What Not To Do in Barcelona: Top 10 Tourist Fails To Avoid
As a first time visitor to Barcelona, it can be easy to fall for tourist traps, spend too much money, 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 no-nos for tourists visiting Barcelona.
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1. Expect people to speak English
You’ll find a decent number of English speakers in the city center. 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 useful phrases:
- Me llamo (yah-mo) [Insert name] – My name is [insert name]
- Vengo de [insert hometown] – I am from [insert hometown] (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
- Hablas Ingles? – Do you speak English?
- Donde esta el baño (ban-yo)/ Donde están los aseos? – Where is the bathroom?
- Donde puedo coger (co-hair) taxi? – Where can I find a taxi?
- Me puedes ayudar, por favor? – Can you help me, please?
- Me gustaría – I would like…
- Como puedo llegar a [insert destination]? – How do I get to [insert destination]?
2. Leave a tip
Tipping is not part of the culture in Spain. In fact, leaving a tip at a restaurant may even cause some confusion. 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. Just don’t leave a tip. The same goes for taxis or any service-based business.
Related: The Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide: What To Do, See, and Eat
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.
Barcelona is different. This city is a mecca for tourism so the bars take advantage of that. They charge unsuspecting tourists for basic tapas. 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.
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.
5. Go to a Flamenco show
Flamenco is another tradition from Andalucia. As such, you’ll see the most authentic Flamenco shows in the region. Any city or town in Andalucia 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 Gitano (gypsy) neighborhood of Granada. Almost 7 years later, I remember those powerful performances really well. I was so overcome with awe and emotion! That dance set the bar really high so I haven’t bothered going to a Flamenco show anywhere outside of Andalucia. 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 Andalucia, 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 Get Your Guide tour of the 145-year old church so you can skip the lines, learn the history, and take in all the enchanting details.
For me, the most impressive part of La Sagrada Familia was the interior, which is built in Gothic and modern styles. The best way to experience 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. To plan your visit, also check out the 5 mistakes to avoid when visiting La Sagrada Familia.
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 and La Boqueria Market. First, everything is overpriced. 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 quite good (the seafood to be exact.) Your best bet is to ask some locals about their favorite eateries.
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 towards tourists. Lots 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.
9. Use taxis to get around
Barcelona is a very walkable city so you can explore most of the attractions by foot. 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. In 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.
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I have been to Barcelona dozens of times and in the warm months I always go to the beach at the end of the overhead tram line. I have never seen it trashy at all. Maybe a few too many offers of a a massage though.
I am an expat living in Barcelona and I do not recommend not leaving a tip.
Unless you are Spanish, speak Spanish without an accent or obviously fallen on hard times it’s just plain rude and tourist areas like Barcelona, Casteldefels and Sitges would of course expect to be tipped.
Also, skipping Barceloneta for me wouldn’t be due to the garbage, as I have never seen any, bit as an unsuspecting tourist you may be a target for the petty thieves.
Other than that this is fairly on the nose!
Thanks, George, for sharing your opinion.