Every time I see a tourist behaving naifly I get pain in my heart. Some years ago, I was not aware about how a good experience could be ruined in my city. Barcelona is amazing, all of us we are fully proud of our city and I honestly think that is one of the best places in the world to spend a vacation. But as a local I never got in touch with the hassles, tricks and small crimes that you can avoid just not being the perfect target. Now we are currently living here with my girlfriend who is a Hungarian expat and from her I could also live my city with the eyes of people always seen as foreigners. I have rediscovered many places and enjoyed them again and I had the luck of discover a lot more that I didn´t even know that existed. In exchange I also learn many things about wondering about new matters I never faced. Don´t panic, for sure you will enjoy fully the city, but just in case take a look to the following tips.
1. Eat random paella
Yes, paella is awesome. Isn´t it? But let me say that is not awesome everywhere. Actually, paella is original from Valencia region nevertheless became a popular Spanish dish cooked all around the country and even worldwide. In Valencia you can find a lot of arrocerías that are preparing excellent paellas and some of them in Barcelona too. Since is a popular dish for locals and very appreciated by the tourists you could find paella everywhere but not out of the best quality ingredients and most skilful cooks.
And this random cheap and fast paella you can find every corner probably is precooked. A popular alternative is to go on Thursday to any of the restaurants in town for “Menú del día” and most likely you will see paella an option for “Primer plato”. But if you are a proper gourmet just go to a proper “arrocería”, choose a good recommended one, take your time and enjoy.
2. Leave your bag out of your sight
Barcelona is as safe as any other big touristic busy city in the world. As a local, in 42 years a crime never happened to me. It’s very unlikely that anyone shows a knife at a dark corner on the street, but since there are a lot of tourists and our law is very soft with small crime there are some random guys, locals and foreigners that are taking the opportunity of getting easy money. You could expect non-violent pickpockets specially in touristic neighbourhoods in downtown. One of the most popular tricks is to distract the visitor and take their belongings inside the underground, sightseeing on the street or drinking something in a terrace. Just don’t be an easy target and they won’t try with you. Keep your belongings next to you, where you can feel them physically and enjoy your time.
3. Go with big stuff to the beach
Beaches in Barcelona are not popular into locals. This is cultural and historical. Before the Olympic games the urban beaches were dirtier and not that nice as they are currently now. And locals got used to go farther at the coast villages to enjoy sunbathing. And once they improved beaches conditions around 90’s they immediately started to be crowded and tourist conquered territory. Plenty of locals still don’t consider Barcelona as a beach option so the public there is almost foreigner and there is a war between pickpockets and hidden cops that pretend to be tourists to catch them. Even the cops are working on it and beaches are quite safe, don’t bring nothing else than some small notes to pay drinks at the bars and your good experience will be guaranteed.
4. Drink Sangria
Sangria is a drink that is popular for countryside celebrations in some parts of Spain specially during summer. Catalunya was not into Sangria Culture and it’s definitely not the best place to taste it. Even though nowadays you can find it everywhere a proper Sangria is not simple to prepare and to be nice must be homemade and nicely done. As a Spanish I love proper Sangria but I will explain why I wouldn’t order Sangria in a random bar.
You can get a litter of Sangria for 9 or 10 euros and the bar is almost earning two thirds of that out of it. That’s why they are preparing Sangria with the cheapest ingredients available. They are using the cheapest red wine available in supermarkets per less than one euro per litter. Those wines are sold in tetra bricks. They add some “gaseosa” that is a kind of local seven up, just sparkling sugary water and they add more white sugar and they finally add a couple of slices of orange or peach and they serve it. You can find tetra brick Sangria in super markets for almost one euro per litre that some bars are serving directly.
So, Sangria is not a Barcelona’s tradition, it’s not healthy according how they prepare and you are paying much more for the same low-quality product that you can find in supermarkets. Fortunately, Barcelona has a lot of interesting drinks to taste, please focus on the good ones. As a local I will be happy that you taste our best.
