Ah, Barcelona!* This effervescent and intoxicating city is a world-renowned cultural hot spot, which is probably why the city’s popped up on your radar as a possible place to relocate to as a British expat.
As well as being a very popular destination for University students wanting to go study abroad on the Erasmus Programme, and with it buzzing with modern sophistication and oozing with provincial charm, it’s not for the fainthearted.
Barcelona is a city in a state of constant flux. It pushes and pulls between tradition and modernity. It’s a place where expats have to jostle for space with up to nine million tourists, and where the traditional laidback attitude and slow-paced lifestyle associated with Spain have seemingly been exiled far, far away.
That being said, moving to Barcelona can sometimes feel like falling down a Gaudi-designed rabbit hole where most people only speak Catalan: infinitesimally deep and complex, sometimes even chaotic and confusing.
But don’t let this put you off! For the adventurous expat, or ones who just can’t shake off the love for the hubbub of a bustling city, this in-depth guide will help you to navigate Barcelona, with its colourful and flamboyant modernist-style architecture sandwiched between medieval romance and Gothic treasures.
* How do you pronounce it? Barthelona is how many people think it’s supposed to be pronounced. Contrary to popular belief, the Catalonians don’t actually add the lisp and they think that whoever does is foolish!
Where exactly is Barcelona?
Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, is found on the North East Coast of Spain, in the centre of the Catalonia region. Click on the picture above for a google map guide.
How can I get there?
By air, you can fly to Barcelona-El Prat Airport, which is about a 20-minute drive away from the city centre. Most airports within the UK offer affordable, direct flights to Barcelona, and you can get there in less than three hours. Check out Sky Scanner to get more information on prices, airport locations, and great deals.
By car, you can drive onto a ferry in Portsmouth or Plymouth, arrive in Bilbao or Santander, and then drive across to Barcelona, which should take you no more than six hours. Visit Brittany Ferries to book your tickets.
Why Choose Barcelona?
Catalonia is one of the most economically dynamic communities of Spain, and its capital, Barcelona, is a major international cultural centre, as well as being the third most-visited city in Europe.
Here are our top three reasons why we think British expats love moving there.
Reason #1 – No One Ever Gets Bored in Barcelona
Barcelona is popular as an expat and tourist destination for many reasons, but the thing which we think that everyone loves the most about the city is that it never fails to amaze and entertain anyone, time and time again.
Honestly, you won’t have the chance to get bored here and there is guaranteed to be something for all your family to enjoy! You might even pick up not one, but several new hobbies.
You can shop in stylish boutiques, visit museums, breathe in creativity whilst you sip on coffee in an art café, you can explore the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods and hunt for a bargain at one of its famous flea markets, and overall be a part of an amazing and pulsating social scene.
Other interesting things expats can see and do in Barcelona
- Arouse your curiosity at the Erotic Museum
- Just a stone’s throw from La Rambla, El Jardinet dels Gats is home to dozens of beautiful kittens who are waiting to be adopted. Most passers-by miss what’s going on behind the tall wire fence – cats curled up asleep in the sun, stretching to scratch a tree, and playing in the tunnels and boxes left out for their amusement. It’s like something straight out of a children’s story.
- Find an oasis of calm atop Park Guinardó. Take in spectacular views, spot the remnants of an old shanty town, and the gun turrets of the anti-aircraft base.
- Enjoy experimental theatre at the Sala Hiroshima. It’s established a reputation for itself as a place to experience some of the most interesting performances in town.
- Seek out the Romans – One of the best preserved relics of the Roman Empire (the columns of the Temple of Augustus) can be found at Carrer Paradis 3.
- Celebrate a special event (like an anniversary or birthday) with a Photo Shoot Tour of your new home city. Awarded a Certificate of Excellence on Trip Advisor.
- Try a variety of classes including Authentic Spanish cookery, mosaics or watercolour painting
- Take up sailing
- Learn about the universe and star gaze at the Fabra Observatory
- Visit the open air museum of El Poble Espanyol which has 117 full-scale replicas of different buildings from all around Spain.
The nightlife in the city certainly packs a punch as well. Even if clubbing isn’t your thing, Barcelona has a lot to interest expats: cocktail bars, restaurants, pubs, theatres, music halls, galleries, you name it, it’s probably got it.
If you’re looking for an adventure, Barcelona will certainly provide one, every night, for the rest of your life. You’ll definitely find more than enough to keep you going, long after the sun goes down… In fact, if you want to keep pace with the locals, you’d best be prepared to see the sun come back up again!
Where to go to spend an evening in Barcelona
Las Ramblas – A natural starting point for any new expat is, of course, Las Ramblas and – on either side of it – the narrow streets of the medieval Old Town.
Barcelona’s busiest boulevard by day, Las Ramblas is also heaving by night. Street performers still ply their trade and the pavements throng with locals and tourists heading out for drinks and dinner.
- Best Restaurant: The Irati Taverna Basca is a gorgeous restaurant serving up traditional Basque cuisine. If you’re eager to try dishes from these proud people, then don’t look any further than here.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Le Pop Cocktail Bar in the Lounge of Le Meridien Hotel (it boasts one of the best bartenders in town, who can mix you a signature Catalan Bellini).
- Best Entertainment Venue: Watch a Flamenco Show in Tablao Cordobes, where some of the biggest names in the history of flamenco have performed.
Gothic Quarter – For the more authentic local venue, the labyrinthine alleyways and history-steeped backstreets of the Gothic Quarter await an adventurous expat. Here you’ll find scores of sassy little spots hidden away in dark corners.
