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Barcelona has changed...

First, a bit of context: I was born and raised in Barcelona, but now live in the USA, I try to return every year or two to see family etc. The last time I was there for an extended period of time was in 2017. Now I'm back in Barcelona for a few weeks and honestly I can say the city has changed for the worst. The city has deteriorated more in these past 2 years than in the past 2 decades.

I wanted to share some recent observations and insights for fellow travelers who may not get a local's perspective of the city:

  1. The city is overflowing absolutely with tourists. In August of 2017 it was no where as bad as now, now there are tourists everywhere, even in places where I never saw them before. And most are not the good kind of tourist (RS Type), but the ones who come for a cheap thrill to drink some sangria, see Flamenco and leave.

  2. Barcelona is as dirty as never before, there is trash and dirt every where on side walks and streets, I never remember it like this.

  3. Barcelona is definitely not as safe as it was, there has been a sharp increase in not only petty theft but also violent crime, muggings and murder, not sure what the cause is but it's serious. Now neighborhoods like Raval and around Camp Nou who where once considered just "seedy" are now actually dangerous at night. Raval is just across the street from the Barri Gotic. Barcelona is now Spain’s leader in crime rates, violent robberies have increased 30%.

  4. The transportation in Barcelona has deteriorated, while the metro is still good, the taxis are now more difficult to find and much more expensive. Instead of allowing fair competition of Uber and Lyft to fill this need for plentiful transportation, the "Taxi Mafia" of Barcelona has collaborated with the local government to impose ridiculous regulations on ride share companies to run them out of town.

  5. The unregulated proliferation of these electric scooters and bikes has made being a pedestrian in Barcelona a dangerous affair. There have been a number of accidents with crazy tourists riding these things into other unsuspecting tourists. With the new bike lanes, which takes up half the roads, electric scooters and bikes go both ways, so people have to dodge bikes coming opposite directions, I don't know who designed these new bike lanes, but they should be thrown in jail.

  6. Instead of actually taking steps to tackling these problems, the city government put together these "Orange Shirts" groups or Civic Agents as they are called, of unemployed young people who go around in packs with their smart uniforms, harassing locals and making sure locals don't get "in the way" of the tourists.

Conclusion: apologies if this report is blunt, but I had to get this off the chest and call out the things as they are. My local friends have all moved away from Barcelona and would now never want move back to Barcelona. At this point I find it hard to recommend Barcelona for any extended amount of time for travelers, just enough time to see the Sagrada Familia and a few other buildings before moving on to greener pastures. My hope is that the local Govt. gets their head out of the tail and really get to work on these problems, until then there are much nicer places to visit in Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

PS: the positive thing I can say is that the food in Barcelona is still very good, if you know where to go ;)

Further reading on the current deterioration of Barcelona, from local newspaper El Pais:
Barcelona authorities admit city is suffering from “security crisis"
Residents in Barcelona’s El Raval suffer the hell of living next to drug dens
Barcelona becomes Spain’s leader in rising crime rates

Posted by
6717 posts

What do you assume is the culprit? Sounds like a political and city management issue (it doesn't sound like the economy at large, since this is the most prosperous region in Spain). Large increases in tourism present greater opportunities for low level crimes, so that makes sense. Where is all that increased tourism money going (if not for more security)?

Frankly though, an average US tourist (like someone on this forum) would not compare these kind of changes in the same way you are (meaning using the same timeframe, unless they've been going there for ages as well). I've never been to Barcelona, for example, so I have no baseline to judge (if US cities are used for comparison, Barcelona still looks good - take the example of San Francisco or LA or Seattle). I guess it's all about expectations and measuring against some yardstick, which is different for everyone.

We have the scooters here where I live and a lot of people are up in arms about them. Last time I was in Santa Monica, they seemed to be super popular and people seem to enjoy them, so perhaps too much density is an issue in European cities (and lack of training for people using them for the first time). I did see someone run into a pedestrian on the Venice Beach walkway. I think over time they can get safer (they're still fairly new) but everyone needs time to learn how to navigate around them.

Posted by
2880 posts

Thank you Carlos for your current observations and analysis. I do hope you have a memorable time visiting with friends and family in the comfort of private parts of Barcelona you seek out when you return.

Posted by
2212 posts

To Add:

  1. Now the suburbs and mountains of Barcelona are infested with feral boars who come down from the mountains at night to eat the garbage people leave out and harass joggers and people with pets, they are quite aggressive and carry all manner of infectious diseases, I did not remember these boars in past 2 years.

