Why We Didn’t Like Barcelona and Why We Must Return

When travelers-to-be think about their upcoming vacation to Spain, they almost always think of Barcelona – and of course the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Before we began our round the world travels, I was inundated with stories of the allures of Barcelona. For some reason, I never really associated it with Spain though. Perhaps because it’s in Catalonia which is a culture of its own apart from Spain. Or perhaps it was because my geographically challenged mind had always thought Barcelona was in Italy. Why? I have no idea. But I always pictured myself traveling from Rome to Venice to Barcelona in a sort of Italian golden triangle route that doesn’t exist.

No matter, I had eventually deduced Barcelona’s location and was very excited to experience all the glory that I had been informed it would provide. Glory, however, I did not receive. Instead, in it’s place I was gifted plenty of disappointment. Was this the Catalan capital’s fault or the result of my own unattainably high expectations? Expectations, I’ll remind you, that were gathered from the acclaimed reputation that preceded this city.

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The Crowds

We arrived in Barcelona after a weekend spent in Marrakech, Morocco in July of last summer and the height of the tourism season. This of course was probably our first mistake. Often times traveling during peak season (usually July and August) can be the best time of year because of the longer days, multitude of summer events, and the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. I can assure you, however, that the next time we visit Barcelona in high season, we will be planning ahead and using vouchers for hotel bookings in advance. Why? Well as I mentioned in a previous and brief post about our trip to Barcelona, we had stayed three nights in three different hostels. This was because we had not booked in advance and though we could have stayed at just one hostel or hotel all three nights, the price would have been outrageously out of our budget. So we contented ourselves to checking out and checking in each day to new place. It’ blew. Hard.

Astounded by the crowds, at each check in I would ask the receptionist, “What special event is going on in Barcelona this week?” They would look at me with an expression that said, “What isn’t going on in Barcelona this time of year?” There really wasn’t anything special going on. It was just that the city was alive with attractions and swelling at the fringes with tourists. We really couldn’t walk a straight path of more than a couple meters outside our hostel near the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. Ok, so maybe space wasn’t on our side, but we could still enjoy the sights right?

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The Architecture

La Sagrada Familia is probably the top most visited sight in the city. It was designed by famed Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí whose work can be seen throughout pockets of Barcelona. As I stood in front of the still incomplete church with my camera in hand to prepare to snap a typical photo of Auston in front of it, I thought, “What is that monstrosity protruding from the ground like a demon trying to break free from hell?” Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but it gets the point across. I wasn’t a fan. Giving the architect a second shot, we also took a look at another one of his buildings, Casa Batlló. This one also appeared to be a rough, unorganized design resembling what I can only describe as a person’s bony, fleshless frame. Do note, I have absolutely no background of architecture or art of any kind so clearly I must have been missing something with Gaudí’s work. Moving on, we were happy to at least enjoy another attraction of the city, the beaches.

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The Beaches

This too proved to be a letdown. They were over crowded which was no surprise really – after all, we were changing hostels daily and were quite aware of the crowds. Though it certainly didn’t help that the beaches were narrow and surprisingly steep. At one point along the shore I was certain I could just sit my butt down and slide right into the ocean as if I were at the top of a water slide of a theme park in the summertime. After that the only thing that could save this trip was a cocktail.

The Nightlife

It was time to check out Barcelona’s gay nightlife so we did some research online to find bars and then set out, prepared for a late night in Eixample, the gay district. Let me tell you, by the end of the night we were so… bored. We were just terribly bored. Most of the places we set out to were apparently closed and the few that remained open were skeezy at best. To be fair, it was a week night and earlier so than we learned later on that the Spaniards go out. Still, it was summer in Barcelona, shouldn’t there have been one spot that could be worth overpaying for our martinis? Apparently not because that night was a bust and so was our visit.

The Do-Over

Well by now you must be wondering if Barcelona is as terrible a place as I’ve spent seven paragraphs ranting about? I can assure you, absolutely not. But how can I possibly turn this article around from it’s brazen anti-Barcelona angle? I guess by wholly admitting that we must return to the city once again! This time with a fresh perspective; one that hasn’t been tainted by the repercussions of our under-planning or by our Madrid-snobbish mentality we developed after an incredible first visit to captial during Gay Pride (but really, it was incredible!) Our experiences in travel have taught us that by not over-planning and keeping your itinerary flexible, you can really open yourself up to unexpected and unforgettable experiences – sometimes. When those moments happen, you’re glad you didn’t plan more than a visit to park nearby. On the other hand, those moments aren’t guarantees and when you under-plan, well… you can really screw yourself. I genuinely do look forward to experiencing Barcelona again while we’re living in Spain. It’s a re-experience that Auston and I both need. This time, it will involve advanced bookings, city guide books, and anything else that will probably amount to over-planning!

Have you been to Barcelona? What did you think? What can you recommend us to turn our Barcelona frowns upside down? Share with us in the comments!

27 Comments on “Why We Didn’t Like Barcelona and Why We Must Return”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Its a shame you didn’t like Barcelona first time around. I’ve never been, but it’s a city I’d like to see. Hope your next visit goes better!

