Feb 112013


One of the most wonderful aspects to Spain, for any tourist, lies in the sheer variety of places and cultures that exist in the country.  Indeed, it is fair to say that Spain is many different ‘countries’ within one state.  After all, the contrasts between, say, Andalucia and Madid are as stark as that between Galicia and Valencia.  The same language (for the most part) may be spoken but almost everything else is different.  This is certainly true of Barcelona, which stands apart from many other Spanish cities – as somewhere very distinct indeed.

Barcelona is, of course, the second biggest city in Spain and is situated in the north eastern part of the country in the Autonomous Region of Catalonia, which borders France to the north and the Mediterranean to the east. It is a city of some 1,615,448 people, although that number increases to around 4 million, when the outlying areas of the city are included.

Historically, Barcelona was the capital of the powerful Kingdom of Aragon, which was ruled by Ferdinand II, who married Isabella (queen of Castille) in 1469.  Famously, these two Catholic monarchs finally united Spain, when they drove the last of the Moors from the country in 1492.

So, Barcelona has always been important and this is reflected today in the many historic buildings that cover the city and the vibrant nature of the city itself.  It is a powerhouse for the Spanish economy, has a vast port and is the fourth most economically powerful city in the EU.  It is also a major communications hub within Spain with an international airport, high speed train links to Madrid and other parts of Spain and an excellent motorway system.  Indeed, Barcelona may be on the geographic fringes of Spain but that does not mean that it is not an essential part of the country, its economy and its sporting and cultural life.

Certainly, Barcelona is a very important tourist destination.  In 2010 some 7.3 million people visited the city.  This is not surprising given the justified reputation that Barcelona has for being a vibrant destination with great appeal for tourists.  In fact, the city offers a variety of activities sufficient to suit whatever you desire whether you are looking for cultural enlightenment or just the fun of being somewhere that is lively, pretty and somewhere with beaches that are only a walk away.

If you are interested in culture then Barcelona is notable for having eight World Heritage Sites (Spain has 42 in total!).  Amongst these the Sagrada Familia, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Park Guel are absolute ‘must-sees’.  All are exceptional and each justifies a visit on its own account.

Needless to say, Barcelona is also very famous for Las Ramblas, a remarkable mall that runs some 1.2 kilometres through the city.  Exciting and invariably extremely busy, this wonderful street thrives with life, shops, boutiques and bars and is somewhere that you must not avoid if you come to Barcelona (although beware the high prices and pickpockets!).

Meanwhile, few people would argue that the nightlife in Barcelona is anything but fun!  There are any number of superb restaurants and many fantastic nightclubs for anyone still with sufficient energy after a day sightseeing or on the beach.

Of course, Barcelona has a range of fiestas, like everywhere in Spain and, if you can it is always worth trying to time your trip to match that of a fiesta – and particularly the fiesta that celebrates the existence of the city or town concerned.  In the case of Barcelona this is the fiesta of La Mercè.  The latter is the patron saint of Barcelona and the 24th September is accordingly a public holiday.  However, the whole week is a riot of processions, parties, concerts and exhibitions and a terrific time in which to come to Barcelona.

Perhaps the most extraordinary fiesta in Barcelona is the Revetlla de Sant Joan on the 23rd June (Midsummer’s Eve) when there are innumerable street parties and a dazzling display of fireworks.  However, if you prefer something rather more romantic then there is the Dia de Sant Jordi on 23rd April.  This is Saint George’s Day (as in Saint George and the Dragon) and is when the Catalans give each other rather sexist (in the nicest possible way) presents – the women give their men a book and the men a rose to their women!

Of course, the people of Barcelona are Catalans and tend to believe they are very different from the rest of Spain.  To some extent this is probably true, as Catalans tend to take business seriously and consider themselves as far more hardworking and diligent than many other Spaniards.  Furthermore, a significant proportion of Catalans tend to be fiercely independent and believe that Catalonia (with Barcelona as the capital) should be an independent state and not a part of Spain.

In fact, one of the more obvious differences between Catalans and other Spaniards is that they have a different language (not dialect) from the rest of Spain.  This is Catalan and you will hear this as you walk around – although all Catalans speak Spanish fluently and many Spaniards living anyone in Barcelona speak some English.  So, do not worry too much about communication if you are in city.  It is well used to international tourists and this is complemented by an excellent tourist information service!

It goes without saying that there is a wide selection of accommodation available in Barcelona which extends from hostels all the way through to top quality, five star hotels.  However, to get the best deals, you should book well ahead, as Barcelona (particularly during Easter and the summer period) becomes very busy indeed.  In fact, one useful resource for finding hotels in Barcelona can be found at BCN Travel, who have a wide range of hotel accommodation that may suit you.

Finally, enjoy yourself if you go to Barcelona – it is one of Spain’s great cities and it is difficult to imagine anyone not finding something terrific during any visit there!  Certainly, if you are looking for somewhere special to go for your Spanish holidays (or even a long weekend break) then it is really worth considering!

Nick Snelling

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