Spain has been ranked as the number one most popular study abroad destination for American students by GoOverseas. We’re thrilled to offer both our CAPA Global Cities program and a direct enroll option with a local university in the vibrant, lively, and exciting city of Barcelona.
So, why study abroad in Barcelona? Let’s dive in…
Study abroad in Barcelona because:
1. BARCELONA HAS A CUTTING-EDGE ART SCENE.
Barcelona has a mix of large and small galleries filled with all varieties of artwork. MACBA is one of the biggest and most well known of the city’s galleries, a sleek building filled with contemporary art, impressive installations, and plenty of natural light.
Smaller galleries are dotted across the city. Tucked beneath the porticoes of a square in Raval is the hidden Paella Showroom which is well worth a visit for affordable and accessible work by up-and-coming painters. A favorite for pop art and graffiti is Base Elements in Barri Gotic (which is actually owned by an American). There are many others to discover.
If you’re hoping to take a deep dive into Barcelona’s creative past, head over to the National Museum of Catalan Art where you’ll find paintings by Picasso, Camarasa, and Ramon Casas, as well as furniture by Gaudí. The museum’s collections include Romanesque art, Gothic art, Renaissance and Baroque art, and Modern art.
Wander through the city streets and you’ll find that much of Barcelona is an outdoor gallery in itself, with its playful architecture; colorful sculptures commissioned for the 1992 Summer Olympics by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, and Frank Gehry whose famous fish sits in the Port Olympic; and walls smattered with creative street art. Just a few names to look for if you’re interested in the street art scene: El Xupet Negre, Konair, El Pez, Bandido, Axe Colours, Madcins, Me Lata, and of course the famous “Kiss of Freedom” mural at Plaça d’Isidre Nonell, and Keith Haring’s 1989 mural at the MACBA museum.
Read our own student’s tips for enjoying Barcelona’s museums here.
2. BARCELONA IS HOME TO MANY ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECES.
Bold and distinctive, the architecture is a highlight for students who study abroad in Barcelona. It is the only city to win a Royal Gold Medal for Architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects. It’s home to 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites, seven of which were projects of Antoni Gaudí, the most well-known architect to leave his mark on the city. This includes La Sagrada Família, famously dismissed by George Orwell as "one of the most hideous buildings in the world,” but Gaudí’s most iconic masterpiece. Wander through the city and you’ll come across many whimsical works that his imagination churned up over the years.
There’s much to see beyond the work of Gaudí too. Be sure to visit Palau de la Música Catalana and the sprawling Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, both by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, another pioneer of the Modernista style.
Newer builds include the reflective Natural History Museum, the wavy roof of the Santa Caterina Market, the Mercat Fira de Bellcaire Els Encants flea market structure, the striking Hotel Porta Fira, and Jean Nouvel's famous Agbar Tower, among many others.
There are walking tours, and self-guided maps, to lead you through the city’s architectural gems and point out all of the historical or modern details on these famous buildings. Have a scroll through ArchDaily’s blog post with 23 suggestions that will help plan your route.
3. BARCELONA LOCALS TREAT FOOD AS AN EXPERIENCE.
Eating is very much a social affair in Barcelona; food is something to be savored together, not rushed. The very nature of tapas is that they provide a community experience with everyone trying different tastes from shared plates. Meals out with friends can last all afternoon or evening.
Some dishes and flavors to try when you study abroad in Barcelona include Paella and the noodle version fideuà, Jamón Iberico (otherwise known as the “finest ham in the world”), fuet (a thin cured Catalan sausage), Escudella d’Olla (a hearty Catalan stew), bombas (mashed potato balls stuffed with ground pork), calçots (green onions with a tangy romesco sauce), and esqueixada (referred to as a Catalan ceviche made with salt cod). For dessert? Choose a classic crema catalana, very similar to crème brûlée. You can see photos of many of these in BonAppetour’s Top 8 Must-Eat Foods in Barcelona post.
If you find yourself with a leisurely Saturday morning, head to the nearest square (we love the picturesque Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia), find a table outside in the sun, and order pan con tomate (or pa amb tomàquet in Catalan, which is bread rubbed with tomato, garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil) and a café con leche to start your day the local way.
The city has some fantastic restaurants, many of which Time Out includes on their latest 50 Best Restaurants in Barcelona list and it’s worth a look at their picks for places to eat in Barcelona on a budget too.
