Last updated on May 1, 2023
As a first time visitor to Barcelona (or even a returning visitor), it can be easy to fall for tourist traps, spend on unnecessary things, or have unrealistic expectations. This post is about 10 things not to do in Barcelona. Read this guide to find out important things to know before going to Barcelona. Knowing what to expect and what to avoid will save you time, money, energy and even potential embarrassment. In no particular order, here are the biggest no-nos for tourists visiting Barcelona.
This post contains affiliate links as explained in my disclosure policy
First things first, let’s make sure you have skip-the-line-access to Barcelona’s famous landmarks and attractions and a ticket for the best tours and activities. You’ll find them all through my go-to tour operator, Get Your Guide.
I’ve been going on Get Your Guide tours around the world since 2018. They are seriously the most educational and engaging tours out there, with the friendliest tour guides and the easiest signup process. Check out my list of mistakes to avoid in Barcelona. Then browse the Barcelona city guide below to find the best experiences in Barcelona that you will certainly not regret.
What Not To Do in Barcelona: Top 10 Tourist Fails To Avoid
1. Expect people to speak English
You’ll find a decent number of English speakers in the city center because Barcelona is an international city with expats. There are also plenty of students and young people who have learned English. That said, don’t expect the average person walking down the street to speak English. Maybe 8 out of 10 of the locals you’ll encounter will only speak Spanish and/or Catalan. The taxi drivers and bus drivers normally don’t speak any English.
You’d be surprised at how many tourists are shocked that Spaniards don’t speak English! Don’t be that tourist. Even better, learn some survival Spanish before you go. Here’s a quick breakdown of some essential Spanish phrases to memorize before your trip.
Useful Spanish Phrases
Hablas Inglés? – Do you speak English?
Donde esta el baño (ban-yo)/ Donde están los aseos? – Where is the bathroom?
Donde esta el metro mas cercano? – Where is the closest metro?
Me puedes ayudar, por favor? – Can you help me, please?
Donde puedo coger (co-hair) taxi? – Where can I find a taxi?
Me gustaría – I would like…
Como llego a [insert destination]? – How do I get to [insert destination]?
Me llamo (yah-mo) [Insert name] – My name is [insert name]
Vengo de [insert country] – I am from [insert country] (Tip: the V in Spanish is pronounced like a B so vengo sounds like bengo)
Cuanto cuesta?/Cuanto vale? – How much is it?
No hablo (ah-blo) español – I don’t speak Spanish
2. Leave a tip
Tipping is generally not part of the culture in Spain. In fact, leaving a tip at a restaurant may even cause some confusion, especially if you go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The waiters may think you forgot your money and run after you! If the service is great, a simple muchisimas gracias will do. Or you could write a glowing Yelp review. If you want to leave a tip, be my guest but don’t feel obligated to do so. The same goes for taxis and other service-based businesses. The exception would be if you go to a high-end establishment, like a Michelin-star restaurant. In that case, it’s customary to leave a tip of around 10%
3. Pay for basic tapas
The original idea behind tapas is that when you order a drink, you get algo de picar (something to snack on) for FREE! Tapas originated in Andalucia, where the free tapas tradition is still strong. Order a caña (a glass of beer) or any beverage, and the bar will provide you as many tapas as your heart desires. This old-fashioned tapas culture is one of the reasons why I believe that Granada is the best city to visit in Spain.
Barcelona is different. This city is a mecca for tourism so the bars take advantage of that. They charge unsuspecting tourists for basic tapas – I mean outrageous fees just a slice of bread and ham that was purchased from the grocery down the street. Let me be clear: the only tapas you should pay for are the gourmet kind with the finest ingredients. If you go to a bar and there are tapas for sale on display – like the plain ones with bread and a slice of cheese on top – turn around and leave.
Instead of paying for basic tapas, go on a guided wine and tapas tour that will take you to authentic tapas bars and restaurants. These tours are organized by local foodies who know the best places to eat like the back of their hand. Once you’ve sampled the best cuisine in the city, you might choose to go back to those places or ask for suggestions for other eateries that are authentic.
Want to try the best tapas that Barcelona has to offer? Here are three excellent food tours to choose from! You can’t go wrong with any of them. Enjoy!
4. Pay for a walking tour
Something else not to pay for in Barcelona is a walking tour. You can either design your own self-guided walking tour or join a free group tour. I did a 2-hour walking tour with Free Walking Tours Barcelona and wouldn’t recommend it. The tour was just a snoozefest; the only thing I remember is seeing filming locations for the movie, Vicky Christina Barcelona.
You could try Sandeman’s walking tour in Barcelona. I’ve done their walking tours in Edinburgh and Prague and had great experiences. I figure their Barcelona tour would be just as good. I would only pay for walking tours of historic buildings, like the Gaudi architecture. Pub crawls and guided food tours are also worth the money.
5. Go to a Flamenco show
Flamenco is another tradition from Andalucía. As such, you’ll see the most authentic Flamenco shows in the region. Any city or town in Andalucía will do. Granada, Sevilla, Almeria, Cordoba, Cadiz, and Malaga are great choices for first-time visitors. There are also some breathtaking small towns like Vejer de La Frontera, Ronda, and Jaen.
The very first Flamenco show I ever saw was in a cave in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada, home to the gitanos (gypsies). Even though I went to that show back in 2012, I still remember those powerful performances vividly. I was so overcome with awe and emotion! That dance set the bar so high that I haven’t bothered going to a Flamenco show anywhere outside of Andalucía. It takes a certain skill and gravitas to pull off a brilliant Flamenco performance.
