Are you planning a trip to Barcelona and worried about looking like a blundering tourist? That’s natural, of course. But don’t get too hung up on this — you’re visiting the city and taking in its biggest sights. You’re allowed to look like a tourist!
As a traveler in a new culture, it will be really hard, if not impossible, to look “local” so why not just be comfortable and go with the flow? (However, this doesn’t mean wandering La Rambla with three cameras tied around your neck wearing socks and sandals — there are limits!)
However, acting like a tourist is a different subject. We’re here to help you overcome some common mistakes that tourists make when visiting Barcelona, from spending too much time on La Rambla to trying to eat at 6 p.m.
• How to navigate Barcelona’s most popular attractions
• 10 Best cheap hotels in Barcelona
25 Do’s & don’ts that will make your trip to Barcelona better
Follow our lead and you’ll be acting (and eating) like a local in no time!
1. Do try to learn a few words in Spanish and Catalan.
Por favor, gracias and bon dia go a long way.
2. Do try to adhere to local customs and schedules.
Remember that Spaniards eat late and that many shops will be closed midday for lunch and on Sundays.
3. Don’t get too political.
It’s fine to ask locals their opinion on Catalan independence, but be careful if you’re voicing very pro-Catalonia or pro-Spain opinions. You might end up offending those around you and find yourself in a heated debate or fight.
Eating & drinking
4. Don’t eat on La Rambla if you can avoid it.
We’ve been over this many times before, but it’s worth mentioning again.
5. Do visit Barcelona’s wine bars.
Head to these spots to sip reds and whites from all over Spain.
6. Don’t tip 20% on your restaurant bill.
Tipping is not common in Spain. If you want to leave something, leave your change or a couple of euros.
7. Do take a cooking class.
Learn how to make Catalan dishes and Spanish classics like paella.
8. Don’t try to go to dinner at 6 p.m.
Any respectable restaurant won’t even open the doors until 8 p.m. (Here are 18 tips for eating like a local in Barcelona.)
9. Do eat delicious tapas.
They will get you over the 6 p.m. hump and tide you over until your late Spanish dinner.
10. Do visit the famous Boqueria Market, but…
Also visit Barcelona’s lesser-known markets, all of which will be less crowded. Santa Caterina is a good option.
11. Don’t order paella for dinner.
It’s a lunch dish considered too heavy for a late meal.
12. Don’t take photos in shops or at market stands unless you’ve asked permission.
Fortunately, most of the time, the vendors will say yes.
13. Do shop for exquisite Spanish shoes and clothing.
Looking for Zara, Mango, etc.? Head to the Gothic Quarter around Portal de l’Àngel and Carrer Comtal.
14. Do score deep discounts during the twice-annual city-wide sales.
They’re held in Barcelona in January/February and July/August.
15. Don’t buy souvenirs on La Rambla.
Look for locally made goodies to take home on side-streets off La Rambla.
16. Do check out museum stores.
They offer a great selection of books on Barcelona and artsy souvenirs crafted in Barcelona.
17. Do pay the entrance fee to see La Sagrada Família.
It’s Barcelona’s most important sight and there is a reason for this — it’s stunning! Cough up the entrance fee and spend a few hours inside gawking at Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. (And do get tickets online and skip the wait. Read all of our tips for visiting Sagrada Familia.)
18. Don’t go to Park Güell if you’re short on time.
It’s a bit of trek to get up to Park Güell that can easily eat up most of the day. Stick to Gaudí sights in the city center if you’ve only got a couple of days.
19. Do rent a bike.
Ride along Barcelona’s beachfront boardwalk from La Barceloneta to Llevant beach. Stop along the way for lunch at a seaside eatery.
20. Don’t spend all your time on La Rambla.
It’s tempting to spend too much time with the human statues, cheesy vendors and crowds of tourists. But do walk down La Rambla at least once and stop in to see La Boqueria Market.
21. Do take a tour of the Gothic Quarter.
Get an in-depth look at what Barcelona was like in Roman times.
22. Don’t confine yourself to Barcelona’s city limits.
Consider a day trip to Girona to wander its medieval lanes, Figueres to see the Salvador Dalí Museum, or the Penedès region for wine tasting.
23. Don’t try to save money by staying at an out-of-the-way hotel.
It’s worth it to spend a little more to be central. You’ll save time and money getting to popular sights, and it will be easier to walk home at night. Check out these affordable hotels near Barcelona’s most popular attractions.
24. Do make sure your hotel has a safe in the room or at the reception desk.
Leave your passport, extra cash and credit cards, and anything else of value that you will not need on you in the safe. Here are 10 tips for staying safe in Barcelona.
25. Don’t pay for an expensive hotel breakfast at your hotel.
Instead, head to the nearest cafe and eat breakfast like a local for about $5 (coffee and a small sandwich or pastry).
Finally, do come to Barcelona with an open mind and flexible itinerary.
Travel is tricky and things may not pan out the way you planned. It could rain, a museum could be closed for remodeling, or the taxi drivers could go on strike.
However, good things can crop up too, and it’s rewarding to be able to spot these opportunities when they surface and embrace them. A restaurant owner offers you something that’s not on the menu, and it turns out to be the best meal of your life. A local invites you over to their condo for coffee, and you make a new friend. A wrong turn takes you down a winding alleyway with unique bars and boutiques.
The unplanned can many times be the best part of the journey — embrace it!