Barcelona. The City of Gaudi. A city where you can cross a street and be transported from the present into a distant past.
You can roam the historic Gothic Quarter at a leisurely pace, soaking in the ambiance and architecture, feasting on tapas and washing them down with liters of sangria. Minutes later you might find yourself walking along the modern waterfront, or shopping near the city’s center.
There is a lot to love about Barcelona. Messi and Naymar, Gaudi and the Barri Gòtic, booming waterfronts and shopping of all variety, tapas and sangria in corner cafes and courtyards, legendary nightlife…Barcelona has something to offer for virtually every visitor traveling on any budget. It is easily one of our favorite cities in the world, and its popularity is on the rise.
Sounds great, right? Well, all is not cervezas and sunshine. Here is something we feel that everyone visiting Barcelona should know and take into account.
“Locals think that certain parts of the city are no longer for us” we are told by Lana*, a tour guide in Barcelona, when we asked her thoughts about tourism in the city.
“My neighbor, an elderly woman, can not go to the market near her apartment anymore because they are closing the stalls that sell fruits and vegetables for things like ice cream booths, which tourists want. Tourists love ice cream.”
Barcelona has one of the highest population densities in all of Europe, and an ever expanding amount of foreigners floods the city like high tide over a beach, threatening to wash away culture and long time inhabitants.
In 2013 Barcelona was host to over 7 million tourists, making it one of the top urban destinations in the entire world. However, the infrastructure to accommodate the increasing number of visitors is not fully in place and many residents of the city are up in arms at what they see as the erosion of their homes and their culture. “If we continue like this we will lose some of our own identity” says Lana, and this is a sentiment we have heard echoed over and over when we discuss the tourism issues facing Barcelona with some of its residents.
An additional problem is starting to arise as the popularity of sites like Airbnb grows as an alternate form of accommodations for tourists. Some landlords near the city center have squeezed out locals and long time inhabitants in favor of renting the space to foreigners at a significant increase in personal profit. The rising trend has led to a displacement that goes hand in hand with gentrification and cultural erosion.
“The fact is that Barcelona is struggling to cope with the overwhelming gentrification that is pushing most locals away from their homes and neighborhoods. There are banners everywhere, asking tourists to stop coming. There are constant cases of evictions because of the violent rise of rents,” fellow travel writer and seven year ex-resident of Barcelona Yara Coelho tells us.
Rowdy tourists don’t help local perception of “outsiders” either. Due to cheap alcohol prices, great weather, and an abundance of discos Barcelona also plays host to countless “Stag Parties” and the bad behavior that goes hand in hand with 12 drunken lads partying the days away. Residents complain of noise, rude/lewd behavior, and visitors trashing their streets.
We, of course, urge anyone who visits Barcelona, or any other place in the world, to do so with measured respect for the local people and the environment, rural, urban, or otherwise.
So, how can we, as tourists in lovely Barcelona, avoid contributing to cultural erosion and gentrification?
Certainly Barcelona should be visited and explored. As stated above, we LOVE the city and would not want to bar ourselves from returning. We encourage people who have yet to experience Barcelona to do so as soon as possible. That said, we also don’t want to see a city with this much character and flavor turn into the Disneyland of Spain.
The answer is pretty simple, really.
VISIT Barcelona. Take joy in exploring its beauty. And then, once you are done marveling at Gaudi and strolling amid the historic ambiance of this incredible city, visit the rest of Catalonia. It’s a gorgeous area of Spain with tons of attractions, views, and interesting places to discover.
Over the course of the next few articles we will describe and highlight awesome alternate locations, such as Montserrat, Costa Brava, and Gosol, all within a 2 hour bus/train/car ride from the center of Barcelona. By exploring these lesser known destinations you will be helping to alleviate some of the pressure of mass tourism on Barcelona, and will also be contributing to the local economies of a few places who could really use an influx of tourism dollars.
* “Lana’s” name has been changed to protect privacy and identity
Places to explore near Barcelona