In a city where tourists are almost as unpopular as bullfighters, Belinda Beckett tears up her bucket list and slips down a side alley to find the flipside to Barcelona’s over-played A-side in the cooler, calmer months.

There was rejoicing in the barrios this spring when Barcelona made CNN Travel’s list of Top 10 destinations to avoid in 2018 because it was ‘too touristy’. Tourists, you may have read in the press, are no longer welcome in the city. The locals have been up in arms about the international invasion that crowds them off buses, elbows them out of markets, pushes up prices and evicts them from their own homes because they can no longer afford to live there. And being cussed independent-spirited Catalans, they are prepared to make a big fuss about it. ‘Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them’ was one of the more colourful placards waved during last year’s street demos. ‘Tourists go home, immigrants welcome’ and ‘Your luxury trip, my daily misery’ were others that went viral across social media, spawning a new Spanish hashtag: #turismofobia.

Yet who can blame the people of Barcelona for complaining that their city has become a theme park circuit? We Málaga residents share similar sentiments in August when we can’t find anywhere to park – and our provincial capital only gets 1.3 million annual visitors; try 34 million in Barcelona, 20 times the resident population! There are 50,000 people to one square kilometre in the Sagrada Familia neighbourhood compared to 3,730 per km2 in our own fair seaside city.

Tourism to Barcelona took a nose dive towards the end of 2017, an annus horribilis for the city amplified that August by the terrorist van-ramming attack in La Rambla which left 15 pedestrians dead and 130 injured. That, coupled with the city-wide Catalan Independence marches and anti-tourist protests was blamed for losses of €6 million a day in tourism income over Easter. But a shortage of tourists is not something you would have noticed on La Rambla this summer.

From Palma de Mallorca to Machu Picchu in Peru, overtourism is a new phenomenon affecting the world’s most popular destinations and Barcelona is already taking action. Segways have been banned from the historic centre, Airbnb has been fined for listing unlicensed rentals, a moratorium has been declared on new hotels and letting apartments and the city is playing up its more offbeat attractions to spread tourists and their money more evenly around.Here are some suggestions for finding your own beautiful B-side.

A Side: Sagrada Familia

The world is gaga to see Gaudi’s soaring Gothic-meets-Art Nouveau basilica. Spain’s most visited attraction sells over three million tickets a year, mostly in advance or as a skip-the-line tour because the queues can be horrendous, and thousands of visitors are turned away. If you’ve already seen it but your pals haven’t, let them go on their own.

B Side: Unesco Heritage Double Act

Gaudi isn’t the only modernist act in town. Lluís Domènech i Montaner was his teacher at art school and although he doesn’t have quite the same fan base, two of his splendid buildings share Unesco World Heritage status: the Palau de la Música Catalana, a stained glass masterpiece; and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau whose domed pavilions and fluted spires were designed to uplift the spirits of patients.

A Side: La Rambla

The poet Lorca said it was ‘the only street in the world which I wish would never end’. Certainly, this tree-lined pedestrian boulevard running from the port to the city centre needs to be a lot longer than its 1.2km to fit everyone in. Where locals once enjoyed a peaceful paseo is now an obstacle course of street performers, trinket sellers and waves of jaywalking tourists.

B Side: Rambla del Poblenou

Barcelona’s ‘new town’ has its own leafy Rambla that’s not rammed with tourists, elegantly poised between the city centre and the beach. Don’t be put off b y its industrial revolution nickname, Catalan Manchester. A new urban renewal revolution has added green parks, iconic buildings and modernist sculptures along a rambla that’s yours for the strolling.

A Side: La Boquería

Frequently listed among the top 10 farmers’ markets in the world, gawking tourists who swamp the aisles and don’t buy anything are ruining it for market stall holders. The locals have stopped coming because of all the pushing, shoving and Instagramming.

B Side: Sant Antoni

Reopened this May after a nine-year refit, this 135-year-old market is modest in size but lavish in its displays of fresh fish, meat, fruit and veg. As well as 52 food stalls, there’s a flea market and on Sundays it hosts one of Europe’s largest open-air book fairs. Mercat Santa Caterina is also worth checking out for its curvy multi-coloured roof designed by Enric Miralles, architect of Scotland’s amazing parliament building. Barcelona has 39 markets all with 10 minutes walk of each other so share the love around.

A Side: Parc Güell

Gaudi’s design for a garden city, now a surreal Unesco park, attracts its limit of 800 visitors an hour most days of the year. Everyone comes to sit on its serpentine bench, photograph the mosaic dragon sculpture and enjoy the Gaudilicious views. There’s no other park like it but if you want to explore every worthwhile corner, book it and go early.

B Side: Parc del Laberint d’Horta

Get lost in an 18th-century neoclassical cypress maze in Labyrinth Park, Barcelona’s oldest gardens. If you reach the centre you’ll find love in the shape of a statue of Eros. The romantic Marquis who owned the estate added his own whimsical touches with fish ponds, waterfalls, Tuscan columns, and elegant pavilions paying homage to Roman and Greek gods. This underexploited green oasis is a mere metro ride from the madness of the city centre.

