Barcelona Tourist and Expat Guide – I'mMovingToBarcelona



Is it possible not to love Barcelona? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t things about this city you might not fancy. Let’s take a look at what expats dislike about Barcelona.

A recent study held by OK Apartment Barcelona shows that over 1 in 3 expats dislike the level of mass tourism in the capital of Catalonia. 850 expats from 26 nations living in Barcelona for at least 3 months took part in the poll and expressed their disfavour:

  1. Mass tourism – 34%
  2. Character of local people – 26%
  3. Pollution – 19%
  4. Economy – 16%

I think all of us, the newcomers, would agree with that. Especially, with the two most nagging issues on which I’d like to focus here: mass tourism and pollution.

barcelona expat dislikes

Results according to nationality. Infographic by OK Apartments Barcelona

Mass tourism – what expats dislike most about Barcelona

Have you ever tried to walk or ride a bike through the streets of Barri Gotic or El Born on any given weekend? If so, you know what we are talking about here. Let’s take a look at the stats:

Tourism has grown enormously in Barcelona, a city of 1.6m inhabitants. In 1990 there were 1.7 million overnight visitors while in 2016 there were more than 8 million. It is the fourth most visited city in Europe and 20% of its economic wealth is generated through tourism.

Here are the main problems with mass tourism as identified by the inhabitants:

  • The substitution of local shops with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.
  • The increase in house prices as a result of foreign investment and using housing stock for tourist rentals.
  • Disturbances generated by the behaviour and foot-traffic of tourists.
  • The consequent population exodus.

One of The Guardian’s articles that focuses on Barcelona’s radical mayor, Ada Colau, also touches this subject. Seems like the new mayor is perfectly conscious about the problem:

“Any city that sacrifices itself on the altar of mass tourism, will be abandoned by its people when they can no longer afford the cost of housing, food and basic everyday necessities.” – Colau has said.

And this is how it all started, not so long ago…

“In its transformation, since the 1992 Olympics, into the self-styled capital of the Mediterranean, and the fourth-most-visited city in Europe, Barcelona has become a victim of its own success. In the old town, evictions are common – a direct result of rents being driven up by tourist apartments – and residents complain that their neighbourhoods have become unlivable.”

One local told me, that you really can’t walk down some streets in the summer, “as in, you physically can’t fit.”

Pollution and noise levels in Barcelona

I’d add noise levels to the pollution issue as the second thing that expats dislike about Barcelona. There’s been actually a very interesting article covering this issue in The Guardian recently. The radical new strategy will restrict traffic to a number of big roads, drastically reducing pollution and turning secondary streets into ‘citizen spaces’ for culture, leisure and the community. The ambitious plan will reduce traffic in the city by 21%.

I always wondered why Barcelonians so rarely choose to ride bikes. Unlike the inhabitants of Amsterdam or Copenhagen where the weather is much worse. Hopefully, this new “mobility plan” for Barcelona will inspire bike riders and discourage people from going by car or a scooter about the city.

The authorities have a bunch of creative ideas on how to convert Barcelona in greener and more friendly place. Let’s keep thumbs up for Ada Colau to make them come true and preserve the real identity of this amazing Mediterrenean city. Just as she claims:

“We want visitors to get to know the real Barcelona, not a ‘Barcelona theme park’ full of McDonald’s and souvenirs, without any real identity.”

31 Discussions on
  • “Especially, with the two most nagging issues on which I’d like to focus here: mass tourism and pollution.” This article is a politically correct ice-cream. The poll clearly shows that the second nagging issue is Character of local people – 26%. Come on guys have some balls and comment on that fact. 🙂

    • Hahaha! Thanks for the comment Marcello. I believe that specific character of locals, deserves for a separate post. Needless to say that the subject is delicate and we really want to be gentle with that.

