Ambivalence in Rainy Barcelona

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There are few better ways to learn about yourself than to travel solo long-term.  When you spend lots of time alone in a new and different environment, you start noticing quirks about your personality for the first time — the little things that make you happiest or irritate the hell out of you.

Traveling Asia alone taught me all about my mind and body respond to scheduling — the times when I’m likeliest to get bored or be exhausted.  So when I looked at my schedule for my Spain trip, I laughed and said, “I am so not going to like Barcelona.”

How did I know?

1) I’m a contrarian.  If people rave optimistically about a certain city, especially a city they haven’t been to, I feel more inclined not to like it.  Barcelona is the ultimate city that people dream of visiting.  That made me skeptical from the beginning.

2) It was coming off a busy few days.  If I don’t have enough time to myself, I go crazy.  I had just finished four days of celebrating Las Fallas with Busabout in Valencia, and as crazy fun as those days were, I was craving solo time and work time.

3) I didn’t have much time.  Being limited on time stresses me out, which is one reason why I like to travel slowly.  I was only able to spend one day in Barcelona before I had to get back to England for a formal event.

4) I already found Spanish cities I adored.  Granada and Sevilla both blew me away, and I knew it would be hard for any other city to compete.

So Barcelona had quite a bit stacked against it from the start.  Since I knew this was going to happen, I tried to psyche myself up.  Come on, you’ll love the Sagrada Familia, I told myself.  There’s a lot of cool architecture here.  You go nuts for that.

And what happened?

It rained.

In Barcelona, city of sunshine, it poured buckets the whole time I was there!

So, what did I do in rainy Barcelona?

I went to see the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s most famous architectural work.

This church is really interesting, particularly on the inside, though the 13 euro fee is ridiculous, especially since the towers were closed.

I then walked around the city.  The area around Las Ramblas is pretty touristy, but I got a few decent pictures.

I took pictures of plazas in the rain.

Afterward, my friend Justin from Las Fallas showed up, and we went out for Thai food.  My final meal in Spain was a panang curry so good, I nearly burst into tears.

My overall thoughts on Barcelona: I realize that I was seeing Barcelona under pretty bad circumstances.  Even so, I didn’t care much for it.  The city didn’t seem to offer me anything new and different from what I had already seen throughout Spain.  It was much more expensive than the other Spanish cities I had visited, and it didn’t seem to have much personality.

Most of all, I had heard so much about Barcelona’s reputation for pickpocketing that I was paranoid the whole time, clutching my purse to me at night, always thinking that someone was about to sneak up when I least expected it.  And, to be honest, that ruined Barcelona for me.  I never felt unease like that in Bangkok or New York or Madrid.  Barcelona irritated me.

I’m sure I won’t always feel this way, though.  Barcelona will always be there, and seeing how much I fell in love with Spain, I’m sure I’ll return to give Barcelona the chance it deserves!

Have you ever been massively underwhelmed by a destination?

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46 thoughts on “Ambivalence in Rainy Barcelona”

  1. I’ve visited Barcelona twice, in 2003 and 2004. I was underwhelmed both times, even though the weather was gorgeous. I’m planning to give it at least one more chance, though. Someday.

    By contrast, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Madrid and Seville.

  2. What a shame, Kate, I’m really sorry you had such a dismal time here. The weather definitely has a lot to do with it – whenever I’ve had friends visiting and it rains it annoys the hell out of me. Sunny side up, Barcelona is brilliant. The beaches and mountains are at their best then. Interesting that you thought it compared unfavourable with Seville – I went there for Easter a few years back and once I’d seen the penitent parades and Cathedral I was struggling to find much else of interest.

  3. I, too, also liked Seville and Granada over Barcelona. Oh, and yes, on our way to a restaurant in the Bond area (after getting a lecture from local friends to watch our bags), we were still robbed! We found a cop 2 seconds later and he could care less. I loved all the Gaudi stuff, and I had the best pintxos and tapas of the trip there.

  4. I just found your blog – you are such an inspiration!! I have not traveled much yet (unfortunately) and am desperate to. I graduate college next year and basically want to follow in your footsteps! I can’t wait to read through your archives and discover new places to go!

      1. Funny story- in going through your blog, I’ve discovered that you lived in the exact same area I currently live in, in Boston. I go to Northeastern and I am all too familiar with Symphony Mart! Not to mention symphony sushi and woody’s grill and tap!

  5. Bummer about the rain. I was in Barcelona in 2007 for about 5 days and really loved it; the hostel we stayed at was really fun and well run, we walked around to Parque Guell (which I actually was a lot more excited about than the Sagrada Familia, but we didn’t go inside), went to the aquarium and the Picasso museum, and spent some time on the beach.

    In retrospect, though, it would have been useful to know about the whole pickpocketing thing, because Barcelona remains to this day the only place I’ve ever almost been robbed (luckily, my purse was attached well enough to my body that the moped guys riding by who tried to swipe it couldn’t detach it).

