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Moving to Barcelona

Expats moving to Barcelona will find themselves in one of the finest destinations in Europe. The city is world-renowned for its architectural beauty, its cultural character and the way it blends tradition with innovation.

Ornate medieval buildings appear alongside Gaudi’s unique modernist creations and ultra-contemporary downtown high rises. Traditional bars serving tapas and Cava (a Spanish take on champagne) stand shoulder to shoulder with chic eateries and glamorous Michelin-starred restaurants. 

Salaries in Barcelona are low by European standards while the cost of living continues to rise unabated. Given its relative commercial success, there are more job opportunities in Madrid and the Spanish capital tends to attract more foreigners.

Accommodation, usually an expat’s most expensive responsibility, is more or less on par with other European cities. The process of finding a home to rent is now nearly as competitive as in London or Amsterdam.

New arrivals who have emigrated for pleasure or those who have been lucky enough to secure a job beforehand will, however, find no better place to explore. 

Set against a backdrop of mountains and hills, the capital of the Catalan autonomous region is 125 miles (200km) south of France and located on the Costa Dorado between the Llobregat and Besòs river mouths.

Barcelona's Catalonian heritage is ever-present and shapes daily life in the city while exerting influence on the language and customs of the country as a whole.

Aside from its architectural and cultural charms, the city is characterised by a pulsating social scene and sprawling, eclectic neighbourhoods that unravel alongside the sparkling Mediterranean.

The public transport system is efficient, safe and reliable, the healthcare system is of a high-standard, and expat families will have access to a range of quality education options. 

Expats need only to find a way to make enough money in Barcelona to get by, learn at least some of the local language, and settle into what is potentially a very laid-back lifestyle in Spain. 

This is usually easier said than done, but the rewards have every reason to be worth it for expats with the necessary skills – the weather in Barcelona is arguably unbeatable, the architecture is incredible, and the overall lifestyle is often praised as one of the best on the continent.

Weather in Barcelona

Expats will love the fantastic climate in Barcelona. The city boasts warm, sunny weather in summer and cooler winters. However, in August the heat can become almost unbearable, and expats may want to take a break from the city for a bit. The average high in summer can reach 82°F (29°C), while the winter doesn’t usually get any colder than 50°F (10°C).

Barcelona Climate Chart

Working in Barcelona

Working in Barcelona places expats in what has traditionally been an economically powerful European city. 

As one of the first European centres to industrialise, trade and industry have long been a part of the Catalan capital’s makeup. Manufacturing continues to play a major role in the economy of Barcelona, even though it has been overtaken by the service sector.


Job market in Barcelona

Fashion and tourism are two of the city’s largest service industries. Additionally, banking is a major sector, and the city’s logistics industry is also large, given its situation as a port city. 

Barcelona has also become a centre for high-tech industry, with the greatest concentration of businesses found at the Parc Tecnològic del Vallès (Science Park of El Vallès) to the northeast of the wider metropolis. 

Salaries in Barcelona tend to be relatively low, despite the rising cost of living. One possible exception is the tourism industry. Tourism occupies a large portion of the city's economy, but it has also traditionally employed many expats. While local residents have suffered under a weakened economy, the city has attracted record numbers of tourists in recent times.

Work in this sector tends to be seasonal, however. So, while it is an easy way to start working in Barcelona, it is most lucrative in the summer months. 


Finding work in Barcelona

Expats with experience and qualifications in the city’s leading business sectors are more likely to find a job that is able to sustain them, although this is no guarantee. Those who are looking for work in Barcelona should try their best to find a position prior to their arrival, but those who do arrive without a contract are sometimes able to fall back on jobs such as teaching English or working in one of the city’s many call centres.

Being able to speak Spanish or Catalan will give expat applicants an extra advantage since, while the city is accustomed to English-speaking tourists, these are the primary languages in which business is conducted. Expats who are able to speak a third language such as German will be at even more of an advantage since there is a fairly large foreign investment presence in the country.

When it comes to job hunting in Barcelona, though, it is often said that what someone knows is less important than who they know. The best resources for finding a job in Barcelona, for those without the necessary contacts, are through local English language media as well as online job portals. 

Accommodation in Barcelona

Nestled between sea, mountains and rivers, Barcelona is a city that is rich with history and beauty, but it is also a densely populated city, and due to its layout, high-rise apartments abound.

Houses in Barcelona are often more difficult to find, more expensive and more challenging to secure. Several months of rent are expected to be paid in advance as a security deposit, in addition to the first month's rent and an agent's fee – usually the equivalent of one month's rent. 

Following the property crisis, prices for real estate in Barcelona dropped by almost a third. Price levels have since levelled and some areas have even seen a moderate rise in prices. 