      • Chicken-shit answer, especially when a minimum of one fourth of the foreigners polled dislike the character of the Catalans and almost half of the Argentines feel the same. Let’s face it, the Catalans are closed and suspicious of strangers and they themselves will say so. I had many students tell me that of their own accord. When you travel in Spain and see how much more open people in many other parts are it becomes even more an issue in living here. I have lots of friends from South America….Argentina, Uraguay, Paraguay and Colombia and they all complain about this fact and find it a big drawback to living here. Yes when you get to know some locals really well, they loosen up but it really takes a long time for that to happen, and if they are Catalan speakers and you mostly speak Castellano, it becomes practically impossible to have a close friendship. This is not the case in many other countries even when there is more than one language.

        • How do you expect Catalans to respect you, let alone like you, if you do not show a minimum of respect for them by learning their language? This is especially true of all those Latin Americans who just can’t be arsed to learn our language let alone a minimum understanding g of our culture and history.

          • which language are ‘all those latin americans’ supposed to learn? except from brasilians and surinamese people they all speak spanish, and going by mine and the experience of many others, their english is leagues above the average spaniard. if you mean català then shouldn’t you ask the same of all the madrilenos living here? of all the spaniards? i’m also pretty sure latin american people know more about your ‘culture’ and ‘history’ especially the colonisation part, than most of your countrymen know about their own asses. i hope you only are xenophobic on the internet. i guess this is why the result of the poll is what it is, you locals really are nasty.

          • I do require the same of madrileños and any other immigrant whatever their native language. As in any other country, speaking the language is a prerequisite for “integration”. And, please do not spin any bullshit about Castlian being the language of Spain. That, as you should well know, is not the point and is especially insulting as it was foisted on us by force of arms 300 years ago and is still a matter that pains many of us

          • There is true that a big amount of latin Americans do not have any interest in learning Catalan, also is true that there are so many that have to learn it because they have respect for your culture, you have to be more polite, with people because, in the real world catalan is a language that people just use in Catalunya. When Spanish (including Catalans) came to South America they didnt learn the language, they impose a language and stole our gold. They didnt had a minimum understanding of our culture and history, they damage it and tried to wipe it from the map.
            You should be very grateful that Latin Americans didnt come to Catalunya to do the same.
            Brian. have a shower and a nap afterward, you need it grumpy Catalan.

          • Vicko, I would like to inform you of a very serious error in your understanding of history. Catalans DID NOT impose anything in South America as during the years of the colonisation and massacre Catalans were prohibited from having any dealings there as SA was considered the preserve and private property of Castilla.

          • Brian, take it easy, Why learn Catalan? Spanish should be enough. In a modern city most merchants and service people know English. We all know the times when you guys where discriminated and not allowed to speak Catalan, now you want to reverse and force us to speak you-re language, Don’t get me wrong, I wish I could, but for me, I am 70, isn’t ease. Is this the reason I should not get a bear at my local bar?

        • I’ma a catalan from Barcelona, 54 years living hear! never heard about not to have a close relationship with people only talking Castellano…a really peculiar ant not based in facts opinion! Most of inhabitans born here are second generation of immigrants from other parts of spain on sixties or seventies Other fact is the inmigrants that close in a group of their own nationality!

        • Totally agree with you Mitchell, I am Australian, lived here for 40 years and have hardly any close Catalan friends, nothing to do with the language, as I understand Catalan, it´s just them, they are not friendly,

  • Nice article,
    Personally, I think that it is not possible to compare the cycling lanes in Barcelona with Amsterdam.
    In Amsterdam, you have cycling lines everywhere. In Barcelona, you have to switch from cycling line to pedestrian road and vica versa ( And of course, those are crowded because of the mass tourism)

  • My sympathies. As a lady who often visits Barcelona, I have to agree tourism has increased incredibly and although a tourist myself, I tend to avoid certain routes around the city because of the congestion. I love to walk into the city via coast or suburbs from the San Marti area. Parc Ciutadella provides a lovely place to sit and relax for me, but wandering around Barri Gotic and Born cannot be missed when I visit. Popular sights I now avoid and find the souvenier shops irritating. I would love to live in Barcelona, but the Poblenou area (which I love) is far too expensive.

