Pros and Cons of living in Barcelona – 10 best and worst things

June 8, 2018

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?)

Anyway…

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.)

Ready?

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.

living in barcelona best and worst things
Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomf, which doesn’t actually celebrate any sort of triumph.

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.

Moving on…

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.

pros and cons of living in barcelona - the beach
Me, Venus and the W Hotel. Photo by Morena.

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.

Moving on…

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.

And also…

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.

Moving on…

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.

And finally…

Con: Barcelona’s mass tourism

I love travelling around Spain, especially to the lesser-known destinations.

I’ve written about Cuenca, Ávila, Cercedilla (here in the Madrid community) and more.

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.

mass tourism in parc guell barcelona
Parc Güell in Barcelona: the path doesn’t get much more beaten than this.

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…

I’m listening.

Catalonially yours,

Mr Chorizo.

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!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. No real comment other than as usual, I like your writing style and what you say. My experience of Barcelona is nothing like yours, my first visit was in 1956 because that’s where my mother, my sister and I boarded the ship that brought us to America, I was 13 and we stayed with family (I had my first coca cola there) the next visit was in 1985 when my parents retired and we wet to Barcelona to pick up the van that my father had shipped to Spain, again we stayed with family but being I was 42, I went to see some of the palaces like the Sagrada Familia etc. but mainly I went looking for second hand book shops cause I was interested in ol tebeos (comics) and I did find some fantastic ones. My parents and I visited Barcelona again i think twice and one or two times by myself and that’s when I visited El Tibidabo, and the Gothic quarters with my camera. I did go once again with my dad after my mother died and we visited all the Gaudy places. I did love the Ramblas and in general I do love Barcelona and feel terrible that so many Catalans want to leave Spain which would make Barcelona not so nice

    1. Oh wow, you actually emigrated to the US on a ship? That’s old school! I’m sure Barcelona is quite different now than it was. Thanks as always for commenting 🙂

  2. when i read that by Antonio Navarro Jr i understood the American continent. you understood the US.
    something to think about…
    Most of the people that left Spain in those years emigrated to latin american countries: Chile, Mexico and i think another one. definetively not north america and not the US.

  3. I lived in Barcelona for a year and in Madrid for a couple of months, and I must say I definitely agree with the cleanliness. One of the biggest reasons I really love and miss BCN (I am now based in Italy).

    Yes, some of the metros are dingy, especially those in L4 (the line that stops in Barceloneta). From experience the least dingy or perhaps the newer train cars run on L2 (stops at Parallel), those that run along Sarria (L6, L7 or L8) and L9S (airport line).

    As for the autobús, maybe it’s just me but I find the Barcelona buses to be more punctual than those in Madrid. I had several experiences, like for example in Sol, Reina Sofia & Plaza del Castilla, where buses arrive way later than what is expected. The closest experience I had in Barcelona was when I was supposed to take a bus bound to Maria Cristina did not pass along La Rambla, but then it’s because of a road closure there.

    I enjoyed reading your posts. Made me realize I definitely left my heart in Spain, most especially in Barcelona. 😊

  4. Hi everyone,

    I’m a Barcelona boy aged 15. I’ve been living in Barcelona all my life and all I can say is that it’s certainly an incredible city.

    I’m writing because I saw that one of the cons was the public transport. In my opinion, the transport here in Barcelona is very good. Maybe it’s not as good as Paris or London (two bigger capitals and cities) but I can ensure that Barcelona is nearly at their level. When I move with my friends I can go to Mataro (capital city of El Maresme) or I can go to the center of Barcelona from where I live (Montgat) in just 15 minutes. Barcelona’s Transport is fast and easy. There are many Lines where you can move between all districts.

    The only Con I can find of transport, the single ticket it’s more expensive compared to other European cities. An example; This holidays I went to Budapest and a single ticket was just 1 euro, while in Barcelona it’s 2’20 euros. But that’s not a problem beacuse there’s an option of buying a card called T-10 in which you can make 10 travels (without paying the transfer) which is just 1 euro for every travel.

    If you just investigate a bit it’s much more easier to move faster and better.
    Thanks for reading

    1. Hi,
      Thanks for the information! You included a few specific details about the public transport in Barcelona that is very helpful.
      Do you know anything about the cost of riding a train to other European cities? A long time ago one could purchase a Eurorail Pass and travel anywhere.
      Thanks!

  5. So you have never lived in Barcelona but you feel you can make these judgements. Odd to me and a bit like giving people who know nothing about ecenomics of the uk a brexit vote. I’m moving to Barcelona after receiving my Spanish residency last Monday. Hopefully Catalonia won’t make the same mistakes as the uk.

    1. Actually, now I’ve lived in Barcelona for 8 months now and the only thing I’d change is that I’m not sure that it’s cleaner than Madrid anymore. Have a nice day!

