15 Great Things I Loved About Living in Barcelona, Spain
Why You Should Live in Barcelona
An Unbelievable, Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
If you're contemplating living overseas, consider adding Spain to the top of your bucket list as I can easily reel off countless reasons why living in Barcelona in particular, is absolutely fabulous. This cosmopolitan city has all the luxuries of an urban city comparable to Manhattan with its Euro chic sensibilities and an old world charm of its own.
My Husband's Catalan Love Affair Living in Barcelona. It's not often my husband is so easily smitten. He's had other great loves before -- Rome, Paris & Tokyo have previously captured his affection as a Professor of Architecture. When we visited about a year ago, my husband never expected to find a new love.
Living in Barcelona, My Husband Fell in Love
We were both captivated by the city's urban old world charm. Barcelona is arguably one of the finest European cities. Little did we expect to return a year later with a chance to live in Barcelona for 4 months. How about you? Perhaps you've been to Barcelona before on vacation but have made a secret wish to go back to live in Barcelona one day.
Although we had a chance to live for 4 months, you can also easily rent an apartment for a week or a month in fairly safe, chic areas. It will be less expensive than you think and living in an an apartment will give you more of a feel for living like a resident. Barcelona has some of the best markets and local neighborhoods for ingredients.
Can't Decide If You Want to Live In Barcelona or Another City?
Whether you're looking for additional information about living in Barcelona or perhaps have a chance to work/live/study abroad and you have to choose between Barcelona and some other destination, look no further. We've now had a chance to also live in Rome and that was wonderfully fabulous, too. Here are 15 compelling reasons why you should say "si" to living in Barcelona.
Note: Unless otherwise credited, photos were either taken by me or my husband.
Photo Source: Eric & Adrienne Jenkins
Updated 9/20 & 9/24/2013
Why We Chose to Live in Barcelona
Our Story About Why You Should Live In This Gorgeous City
Every year when we decide where we want to travel, it's hard to choose between visiting a new city or a place we've already visited. That's always the great travel debate isn't it?
Often the tiebreaker for us is if someone is residing there and extend an invitation to visit. Every time we've hooked up with friends living abroad, it seems they've already found the little back alley, out of the way gems that only the locals know about.
About a year ago, a colleague of Eric's invited us to Barcelona and she lent us her apartment in the historic Gothic Quarter while she was out of town on a class field trip. Barcelona was a new destination for the both of us.
It has been quite some time since my husband had an architectural crush. It was love at first sight. Instantly infatuated, we both were taken in by Barcelona's charm, the closest comparison is Manhattan in a cosmopolitan, modern, stylish European kind of way.
Most of our travels have only been a week, 10 days or two weeks tops. So when this same colleague invited my husband to come to Barcelona to teach next Spring, it was a no brainer. This meant my husband's plane fare and a spacious apartment would all be paid in addition to his regular monthly salary teaching at the university. It took little persuasion for us to say "si" for him to teach and live in Barcelona for 4 months.
#1 - Fabulous Modern Architecture
Architectural Greatness Echoing Nature.
For my husband, a Professor of Architecture, Barcelona is all about the architecture. Brilliant, awe-inspiring Gothic cathedrals juxtaposed with magnificent contemporary buildings. But beyond Gaudi there's the elegant stark simplicity of Mies Van Der Roe's Barcelona Pavilion, the playful fun of Frank Gehry's fish and French architect Jean Nouvel's controversial colorful contribution to Barcelona's skyline.
Much like Manhattan, Barcelona's historic center is a great walk. And each of it's neighborhoods have a unique vibe. But throughout there's a lot of historic architecture preserved right alongside some impressive Modern architecture. That doesn't even count the colorful graffiti art that's splashed on many of the security doors that are displayed at lunch and evenings when shops are closed. So much to see everywhere you turn.
Image: Gaudian Spiral by Erik
Great Architecture Everywhere
#2 - It's All About the Food
Eat, Drink, Sleep
I'm not exactly a diehard foodie or a great cook, but I do love to eat. So Barcelona for me, is all about the food. Fabulous restaurants everywhere. You gotta love a city that sleeps late, shuts down their businesses & stores to take a two hour lunch everyday.
With the Meditteranean sea at its doorstep, Barcelona boasts some of the freshest seafood, delicious seafood stews & soups, tapas & menu del dia or menu of the day. Forget the architecture. If you did nothing in Barcelona but eat, you would leave happy, contented and fulfilled -- maybe 50 pounds heavier but 50 pounds happier.
