Wondering about the pros and cons of living in Barcelona?
Then this article’s for you.
I’ve just returned from a visit and while there I spent half the time doing the inevitable Madrid vs Barcelona comparison.
So now, back in the comfort of my stylish coworking space in Madrid, I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of living in (or visiting) Barcelona…
And especially how it compares to Madrid, Spain’s vibrant capital.
(Why does it seem like every single travel blogger uses the word “vibrant” to describe Madrid? Did they run out of adjectives down at the adjective shop?)
I have to say, this was my best trip to Barcelona yet. Previously the city had left me severely underwhelmed.
This time I liked it a lot. Maybe it’s improved? Or maybe I just did a better job of seeing the right sights.
In any case, I thought it was pretty sweet.
So with no further ado: the pros and cons of Barcelona, Spain’s “vibrant” second city. (Don’t tell anyone I called it that.)
Let’s get to it…
Barcelona Pro: Architecture and ambience
I guess this is the big tourist attraction that Barcelona has.
The architecture. Gaudí. Sagrada Familia. The Gothic neighborhood – which isn’t actually Gothic in the strict sense, but whatever.
I’m not an expert on architecture of any kind, but the city certainly has a nice ambience. And the Gothic quarter is really cool.
Walking around, there are all sorts of nice tree-lined streets, squares, pedestrian areas. La Rambla. Mercat de la Boqueria. The port and the beaches.
One place I stumbled upon this time that I hadn’t seen before was the Vila de Gracia neighborhood, which seemed to be less touristy than others, and had a great ambience. A bit upscale. Passeig de Gracia has all the wildly expensive shops, and this is close by.
And the Barceloneta neighborhood is good too – a bit more run down and with a bohemian vibe, but nice.
The Gaudí buildings are expensive as hell to get into, and all swarming with tourists (more on that later) but there’s plenty you can do that’s “off the beaten track” as well…
(Yeah, I just used that lame-ass travel writing cliché. Then again, I used to work for Lonely Planet. So sue me.)
Anyway, here’s one of Barcelona’s cons…
Con: Barcelona’s Public Transport
Maybe living in Madrid has me spoiled, but my impression is that Barcelona’s public transport just isn’t that great.
The buses are slow to get anywhere, there’s a lot of traffic, and the metro’s a bit old and dingy.
Also, 2,20€ for a single ticket? Please!
Morena and I ended up taking a lot of taxis because it was just better that way – taxis are cheap, and it beats spending 45 minutes to go 4 km on the metro.
You can also use Cabify up there, and presumably Uber as well. (Update, February 2019: since writing this, there have been two massive taxi strikes, and it’s not clear whether Uber and Cabify are going to continue operating in Barcelona. We’ll see.)
If you’re feeling sporty (and it’s not raining too much) you can also try renting a bike or scooter – there are plenty of places in the center that’ll rent you something to get around for a day.
Anyway, like I said, Madrid’s public transport is great. And it’s maybe not that Barcelona’s is bad, it might just be that it’s not good compared to what I’m used to.
(More about that in my article on pros and cons of living in Madrid.)
Pro: Barcelona’s International Community
For many, this is the biggest reason to live in Barcelona.
Digital nomads are all over the place, as are coworking spaces that attract an international crowd.
And all the other advantages of living in Barcelona, like good weather and a lower cost of living than other world cities, mean that there are expats from many different countries calling the city home.
The mix of people seems to be a bit different than in Madrid, as well. Although I must say that the international community is one of my favorite things about living here in the capital.
According to Wikipedia, the top 5 expat groups in Barcelona are made up of people from Italy, Pakistan, China, France and Morocco.
By the way, if you want to debate the nuances of the words immigrant and expat, I’ve got an article just for you.
Barcelona Pro: Good food!
Spanish food is generally very good, and Barcelona is no exception.
This comes with the international community, I guess: lots of good food from many different countries.
Although we only spent a couple of days in Barcelona, Morena and I had some very good food.
Morena was very happy with the South Indian food at Chennai Masala Dosa, Carrer de Galileu, 326.
And I especially recommend La Flauta at Carrer d’Aribau, 23 in L’Eixample for Spanish (or Catalan) cuisine (be prepared to wait a while for a table). We had some simple fish dishes there, made with top quality ingredients.
