10 Facts You Might Not Know About Barcelona

Barcelona, a Gothic and Modernist marvel on the Mediterranean Sea, is a city well known for its quirky, cosmopolitan, cool character. Whether it’s by unearthing Barcelona’s past in the hidden courtyards of the Barri Gòtic, or by enjoying the charms of the modernist city, you will discover many interesting things that make Barcelona one of Spain’s most livable and energetic cities and one of the most interesting cities in Europe.  So, here are 10 facts you might not know that will get you craving to visit the city.

Barcelona, Spain

1.  Its founding origins are still in dispute

There are two Spanish legends concerning the establishment of Barcelona. One legend says that it was founded by Hercules, 400 years before the building of Rome.  But, according to the other legend, the city was founded in the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal.  He named the city Barcino after his family, the Barca family of Carthage.  Which one do you believe?

2. Barcelona is considered the “best beach city” in the world by National Geographic, but their beaches weren’t used for leisure until 1992

Today there are seven beaches with a total of 4.5 km of coastline, but before 1992, Barcelona’s seaside was completely run over by industries, and there existed no beach for the use of the city’s populace and tourism.

It wasn’t until the city’s redevelopment for the 1992 Olympic Games that the city moved their industries and converted the seaside area into an exemplary leisure area for locals and tourist alike; including the improvement of two beaches and the creation of five new beaches.

Barcelona, Spain

According to Discovery Channel, Barceloneta beach is the best urban beach in the world and the third best beach in the world. (I would dispute Discovery Channel and National Geographic‘s statements, though.)

3.  Barcelona is to thank for World Book Day

La Diada de San Jordi (St. Georges Day) is one of the biggest, most widely celebrated festival days in Barcelona which takes place on April 23rd and is a celebration of love and literacy.

On this day, it is a tradition to present your near and dear ones with roses and books.  Inspired by this custom, UNESCO declared the day as the International Day of Books.

Barcelona, Spain

4.  La Rambla is not just one street… it’s five streets

La Rambla is probably the most famous street in Barcelona, but in reality, it consists of 5 boulevards –or ramblas– joined to make one long promenade. It starts from Placa Catalunya and ends at the Colombus statue by the waterfront.  For this reason, this 2-kilometer long boulevard is also commonly known in plural as Las Ramblas.

Thousands of people stroll on Las Ramblas every day and night, where they watch the performing street artists, shop, or sit for a nice meal or coffee.

Las Ramblas is the major center of activities in the city and is undoubtedly the most famous promenade of Barcelona, and probably in all Spain.

5.  It is Europe’s largest metropolis on the Mediterranean coast

Also, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, and the 11th most populous urban area in the European Union.

6.  It is the first city to win a RIBA Royal Gold Medal for its architecture

The Royal Gold Medal for architecture is awarded annually since 1848, by the Royal Institute of British Architects on behalf of the British monarch, in recognition of an individual’s or group’s substantial contribution to international architecture. In 1999, Barcelona became the first and only city, to this date, to receive this honor – instead of an individual architect. And it goes without saying that it is well deserved.

Barcelona, Spain

7.  Fiestas de la Mercè is the most important festival in Barcelona

The main event of La Mercè is held on the 24th of September each year, and the Festival is held in honor of the Cities Patron Saint and Protector, The Virgin de La Merce. It is an official city holiday since the year 1871.

8.  Flamenco is not well known in Barcelona

Even though Spain is well-known for its flamenco dancing, this popular dance is not traditional or well known/practiced in Barcelona or Cataluña. Catalans prefer the more contemporary rock-n-roll scene.

Barcelona, Spain

9.  The hallmark grid pattern of the city came from a revolutionary utopian master plan

Most of the city of Barcelona was designed by Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer for the 19th-century extension of the city.  The plan, called Eixample, intended to create the perfect environment for Barcelona’s fast-expanding population.  He considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation for the design of his characteristic octagonal blocks, where the streets broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, better ventilation, and more significant open spaces.  In the end, the plan wasn’t built following all the utopian characteristics he envisioned in his plan.

Barcelona, Spain

10.  Gaudí was not the original architect of Sagrada Familia

Even though La Sagrada Família is one of the major works of Antoní Gaudí, he was not the first architect to be appointed to work on it.  Architect Francisco de Paula del Villar was the first one commissioned to design the church. Construction of the crypt of the church was begun March 19, 1882, following Villar’s design. It wasn’t until 1883 when Antoní Gaudí started working on the project.  On March 18, 1883, Villar retired from the project, and Gaudí assumed responsibility for its design, which he changed radically.

