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Culture Shock | 8 Things to Know Before Traveling to Barcelona

Of course you want to go to Barcelona: It’s a beautiful beach city with an old-world charm, vibrant nightlife, and probably what you imagine when you think of the Spanish coast. But before you go, verse yourself on some of the issues facing locals, and do your best to enjoy the culture without taking advantage. If you are planning to travel, here are 8 things to know before you go.

1. Don’t call it “Barca.”

Barca is the nickname of FC Barcelona—a soccer team that is held with great respect in Catalunya and the world. Many Americans, because we like to shorten things with more than 3 syllables, like to refer to Barcelona as “Barca,” and as a result annoy everyone who lives there. Basically, it’s fine to nickname a city when you’re in your home state or posting a travelgram, but avoid saying that to a local. You’ll look like a dumb tourist.

2. Don’t expect a warm welcome.

Barcelona is literally being destroyed by tourism, and locals have begun protesting their arrival into the city. If you don’t want to see literal protests of tourism while you’re trying to vacation, choose accommodations slightly outside city center. It will give you a more authentic experience, too.

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3. Do research before going to dinner.

Yes, tapas are all the rage in Barcelona. But as a result of over-tourism, there are tons of tapas bars and restaurants that look authentic, but are really just tourist traps that serve mediocre food—think frozen croquettas and overpriced, imported seafood. Rather than just searching for “tapas,” get specific about the type of food you’re looking for, and then look for spots with smaller menus. Travelers tip: if they don’t have an English menu, you’re probably in a good place.

4. Eat dinner at 9pm, or give yourself away as a tourist.

Restaurants are literally void of locals until at least 9, and bars don’t fill up until 1am. For a long time, Barcelona upheld their culture and stayed closed until their traditional hours, but with over-tourism suffocating their city, restaurants and bars have changed their hours to accommodate. If you want to blend in, eat a big lunch around noon, a drink and a snack around 7, and dinner late. If you’re going out, start the pregame around 11. Get to the bar after midnight, and stay until sunrise.

5. Order the Gin and Tonic.

You probably thought I’d say sangria, right? Wrong. Cocktail culture isn’t huge in Barcelona—except when it comes to their gin and tonics, which are taken very seriously. In fact, there are tons of bars dedicated solely to this drink, like Poble Sec and Xixbar.

Traveler’s Tip: Gin and tonic is a weird drink to order before or during dinner—most locals will stick to wine or beer for that. But after dinner, go wild.

6. Do NOT only order paella.

Paella is from Valencia, and it doesn’t really work outside of there. Unless you find a gem recommended by locals—like Can Majo or Kaiku—most paella joints are meant to appease tourists who think paella is a Spanish or Catalonian dish. Instead, try the fideua—it looks like paella, except it’s made with vermicelli instead of rice and is much more indicative of traditional Catalonian cuisine.

7. La Rambla is cool. But they don’t represent Barcelona.

Though guidebooks will swear these spots should not be missed, and that these streets represent an old-world way of life, that just isn’t the case anymore. Today, this street is a tourist trap full of overpriced tapas, saturated bars, street performers from neighboring countries, and pickpockets looking for an easy steal. But mostly, you’ll feel like you’re a part of an assembly line to nowhere. Sure, take a stroll to take in the scene, but go early in the morning, and don’t waste your time trying to make this a highlight.

8. If you learn one word, make that word “vale.”

It means “ok,” “worth” “voucher” “ticket” and “yes.” It’s sort of the Barcelona equivalent to a nod, and with the right inflection, enthusiasm, and tone, it can mean whatever you want it to.