Enjoying Pintxos in Barcelona - At Sagardi
Our Favorite Pintxo Bar in Barcelona - Sagardi
When you first go to Sagardi, if it's busy, no worries. Just order a drink and ask the bartender for a plate. Then weaving in between those standing at the bar, just dive in and reach in for what you want then get back out. If you're with a date, here's a great stand-up strategy. Have one person hold the drinks while the other person goes and gets the food. Then you just take turns drinking and eating. It's worth it.
Remember, it's busy for a reason -- because it's soooo good. That's always one of our rules when traveling. Don't give up so easily when a place is busy. You may not be back for a while. You're better to eat standing up without a space at the bar than to have bar space or a table at a not so very good pintxo bar. The turnover is best at busy times so you're always getting a fresh selection. Plus most people don't stay very long so spaces always keep opening up to stand at the bar.
We call it tapas but more specifically, these little tidbits of food are called pintxos. This is one of our favorite places to catch a bite on the run that's located in the Gothic Quarter. There are at least two locations we've been to and they're both good.
The Ultimate Road Trip Across Spain - DVD: On the Road Again | Mario Batali & Gwenyth Paltrow
On Gwyneth Paltrow's website, Goop, she lists some of her favorite places to eat and stay while in Barcelona. Click here.
If you haven't seen the show yet, try to catch it on PBS whenever they re-air it or get the DVD. Gwenyth and Mario have a relaxed vibe and Batali has a wonderful exhuberance for food. Gwenyth's perfect Spanish is a suprise. The show's official website has recipes, a show guide and video clips here. If you had to choose only one as a gift, I'd recommend the DVD over the recipe book.
Spain...A Culinary Road Trip - The Book: Mario & Gwenyth's Bucket List Travel Adventure
Chef Mario Batali was on Oprah with Gwenyth Paltrow to talk about their adventures in Spain filming the PBS show "On the Road Again." Oprah featured Spanish recipes by Chef Mario Batali including Asparagus Alla Plancha, Flamenquines, Torrijas and Paella. Mario's Spanish recipes from the Oprah show are available here.
The Freshest Seafood
#3 - Pastry Shops Galore
Bakeries by the Block
Atkins advocates, check your diet at the airport. Flaky pastries, cream puffs, palmiers, croissants, thin crispy wafers coated in honey and sprinkled with pine nuts, cake with layers of light whipped cream icing all beckon. Despite a 4 story walk up and 81 stairs to negotiate every day, I still packed on extra junk in the trunk. Let's just say J Lo looks like Kate Moss in comparison. But so worth every crumb. When in Spain...
Carbs on Every Corner
#4 - Chocolate Lover's Delight
Charming Old World Confectionery Shops
Glass cases full of delectable chocolate bon-bons. Another indulgence for chocoholics -- xurros con chocolat, a decadent cup of hot chocolate as thick as pudding. Not to be missed, the one hundred year old award-winning pastry shop created by Antoni Escriba, who has been described as the "Mozart of Chocolate".
#5 - The Perfect Cup of Coffee
I'm not normally a coffee drinker, but there's something perfect about cafe con leche or coffee halved with steam milk. It's mellow, never bitter. You'll sometimes be asked caliente? Do you want the milk warmed? Because the people of Barcelona have a sweet tooth, I appreciate that their sugar packets are generous. Finding artificial sweetener like sweet 'n low is rare so pack your own. Try Mistral in Raval.
Cafe Con Leche
#6 - Spanish Wine & Cavas
Rival French Wine & Champagne
Spanish ruedas & riojas are being touted in the New York Times Food section. Some of the best of what Spain has to offer is not always exported so what better way to enjoy Spanish wine than living in Barcelona. Plus the wine is inexpensive. You can enjoy a great bottle for $5-$10.
Cava or sparkling wine, Spain's answer to champagne is readily available. Check it out -- cava in convenient individual bottles so you can celebrate anytime. Plus look for sangria in any grocery store in ready-to-go juice boxes.
Plus you gotta love a country where most of the time it's cheaper to enjoy a glass of wine or beer than it is to buy a can of coke or a bottle of water.