We also had excellent Mexican and Italian food – head to .IT Italian Tradition in Gracia for some amazingly good Neapolitan-style pizza… It’s the best I’ve had in a long time.
I would assume that some of the other restaurants serving typical Catalonian cuisine are worth visiting as well. And in our wanderings, we saw some Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants that looked pretty good.
It’s generally a bit more expensive than Madrid, but the quality is there.
Then there’s the beach…
Pro: Barcelona’s beaches
Like I said earlier, most Madrid vs Barcelona conversations start and end with: well, they’re both great cities, but Barcelona has the beach.
And that’s cool, if you like the beach.
Personally, I’m kind of pale and indifferent, but I actually really enjoyed the Barceloneta this time – it wasn’t too crowded, and not too hot either.
One con to Barcelona’s beaches is that they were full of people wandering back and forth selling things – every four seconds we were accosted by someone trying to sell a beach blanket, or massage us, or serve us disturbing bright green mojitos.
We were there in June, it must be said…
So I suppose that later on, in the summer months, it would be considerably more crowded with tourists from around Europe and wherever else.
Anyway, I’m no expert on beaches. Barceloneta is the big one, and has some bars and restaurants right up on the sand. If you go in the direction of the massive W Hotel, there’s a little nudist area (or at least a few guys sunning their wangs).
More about Spanish guys’ wangs in my classic Sex in Spain article.
Other than that, there are a few more beaches up along the coast to the northeast. And plenty more in other places in Catalonia, if you feel like travelling.
So far, I’ve been to beaches in Sitges and Badalona, and they’re both very nice.
Con: Jobs and salaries in Barcelona
Like anywhere in Spain, jobs are relatively scarce, and salaries are lower than in the rest of Europe.
Denmark it is not.
On the other hand, people in Denmark spend all their disposable income to come to Spain on vacation – and we lucky expats get to live here all year round.
If you can manage to earn some of your income online, you don’t need to depend exclusively on Spanish salaries – or worry about the economy.
And when I say jobs are scarce, I mean that unemployment in the city of Barcelona is about 8.5 percent as of this writing – better than most places in Spain, but not so good compared to other European countries.
Good jobs are even more scarce. I’ve written about English teaching in other places, which is what a lot of expats end up doing.
Others work in the service industry, or start their own businesses, or work in international companies.
Like anywhere else: where there’s a will there’s a way.
If you look around, you’ll most likely find something you can live off of. And the quality of life will (probably) compensate your lower salary, at least for a while.
I’ve recently written a guide to working in Spain, if you want to read more about visas, work culture, etc.
Pro: Barcelona’s got some nice weather
A lot of people move to Spain for the weather – and Barcelona is well-known for its mild Mediterranean climate.
It can be pretty humid in Barcelona, which not everybody loves.
But it doesn’t get too hot or too cold either.
Temps in summer don’t break 34°C much – that’s only 93°F, not hot at all compared to Madrid or where I’m from.
And even in mid-winter, the temperature during the day averages 16°C / 61°F. Not too cold either. Apparently, there hasn’t been a day below freezing since 1985.
Additionally, Barcelona enjoys a bit more than 2500 hours of sunshine a year – about average for the south of Europe.
Not much need to beat the summer heat (or winter cold) in other words.
Con: the prices to stay in Barcelona
I guess the price for a room would be the biggest con for many people.
Hotels in Barcelona aren’t cheap – though I’m sure if you’re a budget traveller you can do pretty well in a hostal.
The city is continuously struggling with AirBnB – lately they’ve cracked down on unlicensed tourist rentals, and have been sending inspectors out to search the city.
In any case, if you’re looking for a place to stay, feel free to use my booking.com affiliate link.
If you’re staying longer, the typical place to look for a flat or a room to rent is Idealista.com (it’s all over Spain). Prices aren’t cheap by Spanish standards, but they’re not anywhere near London levels either.
Other than that, I was surprised at the low prices I paid for other things. Taxis, like I said, were cheap. And so were a lot of our meals. (Not all.)
I suppose it depends – a lot – on the neighborhood or the specific bar, but I also had coffee and beer for barely over a euro, which is difficult in any big city.
