When I moved to Barcelona the hardest thing to get used to (but also the most fun!) was the schedule. Coming from California, I had grown up with an “early to be, early to rise” mentality. Even in college, my roommates and I were usually in bed by 1am (2am was considered a late night) and up early to study, go to the gym, etc. So imagine my shock when I realized that the Spanish don´t even think about arriving to the office before 9am or eating dinner before 9pm, and that a night out starts after midnight.
Getting used to an entirely different schedule is difficult, especially if you are only here for a short visit. But believe me when I say that the best thing you can do is try to adapt from the first day. You won´t find many restaurants serving dinner at 8pm, and if you do you´ll be eating only with other tourists. Instead, try sleeping in a bit later, and maybe even giving into a siesta. One thing is for sure, there are very few countries in the world where you can literally party all night, and staying out until dawn and then going for breakfast (churros con chocolate, anyone?) is a once in a lifetime experience.
It can be an annoyance for visitors when they realize that not only do many of the shops close midday, but that the city basically shuts down on Sundays. However, that actually makes it the perfect day to visit a museum (the one thing that is open, at least in the morning) and then have one of those enormous midday meals you´ve been hearing about (this is a great time to indulge in a nice paella and a bottle of wine). Even better? In Spain no one will bring you the check until you ask for it and you can stay at your table as long as you like.
Another great thing about the Spanish is that they tend to socialize more and spend more time outside of their homes than other nationalities. In the States, most people don´t go out much during the week, and usually head straight home after work. In Barcelona it´s quite common to have a drink or meet friends for dinner during the week, and since so many of the bars have outdoor terraces you often feel like everyone in the city is outside enjoying themselves, especially when the weather is nice.
Another unique thing about Barcelona is the abundance of festivals. Between the city festival (La Merce) all of the neighborhoods festivals, and other wonderful holidays such as Sant Jordi and Sant Joan, it sometimes feels like the city is continuously celebrating. This is especially true in summer when nearly every week you can find a festival going on somewhere in the city, complete with live concerts, dancing, and of course huge crowds of people out for a good time.
Visitors who come with young children may find that Barcelona is a bit more family friendly than other big cities, which is also a plus. In cities like New York bringing children to nice restaurants is often discouraged and festivals and concerts tend to be adult only, unless they have been specifically planned with children in mind. In Barcelona, children are welcome nearly everywhere they go and it´s much easier to mix friends and family. Spanish children stay up quite a bit later than children in the States, so in order to make sure you child doesn´t wear out they should take a nap in the afternoon.
One downside to Barcelona is that its huge increase in popularity means that the number of tourists has multiplied in recent years. On the one hand this is positive as it has brought a large amount of money into the city (tourism is now its biggest industry). On the other hand, it means that walking in the center of town you feel surrounded by other foreigners, and it can be difficult to avoid the typical touristy restaurants and hangouts. Not only that, Barcelona has become a prime spot for pickpockets and now has the highest number of petty thefts in Europe.
To avoid becoming a victim of theft, make sure to keep a close eye on belongings at all times. And as for staying away from the tourist traps, learning a bit of Spanish or carrying a dictionary with you can be very helpful so that you can eat at local restaurants and not have to stick to places that carry an English menu. The Spanish tend to speak far less English than the northern Europeans, so it´s helpful having a few useful phrases on hand to order food or ask for directions.
Barcelona is truly a wonderful city and those who have a chance to visit should feel privileged to do so. There´s a lot to see and do in Barcelona, and trying to make time for everything can feel a bit daunting. In order to make the most of your visit, do a bit of planning beforehand so that you can make sure to visit everything on your list.
And my final piece of advice? Don´t go anywhere without a camera. Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and is also full of some pretty crazy sights. You never know when you´ll come across a weird and wonderful human statue, a four-storey high human tower, or a group of Catalans dancing the sardana in the street, so it´s best to be prepared. Just make sure to keep it close to you at all times, so as not to lose it to a pickpocket!