Barcelona is one of the world’s most beloved cities, for good reason. As the capital of the autonomous Catalonia region within the Kingdom of Spain, it’s a popular destination known for its unique architecture, fabulous food and its many world-class museums and art galleries. To get the most out of this wonderfully eclectic and sometimes chaotic city, you’ll need to know more than just what to do there, you’ll also need to know what NOT to do. Every place has its own set of quirks, customs, sensitivities and laws that visitors should be aware of. Here are a few tips on things to avoid when in Barcelona.
1. Don’t Wear Your Swim Suit in the Street
Barcelona has a pleasant Mediterranean climate year round, and is particularly warm and sunny from May through October. With 4.2 km of beach not far from the city center, it’s as much a beach town as it is a cultural mecca. However, unlike some other holiday hotspots, don’t stroll the streets in a bikini or swimming trunks, even if you’re heading to the seaside. You might be able to get away with it on the beachfront promenade, but cover-up elsewhere. It’s not just considered tasteless and inappropriate, it’s actually illegal. You can be fined €100 to €200 if you are caught walking around in skimpy beachwear – even men wandering bare-chested in shorts is a no-no.
2. Don’t Expect to See a Bullfight
Spain is world famous for their corrida bullfighting tradition, and many tourists want to witness daring matadors gracefully working their capes in the center of the ring to the cheers of the roaring crowd. However, scratch that off your list of things to experience in Barcelona. After the Canary Islands, Catalonia was the second Spanish region to ban the bovine blood sport. It has been prohibited in there since 2011 as they see it as form of animal torture.
3. Don’t Wear Your Burka Inside Buildings
If you’re a Muslim traveler, be aware that in 2010 Barcelona banned full-face coverings in municipal buildings. It is one of over a dozen Spanish cities that, for security reasons, forbids burkas, niqab veils or any head-wear that hinders identification to be worn inside public spaces like municipal offices, public markets and libraries (walking the streets is okay, however). It’s not meant to target religious beliefs, per se, as wearing of ski masks, helmets and balaclavas is also not permitted. Note, there are no legal issues with wearing the more common hijab headscarf around Barcelona.
4. Don’t Forget You’re in Catalonia
Barcelona is the capital of a region with a unique history, culture and language of its own, and Catalans don’t like to be lumped in with the rest of Spain. The local population are proud of their distinctive identity. Most speak Catalan as their first language, and although almost everyone also speaks Spanish, they will appreciate you learning a few basic phrases and pleasantries in the local tongue. Don’t mistakenly call a Catalan a Spaniard. The 7 million strong region has long been struggling for independence, and a gaff like this might offend them to the core.
5. Don’t Go to Starbucks
You may love your familiar Venti, skinny, soy, extra foam, no whip Caramel Macchiato, but when in Barcelona stay away from the global chain cafes. There are so many wonderful local spots to get your caffeine fix, it would be a coffee-crime to miss out on them. Here’s a list of some of the best places to get a memorable cup of joe in Barcelona neighborhoods like Gracia, el Born and El Raval.
6. Don’t Light Up Just Anywhere
Like many European cities, Barcelonans love to smoke. However, since January 2nd, 2011, it has become a more restrictive habit. The city used to be clouded with oblivious people puffing away on lit cigarettes, even after the initial laws were introduced back in 2006. But now they are cracking down to enforce it and smoking is no longer so widespread. Tobacco consumption is prohibited in all public buildings and on public transport, including taxis. You can’t smoke at workplaces, railway stations, bars, restaurants or nightclubs. It’s also not allowed on hospital grounds, health centers and schools. This is good news for those of us sensitive to second-hand smoke, but a hindrance to those who enjoy the habit. You can only smoke on restaurant terraces, in private homes and balconies, in sports stadiums, in the fresh air (like parks) and in hotel rooms if the owner permits.