Barcelona Cava Tasting
#7 - Buying Your Food at the Market
Live Like a Local
One of the joys of living in a city like Barcelona for a few months is that you get into the rhythm of living like a resident. You search out the best place to buy bread, an inexpensive place to buy flowers, determine who has decent vegetables and fruit. I found a butcher who could understand my butchered Spanish enough to recommend a cheese or jamon.
Without a car, I schlepped groceries on foot and shopped the European way, making a daily grocery run with multiple stops. I'd linger at one of the big markets like the world renown Boqueria or newer Mercat Santa Caterina. Once a week, the cheese market filled the little square in front of the church just down from us in our neighbourhood with the most amazing goat cheese. Barcelona is a foodie's delight.
My Butcher at Mercat de Santa Catarina
#8 - Shopping
January and February the shopping deals are plentiful as retailers make way for Spring and Summer fashions. Fashionistas mix it up with young designers and department store finds. There's also plenty of interesting shopping boutiques to be found in different neighbourhoods with plenty of interesting and unique products.
Interesting Boutique Specialty Shops
#9 - Vibrant Arts & Culture Scene
Plenty of Nightclubs & Live Music
Sardana dancing can be seen on weekends in front of the Cathedral and City Hall. Although Flamenco dancing is native to the Andalusia region of Spain, Barcelona has a historic inexpensive tablao that has been open since the 1960s.
Flamenco Music & Dance at Tarantos
#10 - World Class Museums & Art Galleries
Thriving Local Art Scene
The Picasso Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona
Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona
Palau de la Musica Catalana
One of the nicest things about living in Barcelona is the chance to walk out and experience the city at different times of the day. The streetscape perpetually changes. For example, one day I chanced upon the fun, amazing pop art of Barcelona artist Popi Jabiansky -- animals looking serious as if they are sitting for a formal medieval portraiture.
Image Source: Popi Jabiansky
#11 - Street Art
Shops open and close at random times mid-day, roughly re-opening between 3-7 pm after the mid-day lunch. If you stroll the streets when the stores are closed at this time or in the morning, you'll see one of the best free art galleries in Barcelona. Store street shutters are colorfully painted.
Photography tip. The evening is also a great time for viewing this street art. As long as you mind your camera and valuables as well as stay aware of your surroundings, it's ideal to take pictures. My sister-in-law discovered the aluminium shutters reflect the flash perfectly and somehow the colors show up nicely when it's dark.
Art is Everywhere
#12 - Live Like A Local
Just Walking Around
If you ever run out of museums to visit or things to do, the advantage of living in Barcelona is that you don't have to rush around to have fun. You can just step out and follow the winding streets and there are always interesting things to discover.
For the true experience of living like a local, even if it's only for a week, you can secure a furnished apartment for rent. Our apartment didn't have an oven but it did have a stove. It's usually cheaper than a hotel. A littly pricey, but very professional and reliable, we used Friendly Rentals.
You'll see listings as well as blackout dates. Be sure to study these dates even if you don't book with Friendly Rentals because there are certain dates you want to avoid visiting Barcelona. There's a telecommunications confererence and a fashion week where accommodations are virtually sold-out and double the price at those times.
Source: Friendly Rentals
Just Walking Around Barcelona is Fun
#13 - Celebrations
The people of Barcelona love a party and every neighborhood seems to have their own celebration. Often times without even trying you can stumble upon some event or another. Tres Tombs, St. Eulalia, Santa Semana and St. Jordi's day are just some of the festivals we enjoyed.
If there is only one festival that should not be missed, if you're a book lover or just a lover, St. Jordi's day in April is unforgettable. It is the Catalan equivalent of St. Valentine's Day and is unreal as rose sellers and book sellers set up tables across the city.
Tres Tombs Festival
#14 - Proximity to Major Airports
Lots of Low Cost Airlines
Barcelona is home to many low cost airlines which makes it ideal for taking weekend jaunts to other European destinations. I was able to visit a friend who is studying jewellery making in Florence. Ryan Air is actually not based in Barcelona, it's about an hour long bus ride away. But Ryan Air occasionally has these ridiculous low fare sales, as low as $1 seats where you just pay the taxes and fees, no strings attached as they just want to fill the plane rather than have it fly empty.
