I visited Barcelona on a short city break back in June 2017. On the whole, I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t be in a hurry to rush back.
It’s got a lot to offer as a city by the sea but in some places, there is a well documented ‘anti-tourist under-current’.
Don’t let that put you off going though, as usual, I had a great time and got some great photographs.
Where I stayed
I stayed at ‘SmartRoom Barcelona’
It’s a very clean and ‘smart’ hotel tucked down a side street near to the Metro in the Sants area of Barcelona.
This is the room I stayed in. Perfectly adequate budget room with a nice balcony, shower room and double bed.
The view from my hotel room.
I had to pay a few Euro’s for Breakfast each morning as my package didn’t include it but it was worth it. I ate a hearty continental breakfast and drank as much tea and coffee that I could without drowning myself on land.
The staff were friendly and helpful, there are lockers and a coffee machine in the lobby. All in all, it’s a great hotel to stay in for a budget price.
It’s only a couple of hours flight time from Bristol so it’s easily a long weekend destination. It was a fairly uneventful flight and before I knew it I was there.
Clearing security at Barcelona Airport is great if you have a new biometric e-Passport like I do. They have a snazzy new system which allows you to process yourself through security. Basically, you scan your own passport and fingerprints and then let the machine scan your face, then a magic door opens up and you’re in.
I got to Barcelona – El Prat Airport which is nothing remarkable in itself and found myself walking around it like a plonker looking for the train station because it’s not particularly well signposted.
Eventually, I worked out where the train station was and crossed a rather grubby overpass to reach it. I then queued up for a few minutes and bought myself a T10 transport ticket which entitles you to 10 journeys on the train and metro system. I bought a couple of these during my time in Barcelona. They are about 10 Euros so they are very good value.
All of the trains from the airport run via the Sants train station (Sants Estacio) which was where I was heading so I jumped on the first available train and sat on it for about 30 minutes before arriving at Sants. I then walked about 15 minutes to my hotel.
The nearest Metro station was about 5 minutes walk away. As I mentioned above, make sure you buy a T10 Travelcard, it’s well worth it.
Trust me, I did a lot of walking (about 30 miles is my estimate), it’s impossible to get around everywhere you might want to within a few days so definitely use the Metro to get around.
If like me you’ve lived in London or New York where they have underground / Metro systems then getting around Barcelona will be a doddle for you. If not it might take you a while to get to grips with it. I did notice that there were several befuddled tourists who looked as if they had just landed on a different planet staring at the map for many minutes. As I’m a helpful soul I did help out one or two people to get to their destination.
The Metro lines are colour coded so it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who is in possession of a handful of brain cells.
Barcelona has a bad reputation for pickpockets and petty street crime so bear that in mind while you are travelling around on the Metro and generally wandering around the streets and crowded areas.
In fact, my neighbour’s wife had her handbag stolen on the Metro last time they were there.
I generally keep my camera bag in front of me at all times when travelling on any train/metro anywhere in the world.
One piece of advice that always stuck with me was given to me by someone I was staying with, in Cape Town, South Africa many years ago:
“Walk with confidence, not cockiness”.
I’ve always kept this in mind when travelling around the world. Believe me, I’ve been to a few very dodgy places around the world but so far so good.
If you look like a target then you very well may become one.
What did I see and do?
I hadn’t done any research so I went with the view that I would just turn up and work it out when I got there.
In a nutshell I……
- Walked up and down La Rambla more times than I can remember *
- Did the hop on and off bus tour (which I can highly recommend)**
- Ate lots of tapas
- Drank lot’s of Estrella (a very fine beer brewed in Barcelona)
- Walked all around the harbour area and beaches
- Wandered around ‘Barri Gotic’
- Went to Mercado de La Boqueria a fantastic indoor market off La Rambla
- Spent a few hours wandering around Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça d’Espanya
- Saw several of Gaudi’s buildings
- Ended up with very sore feet
In my humble opinion, Barcelona has got the lot.
I like any city that is near the coast. Comparable cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Cape Town spring to mind.
*You might be surprised to see prostitutes plying their trade in broad daylight at the southern end of La Rambla. I was most surprised to see a more mature lady sitting there legs akimbo showing off her wares to all who cared to have a look.
