Barcelona: a mesmerising seaside city full of fascinating history, breathtaking architecture and a thriving nightlife scene. The city’s lively nature and friendly atmosphere is enough to draw anyone in, whether they’re a tourist, expat or local.
While visiting Barcelona and experiencing its culture is exciting, moving there as an expat comes with its own challenges. Getting used to cultural differences is a particularly common one. So to help you better understand a city that’s proud of its Catalan identity and immerse yourself in such a rich culture, here are a few tips to help you settle in like a local.
To fully understand the city you see today, you need to understand Barcelona’s past. You can see the city’s history in its stunning architecture. From imposing buildings and towers to archaic columns and secret subterranean corridors there is something for everyone. The Middle Ages for example, are reflected in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter where you’ll find narrow passageways, tranquil plazas and soaring 14th-century cathedrals.
Like many European cities, Barcelona has seen conflict, the rise and decline of power, rebellion and liberation. The arrival of the Moors and rise of Turkish power in the Mediterranean shaped the area in its early days. The later occupation of the area by Napoleon’s army and subsequent Civil War upheaval saw another large cultural shift. Catalan culture was only then restored in the late 1970s.
In 1977, an autonomous Catalan government known as the Generalitat was restored. Two years later, agreements were made with the Spanish national government. These outlined new areas for self-government and encouraged a wide range of developments in Barcelona. Since this time, Catalan culture and identity has thrived and continues to do so, especially since the referendum in 2017 which fought for the independence of Catalonia from Spain and the founding of an independent Catalan Republic.
While Catalonia’s independence referendum was deemed illegal by Madrid and the aftermath has been rocky to say the least, Catalan people are fiercely independent. They see themselves as their own state even though they still form part of a wider nation.
Abound with archives, libraries and museums, there are many ways you can dive into Barcelona’s rich culture and fascinating history. While you may feel more like a tourist than a resident at first, it won’t be long before you’re immersed.
Settling in and living like a local
Leaving one country and finding home in another can be an exciting but daunting experience. Luckily, 87% of expats living in Spain say that local populations are friendly, and almost three quarters settled in easily with plenty of opportunities to make friends.
Internations Expat Insider Survey 2018 also revealed that 65% of expats in Spain find that learning the language is generally easy, compared to the global average of just 36%. Expats should note is that the Spanish language is very different to Catalan – the native tongue of Barcelona and Catalonia. In fact, Catalan shares more similarities with French than Spanish. While you don’t need to be immediately fluent, the quicker you learn Catalan the easier life will be.
As with many parts of Spain, life in Barcelona is very much lived outdoors. With such a beautiful climate, this is an easy way of life to follow. Expect to experience independent cafés, long lunches, late night parties, festivals, beach trips amongst other outdoor splendors while living in Barcelona.
Whether you’re looking to spend your evening in a laid-back bar or a bustling club, the nightlife in Barcelona has you covered. Evenings out are often spent dining alfresco in stunning city squares or along the beach at a local chiringuito (beach bar). The pleasantly drawn-out evenings are arguably one of the most attractive aspects of living in Barcelona. In particular given there are such a wonderful variety of places to wine, dine and socialise.
Adjusting to change
Depending on where you’re originally from, adjusting to the slower pace of life can be one of the biggest changes you’ll face. This is especially relevant if you’re from a country where life is lived at 100mph.
Many expats find the long, siesta-punctuated afternoons a blessing. However when it comes to experiencing long waiting times at the bank or when you’re using public healthcare facilities, it can be less appealing.
This is because service culture in Barcelona, as with the rest of Spain, is still relatively young. For example, the role of gestor, a paid intermediary, has few equivalents elsewhere in the world.
With that said, it’s also worth remembering that the slower pace of life is a major positive cited by expats in Spain. Mornings spent on sunny terraces and long evenings dining with friends are only a few benefits of a slower pace of life.
Getting acquainted with shopping and eating times can also be a challenge depending on what you’re used to. Most businesses open around 9am or 10am, close for approximately two hours after lunch and stay open until late.
Shopping centre and local business are typically closed on Sundays. However, on special shopping days and public holidays during the year, they remain open. The busiest time for restaurants is around 9pm or 10pm. Clubs and bars on the other hand will continue to fill up well into the night.
Feeling at home
Just remember, learning Catalan and fully understanding the history and culture all takes time. Don’t pressure yourself too much when you first make the move, and don’t rush yourself either.
Slowly immersing yourself in Barcelona’s rich culture and taking the time to learn this city’s fascinating history can be an enjoyable and eye-opening experience. All you have to do is keep an open mind and enjoy all the perks of life in Barcelona.
Many thanks to our guest blogger Sabrina Bucknole for her great article! If you like what you read, check out more posts here on our blog. Alternatively, if you want a hand finding a place to live, check out our properties here.