Barcelona is one of the most exciting cities to visit in Europe. But being one of the top tourist hotspots means there are plenty of activities which are overhyped and not worth your valuable travel time. From tourist trap restaurants to pickpockets along busy beaches, here are some things to avoid on your next trip to Barcelona.
1. Don't Dine along La Rambla
La Rambla is one of the busiest streets in Barcelona and is notorious for being full of tourist traps. Mainly regarding restaurants. So many establishments along this wealthy avenue charge insanely high prices for less than mediocre food, most of which aren't even cooked authentically. Their paellas are reheated, the fish frozen and the quality of the dishes is pretty low for the price you're paying. Skip eating at any place with an English menu out front or even worse…a talking head inside a paella.
Instead: Head down to La Boqueria Market
La Boqueria Market is an excellent alternative to the restaurants on La Rambla. Here you can head to any of the small kiosks and either grab a few ingredients for a little picnic on a bench or head to one of their small restaurants for a delicious, quick meal to enjoy inside the bustling atmosphere of the market. Prices are reasonable and food is a fresh as can be!
2. Don't Forget to make Bookings in Advance
Barcelona, especially during the busy season, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. And for a good reason, there are so many different amazing architectural buildings to visit, great food to eat and incredible culture to experience. But to see some of these places or eat at a famed restaurant you'll want to make sure to book the reservations in advance. Places like the Sagrada Família have a lineup, sometimes hours long to get inside or tours like the Palau de Musica sometimes are totally booked up. Without booking far in advance, you might miss your chance to see these monument at all.
Instead: Plan Out your Must-Sees
I would advise starting booking your reservations as soon as you book your flights. Don't overbook your days, but as long as you secure a few of those must-see attractions, you'll be able to plan the rest of your days accordingly. Popular restaurants have the same problem, so if there’s somewhere you have your heart set, make that reservation in advance, you can always cancel a few days before if you absolutely can’t make the booking.
3. Don't Pay to See the Monument Zone inside Park Güell
Now, before you get up in arms, don't worry, I'm not telling you to skip one of the most amazing parts of Barcelona! Park Güell was created by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and is one of the most imaginative and symbolic work of arts of the Catalan ‘modernisme’ movement. Ticket to enter the monument zone, which contains the most stunning pieces of Gaudi's architecture, costs 10 euros but there’s a way to skip paying this fee altogether and also miss out on the huge crowds which can gather during the day at this amazing place!
Instead, Get up Early and Enter for FREE
If you arrive 30 minutes before the official entry time for the park, you can actually enter the monument zone for free! You can also enter the monument zone for free after the official closing time of the park but entering at night means most of the places inside will be closed, and there are also more street sellers hustling their wares. Coming early in the morning means you'll have most of the park to yourself and also means you get this unimaginable view as the sun rises. Park Guell is located north of the city, and from this higher vantage point you really get the most beautiful picturesque view across Barcelona.
4. Don't Forget to Be Aware
Barcelona has a huge petty crime problem. Pickpocketing is very common, and there are so many stories of people putting their bag down and not paying attention, and when they look back, it's gone. Since the crimes are usually theft under a thousand, often the criminals will only have to pay a small fine if they even get caught at all. While the fact that the police seemingly cannot stop this is very frustrating, it shouldn't prevent you from having a great time in this city.
Instead: Keep your wits about you and keep everything secure
Being aware is the key, if you know that this might happen and prepare for it accordingly, you can smoothly go about your travels without worry. I had a tiny little lock on my knapsack and purse so I always knew that no one could get their hands inside. That way I didn't even worry about it when we were on the subways or busy streets. Most of the time robbers are just looking for a quick and easy theft and don't want to go to the trouble of tearing it off you, so keeping things locked up is the best way to keep yourself safe. Knapsacks which can be worn in front are also a good options since it means you’ll be more aware of people trying to sneak their hand inside. Make sure passports are locked up in your hotels if they're not needed and while I don't love the look of a money belt, I do often use the money necklaces to keep my change close at hand but out of the public eye.
5. Don't ONLY Drink Sangria
While I would never say you shouldn't come to Barcelona and avoid Sangria at all, there are so many more amazing things to drink while you're there. Some Catalans might turn their nose up at the thought of drinking Sangria since it's not traditionally a Catalan beverage but for those travellers who might not be visiting any other part of Spain, this might be their only chance to sample it. So drink it if you must but know that it will usually be subpar wine and soda and there are much better local drinks to try.
Instead: Try out the Catalan speciality, Cava!
Cava is Catalonian sparkling wine. It's sweet, tart and refreshing! There are so many different regions of the Catalonian cava to explore each with their own distinct flavour profile. Ask your server for their recommendations, I loved seeing the response this gets since locals are very passionate about their Cava and adore seeing tourists asking for something other than Sangria.
