Barcelona is sick of tourists, but not necessarily of the money they bring to Spain’s second-biggest city. Thanks to the bad behavior of tourists in Barcelona, the city and other groups are expending considerable effort developing plans to curb tourism to the Catalonian capital by sharply increasing the costs incurred by touristic businesses and the visitors they serve. If you want to visit Barcelona but don’t want to engage in the kind of behavior that is invoking the ire of locals, the following 25 pointers will help you to positively represent your home country by making a great impression – or better yet, no impression at all – on the people in control of the destiny of Barcelona tourism.
25 Tips for Barcelona Tourist Etiquette
1. Throw your trash and cigarettes in the proper waste containers. When you throw your waste on the ground or flippantly toss your still-lit cigarette onto the sidewalk, you’re making the statement that Barcelona is your trash can. It’s not, but the city does provide trash cans at nearly every corner, so please use them.
2. DO NOT ask police for directions or suggestions. Police are not tour guides; they are there to protect us. This means that if you are bothering them with touristic questions or asking them for directions because you don’t know how to use a map or you can’t make your smart phone work or you simply don’t want to ask someone else, you are taking the officer’s attention away from what they’re supposed to be doing; watching out for, preventing and responding to serious crime.
3. Don’t smoke marijuana in public. There are plenty of private cannabis clubs in Barcelona (I’ll even sponsor you if you ask me nicely: email@example.com) where you can sit and have a smoke, or you can smoke in any other private place. But if you’re walking down Las Ramblas and your joint is blowing smoke at the crowd behind you, that’s not okay. If you try to smoke in a park, an undercover agent might bust you and fine you. Locals don’t want their city to become the “next Amsterdam,” and in fact the city has taken steps to fight this image, so please, don’t make it worse by billowing smoke down Barcelona’s streets.
4. If you are in a group, do not monopolize sidewalk space or space in front of building entrances. There are few things more aggravating than a bunch of tourists blocking the sidewalk so that you cannot pass, or obstructing the entrance to your building while talking loudly in languages other than Spanish or Catalan and completely ignoring the other residents and visitors to the city. You are a guest here; please show courtesy.
5. Before entering the sidewalk from inside a building, look both ways. Too often tourists in Barcelona are so self-absorbed that they enter the sidewalk from inside a building without looking, stepping directly into heavy traffic and causing people to have to sidestep, jump, bend, twist and otherwise get out of the way in a hurry to avoid a collision. You’re stepping out onto a busy sidewalk; enter traffic respectfully.
6. Do not ride your bike on the sidewalk. The key part of the word “sidewalk” is “walk.” It’s not for bicycles or other wheeled transport, excepting wheelchairs and strollers. As you will see below, bicycles have their own routes assigned.
7. Enter and exit residences and businesses quietly. Don’t be the noisy, boisterous group clambering down the stairs in a residential apartment building at 03:00, or the drunken young men obnoxiously belting out fight songs as they leave a restaurant. No one wants that in any city.
8. Understand there is a difference between Catala and Castellano. Catalan people already have a chip on their shoulder and want to secede from Spain; don’t give them more reason to despise foreigners, who they see as people who come here for speculation, buying up all the housing and real estate until there’s nothing left for locals. In Barcelona, official signs are all in Catala, and the older generation here is largely Catalan. Their native tongue is not Spanish (called Castellano here) and they might shun you if you don’t recognize that there is a difference.
9. Try to rent places that are licensed with the city. Non-licensed tourist apartments and hotels are a big problem in Barcelona, which has a severe shortage of affordable housing for locals. Despite widespread belief, even AirBnB is okay – but make sure the listing has a certification with the city of Barcelona displayed prominently on the profile.
10. Give women and children the right of way. Don’t be the unobservant group that forces a woman or child off the sidewalk – this is rude in any country, but Spaniards will take particular offense to sleights of courtesy committed by men against women, and especially women with children.
11. Do not cross against traffic lights, especially in groups. To manage the large numbers of people that live and visit Barcelona, the city runs an excellent system of lights and crossings. Please don’t create complications and potential danger by crossing against traffic. This is not only bad tourist behavior, it could also get you killed; Barcelona drivers are notorious for having little patience with people who cross against the light and assume you’re smart enough to get out of the way. If you’re in Barcelona, pay attention to the signs painted on many crossings that warn of death.
