The face of cruising in Barcelona is about to undergo a significant transformation. Starting October 22, 2023, the city will ban cruise ships from docking at the northern docks.

This change, intended to limit exhaust gases closer to the city center, will significantly impact guests sailing onboard cruise ships that typically use the northern docks or the World Trade Center.

The World Trade Center area and the Muelle Barcelona Norte, the two docking locations affected by the ban, are especially popular due to the fact that guests can walk over to one of the city’s most popular attractions, La Rambla.

A cruise ship ban in Barcelona, which has been under discussion since 2018, will take effect on October 22, 2023. The ban will ensure that ships dock much further from the city center. 

Barcelona’s two cruise ship docking locations are divided into the southern and northern docks. The southern docks, home to the cruise terminal, are generally used by the larger cruise ships that sail from the Catalan capital city, such as those from Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, and MSC Cruises, which will use Barcelona as the homeport for its LNG-powered cruise ship, MSC World Europa

The Northern docks stretch from Muelle Barcelona Norte to the World Trade Center. They are typically used by the smaller cruise ships from Seabourn Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, and other ‘small’ cruise ships. However, the Muelle Barcelona Norte can also accommodate larger vessels.

Cruise Ships at Barcelona North Pier (Photo Credit: terekhov igor / Shutterstock)

The ban limits the number of available docking areas for cruise ships from more than ten to just seven. More importantly, the ban means that guests sailing to Barcelona will now be required to take a shuttle bus from the ship to the city, turning what used to be a brief 10-minute stroll to the famous La Rambla into a 30-minute journey.

Lluís Salvadó, the president of the Port of Barcelona, announced that the northern dock’s cruise activity will cease on October 22, although the last ship is now scheduled for October 2. 

He stated: “It is not an arbitrary decision. Here there is a work of years of preparing the conditions for it to be so: we will close the closest point of emissions to the citizenship, and we already have a specific date to make this qualitative leap.” 

The ban will, therefore, not have any noticeable effect on guests sailing on cruises from or to Barcelona in 2023. Starting in 2024, guests must keep the increased travel times to the city center in mind. 

It could also be that cruise lines will choose to dock at the new cruise terminal in Tarragona, Spain, roughly one hour travel from Barcelona. Here, a new cruise terminal is being constructed that will be capable of hosting the largest of ships.

The decision is part of a broader plan that the municipal government and port authority agreed upon in 2018 to regulate cruise ship activity, stemming from controversies over increased pressure from tourism on Barcelona and the discussions that are being had worldwide over cruise ship emissions.

Photo Credit: Atapialopez28 / Shutterstock

By limiting the number of available cruise ship piers to seven and relocating them to the southern docks, the city aims to mitigate the environmental impact and balance tourism demands.

Despite an 8% increase in cruise ship arrivals in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in 2019, the Port of Barcelona expects to host approximately 3.1 million guests this year, matching the pre-pandemic figure. 

The scheduled calls for this year and next will remain around 800, as Salvadó explained that the goal is to stabilize this number and not increase it further.

The ban on cruise ships in this part of Barcelona is part of a broader trend we have seen in European cities in the last year. Besides Barcelona, cities such as Venice, Santorini, Amsterdam, and even the Orkney Islands have implemented or announced plans to limit or ban cruise ships. 

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