As a result, rent and property prices in Barcelona are significantly lower than major European capitals such as London and Paris, and slightly lower than Madrid. This is, however, matched by lower levels of employment and lower average salaries. 


Factors to consider when house-hunting in Barcelona

Owing to the state of the market, expats should carefully consider their options when buying or renting property in Barcelona. 

Given that there are many options for short-term accommodation in the city, many expats prefer to arrive in the city before committing to a long-term lease. 

The range of this kind of accommodation includes flatshares, single rooms in larger houses or vacated student accommodation. As a result, this may not be a viable option for large expat families.

Expats should also keep in mind that it is helpful, and in many cases necessary, to speak Spanish when searching for accommodation, and when arranging leases with landlords. 

For this reason, many expats hire an estate agent to assist in the process of finding and securing a place to live in Barcelona. 


Finding accommodation in Barcelona

One of the first things an expat should do when looking for a place to stay in Barcelona is to identify areas of the city that appeal to them and serve their needs. This can either be done through research online, speaking to residents or exploring the city in person.

Barcelona is fairly unique in that its neighbourhoods tend to have a mixture of residential and commercial property, rather than solely consist of one or the other. It is also usually possible to access essential services such as healthcare within a short distance of where one stays. 

For this reason, it may be an idea for expats who will be working in Barcelona to find a property in close proximity to their workplace. 

Expat parents who send their children to a private school may want to live closer to the school. In cases such as these, it is a good idea to find accommodation close to public transport.

After searching for a suitable area, the search for an individual property begins. There is a multitude of online listings and property portals, and newspapers often have classifieds sections. 

Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of these are in Spanish, although there are a few English websites and publications that are aimed at the expatriate community. Many expats also find a real estate agent who can speak English and knows the property market to assist them in their search. 


Renting property in Barcelona

Most expats rent property in Barcelona first, even if it is not short-term accommodation. As a general rule, areas that are closer to the beach, with more space and are close to important amenities tend to be more expensive.

Expats who are going to be paid at Spanish salary levels should try to ensure that a housing stipend is included in their contract, as rent can take a significant amount out of a person’s wages. Students and young professionals in the city have increasingly taken to sharing apartments for this reason.

Thankfully, landlords often choose their tenants based on who contacts them first and can pay the stipulated amount. They will generally require proof of income and a security deposit of between one and six months’ rent.

After the terms have been settled with the landlord, the new tenant will sign a lease agreement or Contrato de Arrendamiento. Given that the contract is in Spanish, an expat may want to enlist the help of a Spanish speaking friend, or a real estate professional.

Areas and suburbs in Barcelona

Each of the areas and suburbs in Barcelona offers different facilities and options for housing. So, depending on a person’s circumstances and preferences, there is no shortage of options for expats looking for a place to live in Barcelona.

There are ten municipal districts in Barcelona that are further divided into zones and are often named after the closest metro or train stop. These districts include Cuitat Vella, L’eixample, Sants-Montjuic, Les Corts, Sarria-Sant Gervasi, Gracia, Horta-Guinardo, Nou Barris, Sant Andreu and Sant Marti.

Below is a list of popular neighbourhoods in Barcelona which are often favoured by expatriates.


Family-friendly areas in Barcelona

Pedralbes 

Pedralbes is an elegant residential area in the district of Les Corts, with wide avenues and green, open spaces. Many apartment buildings here date from the 1970s, and have swimming pools, doormen and garages for two cars per apartment. 

Close by are the serene gardens of the Palau de Pedralbes, the hilly Parc de Cervantes with its playgrounds and rideable miniature train, the Carretera de les Aigues which is great for jogging and cycling, and offers spectacular views of the city, and the beautifully preserved, ancient Real Monestir Santa Maria Pedralbes, known as Monestir Pedralbes. 

Pedralbes has fewer metro stations than more central areas. The bus network is reliable but not as well developed as in some neighbourhoods, so owning a car is recommended.

A mainly residential area, it has few shops and cafés. It is very close to several of the most prominent English-speaking schools in Barcelona

Pedralbes appeals to expat families wanting to live in a safe neighbourhood. The fact that a car is needed and it is expensive makes it less appealing to younger expats.

Sarria

To the east of Pedralbes, in the Sarria-Sant Gervasi district, Sarria is a pleasant, slightly less upmarket residential area with better shop and restaurant choices. There is a mixture of older and newer apartment blocks, many of which have a doorman. A few detached and semi-detached houses can be found in the hilly streets to the north.

The FGC suburban train connects Sarria to the centre of town, and the area is very well served by buses. 

