Every traveler knows that the more a person travels, the easier it gets. However, every new city that you visit has its own tricks that may or may not be easy to spot. We often see people visiting Barcelona make basic mistakes time and time again, and we know that it is not their fault – some things just aren’t in guidebooks!
As an agency that offers small group tours, it is always in our best interest that you have a great time while in Barcelona, no matter whether it is on your own or on a private tour with us. To help you out, we decided to list the 12 biggest mistakes that we see first-time visitors making. And no, we won’t start with “Catalonia isn’t Spain” – we’ll leave that to your own experience 😉
If this list doesn’t change your trip or save you some euros, it will at least make for a better, healthier tourist experience:
The first thing to know is: Las Ramblas is the heart of tourism in Barcelona, which also means higher prices for likely lower quality products. It doesn’t matter how pretty dishes look on the menus, the food there will not be nearly as fresh as other local restaurants, and you run the risk of ending up with a frozen paella that costs you twice the price of a fresh traditional meal only a few blocks away. And this “don’t eat Paella on Las Ramblas” philosophy is not exclusive to Barcelona: food venues located on intense tourist streets are not the best options you can find in every city on the planet.
What to do instead: save Las Ramblas terraces to enjoy a beer or a glass of Sangria while doing some people watching. For lunch or dinner around Plaza Catalunya you can try Iposa, Ciutat Comtal, Teresa Carles, Merce Vins, El Bosco…. Or shoot us an email and ask for recommendations!
2. Choosing Flamenco over Rumba Catalana (or ignoring its existence)
Flamenco is the famous Spanish folk music and dance that originated in Andalusia, in the south of Spain, far away from Barcelona. While this type of music is very representative of Spanish culture, it is not as significant in Barcelona. Of course, you can find some great Flamenco shows to see while you are here, but do not leave without knowing that the Catalans have noteworthy boisterous folk music of their own: Rumba Catalana. Developed by Barcelona’s gypsy community, this genre of music has rhythms derived from flamenco rumba, influences from Cuban music and even some rock and roll. Rumba Catalana is a part of Catalan culture, and a lot of fun to dance to as well!
3. Walking around naked
Yes, there was a guy who got famous for walking around naked every day. No, it is not the basic dress code of the city! Locals can feel offended or disrespected by full or partly naked tourists and it is not hard to understand why.
What to do instead: there are two beaches in Barcelona that allow nudity and many other regular beaches for you to break free from your suit and sunbath as much as you feel like. Put on your shirt when getting out of the sand, save some skin for the next beach day and integrate as much as possible with the local life!
4. Leaving your iPhone unattended
Barcelona is not a dangerous or violent city, but the formula Crowds + tourism = professional pickpockets exists here, just as in every other tourist destination. Never leave your phone, purse, camera or anything unattended when traveling, in busy shops, restaurant terraces, or especially on subways.
What to do instead: Do walk with your hand over your bag and keep your phones and cameras safely guarded.
5. Shopping at Passeig de Gràcia
Ok, this is not necessarily a mistake. Passeig de Gràcia is the main shopping and business district of Barcelona and it can be very convenient to have many famous brands in the same area. But think about it, have you traveled so many miles to buy a purse you can find at home? Barcelona is a global reference in fashion, design, and textile. Try out some of the local designers’ shops and surprise your closet with an exclusively Barcelonian item!
What to do instead: wander around on Born, Eixample or Gràcia and let your instincts choose your next stop. If you want professional help, Antiques & Boutiques do a great job on offering private consultancy. Or check our latest article about shopping in Barcelona and choose a few suggestions to check out in person!
6. Treating Catalan as a dialect, speak poorly of it or letting it pass unnoticed
No, Catalan is not a dialect! It is one of several co-official languages found within Spanish regions. You can get along with it pretty well if you speak Spanish or French, as it is similar in many ways to both. It also has common phonemes to Portuguese. Catalan is a romance language, originated from Catalonia and is beautiful to listen to! Most Catalans are bilingual and also speak Spanish, but they work really hard to preserve their language identity and will be very thankful if you show some effort when saying “Bon dia!”.
What to do: Learn the basics and help Catalans to empower their language.
