Where to live in Barcelona?
ChicRoom Properties gives the low-down on the best areas to buy or rent property in Spain’s cosmopolitan Catalan capital.
Sea, beaches, art, cathedral, museums, ancient and modern architecture, street life and Mediterranean chic: Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city after Madrid, has something for everyone, in abundance. With a population of 1.6 million in the city itself and a further four million in the suburbs, a high standard of living, boutiques, delis, markets, fiestas and year-round sun, it is undoubtedly a top place to live – assuming you are happy to learn Catalan as opposed to Castilian.
Barcelona Airport is 14km from the city centre. Barcelona has a five-line metro network, which is cheap to use and covers most of the city. The downside is that it closes at 11pm just when most people are getting ready to go out. Buses run until 4am. There are also two extensive suburban train networks, which lead to nearby resorts such as Sitges.
New measures are being introduced in the city to improve on Barcelona’s air pollution, which in 2007 was found to be worse than in Mexico City, despite the proximity of the city to a sea breeze. The main cause is the high number of private cars on the road, a problem the city’s authorities are looking to solve by improvements in public transport and using renewable fuels for buses.
Here’s our guide to the best places to live in the city.
Old city (Ciutat Vella)
The oldest part of the city, Ciutat Vella (Old City), is the liveliest place to live and also the most populated with tourists. It is divided into four parts, La Ribera, also known as El Borne (or more colloquially, Born), to the north, Barrio Gótico, which is the central Gothic quarter, El Raval to the south and the seaside suburb of Barceloneta, even further south. Some of its main attractions include the Eglesia de Santa Maria del Mar, or the People’s Cathedral, the Picasso Museum and one of the world’s most famous streets, the Ramblas. Many Old City properties feature tiled floors, wooden beams, high ceilings and wrought iron balconies.
Attractive as it is to live slap bang in the middle of the city, the downsides are that the streets are narrow, meaning that the properties along them are starved of natural light. It is also hard to fit a car down some of the roads and virtually impossible to park. Many of the houses are old and crumbling with no lifts up to higher floors and it is noisy at all hours of the day and night. You will also barely be able to get in or out of your apartment for the sheer quantity of tourists.
Despite the high number of tourists, what makes the Ciutat Vella special is that it is not just a tourist hangout; it is, for locals, also the centre of their city. On Sundays, the square next to Barcelona Cathedral is taken over by locals dancing the sardana, while in the bars and restaurants there is a mix of local business people, traditional Catalan families, immigrants and a bohemian artsy crowd. Alongside the many art galleries and museums, there are libraries, community centres, nurseries and parks.
Modernisation projects are underway to revive some of the more run-down parts of the Ciutat Vella. El Ravel, which used to be marginalised due to its high crime rate and prostitution, is now one of the most creative parts of the city, drawing young artists, musicians and designers. There is a high immigrant population here, with almost 50 per cent of inhabitants born outside Spain.
La Rivera (El Borne)
This used to be as run down as El Ravel but is now one of the most sought after places to live. The Notting Hill of downtown Barcelona, it offers boutique shopping by day and trendy bars and restaurants by night.
The most touristy neighbourhood, as it has the majority of historical sites and as a result it is the most noisy.
Meaning Little Barcelona, this is the old fisherman’s quarter of the city where the old port, Port Vell, meets the beach. Here, there are some of the best fish restaurants in town and a long, sandy beach popular all year round with bathers, windsurfers, joggers and cyclists. Barceloneta is one of the smallest barrios in Barcelona, just 71 hectares, with around 16,000 inhabitants.
As they were built to house fishermen, apartments here tend to be very small, on average 30–40 square metres and largely unrenovated. They are located close together and so have a tendency to feel claustrophobic. There is more space along the main streets of Calle Juan de Borbon or Paseo Colon. Properties in Barceloneta are popular buys with Britons looking to have a second home near the beach.
L’Eixample (pronounced Ay-sham-pla)
When built in the latter half of the 19th century, Eixample was an early example of urban planning in the centre of Barcelona, designed in a grid-like formation by the visionary architect, Ildefons Cerda. He intended for it to meet the needs of the residents by having hospital, schools, public gardens and markets all in one place, with broad roads and consideration given to sunlight and ventilation.
The best thing about L’Eixample is the space and the modernistaarchitecture of Antoní Gaudi and his compatriots. The buildings are large, but it does lack the community feel you get in other barrios. L’Eixample is well connected to all of Barcelona with a number of metro lines crossing through it. Properties here are generally modern, well looked after with high ceilings, large windows and elevators. For this, however, prices are high.
North of L’Eixample, Gracia is a maze of crowded streets with the main residential area and metro station, Vallcarca, next door to Gaudí’s Park Güell. Here, you can find some of the city’s best tapas bars. Properties range from large, sunny flats, good for families, to cramped apartments squeezed into once private homes, ideal for single people or couples. This is a very popular place to live and property prices are high.
La Zona Alta
Recognised as Barcelona’s most prestigious address, this is one of the biggest districts in Barcelona located on the northwest edge of the city, a little south of Gracia. It is the land of large mansions, elegant apartment blocks and the best international schools, so a good spot for well-heeled families. It used to be a rural region until the Catalan middle classes discovered it. It feels residential and quiet here, but there is a metro line connecting it to the city centre. One of its appeals is that it is close to the Ronda, the belt-like highway that circles Barcelona. There are lots of parks and trees and very few tourists.
Ideal for families, this suburb about 15km north of central Barcelona is well connected to the city by the ferrocaril (regional train). Close by is the forest of the Collserola mountain ridge and there is a large park on the grounds of the Romanesque monastery.
Half an hour south of Barcelona, Sitges is a popular, artsy, pricey, coastal resort suitable for commuters wanting to be close to the city but also be surrounded by a relaxed bohemian atmosphere. There are 17 beaches here running along a four km stretch of coast, with a climate said to be better than in Barcelona. Most notable in Sitges is the large gay community and many gay fiestas, including an outrageous Carnival in Feb/March and Gay Pride in July. It is also renowned for its fantasy Film Festival held each October. Around 35 per cent of the 26,000 people living permanently in Sitges are from Northern Europe.
Meaning “wild” or “rugged” coast, and home and inspiration to Salvador Dalí, Costa Brava caught on as a mass tourist destination because of its rolling, rocky cliff tops and hidden coves. The fishing villages along the northern stretch of the Costa Brava, however, offer some of Spain’s most attractive opportunities. The whitewashed village of Cadaqués, isolated from the rest of the coast by a winding, hilly road, is a popular spot for artists. Port de la Selva, 14km north, is an unspoiled fishing town overlooked by the Benedictine monastery, Sant Pere de Rodes. There is also the town of Figueres, 30 mins from Girona Airport, which is best known for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí and its Theatre Museu Dalí (Dalí Museum).
Depending on where to live in Barcelona, here is what you’ll pay
To rent: Two-bedroom apartments in Barcelona cost between €700-€5,000 (£569 – £4,000) a month
To buy: Average prices for the first quarter of 2012 ranged from €414,000 (£337,000) for two-bedroom properties to €1 million (£800,000) for five bedrooms. This is down by €60,000 for two-bedroom properties and up to €300,000 for five-bed properties compared to 2009 figures.