30 Jan Barcelona By Locals: Visiting Barcelona the local way
The number of visitors to Barcelona has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. While most jobs in the city depend on tourism, this development has also had negative effects on the citizens: crowded streets, increased noise levels, higher rent for apartments, increase in prices for foods and drinks (especially in restaurants), etc. However, there are still corners in the city that have not been swamped by tourists! Magdalena and Michael from Barcelona By Locals – an alternative travel guide promoting slow travel in Barcelona – share their recommendations for the conscious traveler in this guest post.
The problem of mass tourism in Barcelona
How can we describe the Catalan metropolis in a few words? World-class culture, excellent gastronomy and the beach in walking distance. No wonder Barcelona has become one of the top destinations in Europe, if not worldwide.
However, Barcelona has been one of the cities that has had many difficulties dealing with the high volume of tourists. In fact, tourism has become a very delicate topic in Barcelona, especially for Barcelona’s citizens!
Since the Olympic Games in 1990, the number of tourists has increased from 1.73 million to about 9 million in 2016.
As the city and hotel industry was not able to deal with the high influx of tourists, more and more (illegal) apartment renting took advantage of this opportunity. It is a more lucrative business for flat owners to rent an apartment to tourists than to look for long-term tenants.
This development has various consequences: higher rental fees, less apartments available for rent, increased noise disturbance in residential areas, etc. For example, 13,000 citizens left the neighborhood Gótico in the last eight years because of this.
In the last few years, Barcelona has also become Europe’s major harbor for cruise lines. In 2015, 2.5 million cruise line tourists have entered Barcelona, increasing the number of tourists per day by 20,000.
(Mass) tourism has mainly affected the life of old-town neighborhoods, especially Gòtico, Born and the beach barrio, Barceloneta, as well as the area around Sagrada Família. Whereas the old-town has to deal with the illegal house renting, the area around Sagrada Familia suffers more from the disappearance of shops, supermarkets and affordable restaurants because more and more souvenir shops and expensive bars and restaurants have opened instead.
What do Barcelona’s citizens say? Well, according to an annual survey regarding citizens’ concerns, the second biggest worry they have is the effect of tourism (right after labor conditions and unemployment). Curiously, those two top concerns go hand in hand: tourism is one of the most important economic drivers of the city. 120,000 people work in the tourism sector, although it is one of the worse compensated fields.
Since June 2015, left-wing Ada Calau is the mayor of Barcelona. She has already taken some important measurements to regulate the tourism industry, such as limiting the number of new hotel buildings, stopping some already planned projects, increasing the tourist tax for apartment rentals to the levels of luxury hotels, etc. However, there is still much work left to do…
A possible solution: Slow travel
Being totally aware of the impact tourists have had on the city, we wanted our friends to discover Barcelona the ‘local’ way – not the touristy way. This is why we created Barcelona By Locals – a travel guide that leads travelers off the beaten track through the different neighborhoods but without missing the top sights. We guide them through streets and alleys that are not crowded by all the group tours.
We not only aim to offer a better experience to the traveler, but also help the city disperse the tourists and lead them away from the touristy tracks.
Gràcia – the barrio with bohemian charme
Looking for a neighborhood in Barcelona that has kept its charm and is not yet over-crowded by tourists? Then Gràcia is the place to go!
In fact, Gràcia is the neighborhood where most of our Catalan friends live. Different generations and different kinds of people live here together: old and young people, exchange students, Catalan gypsies, and bohemian artists.
Compared to other neighborhoods, the Graciens have a strong feeling towards being independent from the rest of the city. This dates back to a time when the neighborhood was still an independent town (from 1856-1897). In these times, the so-called Vila de Gràcia was a place where many citizens of Barcelona had a summer residence, spending their holidays in a more rural and quiet atmosphere.
The people of Gràcia still maintain many of their traditions, such as the castellers, a tower built by humans, or the local village fair, Festa Major de Gràcia. Although every neighborhood has its own village fair, the one of Gràcia is among the most popular. You won’t find as many locals involved and enthusiastic in preparing their fiestas like the Graciens.
Gràcia has a special, charismatic flair that owes itself to the numerous little squares. We especially enjoy walking through the pedestrian areas (Carrer de Verdi and Carrer de Torrijos) as well as exploring the tiny shops, cozy bars, cafés and local restaurants. No wonder all people we know who were raised up in Gràcia, would never leave this place.
OUR MUST DO’S IN GRACIA
● Have a vermouth and sandwich Germinal at Bar Pietro
● Take in Gràcia’s flair strolling down Carrer de Verdi and Carrer de Torrijos
● Enjoy some sunshine at Plaça del Sol
Local expert: Georgina
Question: How would you describe the typical Gracia resident?
“The typical Gracienc and Gracienca is a well-off bohemian, a person who enjoys having a coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the evening on one of the squares of the barrio. We are very proud of our famous Festa Major de Gràcia and, of course, proud of being Catalan. And we would never say we are from Barcelona but from Gràcia! :-)”
Your favorite place: “I love sitting on the stairs of the church Sant Joan de Gràcia on Plaça de la Virreina and watching the life of the neighborhood: children playing xarranca (in English: hopscotch), people strolling by, locals chatting with their neighbors and, in the late evening, young musicians entertaining the barrio with their music.”
About the guest authors:
Magdalena and Michael are a German couple that have been living in Barcelona since 2012. They are real Barcelona lovers and passionate about exploring the endless cultural and culinary offerings of their new home town. With their travel guide, Barcelona By Locals, they want to help all the travelers out there to discover Barcelona through the eyes of a local.
If Barcelona is on your bucket list, make sure to get your digital travel guide on their website as a PDF. Get 10% off by using the discount code: intentionaltravelers.
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