There are several parks which are good for running and have children’s play areas. Sarria is also very convenient for its proximity to a number international schools in Barcelona, so it appeals to expat families with children. 

Tres Torres

Also in the Sarria-Sant Gervasi district, Tres Torres is a quiet residential area in the northwest corner of Barcelona. Most apartments provide garage space for two cars with each unit.  It is, however, not recommended for young people without a car, as it is some way outside the city centre. 

The area is served by the FGC suburban train and has an excellent bus network, but metro stops are scarce. There is a good municipal market, some supermarkets, and the Avenue Diagonal shopping area is close by. 

St Gervasi

To the north of the old city, St Gervasi is one of the most central districts in Barcelona, located north of L’Eixample and west of Gracia. 

Shopping possibilities are unlimited, and there is no shortage of bars and restaurants.

Rental prices are relatively low, but parking can be troublesome, although many apartment buildings offer a parking space.

The FGC suburban train connects St Gervasi to Placa Catalunya and buses cross the district in all directions. As this area is very central, walking can also be an option, and the John Talabot School is fairly close by.

St Just Desvern and Esplugues de Llobregat

Located in northwest Barcelona, St Just Desvern and Esplugues de Llobregat are spacious inner suburbs that provide plenty of green space, tennis clubs, and even horse-riding facilities. Both areas are popular with expatriates and convenient for the American School of Barcelona. 

A car is essential here as there are no metros or trains, and buses to the city centre take over an hour. However, traffic congestion can be a real problem when driving to work. These suburbs are completely self-sufficient, with plenty of supermarkets and small, traditional shops. 


Areas for young and single expats in Barcelona

Esquerra Eixample

South of St Gervasi and nearer to the heart of the old city, Esquerra Eixample is a busy area with many restaurants, bars and shops. Eixample is divided into a right- and left-hand section (Dreta and Esquerra) but both have the same octagonal grid formation that typifies Barcelona. 

Apartments generally don’t have garages, but spaces can sometimes be rented in a nearby parking complex. The FGC suburban train, metro and buses provide good transport links. 

There are three buildings designed by Gaudi close by, and La Rambla de Catalunya, with its perfect low-angle view of Mount Tibidabo, is fantastic for walking. Parks and children’s play areas are scarcer here, however, and most recommended schools are in the northwest, so this is a district better suited to expats without children. 

Vila Olimpica

Originally built to house athletes for the 1992 Olympics, Vila Olimpica is close to the bars and restaurants of the pleasure port. The beach is easily reachable, and there are opportunities for running, cycling, roller blading, sailing and wind surfing. The area attracts both tourists and locals, and tends to get busy on weekends. 

Most apartment buildings here have very good light, are three or four floors high and provide a community garden and swimming pool. Quality was sometimes sacrificed in the rush to finish them, and sound insulation can be poor. Nevertheless, rents are expensive.

There are supermarkets, shops and a cinema, but the best international schools are at least an hour away. The metro and bus services connect the area to the centre of town, but commuters will need to transfer between lines for destinations in the north and west of the city.


Suburbs outside of Barcelona

Castelldefels and Gava

Castelldefels and Gava are around 12 miles (20km) south of Barcelona, and close to fine, sandy beaches that fill with city dwellers in summer. Weekends can be busy as people flock to the area’s seafood restaurants. 

Accommodation is mainly in the form of houses, some of which are partitioned off as summer apartments without heating facilities. 

Trains in and out of Barcelona are convenient and frequent, reaching the city centre in less than 20 minutes. Several shopping malls can be reached by car in 15 minutes, as can the airport.

Castelldefels is home to the British School of Barcelona. 

Sant Cugat del Valles

Sant Cugat del Valles is situated behind Mount Tibidabo and the Collsera Natural Reserve, seven miles (12km) north of Barcelona. Frequent trains connect it to the centre of Barcelona in around 20 minutes. The area is popular with American and French expatriates.

It has its own cinemas, shops, concert hall, golf course and sports clubs. It has detached houses with gardens and occasionally swimming pools, and is ideal for expat families. The Benjamin Franklin International School runs a bus service for pupils in the area.

Healthcare in Barcelona

As is generally the case in Spain, the system of healthcare in Barcelona is high quality and holds a good reputation among both locals and expats. Even international patients have taken notice of the country’s exceptional treatment, and a fair amount of foreigners travel to the city as medical tourists. As a result, both the public and private healthcare sectors in the cityBarcelona have risen to meet the challenge.

The Catalan public health system is known to locals as CatSalut, and offers largely subsidised care for those who have a Targeta Sanitària Individual (TSI) healthcare card. However, it is often associated with long queues for simple examinations or seemingly endless waits for routine operations.