Barcelona is home to famous Flamenco venues like Tablao de Carmen so I could definitely be wrong, although some of the reviews could suggest otherwise. That said, the Flamenco experience isn’t just about the dance itself – it’s about the atmosphere, people, passion, and soul. That’s why I always recommend you see your first Flamenco show in Andalucía, where they live and breathe Flamenco! You can even watch Flamenco dancers performing on the streets for free.
6. Show up at La Sagrada Familia without a ticket
La Sagrada Familia is the most visited attraction in Barcelona. As such, the ticket lines can wrap around the block. Don’t show up at the entrance without a ticket. I did that and had to go home; the staff told me that tickets now have to be purchased online. What’s the best way to experience La Sagrada Familia? Book a guided tour of La Sagrada Familia with skip-the-line access to tour the 19th century church that still hasn’t been completed. You can also learn the history, take in all the enchanting details, and appreciate the church more when you have a live guide explaining what you’re looking at.
For me, the most impressive part of La Sagrada Familia was the interior, which is built in Gothic and modern styles. That said, there’s an equally impressive exterior with towers and facades. The exterior is a work of art in itself. The best way to experience both the interior and exterior of La Sagrada Familia is through a guided tour with access to the Nativity Tower. You can explore the interior and the towers higher up the building while listening to an audio guide. This gives you the best of both worlds. I would book a ticket online in advance whether or not you decide to see just the interior of the church or both the interior and the exterior. To plan your visit, also check out the 5 mistakes to avoid when visiting La Sagrada Familia.
Ready to experience the magnificence of La Sagrada Familia?
Experience the best of La Sagrada Familia without waiting in line by booking one of these highly-rated, guided tours by Get Your Guide. During my last visit to Barcelona, I did the tour with Nativity Tower access, and it was so much better than simply exploring the inside. No matter which tour you choose, the most important thing is that you don’t show up at La Sagrada Familia without a ticket!
7. Buy anything on Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas is the main pedestrian street in Barcelona. It runs through a few neighborhoods, but the busiest part is at the city center. You’ll want to avoid buying food or souvenirs on this street, especially in the area between the Port of Barcelona and La Boqueria Market. You’ll thank me later.
First, everything is overpriced. Again, the busy city center is filled with tourist traps and savvy business people going after those tourist dollars. Secondly, the food may not be authentic because some restaurants water it down for tourists. There’s really no point in paying for subpar, overpriced food on Las Ramblas. The exception would be La Boqueria, which is overpriced but still quite good (the seafood to be exact.) Your best bet as always is to ask some locals about their favorite restaurants.
Instead of buying overpriced paella on Las Ramblas, take a cooking class and learn how to make it yourself from some of Barcelona’s master chefs. Choose one of these highly-rated cooking classes from my go-to travel operator, Get You Guide, and get ready for a seriously delicious experience!
8. Order paella that’s advertised with stock photos
There’s a rule of thumb for buying paella in Barcelona, or anywhere in Spain for that matter. If a restaurant advertises its paella with stock photos, run as far away as possible! Stock photos equal watered-down paella geared toward tourists.
Plenty of restaurants use the exact same stock photos to advertise their paella, too. Where to get the best paella? At a mom and pop restaurant – small, family-owned restaurants serve better paella than restaurants you’ll find in plazas or malls. They cook your paella to order while the tourist trap restaurants will warm up paella that has been sitting out.
The best way to find out what restaurants to go to for paella or any dish? Ask the receptionist at your hotel, the taxi driver, the janitor, or any of the locals you strike up a conversation with. Better yet, take this guided paella cooking class with my Get Your Guide, my favorite tour operator, and also get a tour of La Boqueria Market.
9. Use taxis to get around
Wondering how to get around Barcelona? One way NOT to do so is by hailing a taxi. Barcelona is a walkable city so you can explore most of the attractions by foot, especially around the city center. For longer distances, you have a few public transportation options: metro, bus, train, and tram.
There are so many affordable public transportation options that it doesn’t make sense to take a cab. Unless you stay out until 3 am, there’s really no need to pay for a taxi. That said, taxis here are said to be among the cheapest in Europe so taking them won’t do too much damage to your wallet.
10. Spend time at La Barceloneta Beach
Barcelona has a couple of beaches, but they’re nothing to write home about. By Spanish standards, they are actually subpar. Nearby Costa Brava is a much better destination for beautiful, white sand beaches. Better yet head to one or more of these 10 most beautiful beaches in Spain.
La Barceloneta is Barcelona’s main beach and the closest one to the city center. That’s why it’s normally filled to the brim – not only with tourists but also with trash. Heaps of garbage everywhere! This ‘beach’ is also manmade – it was created when Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992. If you’re looking for a relaxing break from the city, I don’t recommend La Barceloneta at all. Nova Icaria Beach, a bit farther from the city center, is a much better option. You may want to consider a day trip to other incredible destinations in Catalunya.
Travel Essentials I Can’t Live Without
The CabinZero 36L Backpack – this trusty backpack has been my go-to luggage for both domestic and international trips since 2018. I’ve used dozens of backpacks over the years and keep coming back to this one. I almost never check in luggage so I need a carry-on bag that is spacious, sturdy, and comfortable, with a laptop compartment. The Cabin Zero 36 L fits the bill. The size makes it small enough for a weekend getaway and big enough for a month of backpacking in Europe. The bag also comes with a tracker in case it gets lost. How convenient! Check out my complete review of the backpack.
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