6. Don't Visit Girona on a Bus Tour
Girona is one of the most magical historical towns to see and best day trips from Barcelona. Girona is best known for its medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter and the Roman fortress. Many people will visit Girona on a bus tour, which usually also stops a few other places along the way. This means you'll be rushed through the city and won't have the time to explore at your own pace and focus in on the things which matter to you.
Instead: Go by Public Transit
Many people don't know just how easy it is to visit Girona by public transport. The AVE high-speed trains run from Barcelona to Girona in under 40 minutes and for less than 10 euros! Trains run multiple times throughout the day making it easy for you to escape the city and head out into the medieval countryside in under an hour. This way you can stop into shops, wander the alleys, explore the tiny yet sentimental museums and sit by the riverside and just relax.
7. Don't Go to the Beaches in Barcelona
Barcelona's proximity to the beach might make a beach day a tempting proposal for many travellers. But most of the beaches in Barcelona are less than appealing. They are full of tourists, teaming with pickpockets, tourist traps and overpriced food and beverage. Overall the beach isn't as attractive as so many others around the world and its a waste of time to make your way down here and then have a stressful time while trying to relax.
Instead: Head to Costa Brava
Catalonia itself has some fantastic beaches just a few hours away from Barcelona. If you take the train to the beach village of Costa Brava, you'll have the chance at visiting this quaint seaside village but also dive into one of the most stunning beaches with beautiful vistas in all of Catalonia. There are some incredible small bays to explore and discover, and the crystal blue waters are some of the most impressive anywhere around the world. Costa Brava can be reached by train in under two and half hours, or if you can have a car, you're in for a fantastic journey on the road to the beach with so many different places on the way to stop and enjoy the scenery.
8. Don't take a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus
Although a bus tour may be a good way to get an overview of the city, there is a lot you miss out on. Your guide is a pair of headphones that can't answer questions or point out any of the good bars or restaurants you should visit. Nor can the bus take you through the back streets of the city where you find Barcelona's hidden gems and real history. On the bus, you see, rather than feel the city, you become acquainted with it, rather than friends.
Instead: Take A Buena Vista Bike Tour
On a Buena Vista Bike Tour, the guide is a local who knows the city backwards and can not only tell you all about Barcelona and its history, but can answer all the oddball questions you may have, like what time do people go to bed in Barcelona? It's like having a friend show you around the city. The Buena Vista Tours are all made up of small groups, so it's a friendly, laid-back experience where everybody gets to know each other – some tours even include a picnic on the beach. What's more, this is pedal-power – no emissions. Buena Vista also specialise in private tours, so if you are a small group or a family, they can customise a tour to suit you.
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9. Don't Stick to Visiting only Gaudí Designs
While even I will admit that Gaudí's influence over the design and atmosphere of the city is undebatable, he was not the ONLY architect who helped shape the artistic and creative nature of Barcelona. In creating the 'Modernisme', Gaudi along with several other influential artists worked together to create this unique cultural movement which makes Barcelona the artistic landmark city it is today.
Instead: Learn about other Modernisme Artists
Domènech I Montaner is another artists who really helped shape the direction of modernism and his work best works to check out in Barcelona are the Hospital de Sant Pau and the Palau de la Música Catalana. Casa Amatller, located right beside Gaudi's Casa Batllo, is often mistaken for being by Gaudi as well but it was actually designed by Puig I Cadafalch, another influencial architect. If you're interested in learning more about Modernism’s art and design as well as architecture, I can't recommend the Museu del Modernisme Català more! In here you can peruse some incredible pieces from the Modernisme era, and although it's a smaller collection, it feels like it perfectly sums up what Modernism is all about, and you really get a great sense of what they were trying to achieve in Catalonia through this artistic endeavour.
10. Don't Stop for the Street Artists along La Rambla
Although La Rambla is one of the most famous streets in the world and there are some gems to be found along the way, there is also a lot of cheesy, touristy tat that comes along with popularity. One of which are the street performers who cruise this strip. No matter the time of day it seems as if this classical street is littered from end to end in Spidermen slinging fake webs for crowds or shoddily painted gold "mannequins" trying to attract attention. Some tourists take a picture with them just for the fun of it, and they are often forced quite aggressively into paying for the "privilege". Most of the time I think these are easily avoided just by not engaging at all, but it's frustrating to see them take up so much attention away from the beautiful architecture all around them.
Instead: Go on a Street Art Tour
Instead of paying attention to these tacky "street artists", pay attention to the street ART! Barcelona has always been a haven for creatives, and this is still true today. The Bohemians have taken to the streets in Barcelona, and there is so much incredible art to be found on doorways and in alleys, hidden just steps away from huge tourist attractions. One of the best ways of seeing these works of art and getting the story behind them in on a guided tour from a company like Barcelona Street Style. It's one of the most unique tour options in the city, and the people guiding the tour are so passionate about the art that it really makes a difference in how you approach the designs as well.
Hopefully with these tips you’re travels around Barcelona will go off without a hitch!