  • Nice article. I would also like the author to elaborate a bit on the second most disliked thing – the locals. A quotation or two from expats on that topic would make the article more interesting and objective.
    I personally live in Barcelona since 2015 and have mixed feelings about the locals. I have few Catalan friends, whom I like a lot, but I also find people in the streets, shops, etc to be sometimes rude. I speak Castellano and a few words in Catalan, but I’m always approaching them in a friendly manner which is not too often reciprocated. When I travelled to Seville and other Andalusian cities, it stroke me how friendly Spaniards are. In Barcelona I just feel like in another large European city… maybe like in Eastern Europe (I’m from Poland and people here also might be “rude” at first sight). Any expats reading this article – what is your opinion and experience with the locals here?

    • Hi Natalia.

      I was one of the team who worked on the study. I can paste some of those comments that weren’t included if you like. There are both good and bad:

      “I’ve never been invited to a Catalan home, they aren’t very friendly to newcomers” /
      “It can vary a lot. Some Catalans are actually hostile to newcomers and tourists.” /
      “The people are very closed off and it’s a struggle to enter their circles. Once in, they open up, but it’s very difficult.” /
      “I’ve had some very bad experiences with Catalans. They themselves consider themselves to be unfriendly, condescending, and closed-minded people.” /
      “The Catalan does not welcome anyone. He is cold, distant, and distrustful. I speak with 10 years of experience. Don’t get mad.” /
      “Since the beginning I have a fantastic reception (despite only speaking Spanish at first). Warm character and welcoming.” /
      “I’ve never had any bad experiences with Catalans” /
      “I came 15 years ago to a Catalan college and I was received like a princess!!”

      We also made video interviews with expats on the streets, where they speak more about pollution and locals if you’d like more:

      Hope that helps 🙂

      • Hi Matthew! That’s very interesting, thanks for reply. “They themselves consider themselves to be unfriendly, condescending, and closed-minded people.” – I actually heard it also from a Catalan guy!

    • If you want to see rude locals, come to Germany. I don’t believe anyone in Western Europe or Catalunya can be worse, lol.

  • Catalans are quiet by nature and it can come off as unfriendly. Once you get to know them, they open up a bit. With some it’s easy, with some it’s not. When you speak Spanish, some people, after hearing your accent, will respond in English. Which can be annoying if you want to become comfortable speaking Spanish. And it’s not easy to make good money here.

  • Barcelona has weird smells. In fact, I think the entire city has a unique “Barcelona smell” – but no, I don’t think this is a bad smell, so it doesn’t bother me.

    Aggressive street salesmen are annoying, the dirty shady neighborhoods as well, which give me the creeps…

  • I lived bang in the middle of Barcelona for just over a year and got nothing but welcoming smiles from the locals. You just have to put a bit of effort into learning Catalan and or Spanish and they’ll appreciate the effort REGARDLESS of whether they can speak English or not. How would you feel if someone came into your country and kept on talking to you in a language you don’t understand or understand very little of?

  • If it wasn’t for the tourism, could you imagine how much worse the economy and unemployment would be? I could not imagine Barcelona as Greece. Be thankful.

  • Having a reserved character is different from being rude. Most people are lovely once you get to know them. Also I might not feel too friendly towards foreigners if I was driven out of my neighbourhood by rising rents, disturbed by anti social drunken behaviour of some tourists and unable to move when I walk down my street.

  • I find it interesting in the comments that people are so quick to attack a whole group of people as closed minded and unfriendly. By writing comments like those, that is what you prove yourself to be. The Catalan’s have a right to express their own culture and speak their own language, regardless of that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. Why don’t you try to meet them in the middle, speak a little Catalan for example, show a little respect and you will be welcomed with open arms. You cannot force people to fit into your cookie cutter expectation of a spaniard is. Frankly the comments from some here and incredibly ignorant, no wonder people don’t revive you well when you have a preconceived idea of dislike towards them.