    Plus, I got dumped at the end of the trip, lol. That turned out to be a good thing, though, so ¡gracias, Barcelona!

  6. Sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Barcelona, but glad that you’re going to give it another chance! I was massively underwhelmed by Maui. Everyone raves about it and goes there on honeymoons (perhaps that was the difference?!), but it was a bit bland for my taste. I much preferred Oahu… lots to do, history, nightlife, gorgeous beaches… it has it all!

  7. Monte Carlo. It was such an overrated, overpriced tourist hell compared to so many of the lesser known towns of the Riviera. I’m also not a huge fan of London, which most people seem to love.

    All of that said, I have loved almost every other place I’ve been, so I think it’s just like everything else. You win some, you lose some. And at least with travel there are usually a lot more wins than losses!

  8. I was also underwhelmed by Barcelona – it was hard to say to anyone at the time of travelling because everyone else raved on and on about the place! Each to their own…and I was also actually pickpocketed there, which didn’t exactly help matters/boycott the stereotype!

  9. too many pickpockets there !!! My friend was the victim. They caught the pickpocket, a lady who looked like a high end model with Louis Vuitton bag and shoes ! Unfortunately the police didn’t care much. Such a bad experience 🙁

  10. I can already feel the backlash I may get from this comment, but I am really sorry to say I was underwhelmed by Tokyo…I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about! I found the food really good, but limiting, not to mention expensive. It was also super dreary and rainy while I was there. There were definitely sights I loved like Meiji Jingu and the temples at Asakusa, but other than that…meh. I preferred Taipei. So I know how you feel!

  11. I am one of the Barcelona lovers. I am fascinated by the city and have been twice so far and can not wait to go again. On the other hand the first time I went to Madrid I did not like it at all. I have since been back to Madrid two more times and really like it now.. I really can not get enough of Spain.

    It is interesting that outside factors can influence our opinion on place we visit. If the weather is bad, we get pickpocketed, sickness, etc. I just returned from Ireland and had three days in Dublin. For a day and a half the weather sucked. It was cold and rainy and I could not do what I wanted to do. I was not happy with the city at that point even though I knew what the weather would be like before I left. On the last day the weather was great and I really enjoyed myself.

  12. Barcelona definitely deserves another shot. It’s easy to not like, for all the reasons you mentioned, but I lived there and once you get the feel of it, you stop hating it and fall in love. Personally, I think La Sagrada Familia is always a wrong choice cause you have to pay a lot to see something that, impressive as it is, is not even finished, and not even ALL Gaudi. The bad thing about summer is that thousands of tourists walking las Ramblas and the beaches are impossible, but a few steps away from all that and you’ll find amazing spots.

  13. This is how I feel about Paris. Although I wasn’t just ambivalent about it, I actively disliked it. I tried tourist Paris and Paris like a local with a friend who lived there, but both times I wished I’d gone somewhere else. Even the Eiffel Tower was a let down, as I’d just come from Berlin where their main tower is visible in most parts of the city, so the Eiffel Tower just seemed a bit small and lame. I guess it was a case of overhype for me- if people didn’t rave about how stunning it was, maybe I’d have seen it more favourably.

    On the funny side, you should see how people react when you say you didn’t like Paris. They become almost physically violent! And at least if a future boyfriend ever books us a trip to Paris, I’ll know it’s time to leave them!

  14. I love Barcelona! Really, I love Spain. It’s one of my favorite countries and has the best food. Years ago, I lived in Germany and people kept telling me to go to Heidelberg. I went. It was cute. But that’s about it. Sometimes when people talk things up too much it’s hard for any destination to meet such high expectations.

  15. I was in Barcelona at the same time as you, and I agree that the weather conditions hampered a positive view on the city! I do hope that you give it another chance, as I’ve come to love the city after two lengthy stays there. It definitely has things to offer!

  16. I too am a contrarian (never heard this word before, but I like it!)…I’m always rooting for the underdog or liking the opposite of a product/place/team for no other reason than that everyone likes the popular one! It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right?

    And, despite the rain, your pictures are beautiful!

  17. Do you find it weird having to justify not liking such a popular city? I’ve had the hardest time trying to tell people that I hate Paris and Dublin and to stop bothering me with that. Liking a city depends on the circumstances and our own personal interests, meaning that it is very subjective and not a universal truth!

  18. You should be glad that you did not visit Istanbul in that week, weather was horrible here also! I think it is not the city you did not like, it is all about the weather. All I can say is bad luck… You should visit Barcelona again, when it is sunny.

  19. I didn’t love Barcelona even when it was sunny–overwhelmed by the pickpockets and trashy touristy-ness on Las Ramblas, underwhelmed by Spanish food and Gaudi architecture. I’d love to give it another go, but I’m with you on the “ehhhh” scale.

  20. Ahh Barcelona – I think everyone has a different experience. My mum hated it, but upon hearing her story, I think it was also due to lousy weather – although in her case it wasn’t raining, but scorching hot.

