One of the coolest destinations in Europe just two decades ago, Barcelona is now so overcrowded it has become a tourist theme park – and is losing the character that made it so popular
It’s 9am on a hot August morning and timed tickets to visit Barcelona’s emblematic Sagrada Família basilica have already sold out. Only a few years ago you could turn up and queue for maybe half an hour to get in but with the soaring numbers of visitors to the city (around 30 million last year) anyone who arrives on spec is likely to be disappointed.
Those who have tickets amuse themselves in the queue by taking selfies in front of the temple’s ornate nativity facade. Groups of tourists trail behind their lollipop-waving guides. Street vendors spread out their wares on the pavement – pirated designer sunglasses and tacky memorabilia – until a heavily-armed police patrol moves them on. At the stalls around the square you can buy soft toys, Gaudí ashtrays and Barça scarves.