In light of these setbacks, expats moving to Catalonia are advised to make use of the robust private healthcare system in Barcelona and to invest in private health insurance.That said, the problems with public healthcare are mostly institutional and doctors in Barcelona generally provide a high standard of healthcare.

Private hospitals in Barcelona tend to be less crowded and more efficient than their public equivalents. The Catalan capital contains more than a quarter of all of Spain’s private clinics, and such a wide variety of options has raised the standard of care in the cosmopolitan centre.


Hospitals in Barcelona

Below is a list of some of the most prominent hospitals in Barcelona:

 

Hospital Plató

C/Plató 21, 08006, Barcelona

www.hospitalplato.com

 

Centro Médico Teknon

Carrer Vilana 12, 08022, Barcelona

www.teknonbarcelona.com

 

Hospital Universitari Dexeus

Sabino Arana 5-19, 08028, Barcelona

www.quiron.es

 

Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children’s Hospital

Santa Rosa Street., 08950, Esplugues de Llobregat

www.hsjdbcn.org

Education and Schools in Barcelona

The education system in Spain is decentralised. Schools in Barcelona have to adhere to guidelines set out by both the Government of Catalonia and the national Ministry of Education.

Unlike public schooling in much of the rest of the country, the teaching language in Barcelona is Catalan, which is the official language of the province. 

Schools in Spain are generally either público (public), privado (private) or concertado (semi-private). Each system has its own unique benefits and shortcomings, and expats will want to evaluate their priorities when finding the school that best suits their child.

Children in Barcelona are required by law to go to school between the ages of six and 16 years old. 


Public schools in Barcelona

The public school system in Barcelona is free, but parents will need to pay for books and materials, although uniforms are not required. 

Expat parents who send their younger children to a Barcelona public school can provide them with a fantastic opportunity to learn the language and integrate with local residents. Older students will, however, need instruction in their first language with a slower immersion into Catalan and Spanish.

It can be difficult for expat students to gain admission into certain public schools due to overcrowding, as well as the fact that in some areas a lottery system may be the only means of entrance. Expat parents will also have to fill out the necessary paperwork in either Catalan or Spanish or find an individual who can help with the process.


Semi-private schools in Barcelona

Semi-private schools are subsidised by the government and are either free or offer low school fees. The standards of these schools differ between districts but it is generally assumed that schools in more affluent areas are of a better standard.

These schools are a good option for parents who would prefer smaller class sizes for their children, but who cannot afford a private international school in Barcelona.

Expats should be aware that these schools generally follow the Spanish curriculum and the primary teaching language will usually be Catalan.


International schools in Barcelona

International schools in Barcelona are private schools that uphold the teaching language and curriculum of a foreign country, and generally, provide a very high standard of education. 

It is common for space in these institutions to be limited, as demand at these schools is usually high and some schools admit students based on nationality quotas.

International schools offer pupils the benefit of continuing with language instruction that should be familiar. All international schools have annual tuition fees, and it is best to consult schools individually to find out more about costs.

International Schools in Barcelona

There is an assortment of bilingual and international schools in Barcelona. In fact, international educational standards are so commonplace that many of the schools that teach British and American curricula have a student body predominantly made up of Spanish pupils.

International schools in Spain are obliged by law to teach either Spanish or a co-official regional language. In Catalonia, international schools will teach both Spanish and Catalan, as well as give additional focus to local content in subjects such as history and geography.


International schools in Barcelona

American School of Barcelona

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18
Curriculum: American, International Baccalaureate and Spanish
Website: www.asbarcelona.com

Benjamin Franklin International School

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18
Curriculum:  American and International Baccalaureate
Website: www.bfischool.org

The British School of Barcelona

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Cambridge IGCSE and A-Levels
Website: www.britishschoolbarcelona.com

Europa International School

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 1 to 18 
Curriculum: Spanish and International Baccalaureate
Website: www.europais.com

International School of Catalunya

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate, English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Website: www.iscat.es

Oak House School

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 3 to 18
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE, International Baccalaureate and Spanish
Website: www.oakhouseschool.com

SEK Catalunya International School

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 1 to 18
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Website: www.sek.es

St. George's British School

Gender: Co-educational
Ages: 2 to 18
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Website: www.stgeorgeinternational.es

Lifestyle in Barcelona

The lifestyle in Barcelona is filled with exciting nightlife, cultural events, attractions, fine food and great shopping. 

People in Barcelona generally place equal importance on work and living well. Most stores and businesses in the city open around 9am or 10am and are open until late. The busiest time for restaurants in Barcelona is around 10pm, while clubs and bars can still be filling up well after midnight.

