Things That Tourists Should Never Do in Barcelona

Avoid upsetting locals with these faux pas on your next trip to Barcelona
Avoid upsetting locals with these faux pas on your next trip to Barcelona | © Daniel Corneschi / Unsplash
Tara Jessop

In recent years there has been a wave of anti-tourist sentiment across Barcelona, visible in the council’s recent decision to pass a law to limit the accommodation available to tourists. Here are a few things to think about if you want to avoid upsetting the locals on your next trip to the Catalan capital.

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Call Catalan a dialect

Catalan is one of the five official languages of Spain. Some linguists observe that Catalan is actually closer to French than it is to Spanish, also known as Castellano. One of the most notable differences between Catalan and Castellano is that Catalan was not influenced by Arabic in the same way as Castellano during the Moorish conquests, hence many Castillian words bear the prefix al– (simply meaning ‘the’ in Arabic) – such as alcachofas or artichokes in Spanish – while Catalan words do not – hence the Catalan carxofes.

Expect paella in every restaurant

While it may be one of Spain’s most famous dishes, paella – a rice dish cooked in a large, shallow pan – is by no means the only thing to look for on the menu. In fact, local cuisines vary greatly from one region of Spain to another, and here in Catalonia the influences of French and Italian cuisine are notable. While it is true that the locals eat paella quite regularly, especially at weekends or on grand occasions, don’t expect it to be served in every restaurant. If you do want to try a paella, try opting for the fideuà version instead, prepared with a thin noodle instead of rice and more typical of Barcelona.

Drink beer out of huge glasses

As a rule of thumb, the Catalans drink less than some of their other European neighbours, and public drunkenness is less common. If this is obviously a question of personal choice and public culture, the fact that the locals tend to drink smaller measures of alcohol doubtless helps. The average Catalan doesn’t drink a pint of beer, but a caña, a small glass. Wine is also usually served in small measures.

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Go to the Boqueria Market and buy nothing but a fruit salad

Tourists love to wonder at the joys of the Mediterranean lifestyle at Barcelona’s public food markets, as they wander past stall upon stall of fresh fish, ripe vegetables and home-made charcuterie. The locals, too, enjoy the markets, and in fact they play an important role in maintaining the social fabric of the city. However, in recent years, markets such as the Boqueria have been overwhelmed by the attention from tourists, and many stalls have started adapting to this clientele, selling fruit salads and smoothies to be eaten on the go, rather than ingredients to be prepared at home. Navigating the market has itself also become a challenge, as the crowds make it difficult for locals – especially the frail and elderly – to get around their daily shop.

Speak loudly in the streets at night

The older neighbourhoods of Barcelona have many narrow, winding streets, and local people still live right in the heart of the city. The proximity to the streets, and the fact that single glazing is still common place in Barcelona, means that even a normal conversation in the street can be a nuisance to a sleeping neighbour. So if you don’t want to get soaked with a bucket of water – or simply want to show some respect for those living above – take your conversation inside and keep quiet in the streets come bed time.

Not leave La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter

While there’s no doubt that the architecture of the Gothic Quarter is one of the main reasons people visit Barcelona, there’s so much more to the city beyond the Rambla – and we’re not just talking about Park Güell and the Sagrada Família. Many of the city’s residents live in neighbourhoods further out from the city centre, such as Sarrià, Poble Sec, Sants and El Clot. If you want a glimpse of how locals go about their daily life, where they eat and where they hang out, you’ll need to venture further afield. This also means supporting local businesses that are not solely focused on the tourist trade, thus helping preserve the authentic character of these neighbourhoods.

Think that flamenco is native to Barcelona

The art of flamenco is one the most precious cultural traditions of Spain, a passionate tale of song and dance which – when done from the heart – is sure to move even the hardest of spectators. It is thought to have emerged among the gypsy communities of southern Spain, specifically in the province of Andalusia. While it was then introduced in other areas of Spain, it remains an essentially Andalusian cultural expression. While their are some respectable tablao – the places where flamenco is performed – in Barcelona, they have mainly appeared in response to tourists’ expectations. Do your research correctly and support smaller venues featuring genuine performers and artists.

Treat the city centre as an extension of the beach

There are certain things that are socially acceptable on a beach and not in town: walking around in nothing but shorts or a bikini or playing ball games, for example. You wouldn’t really do these things in the centre of London or New York. Barcelona is the same, despite having a beach on its doorstep. Residents get tired of people turning up to restaurants in beachwear and flip-flops, as if they were stopping off for a quick bite in a holiday camp. If you’re not walking on sand, then you probably need to stop acting as if you’re on a beach.

Expect everyone to speak English

In any large, cosmopolitan city the staff in hotels, restaurants and shops tend to speak some English in order to do their jobs. But just because you’re not fluent in Spanish or Catalan, this isn’t an excuse to make no effort to speak the language while you’re here. A simple ‘¡Bon dia!‘ or ‘por favor‘ can go a long way towards making the locals feel you are showing respect for their culture and treating the city as more than a theme park.

Walk around with a selfie stick in your hand

Everyone likes a good holiday picture, and thanks to today’s selfie revolution you don’t even need anyone else to help you document your favourite moments. However, this isn’t a reason to walk around with a selfie stick in your hand as if every second of your day were a prime photo opportunity. Not only does it shout ‘I’m a tourist’, it’s also quite annoying for anyone trying to go about their daily life without being poked by a stick.

Be a target for pickpockets

Barcelona is famous for being one of the worst cities in Europe for pickpocketing, with other 600 pickpocket incidents per day reported during 2009. One of the reasons often cited for this is the relatively lenient sentence for pickpockets, amounting to no more than a fine if they steal less than €400. However, another factor is of course the number of tourists who visit Barcelona carrying large sums of money and valuables on their person. Walking around with your camera or travel cash is fine as long as you exercise a little caution and don’t make yourself easy prey. This only fuels the pickpocketing industry and encourages thieves to keep up their dirty work.

Think cava is a lesser version of champagne

When it comes to sparkling wine, the French Champagne is generally regarded as the crème de la crème thanks to its long history, world-famous châteaux and wineries, and its reputation for being a sophisticated product. While all this is true, the same can be said for Spain’s sparkling wine, known as cava. In fact, Catalunya was one of the first regions to produce sparkling wine in Spain, when a local wine-maker visited the Champagne region back in the 19th century. To this day, in order to be able to be called Cava, the wine needs to be made using the same procedure as Champagne, a method known as the Méthode Champennoise. It is the character of the local land and climate, known as the terroir, which distinguish Cava and Champagne.

Support illegal tourist flats

In recent times, the local council has been clamping down on people renting out their flats to tourists via platforms such as Airbnb. It’s illegal to rent your flat to tourists if you do not have the right license from the local authorities, and there is currently a moratorium on issuing new licenses. Long story short, owners can rent their flats to tourists for much more than they can to locals, meaning locals are being priced out of their neighbourhoods and rents everywhere are soaring. If you rent a flat, always check if they are operating within the law, or stay in a hotel.

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