How to pass as a local in Barcelona
By Gretchelle Quiambao
Updated: April 2018
As travellers, we always try our best to look like a local in the city we are visiting. Nothing can be more offensive to a traveller than to be assumed to be a tourist. Sure, we like to browse the famous sights of a city, but we’re not there just for a good picture. Travellers want to be a part of a culture, blend into the landscape, and experience a destination for more than what can be found in a guidebook.
Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in the world for tourists and travellers alike. A multicultural city that blends together an old history with modern culture, that has been attracting visitors from every corner of the world to explore its rich culture and decadent architecture. In a destination flooded with tourists, passing off as a local can help guarantee a personalised experience with one of Spain’s most vibrant cities.
Stay at one of our hostels in Barcelona to get in on the city’s hidden secrets and uncover local insight.
Here are some tips and tricks for fooling even a native Barcelonian:
Keep it casual
Barcelona may be a modern and sophisticated city but the dress code is purely casual. Of course, you’ll find professionals roaming the city in suits, but for the most part locals keep their style simple, chic, casual, and comfortable. Experienced backpackers and travellers know that nothing screams tourist more than a bum bag (fanny pack to our friends in North America) and a baseball hat, so keep those at home. Dress light, especially in the summer as the Mediterranean heat makes itself known, and stay away from heavy fabrics as the humidity can make your clothing feel heavier. The heat might get to you in the city, but save the shorts and bikinis for the beach. Locals rarely wear shorts in the city; instead they opt for breathable fabrics that cover up but keep you cool.
People in Barcelona tend not to carry much with them, especially when going out. While you should always carry some form of identification with you, don’t tote around an entire backpack of stuff, and instead just carry enough cash and the bare necessities in a small bag. Looking the part of a local is only half of the game — where you hang out is just as important for blending in with the city populous.
There are so many reasons to visit Barcelona, but many tourists find themselves flocking to the beach. Barceloneta is one of the most popular beaches as it is the closest to the city centre. Here you can find a stretch of coastal paradise that has been inhabited by tourists and businesses looking to make a buck from the many foreigners getting tanned on the beach. Locals know to avoid this beach where a spot for relaxation can be difficult to find among the numerous beach goers, and restaurants and bars tend to hike up the prices for unsuspecting tourists. Instead, head further down the coast just a few stops away to other beaches that are devoid of the crowds and the chaos of tourist traps.
If you chat up locals, you might find that many prefer to soak up the sun out of town, or instead spend their people-watching time not at the beach but at one of the numerous plaça or plaza scattered throughout the city.
Many tourists might expect to find the land of bullfighting and flamenco when they arrive in Barcelona, but that should be reserved for the likes of Madrid or Seville. Barcelona has an entirely different culture, and in fact you can expect to see some strong pride in Catalonia. Barcelona is the capital of the region of Cataluña, and being able to distinguish Catalan culture from Spanish is key.
Although everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish, most can understand Catalan, and learning even some basic phrases can help you charm locals and fool fellow travellers into thinking you actually know what you’re saying.
Eat late and light
Locals tend to eat a heavy lunch before descending into siesta and wait to eat until late into the night around 10:00 p.m. It can be something to adjust to for visitors that might be used to eating much earlier, but tapas can help you get through those long hours between lunch and dinner. If you feel your stomach grumbling for a snack in the evening head to a tapas bar for a beer, snacking, and socialising.
The late dinner might not make sense at first, but there is a method in the madness, as most people in Barcelona don’t start their evenings until about midnight. Bars and clubs are open all night, and it’s not uncommon to see people of all ages hanging out in city squares at 2:00 a.m. The late dinner helps subside hunger throughout the night to ensure all-night partying and prevent the ominous hangover the next morning by having a full stomach through a long night.
Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting to get in touch with your inner tourist when you see a beautiful landmark, or want to remember a special moment by breaking out your camera. But experiencing a destination from a local’s point of view can help create a trip that is not only enjoyable, but also educational.
Have any tips for blending in with the local population? Share them!
Gretchelle is a writer, teacher, and traveller from Los Angeles looking for new adventures and the perfect vanilla cake.
Check out her personal blog.