Las Ramblas – Barcelona’s most famous street, which is visited at least once by almost everyone who visits the city. Built in 1766 along the route of the former city wall, today Las Ramblas is a must for anyone who comes to Barcelona, but it’s not without it’s faults. Here, we’ll have a look at five things you need to be aware of if you visit this iconic street.
Poor quality dining at inflated prices
Chances are, if it’s your first day in Barcelona, you’ll head to Las Ramblas for a spot of lunch. Unfortunately, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as our walking tour guide explained. Because pretty much every tourist comes to Las Ramblas, there is little incentive for the restaurants to offer genuinely good food. The locals never eat here, while there are plenty of tourists who don’t know any better.
After dining at some of the better establishments in the city, I thought I’d put this to the test over lunch on my third day in the city. How bad could it be?
Really bad, as it turns out.
To be honest, all the restaurants on Las Ramblas looked mediocre, but were equally busy. I picked out one that was offering three tapas and paella for a measly twelve Euros. For this price, I knew it would be dire, as our tour guide had explained that because the taste of paella is based on saffron, which is more expensive per kilo than gold, a cheap paella is essentially just expensive rice.
He was not wrong.
There was absolutely no flavour, and the ‘seafood’ aspect of the dish was limited to a one or two muscles, a tiny prawn, and some other… unidentified objects. The tapas was no better – the patatas bravas were garnished with some overly acidic burger source, and the potato croquettes straight out of a supermarket packet. There also was no choice of what tapas was available with the deal – they just gave you the three cheapest ones.
On top of the price of the meal, two soft drinks some how accounted for about a third of the total meal cost. To make matters worse, after paying I went to the restroom and discovered that the restaurant at the side of the road that had been serving our covered seating in the centre of the boulevard was selling the exact same meal but indoors for just nine Euros. Not only that, it was also actually a Chinese restaurant that sold the “traditional” Spanish food for tourists.
Having subjected myself, and my disappointed partner to this farce, hopefully my research will serve as a warning to any would-be Las Ramblas diners. Don’t be fooled!
Lookout for pickpockets
Certain restaurant owners aren’t the only people at Las Ramblas conducting daylight robbery – the area is also notorious for pickpockets, as one of the biggest tourist hotspots in the city.
That’s not to say you should go ahead and cancel your flights to Barcelona, or that you’ll definitely have something swiped from your bag – it just means you should stay vigilant and think carefully about where you keep your money, passport and other important items.
Pickpockets operate by confusing, distracting, or isolating tourists, often in groups or pairs. There’s countless go-to scams that they may attempt to use, so it’s a good idea to do some research before you travel to make it easy to identify these. Since most of these tricks are based around distracting would-be victims, if something out of the ordinary happens, be especially aware of your belongings and other people around you that could be operating as accomplices.
An important step any tourist should take to ensure they’re not the victim of a pickpocket is to have a suitable bag for keeping items safe. For women with handbags, how easy would it be for someone to get into your bag without you noticing? If there’s no zip on the opening, it’s likely to be easy for someone to slip their hand in.
Similarly, for men, how secure are your phone wallet in your pockets? Zip up pockets are an improvement, but for the ultimate protection, consider getting a money belt that you can hide under your clothes. You may think getting a bum bag (or fanny pack, for our American readers) would be a step up in security, but in actual fact it’s quite easy to unclip one of these without the victim noticing.
It always pays to swat up on keeping your things safe when you travel – even if you have insurance, it’s a real headache if any of your gear gets stolen while on the move!
Don’t play any street games
Pickpockets aren’t the only potential scammers you may come across on Las Ramblas, Unfortunately, some of the street performers can be in on the act, according to Bambi Vincent, an expert on street crime against tourists.
It’s very tempting to see a big crowd of people surrounding a street performer running a game where you can win a cash prize. These can pop up at any moment and together with a few accomplices in the audience, they build on the intrigue of unsuspecting victims.
