While Barcelona many be admired for its history – from its gothic cathedral to the modernist masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí – it’s very much a city with an eye to the future. Ranked as the number one Smart City in Spain, the Catalan capital has integrated new technologies into nearly every aspect of its public life, from healthcare to transport, and it is introducing bold new measures to improve the quality of life of its 1.6 million residents.
You’d be forgiven if the first thing that came to mind when thinking about Barcelona was its history: the roughly ten million tourists that visit the city each year come mostly to admire the relics of Barcelona’s past. A stroll through the Gothic Quarter can leave you feeling transported in time (if you’re willing to squint your eyes a little and block out the shops selling Gaudí memorabilia on every street corner). And yet in many ways Barcelona is one of the most modern cities in Spain and Europe, pioneering the integration of new technology in its daily life.
The concept of a Smart City is a relatively new one, having only really emerged in the field of urban development in the last decade or so. According to its proponents, a Smart City is one that uses information and communication technology (ICT) to improve the quality of life of its citizens through the improved management and provision of public services. This technology is used across all fronts of public life: transport, healthcare, the environment, energy, public administration services, housing, business, and more.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Despite the appeal of the city to the growing number of tourists that visit each year, life for the city’s residents isn’t always as idyllic as it may seem. With an average of 15,779 inhabitants per square kilometer, Barcelona is the third most densely populated city in Europe, behind only Paris and Athens (London 1,510/km² and Berlin 3,944/km² to compare). And with such a concentration of people comes a concentration of noise: over 50% of Barcelona’s population is believed to be exposed daily to noise levels of 65 decibels and above – with anything above 55 decibels judged harmful.
With statistics like these, it is perhaps no surprise that the local authorities have been eager to come up with new ways to improve the living conditions of its residents and manage its ever growing population. And this means making ICT work not just for the techno-savvy younger generation, but for the elderly, the disabled, and the marginalized as well. The city’s Telecare system provides free 24-hour assistance to over 70,000 residents who, at the touch of a button installed in their homes or worn on a mobile device around their necks, are connected to an emergency call center that can address their needs on demand. As well as increasing user-safety and independence, the system also allows a better management of resources and time in the social service system.
Managing the sometimes competing needs of its residents isn’t always easy, and yet new technology is making it easier for the city to do so. While noise-emitting traffic lights – which notify blind pedestrians of when it’s safe to cross – increase safety and autonomy, the constant beeping noise would simply add to the already unhealthy noise levels in the city. Barcelona’s Smart Traffic Lights are operated via a remote control given to the city’s blind residents and only emits a noise when a user activates it. They can also be operated remotely by the city’s emergency services so that the lights stay green on the route of a fire engine responding to an emergency call.
Managing the city’s traffic and transportation systems is an important task for the local authorities who are keen to promote green energy and to reduce pollution levels. Aside from the ongoing plan to reclaim large parts of the city as pedestrian-only areas, the city is also promoting the use of electric vehicles and has installed some 300 free charging stations across the city. It is also championing the use of electric-powered buses and taxis, as well as having launched a partnership with Siemens to develop hybrid public transport vehicles.
However, the aim is not just to improve existing services, but to offer new ones and new ways of improving the quality of life here in Barcelona. Take the free public Wi-Fi service as an example: it enables anyone with a smart-phone, tablet, or laptop to connect to the internet via one of 461 public access points across the city. All users need to do is enter their email address, and within seconds they are connected to the network, free to roam around the city. Or look at the Apps4Bcn project – a platform where users can find a list of apps designed for discovering and enjoying the city, from arts and entertainment, to healthcare and education.
While in the world of urban planning, critics of the Smart City worry about questions of surveillance and the collection of big data intruding into individuals’ private lives, for many in Barcelona the arrival of these new technologies has brought welcome progress to a city that at times has seemed to be a victim of its own success.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.