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  • Writer's pictureJamie Clark

Barcelona: the place for everybody and nobody

Updated: Aug 23, 2023


In August 2019, I moved to Barcelona, Spain.

Over the past four years, I have been captivated by this city's two contrasting tales, evoking a paradoxical energy in day-to-day life.

In this article, I share why I believe that Barcelona is the city for everybody and nobody.

Please note: my analysis is limited to the area marked within the red lines on the map below.

Map of Barcelona
City Centre Barcelona, population of ≈2M (source:

The reflections in this article do not encompass neighbouring suburbs such as Horta, Sarria, Sant Just and Sant Adria De Besos. I believe due to their distance from the city centre, these suburbs have retained deeply rooted social and cultural fabrics that are tied to their origins.

With this context in mind, and acknowledging that this is a personal reflection, let us explore why Barcelona is the city for everybody and nobody.



I had never been anywhere in the world that truly has it all. Then I visited Barcelona.

The city centre is nestled between a beautiful mountain range over to the West, and then to the East, you can find spectacular turquoise swimming beaches. In between, the city is dynamic, socially conscious, rich in history and full of opportunities.

How many other cities can boast mountains, a large city centre and stunning beaches in such close proximity?

Because of such a wide array of landscapes and environments - Barcelona can truly welcome people with all kinds of hobbies. In this way, finding your community can be quite straightforward.

If you enjoy mountain biking, you'll spot numerous cyclists charging down Tibidabo. If culture and art are your interests, take a stroll in Grácia. And if you're into water sports, you can start your day with a sunrise paddle session at Playa Bogatell.

Furthermore, Barcelona is a judgement-free city. You can be your authentic self, and the city will embrace you wholeheartedly.

Some friends of mine who are part of the LGTBQIA+ community have shared with me that they have never felt as comfortable being themselves as they do in Barcelona. While a 'couple of my friends' represent a small sample size, their positive experience speaks to the open-mindedness of the city.

And observing people on the streets, you can sense the peace of mind that they have about their identity and sense of belonging. This longstanding reputation has attracted people from around the world to move to Barcelona, which, in turn, has drawn many international companies as well.

According to Ajuntament Barcelona Cat, 27 million tourists visit Barcelona each year.

27M annual visitors - this means there is an average of over 500,000 new tourists coming per week. And as this number continues to grow exponentially, tourists are evidently having a good experience.

Consequently, a significant number of foreigners choose to stay and make Barcelona their home. As depicted in the graph below, 21% of Barcelona's population is foreign.

Percentage of foreigners residing in Catalonia

Given that one out of every five people you meet in Barcelona is a foreigner - you'll often hear English spoken on the streets. And this gives foreigners a sense of ease and peace of mind to move there. There aren't so many language barriers to overcome to start building your life in Barcelona. There is also minimal difficulty to access the wonderful public health system (CAP) which is a significant advantage when moving.

In January of this year, I went to Jamboree in Plaça Reial. Before the club part began, the Soul Lab Jam hosted an open Jam session. And I recall this singer had declared to the crowd that she had just moved to Barcelona a few weeks earlier.

Minutes later, here she was, on stage, feeling empowered and being cheered on by the crowd.

Barcelona has a unique ability to foster incredible connections and is home to numerous creatives and entrepreneurs striving to make a positive impact. A walk through the various offcies in 22@ (Poblenou) showcases some of the most promising startups worldwide.

Moreover, Barcelona embraces individuals of all races, religions, sexualities and genders. And when the international dynamics align harmoniously, the city can be truly magical.

On a personal level, I have felt a lot of love from my local Catalan friends and former employers - and from my international circle of friends.

Barcelona is the city for everyone. Som-hi Barça!



In the summer of 1992, Barcelona hosted the Olympic games. Prior to that event, according to accounts from locals I've spoken to, Barcelona wasn't particularly well-known.

However, following substantial investments and infrastructure development for the Olympics - the world started to take notice of Barcelona as a must-visit city. Recognising this opportunity, the government invested resources to transform the city into a top tourist destination.

So, then, people started to come.

Prices skyrocketed, the streets grew crowded - and longtime Catalan residents of the city centre found themselves priced out and displaced.

Since then, this trend has proven irreversible, leading to tensions between locals and tourists.

'Tourists Go Home' sign in Barcelona
I took this picture last week at Fiesta de Gracia 2023

Signs with messages like 'Tourists Go Home' are a common sight around the city. However, walking down Las Ramblas on the weekend or attempting to swim at La Barceloneta on a summer day provides insight into why locals express these sentiments.

Toxic tourism has taken over the city centre, with many tourists behaving extremely poorly. This might be influenced by Barcelona's coastal location, relative affordability (by European standards), and beachfront nightclubs that attract energetic young travellers.

The city's laissez-faire approach to public drinking and the presence of street vendors selling illicit substances contribute to the problem.

Waking up on a Sunday morning to the aftermath of the previous night's revelry, with people vomiting or urinating near your home is hardly a welcome sight for permanent residents.

Ada Colau, former Mayor of Barcelona

Meet Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona between 2015 - June 2023.

These are the steps she took to curb overtourism:

  • Limiting the number of hotel beds allowed in the city.

  • Prohibited the opening of new hotels in the historic center

  • Opposed an extension of the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport that would have increased capacity from 50 to 80 million arrivals a year.

  • Landlords wanting to rent out their apartments on Airbnb had to first obtain a tourist license issued by city hall.

  • Guided tours must also now follow sanctioned, one-way routes, provide headphones rather than using loud megaphones

  • Walking tours now capped at 30 people

Due to the issue of overtourism, distinguishing between genuine long-term international residents of Barcelona (who contribute in innovation, culturally, pay taxes, etc.) and those visiting as tourists has become increasingly difficult for locals.

Consequently, for expats residing there long-term, it's exceedingly challenging to fully integrate into the society. Often, they're painted with the same brush as tourists, leading to feelings of alienation, self-doubt, and questioning the sustainability of their time in Barcelona.

As time progresses, priorities change in terms of what one seeks in the city they call home. For me, this realisation manifested as a set of questions depicted by the divergence between the light blue and green lines.

Despite my best efforts, I found it difficult to answer "yes" to any of them.

sense of belonging graph

And I don't feel that I'm alone in experiencing this sentiment.

The distance from local life leads many international residents to grapple with uncertainty about their future in Barcelona. A one-foot-in-one-foot-out mindset takes hold - will I stay or will I leave?

This uncertainty impacts the formation of friendships; the transitory nature of the expat community creates hesitancy to form deep connections, as one cannot be sure if another person will remain in the city.

With many people adopting such a short-term mindset, Barcelona lacks a sense of genuine ownership. In most cities, locals shape and drive culture, and people who reside there adapt. This is not the case in suburbs such as El Gotic, El Born and El Raval - which have their cultures totally driven by those that reside there, not those who are from there.

I believe that achieving a complete sense of immersion entails moving to a suburb outside the city, learning the local Catalan language, and engaging with the social and political nuances of Catalonia.

And it is definitely possible. But are you willing to do it?

That is why - Barcelona is the city for nobody.



Vibrant and truly alive, Barcelona has provided me with some of my happiest memories.

However, beneath its lively surface, palpable social tensions and nuances exist. For those considering long-term immigration to Europe, Barcelona's complexities can feel daunting at times.

I'm keen to witness Barcelona's evolution in the years to come. Will Catalans reclaim control of the social fabric, or will the international community continue to dominate? Perhaps sustainable harmony will prevail.

What do you think?


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