Social media transforms Barcelona local spots into tourist magnets

The search for a unique and authentic experience through social media when traveling is putting pressure on the city’s local spots

A woman takes a photo of a fruit stall at La Boqueria market in Barcelona
A woman takes a photo of a fruit stall at La Boqueria market in Barcelona / Carola López

Lea Beliaeva | Barcelona

October 15, 2023 10:01 AM

October 15, 2023 10:11 AM

Around two-thirds of all travelers search for recommendations online, while more than one-third use social media. 

The use of these alternative sources are changing tourists’ traveling patterns, converting previously lesser-known spots in Barcelona into tourist hotspots. Catalan News has recently published a podcast on the issue:

Anna is a first time visitor in Barcelona from Australia.When she travels, she says she searches for recommendations on Google or on social media.  

“Some of the Instagram pages I follow show you hidden unique things that are a bit different from all the tourist attractions”, she explains.  

One of the places that Anna found when she googled “Best Views in Barcelona” was Els Bunkers del Carmel on el Turó de la Rovira in the Carmel neighborhood. 

Originally, the bunkers were built in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, as an anti-aerial defense system to protect the city of Barcelona against Italian fascist airbombings.  

Since then, they have become a popular place for locals to enjoy the 360° panoramic view of the city, particularly at sunset when people gather to watch the sun go down on the other side of the Collserola Mountains. 

The past couple of years, the idyllic scene of a sunset has attracted more and more tourists, causing what’s referred to as “overtourism,” in part because of social media. The hashtage #bunkersdelcarmel, for example, has over 24 million views on TikTok.  

Tourists flock to local spots in Barcelona partly due to the impact of social media / Lea Beliaeva

Luke, a first-time visitor from Miami who found els Bunkers on TikTok, primarily uses social media when looking for travel information:  “You hear a testimony directly from someone's voice rather than reviews online, and you get to see video content of the actual location more than just select snapshots, so you see a more true view of what you’re going to visit,.” he explains. 

For the residents of El Carmel neighborhood, the popularity of Els Bunkers has turned into a nightmare, with a local even calling it “hellish”local referring to it as “hellish”  when speaking to Catalan News Agency (ACN). For years, residents complained about the alcohol-fueled allnighter parties, noise and littering, resulting in the city authorities closing off nightly access in May of this year. 

Another place where tourists have largely replaced the locals is the food market La Boqueria, located on la Rambla in the center of Barcelona. Here, tourists make up around 70% of all daily visitors.   

“The first thing that pops up when you search online is la Boqueria”, explains Vy, an influencer from Vietnam, who is visiting the market for the third time with a group of friends.  

Inaugurated in 1840, it is the largest and oldest food market in Catalonia. Now, over half of all the stalls sell products directed more at tourists than locals. 

What’s typically found in the market are colorful and tempting displays of freshly squeezed juices, neatly cut up and packaged pieces of fruit, and cones filled with fried fish ready to bite into.

But Miquel, a cod vendor, explains that the fried cod-cakes, els bunyols, that he sells are a typical catalan product, just packaged differently: “Now, they are just displayed in a more appealing way, so the customers can try one of our typical products: because if 2,000 or 3,000 people pass by our shop daily, you have to have a special offer to attract the customer, right?” 

With the increasing use of social media, tourism can affect local spots in Barcelona and bring up issues for its residents. 

The newly elected Socialist mayor of Barcelona, Jaume Collboni, has said that he wants tourism in Barcelona to be more sustainable, but has not yet presented a concrete plan.