Evenings out in Barcelona often start with alfresco dining in the city squares or sundowners at the yacht marina, or a local chiringuito (beach bar). Afterwards, residents often proceed to trendy bars and clubs in areas such as Barri Gòtic, Las Ramblas or nearby Port Olimpic which also hosts some of the best seafood restaurants in Spain.

There is plenty for expats to see and do in Barcelona, with ballet, music, dance and opera performances at venues such as the Greek Theatre, the Joan Miro Foundation and the Liceu Opera House.

Given the city’s Mediterranean climate it is no surprise that life in Barcelona is often characterised by cafés, long lunches, late night parties, festivals and other outdoor attractions. Expats can also expect to soak up the sun along three miles (4.8km) of golden coastline.


Beaches in Barcelona

The high season for Barcelona’s beaches is from early April to the end of September. The city’s beaches are well equipped to handle the throngs of tourists and locals, with sunbeds, facilities for the disabled, and plenty of lifeguards. 

The most popular beaches in Barcelona include Barceloneta and Nova Icaria, both of which are walking distance from the city centre, while a little further away Mar Bella and Nova Mar Bella beaches are popular with water sports enthusiasts, while cyclists and joggers make use of longer, quieter parts of the shore. 

Expats will be able to access all of the beaches in Barcelona with public transport if they use a combination of buses and metro, and are prepared to walk a short distance.


Shopping in Barcelona

For the best shopping in Barcelona, expats should head for the Las Ramblas pedestrian mall, Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square), Passeig de Gracia and Avenue Diagonal.

There is also a bus from Placa de Catalunya that stops at retail centres throughout the city. Expats looking for something a bit more refined can head to El Born, which is packed with trendy boutiques and tasteful stores.

Barcelona’s malls and shopping centres have many upmarket stores that sell fashions by world-class designers such as Armani and Burberry as well as Spanish outlets, which include Zara and Mango. Bargains can be found at the winter sales in January and summer sales in July.

Shops are often open from 9am to 8pm, with a siesta between 2pm and 4pm. Large department stores are usually open from 10am to 10pm. Almost all of the shops in Barcelona are open on Saturday morning, but many are closed in the afternoon and on Sundays.


Nightlife in Barcelona

The nightlife in Barcelona is as varied as it is famous. With a workday that usually ends at around 8pm, most restaurants and bars are at their busiest late in the evening. The trendiest clubs in the city are also known to only really get going at 3am, as revellers party until dawn.

Residents have a wide selection of choices when it comes to nightclubs and bars in Barcelona. Expats can lounge around with a designer mojito at upmarket clubs or have a few drinks at a hole-in-the-wall pub. Both Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter are packed with as many party goers at night as they are with shopaholics during the day. The more bohemian Raval area is an edgier nightlife spot, although expats should be aware of the area’s seedier parts.

New arrivals in Barcelona should consider taking one of a few club or pub tours that show the best the city has to offer visitors and residents alike.


Eating out in Barcelona

The meeting point for Europe, the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa, Barcelona has become a melting pot of international cuisines and its own distinct flavours. The city is home to a host of world-class restaurants where expats can sample a range of local and international cuisines. The Catalan capital also boasts an impressive offering of fresh seafood as a result of its exquisite coastal position.

Those looking to experience traditional Catalan cuisine will be delighted by the scores of tapas bars and traditional eateries dotted in and around the city. Eating out forms an essential part of its culture and an authentic Barcelona experience would be incomplete without sampling delectable regional specialities such as crema Catalanpaella, and sangría.

Kids and Family in Barcelona

Expats moving to Barcelona with children in tow are bound to have a fantastic experience. The mild weather and dense urban centre make it a fun and easy city to explore as a family. 

Children in Barcelona are welcomed and loved. The Catalan capital’s location on the beautiful Mediterranean and its proximity to the Pyrenees Mountains make it an ideal spot for families to take a break from city life and explore nature. 

Families from around the world call the city home. As a result, foreign parents will have access to many expat organisations, shops stocked with goodies from back home, several activities in English and a variety of international schools in Barcelona.


Meeting other expat parents in Barcelona

Parents should have no trouble meeting other expats in Barcelona. Even expats who plan to get to know the locals need an outlet where they can speak their own language and ask questions of others who understand their experiences. 

The Barcelona Women’s Network, for instance, is a group of more than 250 women from around the world which offers a wide range of activities and a source of support for foreign women in Barcelona.

There is a range of these kinds of organisations and they can easily be found online.


Entertainment and activities for kids in Barcelona

Nearly every month, the city organises a festival with loads of free children’s activities. There are many interesting museums, beautiful parks and exciting activities for children in Barcelona. Below are some favourites.

