In 2013 Barcelona began a new kind of tour – led by homeless people. These new tours of Barcelona’s historic centre are the first of their kind in Spain. This is more than just another tour company; it is a social enterprise that employs homeless people and gives them an opportunity to start earning and regain their independence. Guides are trained by a local historian who prepared the guides for Barcelona’s Olympics.
Hidden City was inspired by Unseen Tours in London, who pioneered the concept and started training homeless people as guides 3 years ago in London. They now run a few different tours in the capital, and the project is an absolute success. Similar initiatives have already been launched in Prague, Berlin and Bath.
A new initiative in Barcelona
Hidden City Tours Barcelona
We spoke with Hidden City Tours’ founder, Lisa Grace, who is originally from the UK and has lived in Barcelona for over 10 years. After being made redundant last year she was looking for new ideas, and came across an article about the Bath project. “I saw it and I thought that someone must be doing this already in Barcelona. We’ve got a huge homeless problem here, and the second largest tourist sector in Europe.” When she realised that in fact nobody was doing it, she decided to put 2 and 2 together and to make it work.
Barcelona has the highest rate of homelessness in Spain, with more than 3000 people living on the streets. The average age is 43, mostly male, and about half have children. About 40% are English speakers and 60% Spanish speakers. It used to be an even 50% split before the economic crisis.
For many of Barcelona’s residents and visitors, especially those living in the city centre, homelessness is an aspect of urban reality that they are faced with every day.
Lisa shares her experience: “I used to live in Calle Escudellers in the Gothic, and there was the same homeless guy on my doorstep every day. He had a dog, and so did I, so we ended up getting to know each other. I got talking to plenty other homeless people during the 5 years I lived there and that really changed my perception.”
Step by Step
Hidden City Tours in El Raval
Hidden City has followed the model of the Bath project, whose founder approached local charities. These charities proposed candidates who they felt this could work for, and then the training began. Building up trust was a very important first step, and the process took many meetings and countless coffees.
The guides joined the project in July, and were taken on some tours to see if this was something they were interested in. Then the Hidden City team decided their route.
The original tour begins in the Gothic area, which is full of important landmarks. Groups will visit the Cathedral, Pl. del Rei, the Temple of Augustus, Pl. St Jaume (which is where the Roman forum used to be), the Jewish quarter, Pl. Felip Neri, and Pl. del Pi, before crossing the Rambla into the Raval.
The tour then goes down Carrer St Pau, passing the beautiful Romanic church of Sant Pau del Camp. It winds up in Rambla Raval, goes through the Hospital Antic de Santa Creu, crosses its gardens, then on to the Boqueria, through to Palau Virreina, and up the Rambla.
In the Raval, the sights are more spaced out, which gives the guides an opportunity to comment on the social reality. If they only speak Spanish there is simultaneous translation during the tour, but more languages are offered too.
Different Tours, Different Perspective
Juan – Hidden City Tour Guide
Now, more tours are on offer, rather than just the original, from Gothic Quarter tours to Boqueria specific tours, including a tapas stop.
So far, the guides are excited and committed to the project. It’s an opportunity they hadn’t thought would come about, especially with the current economic climate. At first it was more of a social project; they had regular meetings with the team and training sessions with guides and historians. But now, the new guides take people around the streets that they know so well, and share their insights with the public. This looks set to be a new chapter in Barcelona’s tourism, so if you are able to book a place on the tour don’t miss it!
Groups are small and personal so reservations are necessary – maximum 10 people per group. Book online or call Lisa on +34 655 585 156 for last minute bookings. Tours start at 10am, come rain or shine, and last approx 1hr 30.