I’m writing today from my balcony in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. It’s summertime. It’s hot. Tourism is at its highest. I look out below as selfie sticks extend, sunburns worsen, and loudness takes over.
Living in the Gothic Quarter has been one of the best, yet worst decisions I’ve made while living in Barcelona. I’m surrounded by beautiful architecture, fantastic shops are at my doorstep, and my favorite coffee shop is just around the corner. However, also at my doorstep are hundreds of tourists. I can’t even exit my building without stumbling into a pack of loud men celebrating some lad’s bachelor party or a squad of girls in flip flops heading towards the sea.
Every day I have to pass — nudging through swarms of tourists — several major tourist attractions such as Plaça Sant Jaume, the Barcelona Cathedral, and the infamous La Rambla. Today Sant Jaume is full of group tours, the queue for the cathedral is already wrapping around the local vintage market nearby, and La Rambla offers no breathing room as you navigate among the chaos of people overcrowding the once-upon-a-time luxurious street.
I can only imagine how many selfies and photographs I’ve appeared in the background of at this point.
Barcelona is no secret to the universe, with more than 30 million visiting this Mediterranean city every year. But the city isn’t thriving, it’s dying. Financially, it’s doing well. However, the city is being ruined by overtourism and locals aren’t happy.
Overtourism: when an influx of tourists overwhelm a destination, making tourism unsustainable
What gives? Shouldn’t the locals be happy? They’re making money and their city is world famous. Simply, they’re unhappy that their city has turned into an adult amusement park full of bachelor and bachelorette parties, loud and disrespectful tourists, and countless Airbnb apartment rentals.
parquetematización: the act of becoming a theme park
Landlords have realized there’s more profit in Airbnb, so when contracts come up for renewal, it’s common to find locals unable to pay up due to the spike in their rental prices. This results in residents having to move further from the city center or relocate outside of Barcelona entirely.
Locals don’t dare visit its nearest beach Barceloneta once the weather warms up. The beach is meant to be a place of relaxation. That’s how most imagine the beach, at least. Barceloneta Beach, however, embodies the city’s overtourism: packed beaches, litter, beggars, pesty people, theft, and more. As a result, locals are forced out of their city to find the relaxation that a beach day is meant to embody.
Once fruterías and clothing boutiques have turned into generic souvenir shops, living prices have increased while salaries remain low, and new Starbucks coffee shops keep popping up.
Prou soroll: Stop noise
People aren’t sitting back and taking it, though. There are regular anti-tourism protests, street graffiti stating ‘tourists go home’, banners protesting Airbnb and ‘prou soroll’ posters, translating to ‘stop noise’, plastered throughout major neighborhoods like the Gothic Quarter, Raval, and El Born.
Barcelona no está en venda: Barcelona is not for sale
The Barcelona City Council has felt immense, inevitable, pressure from the community to combat tourism. In 2017, a law was approved to regulate the amount of accommodation made available for tourists. The law hoped to distribute tourist accommodation more evenly across the city, placing less pressure on already heavily populated neighborhoods.
However, it wasn’t a ‘problem solved’ solution. Many tourists who come Barcelona are day-trippers coming in from cruise ships, spending little money in city and, as a result, only clogging up the city’s streets.
The council’s efforts are not regulating tourism. They’re only regulating accommodation, and even that has seen little improvements to the overtourism epidemic in Barcelona.
What can you do as a visitor coming to Barcelona?
If you want to visit Barcelona, consider coming outside of May through August. Though I’d argue Barcelona doesn’t quite have an ‘off season’, if you visit outside of the summer months Barcelona will be a slightly calmer place.
Use local guides instead of booking tours through major corporations. This will put more money into the hands of Barcelona’s well-deserving locals.
Try to visit during the week rather than the weekend, as those are the busiest days.
Check out some of Catalonia’s other beautiful destinations. Girona, Tarragona, Vic, and Tossa de Mar make for ideal day trips, putting less pressure on Barcelona and benefiting smaller towns and cities’ economies.
Learn some phrases in Catalan. It goes a long way in showing respect. “Bon dia” instead of “buenos días”, “adeu” rather than “adios”, and “si us plau” instead of “por favor.” Of course locals speak Spanish, but many prefer to speak in Catalan with their friends and family.
Finally, don’t be too loud and obnoxious, avoid staying in illegal rentals, and enjoy beautiful Barcelona in the kindest way possible.