Know that meal times happen later here than many of us are used to in the US. Lunch (the biggest meal of the day) usually takes place around 2pm, followed by a marienda (a snack) around 5pm, and a light dinner around 9pm or 10pm.
4. BARCELONA IS AN EXCELLENT PLACE TO LEARN SPANISH AND CATALAN.
When you choose to study abroad in Barcelona, you’ll have many opportunities to learn and practice the Spanish (or Catalan) language. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete beginner, or if you have some experience in the language already. Learning may start in the classroom and reach far beyond its walls.
If you choose CAPA’s Direct Enroll program at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, you’ll find yourself at a trilingual university where classes are taught in Spanish, Catalan, and English. There are plenty of English-language offerings, but you’ll also have the exposure to these other languages—and many others in this very international institution where 40% of faculty have taught outside of Spain—by proximity and by taking language courses.
Students on the CAPA Global Cities programs can also take Spanish language classes.
Internships are available for students who have completed at least four semesters of Spanish language. This will help you connect with locals and understand the work culture of Barcelona while you practice the language, develop important professional skills for your future career, and build your resume. Other students may enjoy volunteering.
All students are welcome to choose to live in a homestay with a local family. This will introduce you to life in Barcelona through a truly authentic lens; you’ll be offered daily breakfasts and dinners at home and you’ll be able to spend time getting to know your host family and speaking with them too.
The best way to learn a new language is immersion, and just being out and about in Barcelona, exploring, ordering meals, sitting in cafes, shopping, and taking in the cultural attractions will give you many levels of exposure to the language. You’ll find yourself picking up new words and phrases daily and your confidence will grow exponentially by the end of your program.
5. BARCELONA IS A RICHLY DIVERSE CITY.
Like all global cities, Barcelona attracts people from across the globe—as tourists, students, and expats. More than 17% of Barcelona’s residents come from other countries, most notably from Pakistan, Italy, China, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Morocco.
It’s also home to Spain’s largest Jewish community; around half of the residents identify as Catholic; there is a significant Muslim population with 264 Muslim places of worship dotted around the city; and in total 22 different religions practiced in the city.
In 2005, the Spain became the 4th country in the world to legalize gay marriage, and gay and lesbian married couples can adopt children here. Barcelona is considered one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world with a vibrant Pride festival and widespread vibes of inclusivity. L'Eixample and Gràcia are excellent neighborhoods to mingle with the LGBTQIA community. If you’re a film fanatic, mark your calendars for the LGBTQIA film festival, Fire! in June and, in a nearby town, the Sitges Film Festival which happens in October. In fact, Sitges, which is only about 20 miles southwest of Barcelona, is Spain's LGBTQIA capital. Lonely Planet has a more detailed look at Barcelona for LGBTQ+ travelers.
6. BARCELONA HAS AN APPEALING MEDITERRANEAN CLIMATE.
If you come from one of the colder states, you’ll be happy to hear that Barcelona’s January days only dip as low as about 54 degrees. Year round, the average temperature is 70 degrees, and the sky rarely bursts open with rain. This sunny Mediterranean metropolis only has about 55 rainy days throughout the whole year and 2,600 hours of gorgeous Spanish sunshine.
To love Barcelona in the summer, you do really need to have an appreciation for the heat. Those July and August days regularly reach into the 90s. But this is where the tradition of the afternoon siesta steps in, and a sunscreen-slathered morning splashing in the sea is always an option. Locals know to stay indoors during the hottest hours, to protect themselves from the sun when they do need to go out, and to make sure to stay hydrated.
There are other positives to those hot summers: there are plenty of air-conditioned shops, galleries, and museums to keep you busy if the idea of a siesta sounds less than exciting; evenings are still warm, and Barcelona has a lot of restaurants with outdoor seating for those late night tapas meals with friends; and, the sea is about 75 degrees by the end of the summer, so it’s perfect for swimming.
7. BARCELONA HAS AWARD-WINNING BEACHES.
Speaking of swimming, did we mention that Barcelona is famous for its beautiful, clean, blue-flag awarded beaches? When you study abroad in Barcelona, you’ll have miles of seafront to explore. Fun fact: These are relatively new beaches. The industrial sites were cleared from the coast in anticipation of the 1992 Summer Olympics and sand was imported from Egypt to create the beaches you find lining the edge of Barcelona today.
The most popular (and busiest and most touristy) beach is La Barceloneta. It’s convenient. It’s lined with restaurants and beachside huts serving fresh seafood. There’s almost always entertainment, and it’s a great place for people watching. Swim, windsurf, kite-surf and enjoy. Sant Sebastia in the eastern end of the city is another lively beach popular with both tourists and locals and offers much the same as La Barceloneta.