  6. So if you live in Barcelona now maybe you may want to consider changing the name of your blog (or better yet, start a new one) to More Pa amb Tomàquet! Sorry, bad joke 😀

    I landed here while googling el barrio de Tetuán in Madrid, which I’ve never been to (although I live very near Tetuàn in Barcelona), and wanted to say hi and thanks, more than one hour (and lots of loud guffaws that resonated in my today empty flat) later, I’m still here. As many born and raised Barcelonians, we love/need to complain but are awfully sensitive to critical opinions and I am really happy that you are getting to enjoy it (if you are still here). In fact, I’d say so far you’ve been more than generous and have not mentioned some aspects in which bcn is in clear disadvantage to Madrid or many other Spanish cities, for that matter -and which I do not intend to detail!

    Best of lucks here, I hope you’ll come to pillarle el punto eventually (^_^) which, I do admit, it’s not actually that easy.

    And much respect for your writing, it’s really lots of fun reading you (editor here,so I should know, ts.)
    Salut!

    1. Thanks so much Eme, I’m really glad you enjoy my writing! I mostly go up to Tetuán in Barcelona for Chinese food – or sometimes Korean food. But I still prefer Tetuán in Madrid 🙂

  7. Hi Daniel,

    I´m considering relocating to Madrid or Barcelona, but I´m not sure if it´s the right move for me. I recently quit my job (an Interior Designer) in NY and moved to Valencia for a few months to check out the work scene and see what I think and so far I´m not sure. I´m an interior designer and I was thinking of relocating to Spain for a year or so to get some international experience and further enhance my design perspective so I decided to do an Internship with a company first before doing all the paperwork for Visa and now after learning about salary and how hard it is finding a job I´m not sure…. I´m 30 so I´ve been working in my field for a while and I know I can easily go back to NY and get a job, but now I´m not sure what to do… Now that you´ve lived in Barcelona for a bit what do you think now? Has your perspective changed much? Any suggestions or advice?

    Thanks in advance,

    Mya

    1. Hey Mya, I don’t really know about interior design and the people who might pay for it here in Spain. But I’m sure they’re around somewhere. Regarding your other question, I’ve been here for about a year now and I stand by basically everything I said in the article. My opinion hasn’t changed much.

      Good luck! And let me know when you’re here,
      Daniel.

  8. One very big con for Barcelona is the rudeness of the local women. At small produce shops it was impossible to find a shopkeeper who greeted you with a smile. At one supermarket I was yelled at by two women who said I was too late to shop (30 minutes before closing) and they were just backroom clerks. They were not expecting me to yell back, called security, and the guard was apologetic and escorted me as I finished shopping. I had to threaten the two women with tomato cans before they left me alone. The manager said he could do nothing, so I filed a nasty complaint with the company that owns the store.

  9. Hi there,
    I live in London and work in IT Consultancy. Off late,i have been thinking of relocating to Barcelona mainly for the weather advantage over London.

    I have got small kids (4,7yr olds). Do you think, it is a nice place to relocate for young parents with school going kids? Do they have go international schools around and how difficult to get a job in IT out there?

    Any information on the above is highly appreciated.

    Many Thanks

    1. Hey Leo, I think IT jobs are relatively easy to get… but you’d probably be earning a less-than-stellar Spanish salary. (Although I guess it depends on a lot of factors.) There are definitely international schools, and in my experience parents usually say good things about raising kids in Spain. But that’s also not my area of expertise. Good luck with everything!

  10. I think for single and young adults it is not much of an issue in terms of Barcelona vs Madrid or even London, Rome, etc; just pick and try. They have more time, are at entry levels in their career, do not require much space, generally have few belongings, probably have no furniture to move. At this age, people are more fixated on bars, clubs, beaches; and where they can use idle time to meet girls/boys, or as they would say – “hang out” and let time pass by. They likely look at cities in ways which do not require planning or in-depth thinking – here today; gone tomorrow to another city!

    When one has a family, a child or two, a fully developed career and a senior level job, several insurance policies, a car or two, furniture to full a 250+ sqm home, then, selecting the right city has a different and real meaning. One values time much more!

    For example, as an international executive or a business person, would you want your children to have to learn Catalan? Even in international English schools in Barcelona, Spanish and Catalan both are required subjects. Learning Catalan is of zero benefit to international families. Time is limited and international families want their children to acquire skills which can be applied in several countries.

    Then there is the issue of crime, dust, pollution in Barcelona (higher than even London), noisy backpackers; issues with poor customer service, the sheer bureaucracy of forms and queues. Outside of north-west hills, homes are old, buildings are often in poor condition. Most restaurants serve food which is very high in fat; not good for children and adults alike (Spain has high levels of obesity).

    Selecting a city cannot just be about fun things to do; it (often) needs to about what that move would do to a person (even if single) and/or the family, after one, two, three+ years. Of course, all countries/cities have pros/cons.

    1. Hey Mike, yeah, I don’t have kids yet so I’m not sure. I’d definitely be annoyed at my kids being forced to learn Catalan by those indepe bigots, but so far it hasn’t come up in my life. Anyway, thanks for commenting!

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