Beware of under-populated alleys and streets in the old town after dark, particularly in the Barri Gòtic and El Raval. These attract thieves who tend to operate in groups. Prime pickpocketing times are between 9pm and midnight, when most locals are eating dinner and only visitors are out on the streets. The early hours (3–6am), after the bars and clubs close, are also popular with thieves.
Avoid the pricey leather shops clustered on and around La Rambla. The leather is often poor quality and prices are high. Stop off at the tourist office for a list of approved leather shops, or head for established stores.
Don’t get sidetracked by the raucous “find the hidden ball” games on La Rambla. Usually played on makeshift tables, presided over by a skilled, nimble-fingered trickster, it appears at first glance to be a lively game of chance. In reality, it’s a confidence trick. The lively folk who cheer you on are all accomplices who are in on the act. Though you may win the first few rounds, you’ll soon start to lose, and you’ll walk away with a much lighter wallet. Also to be avoided are the gypsies who try to sell you flowers and often pick your pocket at the same time!
Rip-off, touristy terrace restaurants line La Rambla. Most of these paella and tapas eateries cater solely to tourists, charging sky-high prices for mediocre meals. The side streets off La Rambla offer better food at more reasonable prices.
Miss the crowds and interminably long queues at the city’s most popular sights by visiting first thing in the morning when the sights open or towards the end of the day, an hour or two before closing time. To avoid the hordes on the beaches in summer go on weekday afternoons.
Steer clear of the bureaux de change on La Rambla, Plaça de Catalunya and near major tourist sights. They usually charge much higher commission than banks. If they advertise no commission, exchange rates are generally poor.
Avoid attracting attention to yourself as a tourist. Keep cameras hidden, try not to display large banknotes and don’t wear valuable jewellery. When consulting a guidebook or map, keep a vigilant eye on your belongings.
Avoid city traffic congestion by driving around late morning (10am–1pm) or late afternoon (5–7pm). Most office workers have a lunch break between 2pm and 4pm, which means that the roads are packed during this period. Similarly, avoid leaving town on Friday evenings, particularly during the summer. The best time to head out of the city is mid- to late-morning after 10am.
During the month of August, many Barcelona establishments shut down altogether, the locals disappear on holiday and the city fills with visitors. With so many restaurants, bars, shops and even some sights closed, not to mention the distinct lack of local life, August in Barcelona has its drawbacks. Always call first to check on opening times during this period.