So that is a quick glimpse at Barcelona’s interesting facts. If you want to discover more about the city, I recommend checking out Viator’s tours to get an in-depth look at what makes this city so wonderful! Additionally, save money on accommodation by checking these deals on hotels in Barcelona with HotelsCombined.

10 Facts You Might not Know about Barcelona, Spain


Images 1,2,4, and 6 from Flickr’s Creative Commons; 3 and 5 from Wikipedia.

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80 thoughts on “10 Facts You Might Not Know About Barcelona”

  1. Great article! I was always saying Barcelona is the European city with the best beaches! But actually it is getting better every year, they started cleaning up the beaches more and more. So happy as it’s my fave place!

    1. Yes, they constantly infill and improve the beaches. In part it is due to the natural erosion but they also do it to improve their quality. It’s really cool to see how Barcelona made such a great improvement in their tourism just by improving their waterfronts.

        1. your a silly kid trying to get attention so I recommend u delete ur stupid comment im a teen so u should know better .

  2. Great info Norbert! I’ve been to Barcelona and loved it but I didn’t know many of these things. I knew the beaches were new (man made creation for the Olympics) and about Flamenco. Great tidbits on the city!

  3. I could read about Barcelona all day! Thanks for sharing these interesting facts, most of them are new to me. Someday (hopefully not too far in the future) I hope to call Barcelona home.

    1. Mark, you’re going to love Barcelona when you have the chance to go there. It’s pretty impressive they have that best beach city title, considering those beaches almost didn’t exist 20 years ago. 🙂

  4. I love Barcelona- and it’s so funny because La Rambla was so confusing to me on my first visit. And people don’t mention the five streets to you thing… they just looked at me like I should have known. But besides that, I love Barcelona!

    1. I know! My first time I was like “wait! La Rambla I was in wasn’t name like this!” Turns out I was moving from one Rambla to another. But yeah, I love Barcelona!

  5. So many interesting facts Norbert. I have to confess I’ve never heard of “World Book Day”, but love the idea, but never would have guessed it started in Barcelona. Also love the photo of the La Sagrada Família – such an interesting style of architecture.

    1. Thanks Glen! It is also on top of my favorite European cities list. There’s no denying that Gaudi buildings have an influence in the character of this city.

  6. It baffles me how Barceloneta Beach is considered one of the world’s best. Isn’t there concrete under all of that sand? Anyway, nice learning some tidbits about a place I’ve been to.

    1. Hmmm, not really concrete, but they don’t have the natural foundation you will find on a truly natural beach. Honestly, I was just as baffled as you are when I learned about that fact. 🙂

  7. Sofia - As We Travel

    I think it’s pretty crazy how they didn’t use the beaches until 1992..!

    While you can definitely swim there today, don’t put your head under the water. I did, and suffered a terrible eye infection afterwards…

  8. I lived in Barcelona, and was very lucky to find an apartment on La Rambla. I hated it. The city is dirty, the people rude, the beaches rather disgusting too, the Rambla is full of pickpocketers and thieves, as well as loud drunken tourists day and night.
    I also lived in Madrid, and I LOVED IT.
    In short, I just wanted to contribute another point of view from the “opposing” team. 😀 Not everybody loves Barcelona, but also not everybody loves Madrid either.

    1. Hey Carla, good to see you around! Haha! It’s also good to hear the other team! Of course, not everyone will love Barcelona, different strokes for different folks. 🙂

      One thing I have to admit is that many of them are actually rude. I experienced that myself. The rest I didn’t experience first hand, but of course, I didn’t live there. 🙂

      I also have to say that Madrid is an amazing city too! I loved it a lot. Just wish I had spent more time there.

      1. Zakarias Hartley-Beard

        Living in the centre of the centrw of the city wht do you expect? Living on la rambla is literally my idea of he’ll and u were not lucky at all. Also did u mms an effort with Catalan or Castilian. People are only turn in relatation to your own culture stop thinking everyone has to live up to it

      2. I totally agree with the character of the people being definitely less than pleasant. I know this is a massive generalisation (and as they say, the exception proves the rule), but I have lived in many different places in my life, and have NEVER run into a ruder, nastier, more closed people than Catalans. We spent 5 years in Madrid and the people were, by and large, awesome. London, same thing, New York, mostly ok. Here, the people are honestly a nightmare. It’s a shame, because otherwise it’s a nice place to live.

  9. As a native Spaniard, born in Barcelona and raised in Madrid, I found your 10-facts really interesting, and even learned a couple of things 🙂 However, I was sad to read the comment about how rude people are in Barcelona; my perspective as a native is quite different, and would encourage others to go with an open mind- Barcelona is a dream: culture, architecture, beaches, mountain, history, great food, fun…but then again, I am a little biased. As for Madrid, I am equally enamored, but has a different kind of energy (perhaps it’s the political vibe)- well worth hopping on the AVE and finding out for yourselves.

