City Guide to Spain: Barcelona

The lovely Barcelona practically defines the urban ideal: beautiful, stylish, cosmopolitan, culturally rich, and highly social. Visitors from all over the world come to experience its luxuries, view its world-class art and architecture, and befriend the trendy locals.

Size and Feel

Home to 1.5 million people, Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city. However, Barcelona feels more like a series of smaller cities nestled beside each other in a beautiful valley than a single large sprawling metropolis. As a student, you will quickly get to know your area of Barcelona, wherever it may be, but there will always be more city to explore throughout your visit.

As a large city, Barcelona does suffer from crime and pollution problems. If you venture into tourist-heavy areas, expect to encounter some pickpockets and purse-snatchers. This petty crime tends to be concentrated in certain areas, however, leaving large sections of the city relatively safe and secure.

Spanish Language Situation

For students learning Spanish, Barcelona unfortunately makes the process more difficult than central or southern Spain. The official language of the region is Catalan, not Spanish (Castilian), and native Barcelonans frown upon the use of Spanish over their native tongue. A deep-seeded sense of independence in the region has led to an enduring tension between the governments of Barcelona and Madrid, and therefore between the two languages.

As a student, you can certainly find Spaniards in Barcelona with whom to speak, but you’ll have a harder time using your Spanish in the bars, restaurants, or shops you come across.

Seasonal Variations and Climate

The weather is pleasant year-round except for the rainy season in October. The winters do cool down quite a bit, especially at night. Some say that summers are unpleasantly hot, but the heat of Barcelona never compares to that of Madrid or Seville. The absolute best time to visit is spring and early summer, when the weather is perfect and the city is full of annual celebrations.

The tourist season peaks in July and August, causing serious congestion in many areas of the city. If you have only a short time to go to Barcelona and want to see the tourist attractions while you’re there, you may be frustrated by the crowds at this time of year.

What’s Great…

Barcelona truly has it all, but a few highlights make almost every study abroad experience special.

  1. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of Barcelona brings together an amazing variety of people and cultures. You can meet someone of a different nationality or background every night of the week. For a glimpse at Barcelona’s international appeal, check out the wonderful and racy L’auberge espagnol, a classic French film about study abroad students.
  2. The art and architecture will make even uninterested people fascinated. Barcelona’s famous park and cathedral are national treasures, as are its collections of early works by Picasso and Miró.
  3. The trendy, fashion-forward style of Barcelona makes the food and shopping unlike any other in Spain.

What’s Bad…

  1. The tourist congestion can generate traffic, lines, crowds, and trash in impressive volumes, especially in summer.
  2. Theft is a constant problem in Barcelona’s more tourist-heavy areas.
  3. The presence of multiple languages can make learning Spanish a real challenge, and can prevent students of Spanish from forming the same relationships with local Spaniards that they would in other parts of the country.

Full Description

Since the Olympic Games were held in Barcelona in 1992, the city has experienced a windfall of success and international appeal. Barcelona’s long history as a center of art and political activism is complemented with its new-found position as a European center of culture and style. Students who have visited other parts of Spain will certainly be struck by the cosmopolitan feel of Barcelona, where both business and social circles are noticeably international.

Barcelona is one of the wealthiest parts of Spain, and the strong economy keeps the buildings preserved and the inhabitants active. As a result, one can find nice restaurants and higher-end nightlife abound in Barcelona than in other parts of the country. Shopping in the city is trendy and sophisticated.

While the inhabitants of Barcelona are not as party-crazed as those of the southern coast, they certainly don’t let a quiet evening pass in their fair city. Many of the town’s plazas fill with people at night, and the many bars and cafés come alive with locals and visitors alike.

Finally, those with an eye for art and architecture will be quite pleased with what Barcelona has to offer. Its collection of works by Picasso and Miró is truly impressive, but the city’s true claim to fame is the architecture of Antonio Gaudí. This prolific architect designed many of the buildings in and around Barcelona, endowing the city with sensuous curves and bright colors.

Planning a trip to Barcelona will guarantee you a rich and varied experience, filled with fun nights and culturally enlightening days. Before booking your flight, though, be sure that you’re prepared to wrestle with the language situation and deal with the large size of the city.

Suggested Schools and Programs

Don Quijote in Barcelona — Part of a world-wide network of language schools, Don Quijote in Spain integrates culture, activities, sports and even cooking into their refined and effective Spanish programs.

IPSA — Multi-city language school that gives proper attention to activities and excursions along with classwork. IPSA teaches courses in Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, among others.

Babylon Idiomas — Excellent Spanish school with centers in both Barcelona and Valencia. Good integration of cultural activities.

C2 Barcelona — Equal emphasis on culture and the language at this top-notch school in Barcelona.

SolBarcelona — A language school in Barcelona with high-quality housing placement, arranging both homestays and shared apartments with other students.

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