A Side: Montjuïc

It’s a hill, not a mountain, but it’s on everyone’s bucket list for the two-minute cable car to the castle and gardens at the top and the cultural walk back down via Fundació Joan Miró, the MNAC art gallery and the Olympic Stadium. The views over the city to the port are impressive but there are better…

B Side: Tibidabo Amusement Park

You haven’t seen Barcelona until you’ve ridden the big wheel at this delightfully retro theme park, set on a proper mountain. Spain’s oldest amusement park, Woody Allen gave it a whole scene in Vicky, Cristina Barcelona yet it’s still largely patronised by locals. Opened in 1905, some of the original rides are still working like its scarlet Avió plane. A replica of the first aircraft to fly in Spain, it has been taking passengers for a spin above the city since 1928, notching up the equivalent of 15 laps around the world! Tickets are priced according to height rather than age and the park’s Gothic church is almost a Sagrada Familia lookalike.

A Side: The Gothic Quarter

This sepia-toned warren of medieval cobblestone streets is packed with historical treasures and visitors intent on photographing them all. Although mostly pedestrianised, big group tours create traffic jams of their own. Plaster yourself to the walls and wait for the herd to pass.

B Side: The Gràcia District

Find breathing space in this up-and-coming neighbourhood which boasts 15 plazas and a Gaudi attraction off mass tourism’s radar – Casa Vicens, one of the world’s first Art Nouveau buildings. An independent town outside the city walls until the 1890s, Gràcia has a village vibe with vintage shops and funky cafes where you won’t have to wait for a table. Find a leafy square and order a plate of pintxos – tapas skewered on toothpicks, Catalan-style.

A Side: Picasso Museum

Over one million visitors a year – twice the population of Málaga – visit this monumental museum, where 4,000 of the artist’s mainly early works are showcased in five palaces. The setting is brilliant but Málaga has a perfectly wonderful Picasso Museum of its own that’s never as mobbed, so is it essential?

B-Side: Museu del Disseny

Picasso would have enjoyed this cutting-edge museum, one of many contemporary structures transforming Poblenou into a technology and design hub with a trendy new name: Barrio 22@. The museum displays collections dedicated to Catalan and Spanish graphic and interior design, fashion and furniture over four floors. The concrete grunge exterior is vastly improved at night by the bullet-shaped Torre Glòries behind it when Barcelona’s equivalent to London’s Gherkin lights up with 4,000 colourful LEDs.

Cool Barcelona

As temperatures dip and the tsunami of visitors ebbs to a more manageable flow, the cultural calendar swings into action and the city takes on a more chilled vibe. Visit the A-Side sites while you can or skip to plan B and check out our hotlist of cool-season treats.

Autumn Leaves

Not all of Barcelona’s trees change colour but the ones at Parc de la Ciutadella put on a magnificent show as October turns into November. Take a picnic or rent a rowing boat on the lake and drift under a coppery canopy of foliage.

Gourmet Lunches

Barcelona’s groundbreaking gastronomy is threatening to outshine Gaudi’s modernism but sticky summer weather dulls the appetite. Come autumn, however, lingering lunches are back on the menu and they don’t come longer or more leisurely than at Enigma. Opened by Ferran and Albert Adrià last year, the tasting menu is a 3.5-hour, 40-course tour de force swathed in such secrecy that photographing the food is frowned upon. Guests enter by punching in a secret door code, proceed through a silvery maze of tasting rooms in small groups and aren’t told what they’re eating until they’ve tried it and guessed the ingredients. Parmesan spheres, goat belly with pomegranate, raspberry pods with dill and sour cream, and teppenyaki show cooking have been featured in clandestine Instagram pix. You’ll pay €220 for the experience but it’s an entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon, or any evening Tuesday to Saturday.

All That Jazz

The annual Voll-Damm Jazz Festival is a great way to hear live music and discover some of Barcelona’s most beautiful buildings. Celebrating its 50th year, 12 iconic venues will be filled with the sounds of sax, trumpet and trombone. The programme runs throughout November with a few dates in December, attracting some of the biggest names in jazz and other genres. The November 16 concert with legendary flamenco guitarist Tomatito and Jerezano singer José Mercé at the Palau de la Musica should be a treat.


November to April is the time to enjoy this traditional veggie barbecue when calçots are in season. Leek lookalikes with a sweeter taste, they’re char-grilled and served with a rich romesco sauce. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy this taste of the Catalan countryside as many city restaurants hold calçotada nights, accompanied with carne a la brasa to satisfy carnivores.

Movie Moments

Buff up on the best indie films at L’Alternitiva Film Festival. The 25th edition, from November 12-18, will showcase the latest shorts, feature films, animation and documentaries from Spain and overseas in city-wide screenings.

Festive Firas

Christmas markets, known as firas, are a big part of the Catalan Navidad. The Fira de Santa Llúcia which sets out its stalls in front of the cathedral at Plaça Nova from the end of November is a highlight. There are Christmas lights everywhere and Barcelona’s architecture looks even more amazing.

Caga Tiós

The Catalans have added their own seasonal spin with a Yule log called Caga Tió which you can buy at a fira and all over the city in December. That’s Sh*t Log in English (or, for more delicate sensibilities, Poop Log). Catalan children keep it warm under a blanket and feed it sweets so that, on Christmas Eve, it will ‘poop’ them back when sung to and given a good thrashing with a stick. The Catalans have a strange sense of humour, but then, a lot of them come from Barcelona…