12. After going to the beach, consider a more appropriate outfit if needed before you enter a restaurant or bar. Know where you’re going and what the expected etiquette is there.
13. Tip your housemaids and cleaners. Because of the severe tourist problem Barcelona is experiencing, housemaids and cleaners are paid very little and depend partly on tips from tourists to make ends meet. As an American living in Barcelona, I tip housekeepers, cleaners, taxi drivers, bartenders, wait staff, hair stylists, doormen and anyone else who impresses me with excellent service.
14. In general, try not to act like a frat boy tourist douchebag.
15. Give mad respect to elderly Catalan ladies. Spain is largely matriarchal, but Catalunya is especially so and these women are important here. Don’t piss them off.
16. Don’t stay in the barrio Barceloneta except in hotels. This neighborhood is the hotbed of anti-tourism demonstrations and the seat of problems with speculation in Barcelona. If you are going to stay in this neighborhood, make sure you only do so approved hotels, or, failing that, places that have a license with the city.
17. Men, give up your seats in favor of women and children on the metro, train, and bus. Also refer to point #15 in this regard.
18. Don’t take part in large group tours. Group tours are a big problem here. Barcelona is a small city, and large tourist groups completely monopolize the space of every place they visit. What’s worse is because they are paying such close attention to the tour guide, the people in the tour are completely unobservant of the fact that as a group, they block sidewalks and entrances, make streets impassable, and consume resources en masse. Tour groups are generally hated by locals – especially the ones that ride around on Segways and rented bicycles on the sidewalk.
19. Be aware of your cigarette smoke. Please consider that when walking down a crowded street or sidewalk, every person walking behind you is breathing in your cigarette smoke. This includes children, non-smokers, families, the elderly, the infirm, people who are opposed to tobacco smoke in public spaces, etc., but the average tourist in Barcelona typically doesn’t think about this at all. And when large groups of tourists stand around smoking outside of restaurants and apartment buildings, locals really don’t like it.
20. Pick up after your dog; it’s the law and it’s common courtesy to everyone else in the city.
21. Be observant and keep an eye on your belongings. What makes Barcelona a wonderful place for thieves is the never-ending availability of starry-eyed, unobservant tourists who are easy to steal from and swindle. Please don’t be a victim and add to the tourism problems that Barcelona is experiencing; keep your wits about you, keep an eye on your belongings, and don’t flash jewelry, money or expensive electronics.
22. Report crime. If you are the victim of a crime, please report it to the police. Too often tourists are robbed, pickpocketed or directly stolen from without ever filing a police report, primarily because they think it won’t matter and that the police won’t do anything about it. This enables thieves to commit more crime with a greater degree of impunity. Refer to point #21 above, but if something happens, do something about it.
23. Do not walk in bicycle lanes. Barcelona is considered by many to be the #2 city in the world for cyclists. This is due to a large network of dedicated bicycle lanes. Don’t walk in these lanes; bicycle traffic is fast-moving and has the right to the lane so cyclists might not expect you to be there and hit you accidentally, or they might just hit you anyway because you’re not supposed to be there. This author admits to hard-shouldering more than my share of dummies who walk in the bicycle lane with their eyes glued to their cell phones. Don’t be that person; stay on the sidewalk and in designated lanes for walking, see point #24 below for more:
24. Cross streets in designated lanes. At most street crossings in the city center, there is a large lane for pedestrians and a smaller lane for cyclists. There are painted signs on these lanes clearly indicating that one is for bikes and the other for walkers – obey these signs. If you’re walking, cross in the walking lane. If you’re on a bike, cross in the lane for bikes only. There’s a reason these lanes exist and if we all use them appropriately, traffic flow will improve and this will help to curb the impact of Barcelona’s tourists.
25. Learn a little Spanish or Catalan. You’re in a foreign country – learn at least some basic phrases. For starters, learn how to politely say that you don’t speak Spanish or Catala, then learn how to ask someone if they speak your language. Forcing your way around the city in your native tongue isn’t going to make things easy for you with locals. If you act like a flippant tourist who can’t be bothered to at least attempt to speak to locals in their native tongue, then you will be treated as such.
Do you have any other suggestions for this list? Don’t agree with something? Let us know in the comments section below!