Barcelona is an incredible city to live in and to visit, but it sadly became a victim of its own popularity and before the pandemic, it was suffering the effects of over-tourism. Now that visitors are returning to Barcelona it is important that we do everything we can to visit the city responsibly and preserve it properly for future visitors, and more importantly, its residents. Use these travel tips and be a responsible tourist in Barcelona.
What is Responsible Travel?
Basically, travelling sustainably or responsibly means that you travel in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the destination you visit or the people who live there. For me, a lot of that is about how, when and where we choose to spend our money.
Most people visiting a destination will spend a short amount of time visiting the same popular attractions, eating at the same restaurants and at the same time of year as thousands of other people. This puts a huge strain on the infrastructure of a place, and on the well-being of the people.
If we can find ways to manage the number of people visiting so they are more spread out and encourage them to do different things and explore different areas, they will also spread out their important tourist dollars among more local businesses instead of a few huge corporations.
Having lived in Barcelona for several years, I know how busy it gets on La Rambla on a weekend afternoon, how many people file through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter in August and how unpleasant it can be, for all concerned.
I still want people to have the same feeling I had when I first arrived in Barcelona – a feeling of wonder and joy, not frustration and disappointment at how busy and crowded everywhere is. Instead of telling you not to visit Barcelona at all, here are some ideas for how you can be a responsible tourist and visit Barcelona sustainably.
Visit Barcelona in the Shoulder or Off-Season
Barcelona is a hugely popular destination, so try to plan your visit to avoid peak times around summer and other school holidays. Barcelona is also popular as a weekend destination, so if you are able to take time during the week and avoid the weekend you will find it much quieter – and much more enjoyable.
Choosing a quiet time to visit Barcelona can make a huge difference to your trip, and while it will probably be busy no matter when you visit, you might be surprised by the difference between visiting Barcelona in the winter, and during August when the streets are filled to breaking point with tourists and the locals flee the city.
Even visiting Barcelona in September is much more enjoyable than during the peak of the summer holidays, when the weather is still fabulous and there are some excellent local festivals.
Spend Longer in Barcelona
While I admit that Barcelona is a tempting weekend destination, and perfect for a city break from the UK, a weekend in Barcelona isn’t really enough and if you can afford to spend more time here then you will be rewarded with being able to properly explore and discover more of Barcelona’s hidden gems.
While you can certainly see some of the highlights just spending two days in Barcelona, the more time you have here, the more treasures of Barcelona you will discover – far beyond the buildings of Gaudí and crowded beaches.
While both of these things are part of what makes Barcelona so special, if you take the time to properly get under the skin of the city you can experience more than you could ever imagine during a short break.
Why not consider taking a workation in Barcelona? With more people working remotely than ever before, it is a great time to spend a few weeks working from Barcelona instead of your home office.
Travel to Barcelona by Train
Barcelona is well connected to major European cities by train, and the Spanish rail system is clean and reliable so if you are travelling from within Spain then I’d recommend taking the train. It can be cheap too if you book far enough in advance, I got a great deal on a train from Madrid to Barcelona.
Travelling to Barcelona by train is also easy from France and the rest of Europe too, with a high-speed trainline connecting the city with Paris and other European hubs.
If you do fly, check out these tips for reducing the carbon footprint of your flights – including simple steps like taking direct flights instead of stop-overs and only taking cabin baggage.
Once you’re in Barcelona, stick with public transport instead of getting taxis to move around – the metro is usually quicker than travelling overland due to traffic, although it is less scenic. You can also walk a lot of the city too, just bring comfortable shoes!
Don’t Follow the Crowds
Like any major tourist destination, certain areas in Barcelona are more popular than others, so expect La Rambla and the streets around the Gothic Quarter and La Sagrada Familia to be very busy.
However, most people tend to stick to the same routes to get around, with a flow of people along the main thoroughfares. Instead of blindly following the crowds, if you see a quiet street, walk down it and take the scenic route.
Barcelona is a fabulous city to get lost in, so explore the quieter neighbourhoods away from the main attractions to catch a glimpse of Barcelona without the crowds. Take a walk through Sant Antoni and Poble Sec and check out the street art at les Tres Xemeneies, or head up to Sarrià and stroll around the fancy area of the city.
One of the best ways to escape the crowds is to go hiking just outside the city, in the hills of Collserola Park and Tibidabo. Get some fresh air, stretch your legs and get gorgeous views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean beyond.
