Barcelona, Europe’s busiest cruise port, will this week put into effect a ban on passenger ships from its central cruise terminal, Muelle Barcelona Norte, a change five years in the making that mirrors moves by other major European cities to unbundle their city centers and cruise ships.
The change will be felt by passengers on medium and small ships from lines such as Azamara, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and Virgin Voyages, who will now have to dock at piers south of the city center, mainly Moll Adossat, where large cruise ships already berth.
But tourism consultants took the shake-up at Barcelona’s cruise port in stride, saying they did not expect it to have a major impact on the visitor experience.
“Although it was convenient to be in the center of Barcelona, the distance from the Moll Adossat terminal to the main tourist area of Barcelona, such as La Rambla, is only 20 minutes by bus,” said Michel Fee, founder and CEO of the cruise organizers (No. 20 in Travel Weekly’s 2023 ranking).
Fee added that her company was “sensitive to the over-tourism that is happening in some European cities”.
James Cole, founder and CEO of Austin, Texas-based retailer Panache Cruises, said Barcelona is not the first or only European city to rethink how to manage cruise ship traffic.
“There are a number of cities in Europe that are looking at ways to accommodate the growing number of cruise ships and as always the cruise lines will be working hard to accommodate what is required by local planning authorities,” he said.
Among them are Venice, which in 2021 approved a ban on cruise ships in the city center after a years-long campaign, and Amsterdam, where city leaders this summer voted to relocate the centrally located cruise terminal, citing concerns about air pollution and overtourism .
Cole doesn’t expect the changes in Barcelona to hurt the experience of the city.
“It is disappointing that cruise ships will no longer be able to dock at the more central dock in Barcelona, as this was clearly the more convenient way for passengers to get to the city centre,” he said. “However, given that there is an alternative dock, we do not expect this to cause too much disruption and Barcelona will continue to be a great port for both embarkation and disembarkation.”
Maricel Alleman, vice president of Cruise Elite in Ormond Beach, Fla., pointed out that cruise ships are used to not always being able to dock directly at European ports, and that cruise ships, especially larger ones, often dock away from urban centers.
“It’s a matter of setting expectations at the time of booking and as they explore sightseeing options,” Aleman said. “A lot of ships actually leave from Barcelona, so it just means a taxi ride. It’s all about communication with customers.”
A changing Barcelona
The change follows a 2018 agreement between city authorities and the Port of Barcelona to reduce emissions from ships in the city centre. Cruise tourism to the city has grown significantly since then, with the port becoming Europe’s busiest for cruises, according to CLIA, with 2.5 million passengers a year.
The closure of the Port of Barcelona Norte to all passenger ships, including ferries, will result in the displacement of 340 cruise and ferry visits per year to Adossat Pier.
In 2026, Barcelona’s southern terminal, where about 70 ships dock annually, will also close, concentrating all cruise operations at Adossat, a move that requires an investment of more than $283 million, including the installation of shore power to reduce emissions.
According to CLIA, shore power will be available by 2026. The organization also said the industry has helped improve the impact of cruises on the city through the Port of Barcelona Cruise Sustainability Council, of which CLIA is a member. CLIA’s involvement meant that its members had plenty of time to adjust.
The city plans to repurpose the downtown harbor as an open area for the public, providing about 45,000 square feet of public spaces.
Cruising is not the only form of travel targeted by Barcelona in its bid to combat over-tourism and reduce noise pollution. In 2022, he limited the size of tour groups in the city center to 30 and banned the use of megaphones on tours.
Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.