Cosmo Caixa

An interactive science museum that is as beautiful as it is engaging; children and adults of all ages will be delighted. The highlight is the Flooded Forest, where visitors stroll through an Amazonian rainforest that is occupied by birds, turtles, snakes, crocodiles and piranhas. One of the planetariums shows 3D movies about science, while the other teaches children about the stars. Families can register for workshops, where visitors can touch real animals and insects from different places. On a clear day, the rooftop café has magnificent views of the sea.

Teleferic Trams

Kids will love taking a ride on the high-wire cable car tram stretching from the port of Barceloneta to the Montjuic Hill while offering beautiful views of the city and sea. There are great sights at both ends. Barceloneta boasts the Maritime Museum and a medieval shipbuilding yard, while Montjuic has beautiful gardens, parks and museums to explore. There is also another aerial tram on Montjuic that takes visitors up to the Montjuic Castle.

Tibidabo

Another high altitude attraction, Tibidabo is a unique, old-fashioned amusement park with just the right mix of modern rides to keep older children happy. The charming Tramvia Blau funicular takes visitors to the top of the hill from the train station.


Art and theatre for kids in Barcelona

Barcelona boasts a full cultural agenda for children. Music halls, theatre companies and museums all offer cultural programmes for families and children. Some of the activities, such as concerts, shows and tours, can be done as a family. There are also various programmes for children only, which means that expat parents can stroll the museum on their own. 

One of the most famous attractions is the Petit Liceu Opera House, which offers a fabulous and engaging programme for children.

CaixaForum

Parents will love the world-class exhibitions at this art museum, which is housed in an old textile factory. Children will love the interesting monthly concerts, theatre and film programmes. While the museum entrance is free, workshops, concerts and films require tickets. Expats with a Barcelona library card usually receive a discount.


Food and eating out with kids in Barcelona 

Catalan food is flavourful, simple and showcases the bounty of the Mediterranean. But sometimes expats miss a good old burger and fries. Of course, these can be found in chain restaurants such as the Hard Rock Café. 

Sometimes it takes a little investigation, but hard-to-find food and ingredients from back home can usually be found in speciality stores and online. El Corte Ingles in Plaza Catalunya and DeliShop stock a good variety of ingredients for international cuisine. American and British goodies can be found at A Taste of America and A Taste of Home, while Asian ingredients can be found at the Extremo Oriente supermarket near Plaza Catalunya.

See and Do in Barcelona

There are plenty of things for expats to see and do in Barcelona. Residents and visitors can enjoy vast municipal parklands and sun-flooded beaches.

The views from the surrounding mountains take in the entire city, including the tree-lined Las Ramblas pedestrian mall that stretches from the city centre to Port Vella, Barcelona’s oldest harbour.

There is a wealth of ancient and modern architecture to explore, with many of the local buildings designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi having been declared World Heritage Sites. There are also a number of museums and galleries in Barcelona that are worth visiting.

Recommended attractions in Barcelona

Barri Gotic

Dating back to the Roman era, Barri Gotic is the oldest district in the city and home to many Gothic buildings and cathedrals worth exploring.

FC Barcelona Museum and Stadium

Camp Nou is one of the world’s greatest football stadiums. A collection of photographs, trophies, memorabilia and documents connected to the city’s beloved football team, FC Barcelona, can be seen here.

Joan Miro Foundation

The Joan Miro Foundation celebrates this surrealist sculptor and painter's life and works with a display of his sculptures, paintings, drawings and textiles.

Las Ramblas

A pedestrian avenue in Barcelona’s old city, Las Ramblas is one of the most famous streets in Europe and is home to numerous cafés, restaurants and boutiques for expats to enjoy.

La Sagrada Família

Known as the Church of the Holy Family, this is an unfinished but intriguing Modernista structure designed by Antoni Gaudi in the late 19th century. Construction is expected to finish in 2027 at the earliest.

Montjuic Hill

Overlooking Barcelona’s city centre, Montjuic Hill is an excellent viewing point from where expats can see many of the local landmarks and stroll in the fountained parks.

Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to make the most of natural light and has a spacious interior filled with modern art by the likes of Basquiat, Klee and Barcelo.

Park Guell

Discover the delightful designs of Gaudi in the fascinating gardens of Park Guell, the city’s most popular recreational park.

Picasso Museum Barcelona

Five medieval mansions in one of Barcelona’s greatest Gothic areas have been converted into the Picasso Museum, a site that houses an impressive collection of the great artist’s early work – a fantastic find for art-loving expats. 