7. Don’t Go Out Too Early for Nightlife
One characteristic that Barcelona shares with the rest of Spain is that nightlife starts extremely late. It might take some getting used to if you’re coming from the States, but parties rarely get started before midnight or even 1 am. Locals rarely eat dinner before 9 pm and don’t go out before midnight if they’re planning to hit the clubs. Many places are even closed until then.
8. Don’t Choose the Wrong Airport
Europe’s budget airlines are infamous for flying to airports that are nowhere near the actual cities they’re advertised to fly to. For example, Ryanair describes both Girona and Reus as Barcelona airports, even though they are a long way from the city proper. Expect to spend at least an hour getting to the center from either of these airports.
9. Don’t Go to Barceloneta Beach
Barceloneta Beach is one of the most central and popular beaches in the city, but it’s often packed full of people and covered in cigarette butts and other litter. Although the promenade can be entertaining for an evening stroll, there are far better places to sunbathe or swim. Some of the best include Bogatell, Mar Bella and, most of all, Ocata Beach, which is one of the cleanest in the area.
10. Don’t Eat at the La Rambla Tourist Traps
La Rambla, conveniently located in the center of the city, is a beautiful area with imposing architecture and many interesting-looking bars and restaurants. However, it’s also the city’s number-one tourist trap and, as such, it is full of rip-off venues. If you’re looking for a far better value and more authentic local experience, there are plenty of places to go just off the main drag.
11. Don’t Act Like a Tourist
Barcelona is full of tourists much of the year round, particularly during the summer months. Although this rule applies to almost anywhere in the world, acting like a tourist is likely to attract unwanted attention. The central regions do have a serious problem with pickpockets, so don’t wave your camera, map and money around and try not to stand out.
12. Don’t Drink Sangria
When people think about Spain, sangria is often among the first things that come to mind. However, it’s not actually so popular in Barcelona, and you are not likely to find a good one. A far better choice, as well as a more local tradition, is to try the local cava. Cava is a Catalonian version of champagne, and you can even get it in a similar style to sangria.
13. Don’t Take Taxis
As is usually the case in big cities, taxis tend to be overpriced, and there’s always a significant chance of getting ripped off on top of that. Fortunately, Barcelona has an excellent public transport system that provides a far cheaper and more efficient way of getting around. The metro system covers a wide service area, allowing you to get to many interesting places off the beaten track. Visit TMB to find timetables.
14. Don’t Buy Kitsch Mexican Souvenirs
When exploring the main tourist areas, you’ll come across numerous stalls and stores selling clichéd souvenirs, many of which don’t reflect the local culture and traditions in the slightest. Worst of all, you’ll also find many places selling Mexican sombreros, which are about as out-of-place as Russian ushankas in Barcelona.
15. Don’t Order Tapas Just Anywhere
You won’t need to search hard to find a so-called tapas bar in the touristy areas of the city. However, tapas are a Castellano (Spanish) tradition, and are not native to Catalonia. While you might still find some good tapas bars, you should use your time in Barcelona to explore the unique Catalonian cuisine (like pa amb tom�quet, formatge de tupí or may y mantagna). And be sure to avoid frozen paellas in the tourist areas, too!
16. Don’t Pass the Salt Shaker Hand to Hand
According to tradition, when asked to “pass the salt” you should never hand the shaker to them directly. This is bad luck to the superstitious as it might cause a fight between the ‘handee’ and ‘hander’. Whether or not people actually believe this age-old folklore, it is an ingrained habit (like tossing spilled salt over your left shoulder), so just place the shaker on the table in front of them and they will pick it up on their own accord.
17. Don’t Feel Pressured to Go Inside La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudi’s world-famous masterpiece and undoubtedly the best-loved landmark in Barcelona. Amazingly, the place is still under construction, despite starting in 1882. As such, much of the interior remains a building site. Although it’s definitely worth taking a peek inside the church, don’t feel it’s essential, particularly if you’re short on time.