    I went to a city in Turkey, Gaziantep, that Lonely Planet and everyone raved about. They raved about the food and its beauty. It was a dump where I ended up paying more for food than in Istanbul that wasn’t very good quality. Total bummer.

  21. I know people tend to get really defensive when we blog about find a city that doesn’t grab us, but that’s just how it goes. It may be external factors that’s not the city’s fault (like being tired), or the fact that the city simply didn’t live up to our expectations. You’re doing the right thing by keeping an open mind and giving it another chance!

  22. I’m not super excited by Barcelona either. The Sagrada Familia is extremely cool, but otherwise I’m a bit meh. Maybe it’s like you said, when people talk something up so much you are always destined to feel a bit disappointed. I much preferred Granada too. I don’t get why people rave about Barcelona so much. But maybe on another visit I’ll get it. Sometimes it just takes a few goes…

  23. My most disappointing experience of a city was Kuala Lumpur. Before we arrived we’d met a few backpackers who raved about the place they affectionately referred to as KL.

    However we found the city crowded and unfriendly. We were persuaded to go to the Batu Caves by a taxi driver which turned out to be overrun by tourists.

    Didn’t help that it rained for most of the time we spent there and when we tried to leave a day early all the trains and flights were full so we had to spend an extra night there.

  24. I have been underwhelmed by a city before, and in fact it was Barcelona. It was partly timing and staying in the wrong accommodations. I look forward to going back and learning more about the city and why everyone seems to love it so much!

  25. I had the same experience with my first visit to Paris. It rained the entire time especially on my first sight of the Eiffel Tower. I wasn’t excited to return but after coming home, seeing other traveler’s photos of the city of light, and hearing their experiences I decided to give it another chance. Paris is now one of the cities I’ve fallen for!

    As for Barcelona, I’ve been 3 times now and never had a bad pick pocket experience or any rain 🙂 I found this city has a lot of life and passion with their random Sardana dancing in the squares, exciting festivals and street performers, and especially the food! I do hope you’ll give it another chance as I did with Paris!

  26. Everyone who had been to Sevilla had raved about it…but it just never clicked with me. Bad hostel, insanely hot weather, and nothing seemed to be going right. I want to go back and give it another chance one day…in March or April, not June.

    Loved Barcelona, totally not offended though haha.

  27. You aren’t alone in being underwhelmed by Barcelona. It’s one of my least favorite European cities (only beat out by dirty, dirty Dublin). I found it way too big (and challenging to get around). It rained the whole time I was there as well. And the people were some of the least friendly I’ve encountered in Europe.

    When I mentioned all this to a friend of mine recently, she agreed that Barcelona was one of her least favorite European cities too. In my opinion, it’s overhyped.

  28. I believe I was in the city at the same time as you did.

    I spent three days in Barcelona, literally under the falling rain. The staff of the hostel where I stayed said that I was out of luck as usually Barcelona only has 5 days of rain during the year, leaving the sun shines on the other days. But I totally love the city.

    Maybe because it’s the first Spanish city that I ever visited. I love the vibe, the food, the different sides of the cities. And spending quiet time at the top of Montjuich is really worth it.

    Would really love to go back there and explore other Spanish cities!

  29. Aahh, I finally found someone who didn’t enjoy Barcelona the way I didn’t, either. I don’t know if it was because I was recently just in Paris right before Barcelona, or I really just wasn’t impressed with the city at all. I had such high expectations and it just didn’t live up to it. Luckily I traveled with a fun group so we made the most of it. I did almost get pick-pocketed on but elbowed the hell out of the guy before his hand got the chance to dip into my almost-empty bag. Hey, we won’t always love every place in this world and that’s okay!

  30. Hard to believe the made the comment that Barcelona “didn’t have much personality”. Barcelona is a unique city with a lot to offer. I think La Sagrada Familia is magnificient but it is only one of Gaudi’s many works of architecture in Barcelona. Parc Guell is a beautiful place to visit. Barcelona is a cultivated city, the more you explore it the more you will love it.

  31. I am very sorry to hear that you did not care for Barcelona the way that I do! You must go back in May (I think is the perfect month there I had gorgeous weather) and spend a lot more time there. See some of the touristy stuff in the beginning like parc guell, the market off las ramblas(markat de la boqueria) and picnic by the fountain in parc de la ciutdella, casa batllo, barri gotic. From there, you will then be able to wander about, take your time and find some non-touristy neighborhoods/districts that you like and some local hangouts and tapas bars. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities, more than New York. I will agree with you about Seville as well, but other that the Alhambra, I was not very impressed with Granada. I know your perception has to do with your experience at the time, but please give Barcelona the time that it deserves!

  32. This post makes me feel so much better — I felt the exact same way there and it wasn’t raining. I just thought there wasn’t anything “special” about it. I thought the same thing about Vienna, which other people also rave about. People say I’m nuts, so glad to see I’m not the only one.

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  34. I get really pissy when it rains when I’m traveling too BUT those pictures of Barcelona in the rain are actually quite stunning! I like them very much. 🙂

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