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Tourism in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

A photo series on the the unique character of this summer's tourism surge in Barcelona

By Sheridan Smith

August 30th, 2023

Tourism has made a comeback since the COVID-19 pandemic, and this summer's upswing, led largely by Americans, has deemed Barcelona a European hotspot, with the city's Gothic Quarter as the central attraction. ​

The Gothic Quarter (Catalan: Barri Gòtic, or Spanish: Barrio Gótico) attracts travelers from all over the globe. From the labyrinth of cobblestoned streets to its views of the Mediterranean Sea, the Gothic Quarter presents a rich and layered history to anyone capable of seeing beyond the intensity of post-pandemic overtourism. This summer, the neighborhood has been facing “revenge tourism:” a unique upswing in visitors emboldened by pandemic savings and lifted travel restrictions. Teeming with visitors, Barcelona is reminiscent of another European-city-turned-amusement-park. 


Tourism in the Gothic Quarter is not new, and has served as an integral part of the economic wellbeing and central identity of Barcelona. The city self-identifies as an appealing travel destination, encouraging international attention and embracing the marriage of layered history with modern spectacle. A word of welcome published by the Barcelona City Council on the Barcelona website encapsulates this sentiment: 

“The neighborhood the city grew out of bears the marks of every Barcelona era, and reveals its history in every stone and in every one of its visitors' attentive glances.” 

​The historical authenticity of the Gothic Quarter is not entirely self-evident. Despite its name, many buildings belonging to the Gothic Quarter do not date back to the Middle Ages, but instead the 19th and 20th centuries. The once-Roman neighborhood that has now become the Gothic Quarter underwent a restoration project for itInternational Exhibition in 1929, which allowed Catalonia to showcase itself in a positive light for global media. Since hosting the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona's visitation allure has grown exponentially. 


It is true that tourism in the EU corresponds positively with economic growth, employment, and social development, and with over 53 million overnight stays recorded in Catalonia last year, Spain in particular is reaping benefits as its tourism sector rebounds.​

However, similarly to other destination hotspots across the globe, tourism in Barcelona presents two sides of the same coin as it bombards the community with an intensified set of both environmental and socioeconomic ramifications.


As travels restrictions subside, destinations like Barcelona have been made increasingly aware of the causal link between tourism and climate change. Results from one study show that the carbon footprint of tourism in Spain fell by 63% in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Now, in the wake of the pandemic, the resurgence of mass tourism presents Spain with an increased demand to regulate emissions, pollution, and its overall carbon footprint.


In addition to its impact on the environment, overtourism causes a myriad of problems for locals. As it propagates gentrification, forces residents out of the city, fosters economic dependency, and shifts the community culture, the nuances of overtourism spark mixed opinions among residents.

Fran Bautista, 29, lives in Barcelona and works in the Gothic Quarter as a tattoo artist at Family Art Tattoo. “For me, tourism creates more work, and it really helps the economy," Bautista said. “Sometimes it gets overwhelming and in many ways collapses the city. I think it should be managed so that it flows without causing harm to those who live in nearby neighborhoods.”


From its Roman beginnings, to its 20th century restoration, to today, the Gothic Quarter presents a palimpsest of its visitation appeal over time, along with impacts thereof, for better or for worse. 

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