  2. The local parks and green spaces are not as well maintained as before, I assume a change in priorities. My favorite park growing up, Parque del Laberinto de Horta, is now overgrown and dirty, with plenty of mosquitoes, I had like 20 bites all over my legs when I went a few days ago, not to mention those feral boars, who take over the park when night falls.

More reading on the feral boars of Barcelona:
http://www.catalannews.com/society-science/item/wild-boars-venture-near-barcelona-city-center-in-search-of-food

Posted by
3892 posts

Wow, sorry to hear. I was there in 2016, and besides being targeted and pick pocketed on our first night which just so happened to be New Years Eve, we had a nice stay. I had planned to go back to pick up a few things we missed, and it always feels risky to me, to go back to a favorite city and not feel the magic we felt the first time. I will say that places that we went to outside Barcelona were really special (Girona, Besalu, Montserrat) and I definitely need to return to Catalunya to see some other areas.

Posted by
2212 posts

Hi Agnes, unfortunately I don't know the magic bullet for these problems, of course people will say it's the mass unchecked tourism, I agree to a point, but honestly I think it's much deeper than that simplified answer.

I think partly to blame also are the local politicians. Many no longer live in the city of Barcelona, but rather in the smaller adjacent expensive towns like Sant Cugat or Sabadell. The politicians are also not taking these problems seriously and delivering serious solutions, for being afraid of looking too "heavy handed" or "authoritative".

For example pickpockets in Barcelona face no jail time and minimal fines, even when caught, in one case a pickpocket was caught 87 separate times yet never faced punishment, just a slap on the wrist. Another example are the squatters, once they break into your house/property, it is virtually impossible to get rid of them, in USA the police come and evict them no problem, in Barcelona it takes several years and many legal proceedings.

Posted by
1939 posts

Oh, Carlos...this makes me so sad to hear. I haven't been back to Barcelona since 2015 and then I thought it was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited. The food, the sights (and sites), the ambiance and most of all, the people of Barcelona who were so welcoming. I appreciate your take on how the city of your birth has changed and know you feel sad and frustrated by this. Thank you for posting your take on the changes in this beautiful and wonderful city of Catalonia.

Posted by
12494 posts

Oh Carlos. I'm so sorry that the place you were born and raised has seen far better days. It's probably even more difficult for family who still live there?

Posted by
2212 posts

Hi Jules and Mona thanks for the kind words :)

To clarify these are just specifically Barcelona problems, the rest of Catalonia is very pleasant to visit. I was just in the ancient town of Vic the other day, totally untouristed, with an impressive cathedral, medieval walls, and intact Roman temple. It was the weekly market day and the whole city was bustling with local farmers coming into the town to sell their various goods, fruits, sausages etc.

Posted by
2212 posts

Thanks all for your wonderful encouraging replies, this forum's community is truly fantastic. I was hesitant to post these negative things about my city but I feel better now that it's up, I felt I needed to do it.

Honestly it's a vast mix of tourists, not one stands out too much, although I do notice a spike in Russian tourists. The American tourists are probably the best behaved. In my old neighborhood, many of the local tapas bar restaurants I grew up with are now almost exclusively owned and operated by Chinese immigrants, they are actually quite good a mimicking the local food, sometimes it even comes out better than a local owned restaurant, imagine that lol.

Posted by
745 posts

Querido Carlos,
Gracias por tus palabras. Creo que sus comentarios en este foro son de gran ayuda y agradezco sus palabras de sabiduría.

Posted by
3789 posts

Carlos, as a home town boy, this has to be difficult to see. I am sorry it has been a disheartening visit.
I do want to mention/ask about some of the changes in the past 2 years. August 2017 I was planning to visit Spain and Barcelona was on my itinerary. I was on the TripAdvisor Barcelona forum every day. Then in August was the van attack in las Ramblas that surely reduced tourism. And the unofficial change of government. And the protests and plenty of other political and government acts that were making people think twice to visit. I know that I changed my travel plans and dropped Barcelona from my itinerary. It wasn't due to fear, but more that as my last stop, I didn't want to be spending my prior 2 weeks in Spain wondering what was happening or going to happen in Barcelona before and while I was there.

At a similar time, so many posts asking about the hen and stag parties and where to stay. It wasn't looking like a positive contribution to the tourism demographic.
When a city has political and civic issues, it may take some time to restablize. Spain has had elections since then and sounds like it is still not stable.

Of course, there is the reduction in the city's economy with the exodus of many global head quarters when the Catalan's 'won'. Did they return? I am not sure as my reading focus moved.
I think there are lots of factors that have made a change to the city. Tourists who don't know it still go and love it.
I am very interested to see if Enric replies. As a resident, he may see it with different eyes to all of us.