Tibidabo

Tibidabo is another Barcelona hill worth climbing and is linked to the city by funicular services. Those that make the effort to mount the summit often do so to visit the fantastic Parc d'Atraccions, Barcelona’s only remaining amusement park.

What's On in Barcelona

With an events calendar packed with everything from traditional Catalan religious festivals to cutting-edge technological events and large-scale music concerts, there is always something on in Barcelona. 

Whether a visitor to the city or a new arrival who plans to stay for a few years, it is worth knowing about some of the most prominent celebrations among the city’s many festivals.

Expats can do everything from celebrating the city’s patron saint amid dragons, devils and showers of sparks, to enjoying the sound of roaring engines at the Spanish Grand Prix. 

Some of the most popular annual events in Barcelona are listed below.

Carnival (February)

In a lead-up to the fasting and denial practised during Lent, Carnival is a festival of indulgence held in February each year, featuring plenty of feasting and dancing. An over-the-top carnival parade to bring the period of plenty to a close is the highlight of the festival.

Barcelona Marathon (March)

An annual marathon that has been running since 1978, participants pass by some of the city’s most popular sights, including Sagrada Familia, the Camp Nou soccer stadium and the beach. 

Palm Sunday (April)

An important holy day for the Catholic Church, Palm Sunday is celebrated in Barcelona with a procession involving many beautiful sculptures and artworks.

Spanish F1 Grand Prix (May)

The Spanish Formula One Grand Prix is always a crowd puller, with thousands of spectators and all the international racing teams converging in Barcelona to watch the world’s best drivers compete.

European Balloon Festival (June)

The sky fills with colourful hot-air balloons in an event which draws thousands of tourists and participants from all over the world each year.

Sonar Festival (June)

A contemporary arts and music festival centred around the Centre for Contemporary Culture and the Museum of Contemporary Art by day and the Fira Gran Via conference centre by night. 

Barcelona Summer Festival (June to August)

The Barcelona Summer Festival, commonly referred to as the Grec Festival, is an international cultural event that features theatre, dance and music, which is held between June and August each year. 

Festes de la Mercè (September)

A week-long festival towards the end of September, the city gathers to celebrate its patron saint, Our Lady of Mercy. The event starts with a bang, as parades of dwarfs, dragons and giants open the festivities. Residents enjoy fireworks, music and sporting events, until the final parade when around 100,000 people gather at the Barri Gòtic to watch. 

Fira de Santa Llúcia (December)

A traditional Christmas fair with a history that goes back to the 18th century, expats can explore stalls that sell all kinds of handcrafted Christmas gifts and decorations. Expats are likely to be at least slightly taken aback by the caganer, a famous Catalan figure that features in many of the city’s nativity scenes.

Frequently Asked Questions about Barcelona

What language is spoken in Barcelona?

Spain is divided into different regions, each with their own unique culture, history and language. The official language in Barcelona is Catalan, a language in its own right which has Spanish and French influences. The local people have worked hard to make their language relevant in modern life and it is a big part of the city's culture. Though most locals can also speak Spanish and many, especially in tourist areas, can speak English as well, schools are taught in Catalan. Don't make the mistake of thinking Catalan is little more than a regional dialect not worth learning - as an expat in Barcelona, one will probably need to learn both Spanish and Catalan to get by.

Do I need a car in Barcelona?

Public transport in Barcelona is cheap and reliable; cars are unnecessary luxuries. Parking can be extremely difficult to find and makes driving more frustrating than liberating.

Where can I meet other expats in Barcelona?

There are many expat groups in Barcelona which are a great way to be engaged in the community. Many of the groups are purely social but others serve some aspect of community service. Many of these also include locals, which is a wonderful way to further integrate into the culture. Expats are plentiful in Barcelona so it shouldn't take too long to make friends.

Where's a good place to go for lunch in Barcelona?

There's a plethora of cheap cafés, ethnic eateries, five-star restaurants and everything in between in Barcelona. Take a stroll along the American-style restaurants along the beachfront at Barceloneta, walk by the tucked-away coffee shops in Las Ramblas or head for Michelin-starred spots like Can Fabes.

Getting Around in Barcelona

Public transport in Barcelona is efficient, affordable, well-maintained, clean and safe. Regional trains and the more city-focused Metro are the friendliest to foreigners, with signage and ticket purchases in English.

Some expats find driving in Barcelona easier than in other large cities, but drivers face heavy congestion and parking difficulties. Expats should keep in mind that signage and street names are in Catalan.

Expats moving to the city can depend on public transport, and those in surrounding towns will find plenty of affordable and convenient modes of transit.

It is advisable to master the vocabulary for transport, such as "ticket" and "addresses" in Spanish as well as Catalan.