  • I am impressed that expats dislike locals…I am from Barcelona and I lived there until I Was 19 and decided to move to the Netherlands… Everything is so different over here… My family and my friends are ver nice people and also towards international people… Even myself, now I have a relationship with a Dutchman for 6 years… I believe turism has disrupted the confortness of locals in the centre and maybe thats why you can understand that people are rude , just because you seem “another turist” . If thats the case I would recommend people who are willing to live in BCN to find a place in the cities near Barcelona, such as Cornellà, Hospitalet or Badalona …. The difference is huge. And regarding language… You can find people that doesnt care about catalan, but also people whomreally care… Particularly I speak catalan but I most of the times speak Spanish.

  • Wow, local here, really surprised to see that we’re getting this bad reputation.

    Probably it has something to do with the old saying about some few rotten apples, which happens pretty often here with some particular tourists. Although I understand some newcomers might find a hostile reception by some parts of society, I’d want to encourage you to interact more with local people, because lots of us are eager of making new friends and getting to know people from elsewhere. This works especially for youths, so don’t let bad propaganda hinder your personal review!



  • Locals in a big cosmopolitan city not giving a damn about you and not showing any particular warmth in general is quite common in Europe and the larger world. I think the problem is enlarged because most visitors and new residents just expect it to be different because of the extremely attractive atmosphere, weather and the fact that we associate Spain (let’s face it, as far as most of us are concerned, we’re in Spain) with gregarious and inviting locals all around. This caricature of a people clashes with the more introverted nature of Catalan people, again something we just don’t expect when thinking of Spain. You’ll find the same in Milan. London, Berlin, Brussels, Paris… are the locals that more inviting? No, but somehow you expect a streak of arrogance and disinterest there. That said, and in my view to the detriment of Catalan people, this tightly knit society is a bit too nuclear, inward looking. I travel a lot and rarely meet Catalan people who have packed up to live abroad or travel extensively. A narrow worldview breeds chauvinism, and yes, there is certainly a bit of that around here… But you know what, you’ll find the same in my native country of Belgium, and for the same reason.

  • As an American reading this article, should I avoid a trip to Barcelona to limit the negative impact of mass tourism? Perhaps there are places in the world that will not treat me with condescension and derision because of my nationality? Maybe I should only travel to countries where I am able to fluently speak the native language? We don’t have many public schools where one can learn Catalan. Maybe I’ll just stay in America and grow more insular and xenophobic?

    • Hi Mandy,

      As someone who worked on this study, I’d recommend that you shouldn’t avoid a trip to Barcelona to limit the negative impact of tourism. Barcelona’s problems with tourism run deep, but the problem is not tourism itself but rather the sustainability of it in its current state.

      Three simple things you could do to contribute to sustainable tourism in Barcelona are as simple as… Firstly, avoid illegally listed tourism apartments – such as the majority you would find on AirBnB. The regulation here that requires tourist apartments to have licenses is in place to limit numbers, keeping more property available for living in and combatting the housing shortage, it slows down the impact on house and rent prices for residents. By staying in a hostel, hotel, or legal tourist apartment, you won’t be part of that problem.

      Secondly and rather easy to do, behave sensibly in neighbourhoods where people live.

      Finally, try to discover parts of Barcelona outside of the tourism hotspots, go for a stroll and discover the city, there are so many amazing things away from the beaten path.

      I don’t think locals expect newcomers to the city to arrive knowing Catalan, that would be ridiculous. In most cases, seeing an effort to speak Spanish is enough. Of course there are a few that relentlessly insist people know Catalan, but people like this exist all over the world, just change “Catalan” for the language of that geographical area.

      Anyway, I hope that makes you reconsider coming to Barcelona.

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