Barcelona tourism: Why you should still visit this great city

It used to just be the pickpockets you'd have to worry about. At least, that was the line that everyone would give you before you went to Barcelona: that the petty crime was out of control, that you'd feel hands in your back pockets the minute you set foot on Las Ramblas, that you'd be scammed in some way or another on your first day for sure.

I'm not certain if that was ever true. There was obviously a problem with crime in Barcelona back in the 90s and even part of the 2000s. Anecdotally, at least. You'd always hear stories from people who had had their pockets picked there. I even met a guy who'd been talked into a game of street football near the Gothic Quarter by some locals – he'd scored a goal and been enveloped in congratulatory hugs by his new friends and then walked away happy, only to realise an hour or so later that his wallet was gone.

The city has very much been cleaned up since those bad old days, but it's still a reputation Barcelona carries with it, that you need to be careful there, you need to watch your stuff.

Now, however, there are also other problems to deal with, other issues for potential visitors to take into consideration. Ironically, the increased safety might partly be to blame here, because tourism in Barcelona has boomed. People are flocking to the Catalan capital for the food, for the sights, for the lifestyle, for the weather – and its popularity is wearing thin.

See also: 'Go home': Overcrowding causes angry backlash against tourists

Anti-tourist graffiti has been appearing around the city. Tour buses' tyres have been slashed. There have been street marches to protest the presence of so many tourists in the city, particularly as they begin to pop up in the suburbs, in units and apartment blocks as short-term rentals proliferate. Are you really going to feel welcome in Barca if you decide to visit?

And now there are even more dramas, as the Catalan government has a will-they-or-won't-they flirtation with independence from Spain, as ugly scenes of police clashing violently with protesters spreads around the world, as counter-protesters also take to the streets to make themselves heard, and as the Spanish government declares an end to Catalan autonomy.

You have to ask yourself: is Barcelona the sort of place you still want to go to for a holiday? Is it actually a good idea?

And the answer to those questions, is yes. Definitely. Despite the slim chance of your pocket being picked. Despite the ripples of anti-tourist sentiment. Despite the street marches and violent clashes and uncertain future. You absolutely do want to go to Barcelona.

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This is one of the greatest tourist destinations on the planet, despite any rumblings of discontent. This is home of La Sagrada Familia, one of the most impressive manmade structures you'll ever see, as well FC Barcelona, one of the most impressive football teams you'll lay eyes on. It's a city of food, glorious food, from the market stalls in El Born to the Adria brothers' empire of restaurants in Poble Sec; from the cosy tapas bars of the Gothic Quarter to the bistro-style eateries of Eixample.

Barcelona is the oddity of the mountaintop Tibidabo Amusement Park, and the fun of the Montjuic cable car. It's the rough charm of the El Raval neighbourhood, and the beachy joy of La Barceloneta. It's the Gaudi buildings that you just stumble upon as you wander around; it's the Michelin-starred restaurants that don't make a big deal of themselves to anyone.

See also: 20 things that will surprise first-time visitors to Spain

Do you want to forgo all of that because of a few bits of graffiti and a street march? Absolutely not. And besides, your chances of actually being caught up in anything that will make you uncomfortable there are extremely slim.

I've been to Barcelona plenty of times in recent years, and haven't felt any anti-tourist sentiment. This is a cosmopolitan city that's used to seeing foreigners around. As long as you're polite and well behaved, people will welcome you, they'll enjoy having you to stay.

The protest marches, too – if they even continue to take place – are easy enough to avoid. This is not your fight. It's not your problem. As a tourist you just stay away, you go somewhere else in the city, you keep your head down. Problems like this rarely spill over, rarely affect those who aren't directly involved.

Enjoy the passion of the Catalans. Enjoy the spirit of their independence, enjoy their culture, their cuisine, their history, their future. Soak up the things that make this city unique, the aspects that make it the vibrant place that it is.

Barcelona might have its issues, sure. It might still have a few pickpockets. It might have an undercurrent of resistance. But it's still one of the great cities of the world, and you shouldn't think twice about going there to experience it.

Have you been to Barcelona recently? Are there problems there for tourists? Do you think people should still visit?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: 'Don't send any more tourists here'

See also: The alternative destinations to Europe's most crowded tourist cities
 

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