In Barcelona you are in one of the liveliest, most unusual, most innovative, artistic, vibrant cities but stilll with a heart that hasn't changed for 500 years. Although modern day Barcelona is a mixture of Catalan and Spanish, it is, at heart, dynamically Catalan. It is the capital city of the Catalan region, which was once a historically prosperous nation in its own right. Catalans are extremely proud of their regional identity, culture and language. Catalunya was not part of ‘Spain’ as it is today until Ferdinand of Aragón married Isabel of Castille in the late 15th century. Prior to the merger brought about by the marriage of the 'Reyes Católicos ' the region was prosperous in its own right, especially during the Middle Ages, as you will see from the public buildings and private palaces in the Cuitat Vella (Old City) today.

During Spain's great imperialistic period, Catalunya's profile dimmed somewhat but it came back to the forefront of European society in the 19th century, when it pioneered Spain's industrial revolution and became its industrial powerhouse which in turn lead to demographic and artistic boom. The city expanded from its medieval walled compactness into the wide regular grid pattern streets of L'Eixample (The Expansion) which also enveloped but preserved villages such as Gracia. The European Romantic movement resuscitated Catalan culture and language just as it was in danger of disappearing. Poets and writers led the Catalan Renaixença (Renaissance), a crusade to popularise the people's language. As the prosperity of the region increased and and it began to generate much of the wealth of modern Spain so the popular desire for regional independence developed and grew. Catalunya briefly gained autonomy during the 2nd Republic, the democratic government that preceded the Spanish Civil War,when a regional government, the Generalitat, was established.

When Franco’s armies defeated the Republicans in 1939, defeat was especially bitter in Barcelona. Franco banned the Catalan language, changed street names from Catalan to Castillian (Spanish), and abolished the Generalitat, among other forms of censorship. There were two icons of Catalunya that Franco could not suppress which still allowed Catalans to congregate and express their identity and so hold a special place in Catalan culture, the Monastery at Montserrat and Barcelona Football Club. This suppression continued in one form or another until Franco’s death in November of 1975. Subsequently the Generalitat has been re-established, Catalans have reclaimed their language and  Barcelona is a bilingual city, with a culture distinct from the rest of country.

So you hear Catalan all around you, but in the city most people are bilingual and most signs are in both Spanish and Catalan. Many of the people around you are not Catalans born and bred, the growth of Barcelona as an industrial hub, lead to many economic migrants from other regions, later Franco, as part of his suppression of regional loyalties had had a policy of diluting regional identities and his government moved large numbers of people around the country, moving Castillian speakers into Catalunya and the Basque region for example and moving people from there to other regions. In addition, due to Spian's Imperial past, Barcelona has always had a significant element of South American residents, which seems to have increased in recent years as Barcelona has regenerated itself, and particularly it status as a major tourist destination. It seems nearly every waiter or waitress is Latin American these days, add to this Barcelona's proximity to North Africa, the free movement of Europeans in the European Union, the influx of Asians from the Far East and the Indian Sub-continent, the discovery of Barcelona by Americans during the 1992 Olympics, (ironically 500 years after the man celebrated as Colom in Barcelona did the opposite) leading to many America students studying at the University, and you have a thoroughly modern cosmopolitan city.

The Catalan flair for beauty, which has evolved into an unique style, is evident all over Barcelona. It has reclaimed its individuality and charm, all the while displaying much of its history. Barcelona started to re-invent and renovate itself in the late 1980s in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games, and it has kept this momentum going ever since. It was a city of heavy industry much of it on the shore line, much of it in decline or even derelict. The city used to turn its back to the sea, this changed with the revitalisation where the seafront was reclaimed and regenerated and converted from eyesore to asset. The result is major international city with a sunbathed waterfront with marinas, promenades beaches and a distinctive Mediterranean flair. The city offers a feast of sculptures, paintings, mosaics, impressive architecture, design and fashion. It is the city of the young Picasso, of Miro and Tapies of Modernista buildings by Gaudí, as well as the cutting edge structures by Gehry and Nouvel. and the designs of Mariscal.

In Barcelona you eat late, drink late and party later, some clubs only open when some people are already getting up for work. You will be able to find a bar that suits your style, whatever it is. The city was leading pioneer of designer and style bars in the 80s, a trend it has maintained in its modern, stylish lounge and cocktail bars, it still has classic cocktail bars like the time warp Hemmingway inspired Boadas, and the classic Dry Martini, there are the centuries old warehouse conversions with bars to suit most tastes in El Born, small traditional bars are scattered through the Barri Gòtic and La Ribera, and in L'Eixample there is a bar on most corners, and often one in the middle of the block as well.

If you are a foodie it's a paradise, there are no end of great restaurants from Michelin starred, molecular experimental to traditional Catalan and Basque, from a greeter in top hat and circus-master rig, rows of theatre lights, "liquid ravioli" and "marinated olives" that look like olives and really taste like olives yet aren't (The Adrià brothers' Tickets), to a leg of lamb cooked in an old converted coach house in the style of rural Catalunya, perfectly grilled and aromatic with herbs, served on wooden platters and accompanied by a large slice of country bread rubbed with tomato and drizzled with olive oil, or potatoes baked in the chimney of (La Parra), from the Menú Degustació (tasting menu) at a top restaurant to the Menu del Dia at your local bar or Can, good wine accessible because of the relatively low mark ups, meeting for a drink and share a portion or two of raciones to tide you over to until meal time.

Barcelona continues to evolve, more than 7 million tourists, including more than 2¼ million cruise passengers, visit every year, so the things they expect when in Spain have appeared in Barcelona though they are not native to the region, tapas, pintxo franchises, paella, gazpacho, flamenco, and sangria. The consequences of such numbers are that certain areas and streets have become packed with tourists and places catering for them. Locals now shun the iconic, world famous Las Rramblas, where they used to meet and families used to take their early evening stroll, other areas of the city centre have become virtually tourist only zones, but they are small and you only have to wander a few metres off these tourist street to find a quite square with a cafe terrace to enjoy a cold beer or a cafe con hielo / gel in summer, or a warming cafe con leche / llet in winter