Catalonia has its own history, culture and language, and although it is not an independent country it also has its own regional government, the Generalitat de Catalunya. Its language, Catalan, is a Romance language spoken by more than nine million people in a geographical area encompassing the Valencian Country and the Balearic Islands. At a national level, Catalan has co-official language status with Spanish.
Catalonia’s capital city Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean coast in the northeast of the Peninsula and therefore enjoys temperate and pleasant weather throughout the year. The proximity of the Pyrenees, to the north and on the border with France, also means that visitors can be in mountainous countryside in just a matter of hours.
With a population of one and a half million, Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, a centre of cultural activity and also a major tourist destination with an important historical heritage. There are the city’s Roman wall and remains, and its carefully conserved Gothic quarter; and there are the striking examples of Catalan architecture built by such architects as Antoni Gaudí in the neighbourhood of l’Eixample during the time of the movement known as Catalan Modernism—buildings which now help to make this neighbourhood a showcase for the visitor in terms of Barcelona’s nineteenth-century growth in trade and industry. All over the city, in fact, the visitor can see how much the city’s history and its life today coexist, whether in its museums, markets, shops or streets. Gaudí, Picasso, Miró, and the latest trends in fashion and music are all equally present, and the little streets of the city’s older neighbourhoods offer a wide range of options for an evening out.
Above all, Barcelona is an open city and in recent years, it has become a multilingual city, a port of call or place of residence for people from all over the world. And many of those who were born here also speak other languages beside Catalan and Spanish, especially English and French and especially in the case of the younger generation.
MAIN LOCAL/CULTURAL EVENTS
Barcelona celebrates many important feast days as part of its cultural heritage. These include Saint George’s Day on 23 April (la festa de Sant Jordi), now also celebrated as ‘Book and Rose Day’, and the feast of Saint John the Baptist on Midsummer Day (June 24), which is accompanied by bonfires, fireworks, toasts with the Catalan sparkling wine known as cava and an early-morning dip in the sea to celebrate the arrival of the Summer Solstice (la festa de Sant Joan). Barcelona also has its own feast day on 24 September, in honour of the city’s patron saint la Mare de Déu de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy), during which there are concerts, exhibitions and activities around the city, many of them free of charge. Finally there are also other yearly events including the Grec festival, when the city organizes a series of concerts and performances, with a focus on theatre, music and dance. All these are just a sample of what Barcelona has to offer in the course of any year.
HOW TO REACH TOWN
Catalonia’s main airport is Barcelona International Airport in El Prat, just 13 kilometres from the city. There are also airports serving the towns of Girona, which is about 100 kilometres to the north-east, and Reus, about the same distance to the south-west.
You can get into Barcelona by rail, too, arriving at Sants-Estació, the city’s main national and international terminal. Aerobus is the bus service that connects the Airport with the centre of Barcelona leaving every 5 minutes, every day of the year.
TRANSPORT IN TOWN
Barcelona is a good size for walking and you can comfortably cover most of the downtown area on foot.
The city also has a good bus and metro service, for which you can buy travel passes of different kinds (a 10-trip travel pass will cost you about 10 euros). Barcelona City Council also runs a bicycle sharing service (Bicing) and there are several private bike rental companies operating in the city.