If you’re looking to rent a flat for a longer stay, it can be more expensive than other Spanish cities – but then again, it’s really cheap compared to New York or London. All a matter of perspective.
And then there’s the cleanliness…
Pro: Barcelona is clean and cosmopolitan
Another way that Barcelona clearly beats Madrid is the cleanliness.
People in Madrid complain about the mess all the time – especially the dog turds on the sidewalks.
Watch out, pedestrians! Not everyone’s on board with the little plastic baggies.
I didn’t see much dog doo in Barcelona. Or any dirty streets at all, really. Generally, things seemed more well-maintained than in Madrid.
And cosmopolitan: I’m not sure how to describe it, but Barcelona had a more “European” vibe than Madrid.
A bit more northern, a bit more French. You know. Makes perfect sense, considering where it’s located.
Anyway, those are subjective impressions, and obviously I didn’t walk around counting dog turds per square meter of sidewalk. That’d be weird, and I’m anything but weird.
Con: Barcelona’s mass tourism
I love travelling around Spain, especially to the lesser-known destinations.
What bothers me about places like Barcelona is just that the mass tourism gets to be too much.
Maybe it’s the Lonely Planet writer in me, but I’d rather go somewhere a bit more relaxed and less well-known.
Granted, the masses of tourists are mostly focused around a few small points. But to go to Sagrada Familia or Parc Güell is to float through a sea of anonymous faces and selfie sticks till you feel vaguely nauseous.
Sagrada Familia is a mess of cranes and scaffolding, by the way. Official slogan: 140 years later and still under construction. Be prepared to pay an arm and a leg to get in.
In any case, there’s not much one can say about mass tourism without being completely hypocritical. “I want to go places, because I’m special. But other people should just stay home… cluttering up my selfies with their lovehandles and ugly sandals. Please!”
I assume that mass tourism affects Barcelona residents in many ways. But I’d also bet most people who actually live in the city don’t spend their weekends going to gawk at Gaudi’s buildings.
I’ve got more on that in my article about anti-tourism protests.
And that’s about all I’ve got to say about the pros and cons of living in Barcelona.
Let’s wrap this up…
More pros and cons of living in Barcelona
Of course, I haven’t actually lived in Barcelona…
But I have been there several times now.
A since this humble expat blog makes an effort to give you an idea of what it’s like to actually live in Spain, rather than visit for a weekend, I tried to think of what it’d be like for someone staying a while.
I suppose there are pros and cons of living in Barcelona that I’ve missed, or otherwise not mentioned:
- The cost of living is higher than some places in Spain, but certainly better than most of the rest of Europe.
- Even though the transport isn’t great, the distances aren’t nearly as bad as in a city like London. Also, taxis are pretty cheap if you’re just going across town.
- The people… a pro or a con? I’m not sure. I know some Catalans living here in Madrid, they’re great people. But I can’t say I’m an expert on Catalans in general.
- The laidback lifestyle – although this is true to some extent in any other place in Spain.
Perhaps I should mention the ongoing conflict over Catalonia’s independence at this point. I’ve written several articles about it previously.
And while I was up there, I definitely saw signs, flags and graffiti making reference to the issue. Free “political prisoners” etc. But I’m not sure how it effects those living in Barcelona on a day to day basis.
A friend who works directly in tourism says things have gone way down for her business.
But I assume this whole thing will die down sooner or later, and people in both Madrid and Barcelona will go back to their usual grumbling about corruption, moronic politicians, the economy, etc.
What do you think? What are the pros and cons of living in Barcelona?
Hit me up, right here in the comments…
P.S. My favorite thing in Barcelona this time was Mount Tibidabo. I guess it’s “famous” because of a running joke on the TV show Friends. Anyway, you can go up and have a drink (or dinner) at one of the restaurants, and enjoy views of the whole city. Totally recommendable.
P.P.S. Ok, so in the meantime I’ve moved to Barcelona. Long story. But that means I’ve got some new articles as well. Try finding a flat and best restaurants in Barceloneta if you want more. Or if you’re a digital nomad, you might like my article about the Four Hour Work Week, and my personal experience living “the life”. Have fun!