Tourism in Barcelona; a tale of love, hate and El Poblenou!

Barcelona – Torre Glories


“I love Barcelona”, we hear all the time, but here’s the thing.

You travel for a vacation, pick your destinations carefully, research the sights, restaurants, walks and gradually paint a picture of your perfect stay in the world’s most interesting and desirable cities.

And then you arrive, and find that it does not quite resemble the picture on the tin. “Who are all these folks?”, you wonder, “and what on earth are they all doing here?”

For me, Barcelona is the best of the best and the worst of the worst. It is a wonderful, quirky, enchanting and fascinating city, but on the other hand, it is so over-crowded I have often vowed that I would never return.

Too many tourists.

Barcelona is now the sixth biggest cruise port in the world and Europe’s largest with a stunning 2.5 million passengers boarding and disembarking in the city; add to this staggering number the 0.6 million visitors coming for conferences and congresses and you have over 3 million “accidental tourists” every year. Were they to arrive in an absolutely even pattern, this would put 8,219 visitors into town every single day of the year.

Now on the one hand this is good; the visitors spend a great deal of money, and indeed tourism accounts for 10% of Barcelona’s GDP and a large number of jobs. One another hand it is not so good; prices for almost anything are inflated, the number of one-nighters dozily wandering The Ramblas attracts legendary numbers of pickpockets, and the hoards simply clog up the system.

And of course, they don’t all arrive equally; not at all. Barcelona is the home port of the outrageously sized Allure of the Seas (6,452 passengers/2,440 crew when full, this ship has the same water displacement as a Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier), and when she is one of the arriving or departing vessels, the numbers swell.

As they do when the annual Mobile World conference steams into town every February with its 94,000+ attendees. Yes, ninety-four thousand attendees; all at once.

So with these folks wandering around, trying to “do” Barcelona in a couple of hours, spending their time either acquiring or nursing a hangover and generally wandering aimlessly, tourists who were actually looking forward to visiting Barcelona for its own charms can feel quite out of place.

Cramped and squeezed at every turn, lining up for hours to glance at a Gaudi building or the Sagrada Familia, or trying to get in or out of the airport resentment can build. Tourist Rage; it happens.

Barcelona – The Sagrada Familia

Barcelona, though, like every other major centre does have some sweet spots. Tourists, particularly the accidental ones, ripping through the city between workshops of before boarding tend to concentrate, and Barcelona is no exception. While The Ramblas, The Sagrada Familia and one or two other places are heaving with visitors, much of the city remains off limits, and Poblenouis one such gem.

Barcelona  Poblenou
A square in Gracia

Previously, I had escaped to Gracia a cool area just to the north of the centre, home of some great bars, restaurants, leafy squares and a great atmosphere, but this was beginning to be found; and so in search of another up and coming area I headed to and stayed in Poblenou

Four Metro stops from the centre, Poblenou was a distant marshland that started to become settled in the seventeenth century; gradually the community grew to become a great industrial centre described my many as “The Catalan Manchester”.

The twentieth century brought more growth and a change to a light industrial and residential base, evolving in the mid-century as an overcrowded shantytown with all of the problems associated with overcrowding.

The Ramblas at Poblenou

he Olympic Games of 1992 were the turning point with a massive infusion of development and this old, industrial sector has evolved into a delightful area now home to artists and others seeking to escape the pressure and prices of the centre.

For visitors it is delightful; offering easy access to Barcelona’s wonderful sights, it is a peaceful home base to return to each evening and enjoy the many local restaurants and vibrant nightlife that Rambla del Poblenou” and its adjacent streets offer.

Barcelona; love it, hate it or do both, it is still one of Europe’s major tourist attractions. It is possible, however, to be cautious in planning your visit. Don’t just look at what you want to see, make sure that you won’t be overwhelmed and ask Google is there is a major event planned when you want to go.

And if there is, switch your dates if you can, and if not, head out to one of the city’s many smaller and delightful neighbourhoods.

I will be back there on May 5th.

A Gaudi building in Barcelona