A city with character
Barcelona is an open, vibrant and creative city with a busy cultural, political, business and commercial life. It is a metropolis where every imaginable language can be heard, as well as a city that invites its residents and visitors alike to discover its Catalan culture and traditions.
The Catalan capital
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a country whose nation boasts a long history, enjoying self-government as an autonomous region in the Spanish State. It is situated on the north-east coast of the Iberian peninsula, facing the Mediterranean Sea and bordered by Andorra and France along its north. Catalonia also has its own language, Catalan, which grew out of Latin, as did Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Catalan is its official language, together with Spanish, and is used regularly in every walk of life. In addition, most of the people working in international trade and the country's main tourist areas speak English and other languages as well. Barcelona has always attracted people from all over the world, making it even more multilingual and special. It is the people living there, with their different backgrounds and cultures, who make it so cosmopolitan, diverse and intercultural.
Plaça de Sant Jaume concentrates the political life of the city and the Catalan nation. In use since the Middle Ages, Barcelona City Hall and Palau de la Generalitat [Catalan regional government building] are both located in this square. The City Hall houses the Saló de Cent, literally Hall of One Hundred, which was founded in the Middle Ages by King James l, the Conqueror. Since the 14th century, most of Catalonia's 131 presidents have exercised their authority from the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya. The city is also the seat of the Catalan Parliament, Catalonia's own legislative body, which has been housed in a building in Parc de la Ciutadella since 1980.
Economic powerhouse of a prosperous region
One of the biggest metropolitan areas in Europe has grown up around the capital, consolidating Barcelona as an outstanding business, technological and industrial centre, as well as a major economic powerhouse. In fact, the city has always stood out for its intensive business and commercial activities and proved its ability to modernise and adapt itself to the new times. It has become such a magnet for global talent that it is now a European centre for business creation, especially in leading sectors such as information and communication technologies, biotechnology, sustainability, design and aeronautics. The city also plays host to several of world's most important international trade fairs, such as the Mobile World Congress and the Barcelona Meeting Point. Innovation is another Barcelona's hallmarks: it is the number-one smart city in the Spanish State and the fourth in Europe. It is also one of the cities with the highest quality of life in the world and the life expectancy of its residents is among the highest in Europe.
If you want to discover the real Barcelona, you need to enjoy it during one of its big festival days, such as the festa major of the city's joint patron saint, La Mercè, which is held throughout the city around 24 September; Catalan National Day on 11 September, a festive and nationalist day when thousands of Catalans take to the streets, and St George's day on 23 April - Sant Jordi / St George is Catalonia's patron saint - when Book and Rose Day is celebrated. You will find it hard to resist our folk culture: the castellers, who put up human towers while grallas [a Catalan reed instrument] are playedand a young child, the "enxaneta", climbs to the top, raises its arm and crowns the castell; the gegants and capgrossos, giant and big-headed figures whose origins go back to medieval times that dance to the sound of traditional music; the fiery beasts and correfocs, which shower the streets with sparks as they pass by; dances such as the popular sardana, which brings everyone together in a ring on the streets and squares, and lots more. A traditional heritage that turns the city into a show.
It is well known that excitement makes you hungry but there's no need to look at your watch in Barcelona. While it's true that Catalans eat later than most Europeans, there are always eating establishments open in the city, whether they are simple bars for eating a sandwich (spread with tomato, oil and salt, as is the custom) or restaurants recommended by the best food guides.
In general, Barcelona's opening hours are very extensive: its shops never close before 8 pm, with many staying open even later. And when retailers lower their shutters, the city's night life begins, offering you a lively cultural programme that includes all kinds of theatre, dance and live music shows. Evenings are a favourite time for Barcelonians during the spring and autumn for meeting up with friends on one of the many street terraces to be found in the city. Catalans have a reputation for being hard-working —which they are— but that doesn't meant they don't enjoy partying. The night is long in Barcelona...