Hi, my name is Carly and I traveled to Spain during COVID. In fact, I’m writing this from the rooftop terrace of my hotel in Barcelona’s Barri Gotic on July 10, 2021.
Although I’ve been to Spain many times before, this was my first trip outside my city since the start of COVID. And a big trip it was! It took me thirty hours from the time I left my house in Canada to the time I arrived at my first hotel in Barcelona. Along the way I learned a lot about travel to Europe during COVID, and I quickly learned what measures Spain has (and has not!) put in place to keep locals and visitors safe. If you’re thinking of visiting Spain this summer, I hope this post will give you some much-needed insight and advice regarding the current situation for travelers in Spain (particularly in Barcelona).
The following trip report only represents my experience at the time of press and is not legal advice, immigration advice or health advice. Other travelers may have different experiences. Please contact the relevant authorities for current, accurate information about the situation anywhere you intend to travel.
Getting to Spain During COVID
I flew from Canada to Spain via Amsterdam. I am fully vaccinated with Pfizer and also took a “expedited results” PCR test (not an antigen test) at the airport about six hours before my departure. The airline was satisfied with the vaccination records and allowed me to check in before my (negative!) PCR results were back. I wasn’t asked for any further documentation in Amsterdam or upon arrival in Barcelona.
I also had to complete the Spain Travel Health form before my trip. I believe that this is a requirement for everyone who wants to travel to Spain during COVID. You can do it online or via the SpTH app. The airline confirmed that I had completed the form and received a QR code before issuing my boarding passes in Canada.
Both of my flights (Canada to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Barcelona) were full. If you’re expecting a row to yourself or on-board social distancing, you may be out of luck. I ordered a special meal, which was served before the regular meal. This allowed me to take off my mask to eat while everyone else was still masked, and then replace my mask while everyone else was eating. Highly recommended.
Although I regularly wear a mask for work and daily outings in Canada, masking for almost thirty hours (from when I left home until when I arrived at my Barcelona hotel) was unpleasant. I recommend packing one mask for every three or four hours of travel time, and bringing mouthwash and facial cleansing wipes so that you feel a little bit cleaner.
Again, I don’t know how to make it more clear that I’m only sharing what worked for me, and that you need to carefully investigate current requirements based on your individual situation.
Tourism in Spain During COVID
There aren’t a lot of tourists in Barcelona right now, but with each passing day the city feels busier and busier. When I arrived in early July I was able to photograph some of the city’s most famous landmarks without anyone else in the frame, but a week later that wouldn’t be possible. (Click through to read about my favorite things to do in Barcelona!)
I considered visiting Parc Guell yesterday (until I realized I’d packed two left running shoes and nothing for my right foot!) and there was ample same-day ticket availability. In fact, only one time slot all day was marked as “moderately full”. I’ve visited museums and had entire floors to myself, and I’ve never had to wait for a table in a restaurant. The downside is that with reduced tourists, some attractions are closed or have reduced hours. If there are any bucket list items on your itinerary, confirm if and when they’re open before you book anything.
I should point out that so far I’ve only been to Barcelona and some of the surrounding small towns, and I haven’t been to any other big cities. I’m sure that if you were to travel beyond Spain’s most touristic city (Barcelona) then you would encounter even fewer people.
Masks in Spain During COVID
One of the reasons I came to Spain was because my region of Canada removed all mask restrictions for the summer, and I wanted to stay somewhere where masking was still encouraged.
You don’t need to wear a mask outside in Barcelona, although I believe you’re supposed to put one on when you’re less than 1.5 meters away from people outside your cohort. There seem to be two distinct local attitudes towards masking: some people mask all the time outside, while others don’t mask outdoors regardless of proximity. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I won’t put on a mask to pass someone on the sidewalk (even within 1.5 meters) but if I’m at a crosswalk or in a queue, and there are people standing around me, I’ll mask up (even though I’m double-vaxxed).
Masks are still required indoors unless you’re eating or drinking. You also need to wear a mask on public transportation (apparently talking is also prohibited on public transportation, but the only people following that rule are riding alone!).
It’s more common to see Spaniards using disposable masks than reusable ones. If you prefer reusable masks, stock up at home as they’re relatively expensive here (expect to pay at least €5 per reusable mask in local shops).
Other Safety Measures in Spain During COVID
We took social distancing pretty seriously back in Canada, but it doesn’t really seem to be a thing here. People act confused when I step aside to let them pass, or wait a few steps away to grab something from the shelf where they’re browsing. There are definitely signs saying that you should practice “distancia de seguridad” all over the place, but it is not commonly practiced. At all. Along the same lines, although many stores advertise that they have capacity limits, enforcement appears minimal.
On the other hand, or perhaps on both hands, hand sanitizer is very common here. Lots of businesses have staff at the door ensuring that everyone entering sanitizes their hands, although sanitation of other surfaces (touch screens, shopping baskets, etc.) doesn’t seem to be as common as it was in Canada. You can’t rely on all businesses to have sanitizer so you’ll definitely want to carry your own.
Other Restrictions in Spain During COVID
Since I’ve arrived, the region of Catalonia has experienced a spike in case numbers among young people. From the local news I can gather that it’s not the Delta variant, but rather plain ol’ COVID being spread at nightclubs and parties now that school is out for the summer. This is a natural consequence of allowing mass gatherings of unvaccinated young people and, personally, I’m disappointed that Spain allowed nightclubs to reopen before allowing all young people the chance to get fully vaccinated. As I’m writing this, the government has responded by starting to allow young people to access their first shots, and by closing nightclubs a little bit earlier (I believe the closing time was shifted from 6:00 am to 3:00 am?) but there are no significant new measures or restrictions being put in place… yet.
Should You Travel to Spain During COVID?
I mean, probably not. It’s likely that your home country has some kind of warning about avoiding all non-essential travel (mine does) and every tourist in Spain is someone who might introduce COVID to the local population, or who might bring it home to their community when they return.
However, if you’re prepared to take both of those chances, if you’re fully vaccinated and if you’re in possession of a travel health insurance plan that covers any COVID-related hospitalizations (even my recommended insurance provider has noped out of covering COVID now that it’s a well-known risk) then it’s an interesting time to come. In cities like Barcelona, you’re helping to revive the tourist industry while avoiding the city’s normal tourist mobs, while in smaller destinations you’ll probably never have a more authentically Spanish trip than this summer.
For most people, staying close to home this summer is probably the right choice. For other people, myself included, a trip to Spain in which all possible safety precautions are followed is an option that is possibly worth considering.
Do you have questions about Barcelona, or about traveling to Barcelona in 2021? I am happy to clarify anything that I’ve written above or answer your general tourism questions – just leave a comment below!
For health or immigration information, please contact the relevant authorities in your home country and your intended destination(s).