    1. Yes, it really is a shame! But I am determined to make up for it soon.

  2. Jeruen says:

    You’re probably right that the timing was the biggest thing causing the disappointment. I was in Barcelona for 4 nights last month, and even though it rained part of the time, the crowd was already relatively large, so I could only imagine what July feels like.

    I tend to travel on the shoulder season, for the same reason. I once joked that the Vatican (which I visited in June 2005) felt like one long marble treadmill, as you cannot even stop and admire things, as the crowd pushes you in further and further.

    I suggest giving Barcelona a second chance. There were plenty of things that kept me occupied, from being lost in the Barri Gotic, to joining a street festival in the Barceloneta. And if the crowds are still huge, you could always take the train and escape to Tarragona, Girona, or even Figueres (which I did, and at one point, I felt like I had the place to myself).

    1. We should travel there during shoulder season too. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it much more the next time around. I hope there wont be crowds to have to escape, but taking the train out of the city for a day is always a nice retreat too!

  3. Patrick Smith says:

    So- everything you said about Barcelona is true- the crowds are exasperating, the people just assume you will absolutely love their city and intuitively know everything about it, and Gaudi is a total odd duck. But- please give it another chance!!! go on a shoulder season- either one- walk Las Ramblas SLOWLY. Check out the great architecture on each side, walk thru the boqueria and get a bocadillo and juice and continue your walk. In the Barri gottic, sit at some café near the cathedral with wine or a beer and watch the people- they are fascinating! Then go back to any Gaudi building (preferably the Sagrada Familia) and suspend all logic on architecture. It is so different and creative- it really is beautiful! It really is worth a second look:-)

    BTW- we also totally love Madrid!! Of the two, Madrid rocks!

    1. Thanks so much for the advice Patrick. I promise we will absolutely give Barcelona a second chance! I know it’s worth it and I’m actually really excited to try it out again. Hopefully this fall and not in the summer again! Haha. Glad you love Madrid though – it’ll always be our favorite. :)

  4. I was in Barcelona for a grand total of 30 minutes while I waited for a bus to the airport. I did notice the crowds though. :)

    1. That’s long enough in my book Raymond! Haha. Jk!

  5. Charles says:

    I lived in Barcelona as student for half a year and found the city very fascinating. My favorite part would be getting lost in Barri Gotic and discovering their countless little plaza. I once found a very beautiful one but couldn’t find it back afterward, only to see it again years later in one of evanescence’s old video. Daytrip to Figueres was also recommended. Also, a small village near the Pyrenes called Queralbs is a gem when escaping the crowds in summer

    1. Thanks for those tips Charles! I still fully intend to revisit Barcelona and see what everyone else sees. The Barri Gotic is a good area of course. But I need to be convinced with more. Adding day trips sounds like a great idea to me too. :)

  6. Janine says:

    I visited Barcelona in March last year. There were very few crowds so it was easy to explore the city without the crowds. I really would recommend that you go again. There’s so much to see as well that two trips is just necessary!

    1. Auston Matta says:

      I think our mistake was going in July. I’m guessing our experience would be much better in the off-season. But still, we’ll always be “Team Madrid.” ;-)

  7. Kyle H says:

    I actually really loved Barcelona. Went a few years ago in late March and there were hardly any tourists there with sunny, light jacket weather. Definitely a good time to visit. I especially liked Park Güell Sagrada but then I’ve always been a huge Gaudi fan! You’re right about the beaches though – nothing to write home about. Also did not appreciate how all the street smelled of rotten garbage and thought Las Ramblas was a little overrated! One thing I would recommend and that not many people know about is Parc del Laberint d’Horta (Labyrinth Park) -really worth a visit!

    1. Auston Matta says:

      We actually never did much touring around Barcelona….I guess it’s not surprising given our blog name. I appreciate Gaudi’s architecture but David isn’t a fan.

  8. carlos says:

    Definir Barcelona como “terrible” te define a tí también.

    Supongo que hay gente para todo, y para todos los gustos pero es un gran error pretender conocer las ciudades a partir de una guía turística.

    Barcelona no es para tí, no entiendes los contrastes de la arquitectura moderna y antigua. No entiendes la cultura catalana, ni española ni europea.

    Si vienes, antes infórmate mejor y te sugiero que te enseñe la ciudad alguien de Barcelona.

    Barcelona no es Madrid, ni Los Ángeles, ni Nueva York … ni Phoenix. Es una estupidez por lo evidente que suena decirlo pero conviene recordarlo para aquellos que no saben salir de su casa.

    1. Carlos, he escrito específicamente en el articulo que Barcelona no es terrible. Y que admito que necesito volver a la ciudad otra vez para visitarla con un perspectivo nuevo. Decir que no entiendo la cultura catalana, bueno, ¡estoy de acuerdo! Pero las experiencias de viajar son para aprender, ¿no? …aunque no haya una garantía que vas a gustar todo lo que ves. Tienes razón, Barcelona no es como otras ciudades y es seguro que voy a volver un día. Pero no te prometo que voy a encantarla después de la tercera vez. ¡Vamos a ver!