    Thanks for a great article!

    1. Hi Cristina, thanks for stopping by! Well, I can’t say everyone is rude, and it would be totally wrong if I did, but I have to admit that a few were (at least in my experience). But, that didn’t take away from my experience nor did make Barcelona a place I wouldn’t recommend anyone to travel to. Of course, just like you, that’s what I recommend: travel with an open mind and absorb everything you can. In my opinion, Barcelona is a dream to me too. I would go back in a snap! Madrid is also amazing! I loved that city, and like you said, the energy is different.

      Glad you enjoyed the article! 🙂

  10. I’m going to Barcelona on the 18th Feb to 22nd if I can get my passport on tuesday. Looking forward to it after reading your informative 10 points. Thanks. I’ll probably need a foot spa …….

    Thanks Norbert

  11. Thanks, had no idea about the beaches being previously owned by industry! I suppose tourism must have taken over as a source of income for Barcelona now. It’s amazing how Barceloneta beach adds a completely different vibe to the city compared to Madrid. Barcelona is also one of the best cities in the world for photography, because it’s got the old, established sights like the Barri Gotico, Gaudi buildings and Park Guell; but it’s also young and very creative. Visiting photographers should check out the Magic Fountain, the Boqueria Market and the Placa Sant Felip de Neri for the best Barcelona pictures. Henri Cartier Bresson loved the Barri Chino – the Raval – too.

    Ben @ http://www.BarcelonaPhotographyCourses.com

    1. True… tourism is now one of the top industries in the city. I agree that Barcelona is a great city for photography… especially the Barrio Gotic and Gaudi’s buildings.

  12. i went to barcalona with my middle school and it was amazing i mean like u should totally visit park guell its amazing

  13. i went to barcalona with my middle school and it was amazing i lernt so many things
    and monsterat is a wonderful place

    1. Weather during fall will probably be pretty good. Usually the temperature is similar to fall in the US, but slightly warmer, until it gets to winter, which is very cold.

  14. What a great city, people, food, architecture, its is my favorite city in Europe yet, was there a week on La Rambla enjoyed every minute, like any big city its got issues, but over all incredible, money goes a long way there, wish I was there now

  15. Is very easy to get in love with Barcelona. Its vibrant streets, the culture and arquitecture, the modern atmosphere, the beach… be careful when you visit it, you won’t leave it!
    Great post!

  16. The beaches in Barcelona, I’m sorry to say are filthy. I live here by the beach and on more than one occasion I have seen dead rats floating in the water. And live rats around the rocks. I’m not kidding. The lifeguard took them out in a plastic bag and disposed of them. You see all sorts of stuff floating in the sea. Not good.
    I am lucky I have a pool and don’t have to go near the sea water. Discovery channel naming Barceloneta the best urban beach in the world must be on something. I do recommend the city for a weekend visit, but the beaches I cannot recommend.

  17. Barcelona also means sailing and fishing !

    Barcelona was called Barcino in times of Romans, about 2000 years ago. Already the Roman people did appreciate the lovely location surrounded by hills and in front of the sea side. Go and enjoy a day on the sea ! There are many good Boat Charter offers on Internet. Go Fishing ! You will see Barcelona and it’s beautiful skyline from the sea while you try to catch some Tuna. Later on you have the fish cooked at a restaurant at the same harbour. Great fun !

    And do note that it is really worth exploring the nearby towns at the coast. Beautiful sightseeing and wonderful beaches.

    Recommended by Captain Kurt-Jaime

  18. Am planning a trip to Spain this summer and one of our criteria was to find some small quaint towns in Spain. Your post was really helpful!

    1. i also ❤barcelona, what an overwhelming city: also and just behind the tourist curtain when it becomes real… loved it so much was there so often that i had to write the barcelona-story ‘la rambla’, edited 2009, wished i could share it with you all, it is originally in german, but was translated into english… with scenes f.e. in the bar del pi, bar americano, at the sea, of course on the rambla… etc. best wishes from berlin – which is also a great exciting city but in another way… maria

  19. Think of Barcelona’s architecture and what pops into your head? It’s probably going to be Antoní Gaudí. But Gaudí wasn’t the only architect responsible for Barcelona’s flamboyant good looks. There’s also Lluis Domenéch i Montaner…

    So, if you’re visiting Barcelona, make sure The Palau de la Música Catalana is on your to-do list. When we first laid eyes on it, we were mesmerised by its beauty and colour. It’s so good we’ve visited on twice, on different visits to Barcelona.

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