One example is a game where the performer is hiding an object under three cups and the player has to guess which one it’s under. You’ll likely see several people win the game, thought they will be the accomplices, whose job it is to create interest in the game with the illusion that it can be won.
Soon enough, an unsuspecting victim will come forward and play, however with so many distractions around created by the performer, the accomplices, and the large crowd that will now have gathered, there’s plenty of time for the performer to manipulate the game without the victim seeing, leaving them out of pocket.
Another, though less sinister street performer that you may want to be wary of, is the street artist. Have you ever seen those performers who make elaborate sand sculptures or beautiful paintings, and seem to be endlessly touching up their almost perfect creations, with the occasional pause to consider their next move?
Try going back the following day – you’ll most likely see the artist’s sculpture or painting is in the exact same state as the day before. Could he really have made no progress on it what so ever after working on it all day?
In actual fact, the artist most likely showed up early each morning before most tourists get up with the completed artwork in tow. Yes, that Mona Lisa painting is just a print out, while that expertly crafted sand sculpture is most likely polystyrene with a layer of sand glued on.
Yes, there are legitimate street artists out there too, but if you had the chance to watch them each day, you’d discover who’s real and who’s fake. There’s a performer in the city I live in who’s dog sand sculpture is curiously 100% identical every time I see it, but I’ve not yet had the courage (or motive) to call him out by accidentally walking into it…
Beware of the overpriced shops
The next pitfall on Las Ramblas is to be aware of the overpriced retailers. You’ll find a wide variety of retailers on Las Ramblas. This street has some of the most expensive rents in Barcelona, which means the store owners need to some how cover the extra cost. Fortunately for them, thousands of tourists walk by each day – and these are the people who are least likely to be bothered, or knowledgable, about the prices they should pay for goods.
Chain stores such as well known clothes shops are probably ok, as they tend to have country-wide pricing. It’s more the independent stores, particularly souvenir stores, to be wary of. Is Las Ramblas really the best place to buy that FC Barcelona shirt you’ve always wanted? Local fans would never buy their shirts here, so consider looking elsewhere, not just because of the price, but is that sketchy looking souvenir store really stocking 100% genuine shirts? Think about looking online first.
Las Ramblas is also home to many small convenience stores ready to provide drinks and snacks for the tourists that explore it each day. It’s here where you could see the most extensive markup on products.
Barcelona is very hot in the summer and so you’re likely to need something to quench your thirst, which is where the convenience stores get you. Bottles of drinks and ice creams are often marked up to two or three times the price that you’ll find in other areas of the city, as the stores are counting on the fact that tourists are unlikely to want to make a huge detour for the sake of two or three Euros. But over time, this adds up. Would you rather spend €20 on bottles of Evian every day, or put that towards a delicious Paella one evening? If you’re on a budget, consider picking up a drink elsewhere in the city and carrying it with you, or even fill up a bottle back at the hotel!
La Borueria food market is a diamond in the rough
So far we’ve seen that Las Ramblas really is a place just for tourists to visit once when in Barcelona. However, there is one exception – La Borueria food market, located half way up Las Ramblas.
Here you’ll find a large covered market selling a huge range of food, including seafood and huge cuts of meat. But for tourists, you’ll find the market is ideal for a quick snack or even for a light lunch.
Look out for fruit juices, smoothies, pastries, and best of all, Jamón serrano, a type of dry-cured Spanish ham that’s absolutely delicious, which is unsurprising since Spain is one of the largest consumers of ham in the world. This ham is sold in thin strips and often served with chips, making it a great snack to enjoy as you wander round.
If you’re staying at an Air BnB or apartment then why not go down to La Borueria and stock up on delicious food for a home cooked meal, rather than eating out on Las Ramblas?
Hopefully you’ve not been put off visiting this amazing city – just stay safe on Barcelona’s most notorious street and be aware of common travelling risks!
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