5. Catch the blue bus at the airport
This is the first mistake of a rookie in Barcelona. Sorry to say that. Once the tourist gets off the Terminal he can choose if he wants taxi, metro, train or bus to reach the city. The decision is theirs depending on the comfort they desire or the city point they want to get around. The matter here is that if you have decided to take the bus, you need to know they are two options. The blue one is called Aerobus and a single ticket is 5,90€. With Aerobus you can buy only a single or a return ticket but is not valid any multi-journey ticket. This blue bus arrives to Plaza Catalunya via Plaza Espanya. It goes directly, it has no stops till Plaza Espanya but the path and the related traffic jam in rush hours is almost the same as the 46 local bus.
This local bus number 46 is red and white like almost all the local buses in Barcelona and a single ticket cost 2,40€. In T1 you can find and “Estanco” (official tobacco store) where you can buy a multi-journey ticket and make every journey cheaper. If you arrive to Barcelona by T2, to catch that first bus you won’t have the chance of buying a multi-journey, but you will be able to buy one once you arrive in town at every metro station.
So, get out of the Terminal, just follow the signs to the bus and when you see the blue one just walks a bit farther like locals do and you will find the 46 line bus-stop.
6. Buy single metro tickets
There are cities in the world that don’t have any option of multi-journey ticket. Or might happen that the tourist doesn’t think about this option. There is no any special requirement to buy a multi-journey ticket in Barcelona. Since 2020 a single ticket is 2,40€ and T-Casual (10 journeys multiperson) is 11,35€ and T-Familiar is 10€ (8 journeys for 4 people). If you are a big group you can use T-Grup that includes 70 journeys for 79,45€.
So, a single ticket cost more than double than every journey in a multi-journey ticket. The best way to move around Barcelona besides biking is to catch the metro and will be very unlikely that you won’t spend a 10 journeys ticket even in a short visit. Just go to the automatic machines you will easily find at every station, to use them it’s very intuitive so don’t accept random help you didn’t ask for (it’s a collateral extra tip) and remember to buy a multi-journey ticket for your visit.
7. Look for a flamenco show
There are that many real local things to do in Barcelona… Flamenco has never been part of the traditional catalan culture. You can find a good Flamenco Show in Barcelona like you could find a Fados show in Berlin or a Sumo fight in Paris. Probably if you catch up with a Flamenco show is just set up for tourists. Of course, you can even find real flamenco in Barcelona and has been popular within the residents of that came from the southern Spain. But it’s rare to be that lucky. Normally the shows are expensive and the quality is low. If you want proper and amazing Flamenco my recommendation for you is to go to the southern Spain where it belongs and enjoy.
8. Buy beer from the street sellers
I know, I know… It’s a very convenient service and all of us have used it. Yes, but wrongly done. The first thing can happen is you can get quickly fined, especially in the downtown where there are a lot of secret agents of the local police working on it. This street selling is controlled by foreign mafias that not only sell innocent cans on the street. You can easily realize about this matter if you go twice along the same path. You will see the same seller that offered you a beer before now offering something stronger. Even speaking only about cans, let me say that street sellers are competing with proper businesses that pay taxes and if we want to make the local vibe prevail those real businesses need to survive.
9. Forget about your well-parked bike
You can park it well or bad but the truth is you should be more afraid from thieves rather than cops. It’s very normal to find lonely bike tires tied to a parking bar. This is a clear sign that the rest of the bike has been stolen. If you rent a bike make sure that the locker is properly good enough or use the bike to go around and park it where you can watch it.
10. Expect a bull fighting performance
The bullfighting shows were abolished in Catalunya in 2010 like in Canary Islands. Now the bullfighting rings are empty or they have other uses like in Las Arenas at Plaza España that has been converted into a shopping mall. You could admire the buildings architecture but you won’t be able to see a performance.
10 +1. Order without checking the prices
Unfortunately, it’s true that you could pay more just for being a tourist. Locals maybe will say to you that this is not like this. There are some places that are just simply more expensive because of their location but I have verified thanks to my family in law that overpricing is a bad way that tourists might carry with. To avoid that the best is to check or answer the prices before ordering and check if the service you expect is worth according to the price you will pay.