On the northeastern coast of Spain lies a region brimming with culture, a rich history, and its own unique language.
Catalonia, one of Spain’s seventeen distinct regions, boasts a multitude of attractions and natural wonders that render it one of the finest destinations in the world. Home to Barcelona, one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, Catalonia is a diverse region within itself! Along its coastal villages and cities, Catalonia offers the quintessential Mediterranean experience (fresh fare, pristine beaches, and temperate weather). Inland Catalonia is filled with breathtaking mountain ranges and quaint towns. No matter where you venture in this region, we guarantee you will take immense pleasure in the many wonders of Catalonia, Spain.
Catalonia is an autonomous region, meaning that while it must adhere to the laws set forth by the national Spanish government, Catalonia also operates under its own autonomous government. While Catalonia is firmly rooted in its strong, distinct regional identity, this region is not acknowledged as a sovereign state. This political structure allows for a broad range of different cultural experiences while visiting Catalonia; visitors can enjoy both Catalan and Spanish influences while visiting Catalonia! While most people in Catalonia speak Catalan as their first language, nearly everyone speaks Spanish as well.
Despite historical tensions between Spain and Catalonia, shared Catalan and Spanish heritage is celebrated within the region. Visitors have the opportunity to have these cross-cultural experiences within one country, and this unique dynamic sets Catalonia apart!
Catalans are known for their hospitality, and visitors will find themselves struck with the warm, welcoming nature of the locals! We encourage visitors to make every effort to interact with locals; Catalans are eager to embrace tourists, and you will be pleased with their unwavering geniality!
Catalans are known for their hospitality
One would be remiss if they visited Catalonia without exploring its capital city, Barcelona! Known for its nightlife and beaches, Barcelona is also a cultural epicenter of Europe and offers an abundance of all things cosmopolitan, including a variety of museums, a repertoire of restaurants, and sensational shopping.
- To indulge in Barcelona’s finest architecture, we recommend a trip to La Sagrada Familia, one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Spain. This Roman Catholic Church was designed in the late 19th century by renowned Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí. Over one-hundred years since construction began on La Sagrada Familia, the church is still incomplete! Guests can tour the church and marvel at the Catalan Modernism style architecture of Antoni Gaudí’s most recognized work.
- Another iconic attraction in Barcelona is Park Güell. Like La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell was designed by Antoni Gaudí. This public park is emblematic of Barcelona; with its colorful buildings and live musicians and artists, Park Güell embodies the vivacious spirit of the city itself!
Photo: Celia Christine Kauth
- For incredible panoramic views of the entire city, visit the Bunkers del Carmel. Located high above the city, these bunkers were built during the Spanish Civil War and are the perfect place to watch as the sun sets over Barcelona.
Along with fantastic tourist attractions, Barcelona boasts an easily accessible public transportation system, along with affordable dining and accommodation options. This city is simply stunning, and we highly recommend being beguiled by Barcelona during your visit to Catalonia.
Photo: Celia Christine Kauth
With its proximity to majestic mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Catalonia is home to many natural wonders that are begging to be explored.
For a combination of Catalan history as well as extraordinary views, visit Montserrat, an ancient monastery tucked in the mountains just outside of Barcelona! Built in 1025, Montserrat is an enigmatic destination that will not disappoint.
- After exploring the monastery, visitors embark on the hike of a lifetime on the Sant Jeroni trail. While the climb to the peak of the Sant Jeroni trail can be strenuous, hikers will be rewarded at the top with panoramic views of the entire mountain range! Located thirty miles outside of Barcelona, the monastery is easily accessible by public transportation and offers a variety of dining options.
Photo: Celia Christine Kauth
- For another stunning mountain range located close to Barcelona, visit the Montseny Massif. With hundreds of hiking trails and its own natural park, this mountain range has been declared a protected biosphere zone and is filled with an extensive array of wildlife! Although Montseny is located only miles from Barcelona, it is not easily accessible by public transportation; visitors will likely need a car to reach the many sights of Montseny. Despite this slight inconvenience, we believe Montseny is worth the journey; the peak of the Montseny Massif is the highest point in the extensive Catalan Pre-Coastal Mountain Range, and the spectacular views are not to be missed.
Photo: Maria Rosa Ferre
- To enjoy the natural beauty of north central Catalonia, pay a visit to La Cerdanya, a Catalan region located just south of the French and Andorran borders. Easily accessible by train or car from Barcelona, La Cerdanya is home to a portion of the Pyrenees mountain range, one of the most impressive mountain ranges in Europe. There are numerous trails and hiking areas throughout La Cerdanya. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including swimming in the many glittering lakes, skiing during the winter season, mountain biking, and more! La Cerdanya is dotted with quaint Catalan villages boasting dazzling views of the Pyrenees Mountains, and visitors will be thrilled with the many charming places! We encourage all who would like an authentic Catalan experience to consider a tour of La Cerdanya.
For anyone seeking to revel in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Catalonia is an ideal destination! With hundreds of miles of pristine beaches, coastal Catalonia is not to be missed! Visit any town along the Mediterranean Sea for an unmatched beach experience.
Located just north of Barcelona, tourists will adore Mataró, a small city on the coast. With several immaculate beaches, excellent dining and accommodation options, and stunning views of the nearby mountains, Mataró is a wonderful destination for those seeking a quieter experience during their visit to Catalonia. Mataró offers many activities and attractions, including extensive running trails, a large park, and recreational water options! For the perfect beach day, we recommend enjoying the glimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, followed by a relaxing happy hour at one of Mataró’s many xiringuitos, tiny outdoor beach bars that often host live music! Mataró is also home to Les Santes, a local festival that is filled with magic and merriment at the end of every July.