Posted by
2212 posts

Muchisimas gracias, Blue, lo aprecio mucho!

I'm now off to the Gracia neighborhood for their annual major festival, a little mood booster is just what I need! I will try to answer questions and such as soon as I can afterwards :)

Posted by
11263 posts

"The American tourists are probably the best behaved. "

Well, that's nice to hear, at least - and a nice change from the old stereotypes of "ugly Americans abroad."

Posted by
315 posts

We were in Barcelona for 5 nights in May 2019. We had no problem with your points. There were many tourists in the historical center. We did explore Gracia on a grey day and beyond Gaudi's build we were with the locals. You can take a look at my trip report for a positive review. Barcelona is a very large city!

I grew up on the "east side" of the Seattle metropolitan. If you can imagine 16 year olds with their driver license crossing 4 lanes of traffic to get to the exit for Seattle Center. It was possible then! I even was lost the last time cuz nothing is the same. Seattle is not the same but my Seattle remains in my mind. Your Barcelona will remain in your mind.

Posted by
1782 posts

I was born and raised in Seattle, WA. I left 20 years ago because I hate traffic. Now, I have gone back many times and feel as you do about my hometown. The traffic and homelessness is out of control. I cry for what used to be such a beautiful and wonderful place to live.

Posted by
2212 posts

Last night, I was at las Festas Major of the Gracia neighborhood and all I can say is, wow que ambientazo! The streets were filled with music, colors, people dancing, giant papier-mache sculptures, Correfocs (fire runs) all across the the entire neighborhood. Everyone was having a great time, local and tourist alike, honestly I could not tell who was who. I feel my hope and faith in Barcelona has been restored somewhat, but I know it will not be easy for the city to surmount its current troubles.

Here's a video of the Correfoc from last year's Festa Major de Gracia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbvlEm_IKwE

Posted by
3789 posts

Glad the fiesta warmed your feelings for your city again. Culture shock and adjustment can happen even in familiar territory. No where existsmin a bubble.
How do you feel about altering your comments about tourist extended stay?....or put a number in it? I remember wanting to plan 6 days to see a good section of rhe Modernista architecture and the area around the San Pau hospital. Then there are day trips. On rhe flip side, some might consider 3 days an extended stay.
I am sure it isn't your intent to scare off tourists intent on a 2 or 3 night visit, butnif read jn 6 months, who knows whether they will read the whole 5hing or see hour hopes were not permanently dashed. It may not be what you remembered, but for a tourist first visit, it may not be what you describe.

Posted by
227 posts

Sorry to hear this! We were there for 10 days in January and it was wonderful. January 2-11. Weather was in the mid-upper 60’s so perfect for walking. Nothing was closed because of the time of the year....there was even volleyball on the beach. Minimal crowds (except for people taking advantage of the Sales). I can’t recall any wait more than a few minutes. We felt very safe but we don’t venture too far too late. The wonderful parade of the 3 kings was a blast! We took the metro to the Magic Fountains which was not that crowded...front row viewing and the fountains operated continually.

Posted by
6841 posts

i feel your pain Chicago is kind of changing; erstwhile hip neighborhoods are being yuppified Chipotle is replacing real Mexican restaurants.

Posted by
2212 posts

Really glad to see many had a positive experience, it appears that the winter/holiday time may still yet preserve some authenticity of the city :)

I would say if you must go, try for between November and April. Honestly I would spend minimal time in the Ciutat Vella, just enough time to see the Palau de la Musica, the two Catedrales, and maybe the Museum of the History of Barcelona and then high tail outta there. I went to the newly redone Maritime Museum, its not worth the time, very un organized and without much of a theme. I asked the front desk where to start in the museum, as it's all open space concept, and they just shrugged at me.

The soul of the Barri Gotic feels utterly gutted, in previous years I felt I could see some signs of local life still left, no longer, it feels like a Disney land version of its former self.

For an extend stay of more than a few days, I would look even further beyond the Eixample - Gracia, Horta and Nou Barris in the north of the city still seem like a bastions of local life.

Posted by
760 posts

I've been to Barcelona three times - 2006, 2010, and 2019 and definitely see a change, although as just a tourist not all the things you mention. My trips have all been in March and I suspect the worst problems are in summer when there are the most tourists. I've noticed differences in cities that I've traveled to in both March and July are much worse in July (eg Paris, London, Rome). I think you are right that it's not just the amount - and behavior - of the tourists, but how the specific city deals with it. As you imply, maybe Barcelona could do a better job of dealing with the new reality of massive numbers of tourists. These numbers are not going away, it will only get worse and how cities cope will make big differences.