Flew Ryan Air to Florence to Visit My Friend Geri
#15 - The Weather is Perfect Year Round
Most people think of escaping to tropical locations like Hawaii or Mexico in the winter. Being in the Mediterranean, Barcelona is fairly temperate. We were there from January to April and I was able to shed my winter coat by February. For the most part I just wore a suit jacket and scarf.
It never snowed and rain was pretty rare. Most of the time it was warm enough that residents could leave their tropical houseplants outside on their balcony. Geraniums were in full bloom in March whereas these might not be available until at least a month or so later in most parts of the States.
Barcelona Allows You To Escape Winter
Where to Stay in Barcelona
My Favorite Area to Stay
is the Gothic Quarter
What's It Like To Live In Barcelona For a Month or Longer?
In One Word -- Simply Awesome
Stay For a Week, a Month or Longer. Try a Furnished Apartment Rental. One of the best values in Barcelona is to stay in an extended stay apartment rental. While you can find apartments to rent for a week or a month on Craiglist, be careful about bait and switch. We've reserved lovely apartments based on their photos and location only to have the reservations changed once we've arrived when you're too jet lagged and weary to make other arrangements.
But who do you trust? I've used Friendly Rentals numerous times for both my husband and I, as well as to rent apartments for students and colleagues. They have apartments that cater to families and large groups. Their apartments are usually clean and outfitted with modern conveniences. Think Ikea type furniture. Most contain kitchens so you can save on eating out by having meals in.
Friendly Rentals Apartments in BarcelonaRESERVE NOW
The last time I visited a couple of years ago, the only drawback is that depending on the apartment, you may have to pick up your key from their office before you get access the apartment and depending on your arrival time, that can mean the inconvenience of having to schlep your luggage around town. The other oddity, and this seems to be more common in Europe, is that you're expected to pay the balance of your stay in cash.
However, from what I remember, you could also request to pay the credit card fee which was an added percentage to charge your apartment rental. I think it was 1-3%. So on a $1,000 apartment rental, that was only $10-$30 more which was much more safe and secure than schlepping that amount of cash around a foreign city. Plus there's usually a daily limit on the amount of cash you can take out from the bank everyday, so you would have to plan your daily withdrawals or have multiple bank accounts, not to mention if your bank charges you to withdraw funds overseas. Also try to use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.
What Neighborhood Should You Live? - Photo Source: Adrienne Jenkins
If you've made the decision you're going to do it, now you have the wonderful dilemma of figuring out where you want to live in the city. It's a good idea to visit your potential neighborhood before you commit to even a short term lease from abroad. Visit the area during the day and night to make sure you feel safe.
You'll also want to see how close the area is to the things you want to do in the city whether it be in the historical center, near the beach or shopping. Are you comfortable with living outside of the main part of the city where the rents are a little more expensive if it's easily accessible by train, tram, bus or bike?
I love the tight enclosed city streets and dense amount of shops and things to see and do in the historic Gothic quarter. But seem people prefer the wide open spaces of Eixample. Do a little research ahead of time by also checking out locations on Google maps and comparing relative distances to similar streets in your hometown.
Where Do You Want to Live In Europe? - If the Magic Squidoo Fairy Came Along & Granted You One Wish
Where Would You Choose?
Not convinced yet? Overall, Barcelona is urban, hip, chic -- oh, yah there's also football/soccer and the beach. What more could you want? Barcelona is a great place to visit and an even better place to live.
Muy Bueno! Have a fantastico time. What do you think of living in Barcelona? Feel free to share any of your travel tips, suggestions or don't hesitate to drop me a line if you have questions.
P.S. October 5, 2010
If you're interested in reading more about what it's like to live overseas, there's a free Kindle book from Amazon.com written by novelist R.S. Gompertz, author of "No Roads Lead to Rome." It's a collection of articles about some of the issues and situations you come across when living away from home. Click here for . You don't even need a Kindle, you can download the Kindle for PC or Mac application to read on your computer. The Expat's Pajamas: Barcelona
I just woke up. It's 5 am in Washington, DC and I just discovered on my dashboard that I won lens of the day. Thanks for whoever nominated me. It's my first one since joining Squidoo in 2008 where I began writing from my sabbatical in Barcelona. This is very serendipitous because I happen to be leaving shortly on a field trip with my husband and his architecture students to Barcelona & Rome. In 2011 -- we are fortunate enough to get to live in Rome for a semester. Ciao for now!
Photo Source: All photos by Adrienne Jenkins unless otherwise credited.