Get Up Early
As much as I love a lie-in, I love enjoying quiet places even more! Getting up early to go into the more popular attractions before everyone else is definitely worth it. You can make the most of your time there without the crowds, take some beautiful photos without people in and stay there as long as you like.
For the most popular attractions like La Sagrada Familia, I’d suggest booking your visit as soon as it opens so you can beat the crowds and enjoy it when it is (relatively) quiet. Also, as the sun moves around the different colours of the stained glass inside the cathedral are highlighted, so you get blue colours early in the morning, changing through to red on the other side of the cathedral in the afternoon.
As for Park Güell, head there first thing in the morning if you want to snap some photos of the famous Dragon Statue without people in it. While photos may not be your top priority, to me it is worth getting photos like this and then having a siesta in the afternoon!
Park Güell is also lovely in the late afternoon, when most of the tour groups have gone and the sun has moved around to give you beautiful views of the city without the glare you get earlier in the day.
Take a Tour with a Local
If you take part in any tours or experiences while you are in Barcelona, make sure that the guide is from Barcelona or Catalonia, so you are putting money back into the community. Not only do local people know all the best places to visit, but they can also share with you a wealth of information that you simply won’t find in any of the guidebooks.
Try to stick with a small group or private tours, although this can push the price up, it’s much more enjoyable strolling around Barcelona with a couple of other people instead of a hundred following someone waving a flag!
I use GetYourGuide to find tours of the places I visit, as they show a selection of suitable tours from several providers. I took a GetYourGuide original tour of the Sagrada Familia as it had been years since I went inside, and our guide Juan Miguel was wonderful and I learned so much from him.
Check out more tours with GetYourGuide here:
Taste the Local Food and Buy Seasonal at the Market
Although you will find the usual fast-food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King in Barcelona, skip the fast food and try some of the local specialities.
The food in Barcelona is delicious, and it can be cheap too if you stick to local restaurants and avoid tourist traps. Catalan restaurants tend to stick to more seasonal menus too, using fresh produce from the area, thus reducing your carbon footprint.
Buying fresh food to prepare back at your accommodation is also a wonderful opportunity to try seasonal fruit, vegetables and fresh seafood. Markets in Barcelona are still thriving, so by all means take a stroll through La Boqueria, but don’t miss out on the neighbourhood markets that are still essential parts of the city – including Santa Caterina or Sant Antoni for example.
Be Respectful of People Living in Barcelona
It can be frustrating having thousands of tourists right outside your front door (I know from living in the Gothic Quarter for more than four years). Be mindful of local people and of fellow tourists as you explore.
The main streets in Barcelona get very crowded, and when these streets are narrow like in the Gothic Quarter or El Born it creates human traffic jams. Be patient and try not to block the streets as you stop to take photos or have a chat.
When you come back to your accommodation at night, be respectful of your neighbours. People living next to or below holiday apartments in residential blocks often complain of noisy tourists drinking and partying into the early hours so keep the noise down and only party where they can’t hear you.
It is also never acceptable to piss in the street. Try not to drink so much that you puke on someone’s doorstep, and cover up a little when you’re not on the beach so people on their way to work or with their families don’t have to see all of your bits on show.
Also, learning a few words of Spanish or Catalan can really help how people receive you – a simple bon dia (hello) and merci (thank you) in Catalan will go a long way – as will a smile!
Explore More of Catalonia
Barcelona isn’t the only destination worth exploring in Catalonia, and you can easily take day trips from Barcelona by train or arrange tours to places outside the city. Game of Thrones fans will want to head to Girona, the Dali museum in Figueres is another spot, as is the Montserrat monastery.
However, to really explore, head up the coast to enjoy the calas beaches and coves of the Costa Brava, or head inland to medieval villages or go hiking in the Montseny mountains. Visit wine and cava country in the Penedès, enjoy the beaches of Sitges or the Roman ruins at Tarragona to name but a few.
Reduce your Plastic Use
We should all aim to reduce our plastic waste every day, not just while we’re travelling, but even simple things like bringing your own refillable water bottle instead of buying bottled water, refusing plastic straws and bringing a canvas bag for shopping is a step in the right direction.
If you haven’t got a reusable water bottle yet, I have partnered with Water-to-Go to offer all Why Visit Barcelona readers a 15% discount on the purchase of a Water-to-Go bottle so you can save even more money as well as plastic! Simply choose the water bottle you want to buy, and put in the code BYORB for a 15% discount on your purchase.
These are just a few of the ways you can have a wonderful Barcelona trip, with a minimal negative or even a positive impact on the city and its residents. If you have any other ideas for how to be a responsible tourist in Barcelona please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what you think!