The two biggest culprits are cruise ships and giant tours from Asia. Certainly your individual (or small group) tourist from the US or UK or Germany can misbehave but it seems if you invest in the planning and research to visit a city and spend a few days there you are more likely to respect it (and thus behave better) than if you are bused in from a cruise ship for a few hours. This didn't happen in Barcelona, but in another cruise ship visited city - one guy asking his companion what city they were in.

So one thing cities like Barcelona could do is increase (big time!!!) the fees ships and big tour buses have to pay. This (maybe) might limit the numbers but in any case it would add money to the city that could be used for more security, cleaning, etc. Also impose significant fines for misbehaving (like littering, riding scooters irresponsibly, sitting in inappropriate places). Ban guided tours of more than 15 or so people at a time. Stuff like that. Rome and Venice have recently started stuff like this. We'll see if it works. My hope is that in a few years most major tourist cities will do stuff like this and maybe it will make a difference.

Posted by
5297 posts

While the crime may be concerning, it maybe gets more attention than is required for the average tourist, except for the need to take simple precautions.

I do think that the sheer volume of tourists is both noticeable and takes away from some of what you, and I, remember about Barcelona. I think Barcelona has maybe suffered more growing pains in that while it was always popular, only in the last decade or so has it risen to every bodies "must see" list, rather than being the funky place people go to when everyone else is going to Paris, Rome, and maybe Madrid. Barcelona has seen a huge increase in tour groups, not only from Asia, but Russia, Latin countries, British package tours, Cruise ships, and Americans. I remember when a simple stroll through Park Guell was possible and to tour the Familia Sagrada could be done on a whim, followed by a quick lunch at a counter in the la Boqueria, those days are gone without lots of prep or hassle.

As for the scooters...I was really amazed by the prevalence of the scooters in Paris, to the point where I understand why they are clamping down on them. Sorry to hear Barcelona is going through that now. I will not rail against them, it looks fun if I were younger, and I think the concept is great, just that execution is very poor...it really is the wild west when those come to town.

Ahh, always reminded of the saying "You can't go home again".

Posted by
370 posts

@Isabel, you say, “So one thing cities like Barcelona could do is increase (big time!!!) the fees ships … pay.”
Well, neither the City Hall nor the regional government can increase the port fees for the cruise ships. The Port is ultimately managed by the Spanish national government in Madrid. When it comes to regulating the size of ships, the numbers of passengers, the number of ships, and the frequency of visits local and regional authorities are powerless.
And, get this — although many people agree that much of the overcrowding in the old city centre is due to increased numbers of cruise visits — the Port Authority is currently actively planning two more berths for cruise ships.

Posted by
6607 posts

The cruise ship crowds were a problem when we first visited in 2007. And now in addition to pickpocketing, the US State Sept has just issued a new higher level travel alert warning for increased crime against individuals, grabbing jewelry, purses, etc. Very sad.

Posted by
2212 posts

Small update + more context on the security situation in Barcelona, from The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/23/violent-crime-barcelona-legal-reform-thieves-tourists

Hopefully, with this "promised" legal reform and additional police recruitment/patrols plus 300 extra regional police to be sent in September, Barcelona can start to move in the somewhat right direction... but I don't hold my breath.

Also, some interesting reading on the harmful effects of cruse chips in Barcelona, and what our mayor is vowing to do to curb this kind of tourism, from earlier in July 2019:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jul/05/barcelona-mayor-promises-crackdown-cruise-ships

Posted by
275 posts

I'm going to Barcelona in two weeks and had been happily anticipating it. I guess I'll be a little more cautious than I usually am when traveling but really, is there anything good about the place anymore? Tourists and garbage and murders and scooters and wild boars. Wow, I'm sorry I read this.

Posted by
2212 posts

Dorothy, unfortunately, these days one has to work a bit harder to find the bright spots in and around Barcelona, these past 3 years of mismanagement have not been good to the city. It may not be very noticeable as a tourist for a few days, unless you are pickpocketed lol, but having grown up in Barcelona and visiting every year or two I have seen the changes for myself.

Some bright spots for me, when I was back over the summer:

Fiesta Major de Gracia
Fiesta Major de Badalona
Market day in Vic
Pyrenees Mountains - Vall de Nuria
Hanging out with friends in Sant Cugat (outskirts of Barcelona)

These experiences are not for typical tourists though, thankfully :) I just hold out hope the old town area goes back to normal during the holidays, because in August it was an utter mad house!

Now in response to these rising crime rates, local vigilante groups have appeared and are taking matters into their own hands, though some groups have been described as “borderline criminal" Guardian Angels are patrolling Barcelona, but not everyone is pleased to see them - El Pais