  9. Mia says:

    OMG you did not just say that! I absolutely loved Barcelona! Probably going after Morocco didn’t help your view of it though.

    To be fair I went off season in October for 10 days and found an amazing cheap hostel (extremely clean, family owned, they did Friday tapas for 5Euros which was a big table filled with different amazing food and Sangria) called Barcelona Central Garden.

    Made tons of friends there as well and still keep in touch with them. The hostel is a amazingly friendly and they even do movie nights.

    Didn’t get bored in 10 days that’s for sure. The receptionist at the hostel took the ppl from the hostel out every night with discounts to the best places, had tons of fun.

    Also went to Sitges for a day and did some sunbathing (yes, sunbathing in October) and walked through the city. Visited loads and still haven’t seen everything. Love the architecture but that is subjective I guess.

    Please go back off season and enjoy everything Barcelona has to offer without the crowds and the expensive accommodation.

    PS: I know I tend to be bias towards Spain cause I absolutely LOVE IT! sorry :)

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Haha Mia. It’s funny because Barcelona really gets mixed opinions from all the people we talk to. Some people love it and some people don’t. I guess we’re just in the second pool. But yes, I’m sure we’ll return again and this time in the off season. Should be a much better experience.

  10. Catalonia has its own culture, of course, but you could argue that about EVERY part of Spain. I live in the south and speak a different dialect, eat different food and know how to dance flamenco, but this is what makes Spain so awesome. The thing to me that really turns me off about Barcelona is the haughtiness that has come to be synonymous with the region. Of course, not every barcelonés is like this, but when you live in Spain and hear it all the darn time, it’s hard to not associate it with the region! That said, I’ve really liked every place I’ve been in Catalonia outside the city.

    1. Auston Matta says:

      We really need to visit more of Catalonia. Only Barcelona and Sitges so far, but we’d love to go around more of La Costa Brava and other places in the region.

  11. Jessica Wray says:

    I visited Barcelona years ago on a trip after high-school (I barely remember much of anything!). While I know I enjoyed it, I remember thinking how Madrid was more my kinda place. (And look at me now! Living in Madrid!) I’ll be re-visiting Barca in just a few weeks and I’m really interested to see what it’s like! As for the beaches, maybe I shouldn’t visit. I’m very judgmental about my beaches coming from San Diego!

    1. Auston Matta says:

      We are definitely Madrid people as well…that is for sure! And as for the beaches, there are definitely better places than Barcelona for a good beach experience. They are nice enough for being in a major city, but places like San Diego are much better, as are cities nearby like Sitges.

  12. Claus G says:

    I visited Barcelona in 2007 and really enjoyed it, so I’m surprised to read about your experience (and perception of it), as I saw it as a city that has a little of everything for everyone! I haven’t gone back since, but it’s still one of the cities I’d like to revisit (then again, I say that about almost everywhere I go).

    I visited in late April / early May, so the city was definitely not as busy as it would be in the middle of the summer, and the weather was still nice, warm most days, although we got a bit of spring rain.

    One thing I will agree with you on is the beaches… the main beaches right in the city were ok, but nothing to brag about. Apparently there are some beautiful beaches outside of the city, but I just couldn’t be assed taking a bus ride out for a beach (coming from Mexico I’m spoilt on beaches so European beaches are a nice break, but not something I ever go out of my way for)!

    As for the architecture, I actually found it fascinating. Barcelona has an incredible mix of different styles of architecture, from Barri Gotic with it’s Gotic architecture, to modern buildings, and the out of this world Gaudi pieces. Yes, the Sagrada Familia looks a bit like a demon trying to escape from Hell, and Casa Batlo resembles pieces of a human skeleton / flesh… but I think that’s what makes his architecture so unique, in the way that it is in fact meant to look organic, like something that could potentially be alive, and that is something that’s not found in ever city! I also really enjoyed Gaudi’s colourful Parc Guell, with the mosaic benches that are recognized world-wide!

    As for nightlife, I will admit I didn’t try out the gay clubs, or any clubs for that matter, so can’t comment on that. I did visit a few bars with my friend in which we could drink cheap beers and have tapas in the evening, and those were pretty nice.

    One more thing… I funnily went through a similar issue with the hostels. My friend and I didn’t plan anything in advance, and spent most of the day going from place to place trying to be lodged in at hostels that were booked up, until we finally got a room in what is possibly the worst hostel I’ve ever stayed in (as in, cockroaches all over the place bad)… thankfully we only spent one night there and were able to find a place where we could stay for the next three nights without any moving around. That was officially my first ever hostelling experience, and I learned that, while it’s nice to be flexible, it’s also a good idea to come prepared!

    1. Auston Matta says:

      Well as it turns out, we’ll be going to Barcelona again in June. I’ll actually be there for a full week so I will have the chance to see if my opinion changes. We’ll be heading to Sitges as well for a couple days for a nicer beach experience. As for Gaudi, David is still not a fan, but I appreciate his work. I’m hoping to get more familiar with the bar scene during this trip since last time was a fail. Stay tuned…

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