Further north, visitors will be enchanted by Costa Brava, a coastal Catalan region boasting an abundance of precious beach villages. Costa Brava is renowned for its crystal blue waters, and while it has been developed as a popular destination for beach holidays, Costa Brava still maintains its traditional Catalan aesthetic! The astounding beauty of this area has attracted famous visitors such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró, and tourists can also enjoy several impressive museums.
Food is a significant element of the Catalan lifestyle. Catalan diets tend to consist of fresh, Mediterranean-style foods, with much of the meat and produce grown locally. Meals are often eaten later in the day; for example, lunch is usually eaten around two in the afternoon, and dinner sometimes does not begin until ten or eleven at night! Meals are served family-style; Catalan families typically gather together to eat all three meals, and this is a time for fellowship as families and friends share food and fun!
There are several traditional foods that we recommend you try in Catalonia! For a staple of the Catalan diet, we recommend you try pan amb tomaquet, which translates into English as “bread with tomato”! Like the name suggests, pan amb tomaquet involves spreading a fresh tomato over a small piece of bread. The bread is also doused in olive oil, along with a sprinkling of salt. Pan amb tomaquet can be served as an appetizer or snack and is typically eaten with lunch or dinner.
Another traditional Catalan dish not to be missed is tortilla de patatas. This meal is a cake-like omelet that can be served at any point in the day! While versions of this dish can be found in other parts of Spain, the Catalan rendition is simply divine. Made from eggs, potatoes, and onions, this simple dish is enhanced in Catalonia with the addition of fresh, locally made olive oil.
To indulge your sweet tooth in Catalonia, treat yourself to crema catalana, a decadent dessert made from milk, sugar, and egg yolk. Similar to crème brûlée, crema catalana is a delectable way to end your Catalan feast!
Along with its immense beauty and array of attractions, Catalonia is comprised of its own unique history that has contributed to the many rich cultural aspects of the region. For visitors curious to learn more about Catalan history, there are several museums throughout the region that will educate and inspire! The Museu d’Història de Catalunya in Barcelona offers a multimedia experience that provides an extensive look into Catalan history. Also in Barcelona, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona is the largest cultural center in all of Spain. This cultural center offers history and information on both Spain and Catalonia.
For an even broader perspective on Catalan history, we highly encourage visitors to check out one of the many guided walking tours offered throughout Catalonia! Guided walking tours allow visitors to receive information from locals while also getting glimpses of treasured landmarks, and we strongly recommend taking the opportunity to learn more about the region in this fun way! In Barcelona, there are several companies that offer guided walking tours, including Craft Tours Barcelona, Sandemans, and Runner Bean Tours. Guided walking tours can be found in other Catalan cities as well, including in Girona and Tarragona.
As mentioned, Catalonia’s rich history has greatly contributed to the many Catalan cultural aspects that cannot be found anywhere else in Spain. One of the greatest cultural wonders in Catalonia is the beloved tradition of Castells, which translated from Catalan means “castles”. Unlike traditional castles built from brick or stones, Catalan Castells are a type of Catalan performance featuring human participants! To build a Castell, participants, called Castellers, tactfully climb on top of each other to create vertical rows of people. While it may sound similar to building human pyramids, Castells are intricately designed and take enormous effort and strength to build. Teams of Castellers require dozens of participants, and every move of every person is calculated. The Catalan tradition of building human towers was first documented in the early 18th century, and it remains one of the most popular competitive practices in the region! Castellers are deeply revered in Catalonia, and thousands gather to witness the biggest Castell competitions.
Another Catalan tradition is the Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance that is emblematic of Catalan pride! This national dance of Catalonia involves delicate, precise movements and teamwork; to successfully perform the dance, participants must move in sync and perform the intricate dance steps in unison! The Sardana is a symbol of Catalan identity, and visitors will be elated to see performances throughout the streets of Barcelona and all throughout the region, especially during the street festivals of the summer months.
The Catalan Spirit
One of the most striking features of Catalonia is the Catalan spirit. Catalonia became part of Spain in the 15th century when the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile resulted in the unification of their respective realms. Despite this merger, Catalans were still free to speak their language and practice their culture, and it was not until the 20th century that Catalans experienced severe oppression. When the fascist dictator Francisco Franco assumed control of Spain in 1939, he banned all expressions of Catalan identity, including the Catalan language and all Catalan cultural practices. Although all things Catalan were prohibited, the Catalans resisted the fascist regime; the Catalan language was spoken in secret, and the many rich cultural traditions of Catalonia were kept alive throughout the decades of oppression. While the repressive fascist regime eventually ended and Catalans are now free to embrace their Catalan identity, the spirit of determination and tenacity that preserved Catalan culture during times of hardship remains emblematic of contemporary Catalans.
Come to Catalonia!
Catalonia offers something for everyone; between its remarkable natural wonders, rich culture and history, access to all things cosmopolitan, and hospitable people, Catalonia is the perfect backdrop for the adventure of a lifetime. Whether you are seeking a relaxing beach holiday, arduous hikes, or a taste of some of Europe’s finest nightlife, Catalonia offers everything you dreamed of and more! We find that once you have visited this riveting Spanish region, you will undoubtedly be enamored of Catalonia and will find many reasons to return!