Barcelona, almost overnight, bloomed from a slightly rundown industrial town in the 1980s to a thriving city after she hosted the 1992 Olympic Games.
Nestled on the North Eastern Mediterranean coast of mainland Spain, just two hours drive South of the French border (a short skip over the Pyrenees Mountains), Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, a region of Northern Spain that was once a nation unto itself until Spanish invasion. This (still sore point) gives Catalunya its own stubbornly unique character, language, and capital city.
Barcelona, or ´Barna´ seems to be in a constant state of self-renewal. Her skyline can change overnight as new buildings emerge from the rubble of the tired concrete past, although luckily her carers understand that part of her charm is the old architecture and have worked hard to retain the character of the city.
Although there are many more spectacular beaches to be found further afield, Barcelona can claim enough respectable coastline to make a glass of cold Sangria and an afternoon paddling in the shallows a viable option, especially considering that no part of Barcelona, including her beaches, is more than 20 minutes away by public transport.
Barna is proud of her artists and you will see plenty of homage being paid to Dali, Picasso and Gaudi around town. Rightly so, they are great, but don´t be embarrassed if you end up with Art Fatigue – it happens easily and the locals won´t mind.
The locals are a friendly bunch all in all, although if you don´t speak at least a little Spanish or Catalan, you will find it extremely difficult to communicate. The major tourist areas (hotels, attractions etc.) will have English-speakers, as will some banks and other services, but although Catalunyans in general are incredibly helpful and kind, English is not wide-spread.
Luckily, Spanish is not a difficult language to learn, although you will be hampered by the use of Catalan. Catalan is similar enough to Spanish to pick up, but it can make things a little slower when you arrive in the city, especially when you expect to hear Spanish.
The best, and worst, thing about being new to Barcelona is the siesta. It can be a shock to the system to have all of the shops close their doors at 1pm, not to mention inconvenient, but after a while you will become used to, and may even learn to take advantage of, the midday slump. Rest assured everything opens again in the afternoon and stays in business until late evening