7. Getting around town in a cab
Barcelona is a flat city with incredibly charming streets and many different neighborhoods, ready for exploration! One of the best things to do – and no joke, you need to save time and do this – is to wander around with no clear destination. It can be anywhere: Born, Gothic, Raval, Sant Antoni, Poble Sec, Eixample, Barceloneta, Gràcia… you will see buildings you’ve never imagined, narrows streets you would never find in a map or hidden plazas that can be an oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of one of the most visited cities in the world. So why jump in a cab and limit your visit to the big streets or avenues?
If time is an issue: use public transportation. It’s easy, cheap and quick! Subway maps are very easy to understand and it doesn’t matter where you are, your destination is always less than 20 minutes away.
8. Touching all and every fruit in La Boqueria, or taking pictures of every hanging jamón
We know that controlling yourself is a VERY difficult thing to ask, especially if you, like me, “see with your fingers”. But this time you’ll have to think twice and stop your hand from squeezing that head-sized tomato that seems to be begging for you to touch it. It’s not only disrespectful to all the “please don’t touch” signs that the stand owners hang up everywhere, but it also complicates their lives. If you are in front of their stand holding products in your hand without buying anything or pointing your camera at everything they have for sale, chances are that the clients who are actually trying to buy will leave looking for a calmer spot. Not to mention the damage that touching causes to fresh fruit and vegetables, causing loss to their stand.
What to do: I am positive that that tomato will look a lot better on your dinner table, sliced with olive oil and seasoned with some basil or black pepper! Leave the pictures for the main entrance of the market and use your time in front of the stands to pick out something tasty for your meal!
9. Mar i Muntanya who?
“The cuisine of a country is its landscape put in a pot.” This quote by writer and journalist Josep Pla perfectly describes what Catalan cuisine is all about. Mar i Muntanya (sea and mountain) is a Catalan type of cuisine that combines ingredients from the mountains (generally meat and sausage) with typical ingredients from the sea (generally fish and seafood). There are a great many variations on this dish, and you can always ask the waiter for the restaurant’s Mar i Muntanya suggestions.
What to do: make sure you try at least one during your visit! A great combination of taste, history, and tradition.
If you are coming to Barcelona anytime soon, don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to cook your very own paella on our Hands On Paella Cooking Class and Local Market Tour.
10. Buying a single metro ticket
If you are taking the subway to reach a certain destination, it is likely that you will also take the metro on your way back 😉
What to do instead: take your rides into consideration and see if it would be worth it for you to get a T-10! This card contains 10 rides (bus, subway or funicular) for 9,95 Euros, while a single ticket costs 2,15 Euros. After 5 rides it will already be worth the purchase and you’ll avoid lines at every new station! You can share the T-10 with your whole group, so make sure to take the whole groups’ rides into consideration.
11. Not visiting Gràcia because it is “too far away”
Passing almost unnoticed, Gràcia is one of the most important areas for travelers who really want to understand Barcelona. This neighborhood was founded in the 17th century and for over two centuries was a separate village from the rest of the city! Later on, it became part of the town, and home to those who enjoy the charm of Barcelona but want to escape from the overcrowded Old Quarter. If you spend some time in Gràcia you’ll realize that many of the bars and restaurants have menus written in Catalan only, and chances are that waiters and clerks will only speak to you in Catalan. Spending one-afternoon drinking coffee on one of its terraces while doing some people watching can only add value to your Barcelona experience – plus, it is a great starting point to see the most important modernist buildings of the Eixample neighborhood.
What to do instead: start from Plaza Catalunya and walk up Passeig de Gràcia, or take the subway to the Fontana metro station. From there, start wandering towards Plaza de Sol while feeling the atmosphere of a genuine Catalan neighborhood 🙂
12. Taking a tour with 40 people
Barcelona is a bona fide tourist destination that is full of beautiful locations and amazing food. Unfortunately, this attracts thousands of people each day that want tours and guides that take them around the city. When you hop on a double-decker tour bus you may get to see the big monuments and large plazas, but you end up missing out on the hidden gems and secret corners of the city that only locals know about.
What to do instead: Look out for a small group tour. Try to find a tour that truly limits the number of people in order to receive an honest depiction of the city in all of its gritty, yet alluring majesty. If you need help locating one, why not try out one of our tours below!
Another popular form of transportation in Barcelona is by bike; almost every street has a bike lane and motorized scooters have become as commonplace as buses. If you would like to see more of the city with a group of like-minded travelers, check out one of our BCN All Corners: Barcelona City BIKE Tours
At Spanish Trails we have some of the most entertaining and knowledge packed city tours in Barcelona, if you are coming to Ciudad Condal you don’t want to miss them!