SpainExpatBlog: Where should you live in Barcelona?
Do you want cheap rent? A swanky pad? To be in the middle of the action? Peace and quiet? Barcelona offers everything you are looking for - in different areas.
One question I get a lot is “Where should I live in Barcelona?” to which my answer is: It depends. It depends on your lifestyle, what you are willing to pay, and which conveniences you need and the inconveniences you are willing to put up with.
- Note: If you are looking for short term accommodation–a couple of weeks to a couple of months–check out my short term accommodation resources.
So let’s begin our tour with the city center, AKA Ciutat Vella, which is probably where your first place will be. It is comprised of four barrios:
All the great history of Barcelona is right here, complete with Roman ruins glassed off in the middle of markets, banks, parks or just incorporated into the stone of newer (though still plenty old) buildings. Winding, ancient streets to get lost in and charming, modernist era bakeries and cafes, this is where all the tourists go to experience the history of the old Roman city or to get lost in the “European experience”. Most expats first choose to live here, electing to move away after a year or two to get away from the noise of too-close neighbors, non-stop construction, vomiting tourists and stench of pee. Still, it remains charming and exceptionally convenient, and if you can score decent terrace, you may choose to stay.
View from Barceloneta flat
An old fishing village on the beach, constructed as seasonal housing for fisherman, so they are as simple as can be with very few balconies to be seen, though some gems exist that you’ll pay the price for. Plenty of expats and immigrants live in the tiny, simple flats though the shared community plazas are generally respected and if you happen to be on a ground floor and have to put your laundry on the sidewalk or plaza to dry, people respect it. It’s generally a higher (organized) petty crime area, though primarily with drug dealing as there is a nearly 0% violent crime rate in all of Barcelona. Barceloneta is great for singles who want to be near the beach.
AKA The Born to us expats, even non-native-English-speaking expats. This is everyone’s second favorite barrio because of its multitude of top restaurants, high end fashion bargains, fantastic bars and indie atmosphere. Still part of the ancient city, many expats call this place home as it has generally larger, renovated flats, charming open spaces and also lacks the dirtiness of other city center barrios.
Seedy though totally safe barrio in the shadow of Montjuic, Raval is packed with middle Asian immigrants such as Indians/Pakistanis, which subsequently makes it the best place in Barcelona to find delicious, cheap Middle Eastern food. Musicians love Raval, it is jammed with bars and music venues, mostly smaller in size, but all of them feel like you have discovered a new treasure when you wander into a new one you never noticed before. The neighborhood has hundreds of years of history with gangs, drugs and prostitution. Within the last decade or so, Raval has (to the dismay of some) cleaned itself up though but it still isn’t a tourist area, though the city is trying to promote it as such. But prostitutes at every crossroads (most of which cars cannot fit through) and the smell of pee in summer still scare the tourists away.
The Expansion of Barcelona, known more commonly as L’Eixample in Catalan. Pronounced, “ey-sham-pla”, it’s a massive gridded suburb that enlarged the city in the 1890s, connecting the Gotic area to the nearby pueblo of Gracia. It has a downtown metropolitan feel as opposed to ancient Roan city feel… because it was designed to be a modern neighborhood, and as it was built during the industrial revolution and at the start of the Modernist era, many beautiful, Art Nouveau doorways and façades can be found here. It is somewhat lacking in the community feel of the much more intimate (sometimes too intimate) closeness of the older parts of the old city, and the great plazas and open areas the rest of Barcelona offers. Nonetheless it hosts some good shopping, upscale bars and great restaurants. Eixample is divided into the izquierda (left) and derecha (right), with izquierda considered the higher end.
