to stay if you plan to visit the Sagrada Família – Getty

Gracia is one such former village, immersed in the enormous growth spurt when Barcelona’s old city walls fell in the 19th century. Today it is an animated film neighbourhood of low-rise houses, lively squares and streets full of quirky boutiques and indie cafes. It’s not packed with sights, but is home to one of Gaudí’s earliest buildings, Casa Vicens. Settling in Gràcia is also a good move if you plan to visit the Sagrada Família or Park Güell.

Sant’s is another former village that has been swallowed up by the construction of the gridded Eixample. It is best known as the city’s main transport hub, but it is increasingly building a reputation for cool bars and restaurants (not to mention Barcelona’s own Nobu Hotel) and is being redeveloped to provide more green space. As well as travellers and foodies, Sants is a good bet for football fans, with the Camp Nou stadium a short taxi ride away.

Poblenou is the city’s former industrial zone in the north. Today it’s a hotbed of start-ups and loft apartments, with a string of stripped-down hipster cafés alongside decades-old seafood restaurants. From Poblenou, it’s an easy walk to some of Barcelona’s quieter beaches. Must-sees include the Design Museum and the Els Encants flea market with its stunning reflective ceiling. Nearby are the neoclassical Teatre Nacional de Catalunya and the Music Museum.

Poble Sec is located between the hill of Montjuïc (where you’ll find the Fundació Joan Miró – among other excellent museums) and the wildly hip neighbourhood from Sant Antoni. The narrow streets are lined with modest modernist facades, and the pedestrianized Carrer Blai serves as the main meeting place, with dozens of patio tables where visitors share space with locals.

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