Barcelona Visitors, Don't Panic Over the Independence Referendum (But Beware of the Strike)
This past Sunday, around two million Catalans voted yes to an independent Catalonia in what was deemed an illegal referendum by the European Union. Reports of violence breaking out and images of police brutality were shown around the world, with press reporting over 800 injured, though only a few were hospitalized.
Police were instructed by the national government in Madrid to stop the vote, which resulted in some of the violence. 90% of those who voted did say yes to independence for Spain's northeastern, Catalan-speaking region, which has become one of the world's top tourist destinations with the soaring popularity of its capital, Barcelona. But only one-third of the voting population actually voted, approximately two out of six million, and some may have voted twice or more.
Regardless of the legality of the referendum, tourists seem unfazed and visitors to Barcelona aren't canceling plans en masse. Laura, a Australian traveler with plans to visit Barcelona this week, said, "I'll be going ahead with my plans. I'm not concerned. The separation situation has been in play for years and it won't deter me from going."
Catalonia, which already enjoys a large degree of self-government, has long harbored pro-independence feelings, but Sunday's vote does not mean that separation from Spain is happening soon.
But Tuesday may prove to be problematic for tourists and locals alike who need to go about their business. Catalonia is holding a general strike in protest of the police violence, and there may be delays for those arriving or leaving Barcelona's El Prat airport (BCN). An airport traffic controller at BCN told us to expect services at the airport to operate more or less as usual, though there is a possibility of delays. "Tourism in Barcelona is at an all-time high, " he said, "I don't think we'll see a drop in tourism in Catalonia anytime soon. But there may be some air delays today thanks to the strike."
The strike is affecting much more than just air travel Tuesday in Barcelona. Only 25% of metro trains will be operating, so expect crowded trains. Some of the city bike-share program Bicing's stations may be closed and the system may not function normally. The national train service is only providing 76% of the usual high speed rail services/long distance trains in and out of Barcelona and 65% of medium/short distance trains through midnight on October 13. The carrier has also canceled 151 trains between October 3 and 9.
Tourists should also be warned that because of the strike, they may experience inconveniences when visiting tourist attractions — Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Basilica is closed, as are the contemporary art museum and the cable car at Montjuic.
Alexei, a pilot born and raised in Barcelona, said, "Tourists will always keep coming to Barcelona. I think sometimes people get scared from what they see in the media, but the city is safe. Just stay away from any protests or riots, especially if you are traveling with children. Perhaps some young people may even sympathize with the plight of Catalonia right now and what they are trying to achieve. They may actually want to visit during an important time of change."
Of course, the future is uncertain, but if you do have travel plans to visit Barcelona or Catalonia at the moment, the situation doesn't seem dire for tourists, just inconvenient, especially during the strike.
An American living in Barcelona who preferred to remain anonymous tolds us, "The city is safe for tourists, even today. In fact, from what I've noticed is that many tourists just look confused. Some may not even know or fully understand what's happening or why things are closed today."
If you are in Barcelona or other parts of Catalonia on Tuesday, steer clear of the protest areas to avoid any possible issues and plan to visit the Sagrada Familia another day. Also note that many shops, banks, schools and businesses in general are closed, including many of the historical kiosks, shops and cafes along the La Rambla which are typically open every day of the year. However, shops such as Desigual, Mango, El Corte Inglés and Mercadona are open.