** If a hop on hop off tourist bus is available I will always take a ride on it. It’s a brilliant way to see everything worth seeing in a day. I generally do the whole tour without getting off and then work out which places I want to go back to and explore later on.
I took about 600 photo’s while I was in Barcelona which isn’t bad going.
I generally don’t bother taking loads of photo’s of tourist attractions because they’ve been photographed millions of times and it’s unlikely you can compete with photographers who live there who have plenty of time to think about what they are doing and can also keep going back to a location if they need to.
My motto is “Going to the places you know, taking the photo’s you’ve never seen”
So generally I’m gonna walk down side streets off the beaten track, go to places that the locals frequent and live and look for new angles if I’m taking photos of touristy stuff.
Are tourists welcome in Barcelona?
One of the things I will always do with this blog is provide you with a completely honest account of my travels and experiences. I will never sugar coat anything, I will always tell it as it is.
On the whole, my experience in Barcelona was a very positive one but I did get the impression that in certain places I may not have been very welcome.
I did a general search on Google and found this story, I’ve highlighted the bits about Barcelona and provided a link to the rest of the story below.
‘Tourist go home’: Why you’re no longer welcome in Spain
Last year, just as Barcelona earned the title of the third most visited city in Europe, it got a new mayor, Ada Colau — an outspoken critic of tourists in the city.
After being elected to office in June 2015, Colau threatened to put a cap on the number of visitors to Barcelona, fearing it would “end up like Venice”, a city in which tourism has been blamed for driving locals away.
The number of annual visitors to Barcelona — about 7.5 million in 2013 — grossly overwhelms the number of actual residents, of which there are about 1.6 million.
Concerned about a growing inequality between tourists and locals, especially with regard to the rise of tourist apartments, Colau put a one-year moratorium on new licences for hotel and tourist apartments in the city.
Barcelona also recently introduced a restriction on tourists visiting the famous La Boqueria markets, banning groups of more than 15 tourists from entering the market during peak hours.
Residents in Barcelona’s beachfront areas have previously been vocal against drunk and disorderly tourists.
A couple of times when walking in less populated areas I experienced young men spitting (not at me) but just after they passed me on the street. This happened three times if I recall correctly. I doubt this was a coincidence.
I also heard a few mumbles of “Americano” followed by what sounded like fairly derogatory words. I probably do look like an American while I’m wandering around because I very often wear a baseball cap to cover my ever expanding bald spot and I also wear my favourite blue plaid shirt which to the untrained local obviously makes me look like an American.
If only they knew I was English but to be honest I don’t think it would have made any difference. I was a tourist and obviously not welcome there.
I came across the following graffiti while I was wandering around:
And this on a toilet door at the airport on my way back.
This image was lifted from the story below:
To be honest I wasn’t aware of this anti-tourist sentiment before I went. I doubt it would have put me off going though.
Here’s the thing. There must be thousands and thousands of businesses that rely entirely on tourism in Barcelona so they need to be a bit careful about putting tourists off visiting. If all tourists stopped going to Barcelona completely I’m sure in time it would have a fairly devastating effect on jobs and the local economy.
My recommendations for Barcelona
- Buy yourself a T10 Transport Card or equivalent so you can easily get around Barcelona
- If you are only going for a few days try and pack light and only take carry on luggage. It’s great not having to wait for your suitcase to arrive on the conveyer belt.
- If you can fly mid-week you’ll save a few quid on the flight and hotel costs.
- Here’s a list of 17 things you should know before going to Barcelona
On the whole, I did enjoy my time in Barcelona. I covered a lot of ground, saw a lot, ate and drank a lot and had some fairly decent weather, apart from the first day when it absolutely pissed down with rain and I got drenched.
I like the fact that it is a city with a coastline which I’m generally a big fan of. You can eat as cheaply or expensively as you like. It’s got history and modernity which is always good for a photographer. It’s also got a big street art scene going on which is another bonus for someone like me.
Would I go back? Yes, but I probably wouldn’t rush to go back. When I compare how welcome I was made to feel in the Greek island of Kos recently going back to Barcelona would be fairly low down on my list of places to revisit.