If it’s peace and relaxation you’re looking for, back away and head toward Nova Icaria near the Olympic Park. It still has restaurants and bars, a ping pong table and volleyball courts, but its sandy beaches are much quieter.
If you have some time to hop on a half hour train, Ocala Beach is also very peaceful and much more private. You’ll still find seafood-serving beach huts, but you’ll have more choice when it comes to the ideal patch of golden white sand to lay down your towel.
For more options, check out the lists that TripSavvy and TimeOut have put together to share their pick of the best beaches in Barcelona.
8. BARCELONA HAS A WORLD FAMOUS SOCCER TEAM.
When you study abroad in Barcelona, you’ll be in the home of one of the most popular soccer clubs in the world. FC Barcelona is a big deal and have been impressively successful in years past. They’ve won La Liga 26 times, the Copa del Rey 30 times, and Supercopa de España 13 times. They’ve taken home the championship title from the FIFA World Club Cup three times and have won many other competitions along the way amounting to 90 trophies in their collection.
Some of the most well-known players from soccer’s history have spent time with the club, in their careers, including Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Maradona, Ronaldinho, Xavi, Ronaldo, and many others.
The stadium that is home to FC Barcelona is called Camp Nou. It has a capacity of nearly 100,000 making it one of the biggest in the world. They also have a museum—The Camp Nou Experience—which is the most visited museum in Catalonia and attracts about 32 million visitors each year.
If you have the opportunity, be sure to catch a match. The atmosphere in the stadium alone is something that is worth experiencing even if you’re not the world’s biggest soccer fan!
9. BARCELONA HAS A LIVELY CALENDAR OF CULTURAL EVENTS.
Barcelona loves a celebration, and no matter the time of year you choose to visit, you’re bound to find some exciting cultural festivities to attend.
If you’re into music, check out The Sónar Electronica music festival which is the biggest of its kind in Europe, and Primavera Sound which brings in a great lineup of international musicians and DJs.
One of the most popular street festivals in Barcelona is the Festa Major de Gràcia which fills the neighborhood’s streets with music, food, and enthusiastic locals who compete for an award acknowledging the most elaborately decorated street. There’s a real festive atmosphere to experience.
Festes de la Mercè in September is another big one worth attending, and brings to life some of the unique Catalan cultural traditions. There are processions, fireworks, and of course the famous human pyramids—castells—are built during this celebratory week. Another opportunity to see the castells happens in February at the Festes de Santa Eulàlia which celebrates the city’s first patron saint.
Lonely Planet has a great breakdown of major events across Spain organized by month. Not all of them are specific to Barcelona, but it specifies the ones that are, and many others are celebrated across the country as a whole. We’d also recommend swinging by Culture Trip’s list of the best free events in Barcelona and Time Out’s more comprehensive list of big festivals and events in Barcelona which is organized by season.
10. BARCELONA HAS A CONVENIENT GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION.
If you’re interested in exploring more of Spain, and other countries in Europe, Barcelona is a fantastic base.
Catalonia outside of Barcelona offers quite a few day unforgettable trips to consider. Explore the beautiful, 1,240-mile coastline of Costa Brava with its postcard-pretty beaches, cliffs, and whitewashed towns and old fishing villages along the way. Take in the views over the Catalonian countryside from the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat that dates back to 1025 and is home to one of the oldest and most famous boys’ choirs in Europe. Visit the medieval walled city of Girona with its rich history, churches, Jewish Quarter, and Arab baths. Head over to the traditional Catalan town of Figueres to see the impressive Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum, itself housed in a surreal pink and gold building with giant eggs on top. For other ideas within the region, we love Planet Ware’s 17 Best Places to Visit in Catalonia.
Further afield in Spain, you have the capital city Madrid at your fingertips; Valencia’s elegant Art Nouveau buildings; the region of Andalusia with its Moorish influence and the cities of Málaga, Seville, Córdoba and Granada; San Sebastián for the food alone and much more; Bilbao for the famous Guggenheim Museum and other arts and cultural experiences; and the Canary Islands for volcanic hikes, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and a taste of island life near the Moroccan coast.
You can also hop on a plane for a short trip on a weekend or during break week to explore other countries. Portugal, England, Ireland, Morocco, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy are excellent choices.
Why study abroad in Barcelona, you ask? Why not, we answer!