This is everyone’s favorite barrio. It’s full of hipsters, chic expats, artists, minimalists and even okupas - the separatist squatters who sport nasty, dreadlocked mullets (girls included) and live off the government (and wealthy parents). Originally a city separate from Barcelona until the Eixample connected the two cities, this ancient town has all the charm of the center without the smell. While you won’t find many an ascensor (elevator) in any block of flats, the buildings rarely rise above three stories and many of them have been renovated or even made into lofts. It is relatively confusing for tourists to get to — the two metro stops are on the perimeters of the barrio — thus Gracia remains unjaded and very much a locals hub. Its main street (calle Verdi) hosts a version original cinema for those who can’t tolerate movies dubbed into Spanish (like me!) and the surrounding streets are full of quirky boutiques, natural bakeries (hard to find in BCN), cool cafes in beautiful plazas, great bars and diverse and modern restaurants. The one and only drawback is its distance from the beaches, but the place is so charming you won’t care. And Barcelona is so small anyway, you can ride a bike to the beach from there (it’s all downhill). There is a good chance that this is the second place you will live in, and when you move on to your third, you will think back on your year in Gracia with fondness.
Plaça del Sol in Gracia
Butting up against Montjuic, and actually partially up the mountain, is the barrio of Poble Sec, Raval’s next door neighbor. This is a well-connected area via metro and roads you can actually drive on, right in the Montjuic area, which is great for jogging, museum visiting, events and all kinds of outdoor things. The one drawback is the complete lack of a decent restaurant. The rest of the city is teaming with amazing food, but Poble Sec has none of it. Otherwise, the barrio rocks with its green areas and quieter neighborhood than most city center barrios. It’s also a very “Spanish” barrio, in that there is plenty of chatting with the lady at the bakery, the man who runs the liquor store, the tellers at the market...
A cheaper area that boasts…the main train station. Ugly buildings and traffic, not much of a community feel, though the city seems to be dedicating more money and effort to parks and community areas.
This is the financial district, which offers the Fira Convention Centre in Plaça Espanya and the new 5 level shopping center that was once Barcelona’s bullring (bull fighting is illegal in Catalunya, hence their symbol is the donkey, not the bull, like in the rest of Spain).
Sarria and Sant Gervasi
Sarria and Sant Gervasi are the swanky, wealthy barrios heading up the hill from Poble Sec. Apartments begin at a million euros. There are plenty of green areas, wide streets, trees and parks and wide walking ramblas (the Spanish love their ramblas). Sarria used to be its own barrio, though not as old as Gracia, so it’s got a cool pueblo feel to it. They are both devoid of tourism as they are just nice, expensive, quiet areas.They do have the Ferro Carrils, which are short distance trains that go downtown and connect to the metros.
All the way on the other side of town is Poble Nou, “new town” in Catalan and pronounced “pob-la no”, and it is a study in contrasts. This is an old industrial district with brick warehouses and factories turned into trendy lofts, or left crumbling. Many an old factory is still waiting for reconstruction and plenty of gitanos (gypsies) make their homes in them, or in the places they used to stand - there are plenty of vacant lots around with an old brick wall in the middle of them, next to a beautiful new construction of desirable flats. Smoke stacks, with the buildings they once supported completely torn down, stand alone in the middle of parks or plazas. Poble Nou has seen the most new construction of any barrio in Barcelona. The barrio is the hot ticket, with a great main street that stops directly on the beach, plenty of fantastic restaurants and no tourism whatsoever.
The outskirts of Barcelona offers cities such as Sitges, a favorite for retired European gay couples with money, and British families. Go figure. It’s a cute little beach town that was formerly a fishing village. It became a trendy place to live when the Catalan bourgeoisie began building their summer homes in Sitges in the 19th century. Great nightlife (though most of the clubs and bars are 'gay').
Finally, back to the other side of Barcelona, where the outskirts are Besos and further north, Badalona. This is where the Andalusian-Galician Spaniard immigrated in the 1960s and 70s: now it’s a mix of Latin American, Pakistani, Chinese and Eastern Europe immigrants living alongside the aging children of the Southern Spainish immigrants.
You likely won’t be looking to live beyond the metropolitan area, unless you want some land for animals, grapes, or otherwise a quiet rural life, which is likely not the reason you are moving here in the first place, though it may be where you end up ten years from now.
Reprinted with permission of SpainExpatBlog.com.
Britt Bohannan Arechiga is an American currently living in Spain, the fifth foreign country she has called home. She has spent the last four years in Barcelona working as a freelance editorial and technical writer and for local magazines and businesses and runs SpainExpatBlog.com.
Photo credit: TRAVELKR (Barcelona)
- Horta, in particular the Plaça Eibissa area.
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