Barcelona: a Jewel in the Sun

By: Andrew Regan

Spain may have a somewhat cliched reputation as a hotspot for holidaymakers seeking sangria and two weeks of fun in the sun. But it has so much more to offer than red-wine cocktails and warm weather. Freddie Mercury described Barcelona as being "a jewel in the sun", and it's difficult to find a more apt or poetic description of Spain's second largest city.

Situated in the north east of Spain on the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona is the capital of one of the constituent autonomous Spanish communities, Catalonia, which speaks Catalan as its primary language as opposed to Spanish.

Needless to say, many tourists arrive with their Spanish phrasebooks in hand, well versed in ordering dos cervezas, only to find that the locals would much rather speak English than Spanish. Of course, this isn't to say that they don't understand Spanish, in fact most are able to speak both Catalan and Spanish fluently, but Catalonians are extremely proud of their heritage and like to emphasise the distinction between Spain and Catalonia.

But language aside, Barcelona is a rich, vibrant economic centre that is steeped in history, as well as being a modern metropolis. Being on the Mediterranean coast, Barcelona also has 2.8 miles of shoreline divided among seven beaches, catering for beach bums, culture vultures and city folk alike.

Barcelona consists of 68 municipal parks, the largest of which is Montjuic, situated on the hill of the same name and is home to some fine museums and leisure attractions. The Montjuic card would be a shrewd investment here; for twenty euros, the card allows entry to all museums, galleries and exhibitions for a day as well as free boarding on the Tren Turistic (tourist train). Bicycles can also be hired out hourly or for whole day periods.

But if something a little less sedate is preferred, then there is the Barcelona Grand Prix. Held yearly at the Circuit de Catalunya in the north of the city, twenty of the best drivers in the world battle it out in one of the most important contests in the racing calendar.

Then there is Sonar Festival, which is an annual festival of progressive music and multimedia arts. This 3-day event proves very popular amongst "alternative festival-goers", as it features little of the mainstream music that is common at the countless other European summer festivals.

In terms of climate, Barcelona has warm summers and mild, dry winters, meaning hotels in Barcelona are always in great demand. There are countless Barcelona city hotels to suit all budgets, close to all the main attractions and near convention centres, so whether it's a long weekend, week-long holiday or a business trip, there is something for everyone.

In many ways, Barcelona has a distinct culture to that of the fiesta-and-siesta imagery that is conjured up by Spain's southern regions. Whilst it prides itself on its heritage and language, it preserves a unique charm that can't be found elsewhere. It is, indeed, a jewel in the sun.

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