Public transport in Barcelona

The majority of Barcelona’s transportation services participate in an integrated tariff system. One fare applies across the subway, buses, trams and regional FGC and RENFE commuter trains. If the journey lasts for less than one hour and 15 minutes only one trip or unit will be charged.

The wider region is divided into six zones to calculate fares. Central Barcelona is in Zone One. Expats living outside the city will most likely live in Zone Two. Prices increase as the number of zones travelled increases. 

A range of ticket options exists based on the number of journeys or the number of days used. Discounted tickets are available for people younger than 25 and seniors, while children under four do not pay. Monthly passes and multiple-trip tickets are also available.

Metro trains

With six subway lines and one funicular train, Barcelona’s Metro is the best bet for stress-free travel. Signage is posted in Spanish, Catalan and English. Automated ticket machines can be used in all major languages, though announcements are made in Spanish and Catalan. Metro tickets can be purchased at local Metro stations and at ServiCaixa bank machines.

Bus

Learning the bus routes in Barcelona takes practice and patience, but familiarising oneself with the extensive system of over 100 routes is time well spent.

While the Metro might place commuters in the general vicinity of where they need to be, the bus can bring them to their destination’s doorstep.

Bus stops have maps and a schedule posted in the bus shelter waiting area. If there is no shelter, there will be a street sign displaying the bus route. Many different bus lines use the same stops, so when someone sees their bus approaching they should hold out their arm to alert the driver.

Single journey tickets can be bought upon boarding, while travel cards and monthly passes can be purchased at Metro stations.

Tram

Six lines make up the above ground, zero emissions tram system which extends to territory less covered by the Metro. Lines T1, T2 and T3 cover some popular neighbourhoods not well-served by the Metro, including Pedrables, Esplugues de Llobregat and Sant Just Desvern. Line T4 runs on the opposite side of Barcelona and has stops in Vila Olímpica and Diagonal Mar, areas where many expats choose to live.

RENFE trains

Officially La Red de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, RENFE trains refer to the Spanish railway network. RENFE Cercanías are regional commuter trains that operate in Spain’s major cities. RENFE trains are part of the integrated tariff system in Barcelona, although non-integrated fares are also available. These trains link surrounding towns to Barcelona, while some RENFE stations connect with the Metro and FGC.

Taxis

Barcelona’s black and yellow taxis are plentiful and easy to hail. Rates are reasonable and should be posted in the cab. Expats should ensure the meter is reset before they begin their journey.

Tipping is not required and will probably result in a surprised, but very happy driver. Some people give the driver the remaining change or a small tip of around five percent.

Drivers are generally trustworthy, friendly and reliable. While some may understand some basic English, to avoid pronunciation confusion it is very helpful for expats to have their destination in writing or to know a landmark near it.

Foreigners should be aware that Spain's strict transport laws have resulted in a ban on lift sharing services such as Uber and Lyft in the city.


Walking in Barcelona

Walking the streets of Barcelona is an outright pleasure. Expats will find the city’s mild weather, amazing architecture and medieval alleys make for plenty of pedestrian opportunities.

Of course, expats should exercise more caution in transitional neighbourhoods, tourist hotspots and under the cover of darkness. Barcelona has been appointed one of the pickpocket capitals of the world but, apart from petty theft, expats need not be too worried about more serious crime. 


Cycling in Barcelona

Bike lanes already exist on some of the main streets and the city council is continuously working to make Barcelona more bike-friendly. Bicycles can also be brought on the Metro, Trams and FGC, depending on the time and number of travellers.

Buying a bicycle is not a necessity as the city's popular Bicing bike-sharing service offers a practical alternative with bike stands positioned throughout the city. 

To take advantage of the service, riders simply insert their membership card at one of the designated stands, choose a bike and get going. When a person arrives at their destination, they re-insert their card and drop off the bike. Charges are incurred based on the time the bike is used, as long as it’s under two hours. 


Driving in Barcelona

Expats moving to central Barcelona may want to reconsider purchasing a car. Parking is extremely limited, and those who do own vehicles in the city centre are often forced to hire a space in a private garage. Rates are typically expensive but vary greatly depending on the neighbourhood and the type of garage.

Drivers should also prepare themselves for their fair share of dents and scrapes. No matter where a person parks in Barcelona, the insanely narrow spaces and the congestion during crunch times means that no vehicle escapes unscathed for long.

Many expats live on the city outskirts or surrounding towns where cars seem more necessary, but even here it’s not essential. 

Avancar, the community sharing programme, allows residents to rent a car for trips to the supermarket, weekends at the Costa Brava and anything in between. Cars can be booked online and retrieved at a nearby parking garage.