There’s no denying that Barcelona, Spain is a beautiful coastal city full of sun, palm trees, and Roman-style buildings. The city’s Mediterranean charm is one of the main things that convinced me to move back after a semester abroad. I was swept off my feet the first time I visited Barcelona. It was so full of energy, the food was amazing, and the locals seemed so chill with their laid-back personalities and lifestyles. Of course, I also found everything more exciting and interesting because of the local languages. As someone who grew up predominantly monolingual, it amazed me that the people of Barcelona knew not one but two languages as their mother tongue. Studying in Barcelona was a dream come true and apparently, I’m not the only one who’s recently been drawn to the beauty of the city. An article from The Independent commented that more than 34 million people visited Barcelona in 2016 compared to only 27 million tourists in 2012. The city has become a popular tourist hub, and these numbers continue to increase thanks to low-budget airlines like Norwegian offering affordable flights from several cities around the world to Barcelona, and services like Airbnb that make finding accommodations super easy. I admit that I have also partaken in my fair share of touristy activities since being here and don’t blame anyone for wanting to do the same; however, the growing number of tourists in this popular Spanish city has become a problem. The same Independent article mentioned above is titled “Why Barcelona Locals Really Hate Tourists” and is written by one of many Barcelonans who have explained the reasons behind recent anti-tourist attitudes among locals. As someone who has lived here long enough to be considered an expat rather than a tourist, I want to expound the ideology behind that article and offer insight to anyone thinking about visiting Barcelona in the future.
A major point often mentioned by many residents of Barcelona is that tourism has become an expense that many of us are finding too difficult to afford. The price of rent has increased exponentially over the past several years due to high demand for accommodation from tourists. There are a lot of landlords who choose to rent their rooms and apartments to tourists at a high price instead of locals, because they know that many from outside the city will be more willing to pay for them. This leaves a limited amount of housing options for the city’s residents and makes living within the city’s limits pricier. Most Barcelonans don’t earn nearly as much as people from the United States or other Western European countries. The average worker in the city makes only about a thousand euros a month (1,176 USD) if they’re lucky and can’t afford an apartment with rent for the same price. As a result, many are forced to move to smaller cities outside of Barcelona, but the prices in those areas are also beginning to rise. Of course, there are other factors that play into this like the lack of rent control, but it’s still something to think about when booking an overpriced room or apartment on Airbnb.
This ties into the first point. Barcelona is a small city in terms of space. The city is only 101.9 square kilometers in land area which is less than half the size of Queens and a little under the size of Brooklyn. There’s not enough room for both the city’s growing tourist population and existing residents. What makes everything even worse is that there is no room for the city to grow. Barcelona rests between the mountains and the sea. There are only so many new apartments that can be constructed to solve the problem, and as mentioned before, these apartments are often bought out by wealthy landlords who continue the damaging cycle of strictly renting to tourists and non-Spanish residents with pockets full of money. It’s a sad reality for many families here who struggle to find affordable housing close to their jobs while also doing their best to survive. My advice to anyone planning to spend a few days in Barcelona is to book something outside of the city’s center. You might be a little farther away from all the attractions than you would like, but public transportation here is great. Plus, these areas are less crowded and will offer a more authentic side to Catalonian life.
Every summer the citizens of Barcelona are met with their fair share of crazy, loud, and disrespectful tourists. Not every tourist is seen this way, but many of those who make the local news every night are the same people that locals actively avoid. It’s super uncool whenever someone from a different country travels to an overly popularized and overcrowded destination and refuses to speak the local language. Not to mention, many of the tourists who act this way spend most of their time getting wasted on the beach and then leave a huge trail of trash behind them. It’s not a good look for whatever country these tourists represent, and it’s also very disrespectful to the citizens of Barcelona. Most of the people here are super friendly and are more than willing to go out of their way to help anyone, so it’s good to be mindful of the fact that cities like Barcelona are more than just touristy playgrounds. They’re also home to many hard-working people who willingly share their city with the rest of the world.
It is never my intention to discourage anyone from traveling to their dream destination, but these are a few things that one should keep in mind before traveling to Barcelona or any other popular city. Although some of the solutions to Barcelona’s problems rely solely on the local and regional government, it’s good to be aware of what is going on in the lives of the city’s residents. Doing so will give you a better understanding of the issues within Barcelona’s community and just might earn you greater respect from the locals.