Beyond Gaudi: Barcelona, a City of Cities.

Barcelona has always had a progressive and alternative air about it. It was this progressive and alternative view that immediately put it on a collision course with General Franco’s regime, with Franco capturing the city in 1939. Fast forward to a more democratic 1992, and the city hosted the 1992 Olympic games a period that saw enormous investment in the city’s infrastructure. People in Barcelona still often say “Before the Olympics…” as if there were two separate Barcelonas: a before and an after. The Olympics was the event that put Barcelona on the map as a place where sport, arts, culture, the sea and the sunshine all converge to make a truly unique living and tourist experience.

With its proximity to France along with its very distinctive Catalan culture and language, it’s very much viewed as an alternative and more cosmopolitan alternative to Madrid and defines itself as such with its vibrant independence movement and the pride that its residents have for this great city.




Then we have a tourist

who is curious and wants to get to know the city beyond what is obvious. With various districts, including Poble Nou, Sants, Gracia, Raval, and Eixample each one with its own unique personality, Barcelona could easily be described as a “City of Cities.” And these tourists are keen to experience these areas. 

Xavier Marcé goes on to explain that the visitors of Barcelona are 80% international, unlike Madrid, which would be described as 60% international. The United States is the most important country for Barcelona tourism and Barcelona is obviously apart from regular Spanish tourism. Obviously, there are very important European markets, with tourists visiting from France, the UK, Germany and Italy as well as Asian tourism, which is also very important.”

Marcé outlines that there is huge competition with Madrid, due to its airport capacity to host long-haul flights from Japan from example “It is very important to have long-haul flights, because when an American or a Mexican visits Europe it’s not necessarily just to see Barcelona. It’s to spend time in Barcelona, then Madrid, then perhaps Paris.

What Marcé is keen to point out is that Barcelona is looking to attract a different, more discerning type of visitor. Currently, tourism is very much focused on  Las Ramblas, Gaudí and the beach. This puts tremendous pressure on the areas not to mention the people and businesses that operate within them. He points out that it’s quite a love-hate relationship.

“Barcelona has a series of scientific centres at a very high level. It has creative industries, fashion, and a very powerful design centre in Poble Nou. People can visit Tibidabo, where they can go hiking, running, and enjoy outdoor sports.”

“For the last two years, we have put a lot of emphasis on promotional campaigns that target very specific markets and very specialised tourists. For example, I am interested in going to Paris to see not necessarily the Eiffel Tower but the Latin Quarter, I am interested to see the outskirts. I’m interested in art and technology, for example, or if I’m not then I want to be made interested. This is to explain a little that different things interest different people, and they want to visit areas of the city that are off the beaten track. 


Okay, then the next question

Imagine that you must design a 48-hour itinerary, but something out of the ordinary, because you have already told me that you want to avoid any itinerary that caters for a large demographic. For example, some might not be interested in sport, but interested in the rather rogue side of Barcelona. Others might be interested in Barcelona’s scientific achievements.

“If I were a tourist, who came to Barcelona, the first thing I would want to see is the obvious iconographies obviously that make Barcelona. But I would also want to see Poble Nou or the 22@ district which is Barcelona’s very central technical and innovation district, with a similar concentration of innovation as Palo Alto in California  

“I can also find design and creativity market activities, every week and Saturdays and Sundays. People and businesses in these areas are focused on driving innovation, where there are training schools, workshops, and design shops. Then there’s the Ribera quarter, which is a slightly fashionable neighbourhood with fantastic restaurants and bookshops among other places of interest to the more discerning tourist. Sometimes I feel like this has been let down in the past but today it’s an up-and-coming area with strong recovery.”

“I like areas like these, where you can get a little away from the centre and see exactly what is on offer in Barcelona’s many different neighbourhoods. When I go to New York, all I wonder is which neighbourhood is up-and-coming and it’s usually somewhere in Brooklyn. Barcelona is the same in many respects, with its diverse range of different communities and attractions. As I said, it’s not all about Gaudí.”