How to Avoid Overtourism in Barcelona (Without Avoiding Barcelona)
Spain is the third biggest tourist destination in the world. Each year the country sees its number of international tourist arrivals increase, with the region of Catalonia receiving the highest number. In 2016 the region’s capital, Barcelona, received one-third of Spain’s foreign tourists. However, the popularity has its drawbacks. Now, the city is faced with one of its biggest challenges: overtourism — an issue that negatively impacts the local quality of life.
So how do travelers in Barcelona (and other tourist destinations facing the same challenges) avoid being part of overtourism during their visit? In this blog we give facts and statistics to help travelers make informed decisions about their activities. Also, we provide sustainable travel options that have been vetted to make a positive impact on the local culture and environment. Read on to learn more.
What is Overtourism?
Overtourism describes destinations crowded with more visitors than it can comfortably accommodate. Both locals and visitors suffer because daily living as well as travel experiences deteriorate due to the overwhelming number of people competing for space and resources.
Overtourism in Barcelona
The city of Barcelona drew worldwide attention in 1992 when it hosted the Olympics. Since then, its tourism rates have not ceased to increase, receiving visitors year-round with numbers peaking during the summer months. Barcelona is now the third most visited city in Europe. In 2016, its 1.6 million residents were outnumbered by 32 million tourists. For a long time the high numbers was seen as a success, but gradually the city reached its full-capacity, causing locals to protest the overtourism.
Negative Impact on Locals
The result is that locals’ daily lives are negatively impacted. For instance, the streets get intensely crowded day and night. Central neighbourhoods of Barcelona such as El Gotico, El Born and El Raval, find themselves in the middle of the city’s mass tourism. This may seem like a small inconvenience, however, for residents who are daily affected by crowded streets during the day, and loud partying tourists at night, it significantly diminishes the quality of life.
While these neighbourhoods bear the burden of Barcelona’s overtourism, every part of the city is affected by exploring tourists. In fact, locals are finding that it is nearly impossible to find any tourist-free area in the city. Naturally, locals are starting to become concerned. According to the Barcelona Tourism Activity Report of 2015, more than 90% of Barcelonians believe that tourism is beneficial for the city. However, over 40% perceive the city to have reached its maximum tourist accommodation capacity.
How Locals Are Taking Action
Faced with this challenge, Barcelona is fighting hard to preserve its city and quality of life. Ada Calou, the mayor of Barcelona, has imposed a moratorium on building new hotels and a halt on issuing licences for tourist apartments in order to limit the number of beds offered in the city. The law known as the Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation, was approved by the Ajuntament de Barcelona City Council in January 2017. Since then the city has turned away high-profile hotels such as the Four Seasons Hotel, which is now expected to open in Madrid. Whether the law will be effective or damaging is a controversial subject.
Investing in Sustainability
Furthermore, Barcelona has invested heavily in sustainable tourism. It became the first city in the world to be awarded with the Biosphere certificate. This award recognizes the city as a “sustainable tourism destination committed to developing responsible tourism and including sustainable, environmental, cultural and socio-economic management criteria.”
As a tourist in Barcelona, you can also practice sustainable and responsible tourism to reinforce the city’s efforts.
How Visitors Can Take Action
There’s good news for avid travellers who want to visit Barcelona: there are ways to experience the city without contributing to overtourism! By participating in sustainable travel in Barcelona, visitors can rest assured that their impact will be a positive experience for themselves and the locals.
Unlike mass tourism, which is focused on generating income at the cost of locals’ quality of life, a sustainable travel experience is one that benefits the local culture, environment, and economy.
In Barcelona, there are many opportunities for sustainable tourism. For instance, Visit.org offers a variety of sustainable travel experiences which support causes from wildlife preservation to children’s education, and more. Visit.org is the world’s largest sustainable travel platform, connecting conscious travellers to local activities which benefit the culture, environment, economy, as well as a good cause.
Travellers can make a positive impact on Barcelona by booking workshops, tours and other activities hosted by locals through Visit.org and other organizations.
Here are our top picks for people interested in combating overtourism in Barcelona.
Sustainable Activities in Barcelona
1. Flamenco Dance Classes
Location: C/Selva de mar 22, Metro stop: L4 Selva de mar
Learn the basic steps as you move to the rhythms of this traditional Spanish musical genre. After the dance class, Institut Flamenco’s founder David will take you out to a local bar for tapas, and drinks. Revenue from this visit goes towards preserving Flamenco culture and history in Spain. Learn more or book a class here.
2. Palo Alto Market
Location: Carrer dels Pellaires, 30, Metro stop: L4 Selva de mar
Visit this new market in Barcelona that is a mix of sophistication and street, based on the popular concept of street market. The space is shared between the food truck area and the craft and design area. Palo Alto offers a large variety of tasty foods and creative crafts for sale.
3. Torre de les Aigues del Besos
Location: Plaça de Ramon Calsina, Metro stop: L4 Selva de mar
The water tower is a historical landmark in Barcelona. Go to the top and enjoy the view. Visitors describe the experience as “lovely and peaceful.” There are also night visits.
4. Diagonal Mar Shopping Centre
Location: Avinguda Diagonal, 3, Metro stop: L4 El Maresme | Fòrum
Stop by this shopping center located near the beach. It offers a vast range of shops, restaurants and other services. There is also a cinema, showing both films in Spanish and in O.V. Entrance is free!
5. Natural History Museum
Location: Leonardo da Vinci, 4-6, Metro stop: L4 El Maresme | Fòrum
More than just a Natural History Museum, it also offers activities that you can book such as a visit to the Botanic Gardens and the Museu Blau.
6. Bike ride along Rio El Besos
Location: Rio El Besos
You can go all the way along the river up to Casa de l’Aigua, then through Les Roquetes park to the Castel de Torre Baró. All three locations are worth visiting and are a great way to get out of the city centre and way from the crowded areas. The route is roughly 8km long.
7. Traditional Human Tower Tour
Location: Carrer de Font i Escolà, 42, 08912 Badalona, Train stop: Pep Ventura (L2)
Begin your visit with an introduction to castells, Barcelona’s traditional human towers, and to the Castellers de Badalona organization. Watch a short video to understand and appreciate the upcoming demonstration. Then, experience the castells firsthand. Watch, or even participate if you feel bold! Tour revenue goes towards preserving the cultural tradition of castells. Learn more or book an experience here.
8. Petroli Jetty
Location: Passeig Maritím, s/n, 08911 Badalona, Train stop: Badalona (L2)
A nearly 300m long jetty that reaches out over the sea. A great place for an after lunch stroll and even better to watch the sunrise or sunset.