Why Barcelona is the Worst Place to Visit in Spain

Friday, November 2, 2018

This blog post will be part of my love letter to Spain and partially an ode to my passionate abhorrence for people equating the touristy parts of the country with the "real Spain." 

Going to Barcelona and claiming you've seen Spain is like only visiting New York City or Washington D.C. and saying you've seen all of the United States. I  get that vacation time is extremely limited (often just two weeks in the US) and you have to pick and choose, but I beg you, please choose somewhere else in Spain. Check out this post for my thoughts and reasons why. I also offer some suggestions for other places to start in the Iberian Peninsula at the end.

I'm going out on a controversial limb and stating that Spain is the most diverse country I've traveled to yet. (Though there are a couple close contenders such as England and Switzerland). I lived in Spain for a total of ten months and while I feel I've seen a good chunk, there are still so many more places I'm dying to explore!

I decided to bite the budget bullet.

I finally tried out Ryanair for my flights to Barcelona from Malaga. I read every travel blog and article I possibly could regarding Ryanair and made sure I had pre-printed my boarding pass, knew where to get it stamped for my passport check and made sure my luggage fit their strict size restrictions. Honestly, if you play their game, you can get amazing deals. I also found the flight attendants just as friendly and helpful as any others I've traveled with. One thing that did irk me, however, was something that happened on my trip back to Malaga. I had packed a backpack so I wouldn't have to worry about going over their luggage restrictions and paying their crazy fees, and my bag had to be inspected while someone with a way larger (almost checked luggage-sized) suitcase was let on without the employee batting an eye... They also don't release the gate until very shortly before the flight boards, making it a sort of free for all stampede once they do announce it. I've heard horror stories... so proceed with caution. Moral of the story: if you know and follow their crazy rules and restrictions, you should be okay!

Now I also have to include a disclaimer, I visited Barcelona on an extremely tight budget and I'm sure that helped color my experience negatively because I was bummed about the amazing stuff I probably couldn't afford. I also got scammed out of some of the limited money I did have from a tour company who does one of those Hop on- Hop off trips. I recommend skipping those and doing your own tour with the extremely easy to use the metro. I understand this sort of thing happens from time to time in big cities where some companies make a living by praying on tourists, but it still ticked me off enough to make me associate it with Barcelona overall. I had taken this trip right after my cousins came to visit me, so my funds were limited, to begin with, and I had to be creative to stretch my pay as a Language and Culture Assistant. I stayed in a hostel and ate a lot of Burger King (which oddly enough tastes so much better in Spain...) to keep my costs low. I'm pretty sure this filled me with a subtle resentment for all the amazing tapas that I wasn't able to experience on this trip, which I likely negatively associated with my trip.

I also made the dumb mistake of waiting until a couple weeks out from my departure date to book everything. Hmm, who knew that if you wait until the last minute then there won't always be the best options left...? DUH Val! Anyway, I ended up grabbing a room at the Albareda Youth Hostel (although now it's apparently called Pars Teatro Hostel). The neighborhood was... okay. It was behind a gas station and I remember multiple people got mugged at night, which definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. The interior facilities of the hostel, however, were awesome and I have no complaints there.

Ultimately, what I'm saying is that this trip was a combination of bad luck, stress, poor planning, and a poor first impression. All of these together resulted in me not totally loving my first time in Barca like I expected to.

But let me tell you about what I actually got up to during my whirlwind trip. 

I originally had planned to do a two-day bus tour with one of the two Hop-on, Hop-off tours leaving Plaza Cataluyna. I misread the laughably small fine print on the ticket stating that both of these days had to be consecutive. This meant that since I had done the bus tour one day, done a day trip the next and then wanted to use my other day the next day, I was out of luck, even though my tickets for both days were fully paid for. I caused a bit of a scene with the ticket man but he was no help at all. I decided to just forget it and hop on the metro to where I wanted to go next. My mood greatly improved from there. I saw the main tourist sites including Parc Güell,

The architecture of the city is definitely its biggest attribute, in my humble opinion. Barcelona was Gaudi's canvas and below are some of his most iconic works of art. 

The creation continues incessantly through the media of man. - Antoni Gaudi

La Sagrada Familia is absolutely stunning, both inside and out

It wasn't all bad all the time.

Though Barca (as many of the locals affectionately refer to their city, after their infamous fútbol team) and I got off to a rough start, we definitely had some good times. Here of some of my favorite memories:

Hammin' it up in front of the Font Màgica 

So many colorful options at La Boqueria market

Not too shabby of a view, huh? Barcelona as seen above from a cable car

Street art in the Barri Gòtic

Where to go instead of Barcelona:

If you find yourself with a bit of extra time in the Catalonia capital, do yourself a favor and get out of the city! I will most definitely be doing another post on the truly underrated gems that are Besalú and Girona, but for now, here's a little taste of these perfect day trips. They are well worth your time, trust me.


I had read on one of my favorite travel blogs that this charming medieval village was the place to see when making a day trip from the big city. I went on my own by first taking the one hour train ride to Girona and then catching a regional bus to Besalú. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was so pleasantly surprised at how completely different this place felt from Barcelona. I felt worlds (and centuries) away. 

The main attraction in town: El Puente Viejo (The Old Bridge) from the 14th century

A quiet square in town


On my way back to Barca, I knew I had a couple of hours before my train so I decided to do a mini tour of Girona. Luckily for me, on the bus ride back I hit it off with the loveliest adopted local who was working in Girona as a teaching assistant for the year. She offered to take me around the city.

The view from the old walls; well worth the hike!

Couldn't resist the opportunity to snap a pic!

Feeling Parisian vibes? Gustave Eiffel designed this bridge too!

Catalonian pride everywhere

I practically had to drag myself away from Girona to catch one of the last trains back to Barcelona. I can't wait to go back and explore more of the region! High, high up on my bucket list is doing a road trip throughout Northern Spain from Catalonia across to Galicia.

Lastly, the ultimate reason why Barcelona shouldn't be your first (or only) stop in Spain: 

Catalonian's don't even consider themselves Spanish or a part of Spain! If you didn't know this, the people of Catalonia have been fighting to gain their independence and do not like to be called Spanish. They have their own flag and even their own language. This is the biggest reason I recommend you start your Spanish vacation somewhere far more traditional. I suggest somewhere in Andalucía to start (such as Granada or Cordoba). Even better if it's a small pueblo blanco (white village) somewhere in the mountains (such as Mijas Pueblo near where I lived). Once you've seen more of the traditionally Spanish cities and villages, then you can move on.

Have you been to Barcelona yet? What did you think? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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