- Best Restaurant: Attic– A first floor restaurant with a full view of the busy street of the Ramblas, serves Mediterranean cuisine in a reasonably formal atmosphere. Wooden decking, white canopies and orange trees makes for a truly romantic and summer-like setting. The terrace is also framed by two historic buildings, creating a truly unique and regal backdrop for a delicious Spanish meal.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Milk Bar
- Best Entertainment Venue: El Bosc de Les Fades – its name means ‘fairy wood’, and this sangria-serving grotto just off the bottom end of Las Ramblas is decorated just like one. Fake trees, illusory mirrors, haunting music and simulated rainstorms are all part of the experience.
El Born – One of the most wanted areas to live in Barcelona, is for the trendily-attired expat who wants a more ‘hip’ and sophisticated slice of Barcelona’s nightlife. Here you’ll find history, culture and you can discover hidden hotspots and weird and wonderful surprises.
- Best Restaurant: Petra – This is a typical Spanish restaurant for the locals. It is hidden on the corner of Carrer Banys Vells and is a little hard to find because there is no terrace or sign which tells you that it´s a restaurant. The menu is printed on wine bottles and they only serve fresh products. Prices are quite cheap compared to other restaurants.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Miramelindo
- Best Entertainment Venue: The Palau de la Música. This is one of the finest concert halls in the world and proud UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by Lluís Domènech I Montaner, a contemporary of Gaudí. The hall is exquisitely decorated and has a very special skylight, which is an attraction itself.
Raval – Located on the other side of the Ramblas, Raval is a bohemian’s paradise, it’s Barcelona’s most colorful district. Street kids play cricket or football and generally run riot as beatniks stroke their beards and order another chupito or two.
- Best Restaurant: El Rincón de Aragón – a restaurant characterized by traditional, home cooked Aragonese dishes. It has a familiar and welcoming atmosphere and a rustic, authentic and characterful interior.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Marmalade
- Best Entertainment Venue: La Boqueria – a huge public market that’s one of the city’s most famous landmarks. The grand iron entrance leads into what is one of Europe‘s largest and most famous food markets, selling fresh produce and for providing a seemingly never-ending supply of exotic fruit smoothies and fresh lemonade.
L’Eixample – ‘The Addition’ is a grand, grid-patterned section of the Catalan capital which is largely residential… but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on! Trendy and vibrant, L’Eixample is a bustling area filled with young professionals, and the area around Casanova Street has been dubbed Gayxample, and you don’t need to be a genius to figure out why.
For those missing a quiet pint or for a wee dram of exquisite whiskey, The Lock Inn in L’Eixample is a great place to call your new local.
- Best Restaurant: Paco Meralgo – Known to be one of the best tapas bars in Barcelona, it’s casually elegant and always busy. Their mix of delicious, high-quality food is accompanied by a large wine, cava, and champagne selection. Try their brie and asparagus dish, it’s phenomenal.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Slow Barcelona – A suave club which creates some pretty innovative concoctions
- Best Entertainment Venue: L’Auditori – A cutting edge, classical music venue
Gracia – Another area of Barcelona with an alternative vibe, it feels like a village-within-a-city. Here, you’ll find a very Catalan quarter oozing with charisma and an energetic vibe – with not too many tourists, except those who lost their way trying to find Parc Guell. A quieter part of Barcelona, with an older, free-spirited and more genteel crowd.
- Best Restaurant: La Pubilla – A bright and cozy restaurant that’s well-known throughout Barcelona for serving up the best menu del dia, or fixed price lunch menu. Beautifully creative presentation, top-notch quality and generous portions make this place a must for a chic Barcelona lunch. Reservations a must!
- Best Cocktail Bar: Belle Epoque – Stylish and comfortable, luxurious and relaxing.
- Best Entertainment Venues: For a low-key jazzy vibe try Woody’s.
Poble Sec – Shh, keep it quiet, but these days the once unloved district of Poble Sec a.k.a. Dry Town is now considered to be a pretty hip barrio. Quirky, creative, relaxed and culturally diverse, this area has recently undergone something of a renewal and is quite enchanting.
- Best Restaurant: Xemei – If you’re in the mood for a quick break from Spanish cuisine, this restaurant is the stand-out option. The simple yet exquisitely cooked Venetian haute cuisine means it’s normally full so it’s worth making a reservation.
- Best Cocktail Bar: Maumau Underground
- Best Entertainment Venue: El Molino – Barcelona’s most famous theatre in the area is located on the equally famous Parallel Avenue. Expect risqué yet largely tasteful cabaret and burlesque shows.
Reason #2 – Barcelona Has A Wonderful Culture
Barcelona is a lively, unusual, artistic city with a heart that hasn’t changed for over 500 years. Catalans are extremely proud of their identity, rich culture and beautiful language, and this unique heritage blazed the trail for Spain’s 19th Century industrial revolution and artistic boom.
However, after Franco’s armies defeated the Republicans in 1939, the dictator banned the Catalan language, changed street names from Catalan to Castillian (Spanish), and censored their culture.
It was only after Franco’s death in 1975 that the Catalans restored their traditions, speech, and literature – thanks to the European Romantic movement – and reminded the world about its distinct culture.
The Catalan flair for beauty and their love for art and music is evident all over Barcelona. The city offers a feast of sculptures, galleries, concert halls, impressive architecture, art cafés, and fashion. It is the city of the young Picasso, of Miro and Tapies, of Modernista buildings by Gaudí, as well as the cutting edge structures by Gehry and Nouvel.
The atmosphere which coats Barcelona can only be described as open. Everyone is accessible, friendly, and always willing to chat. When moving from the UK to Spain, one of the biggest details to consider about what you’d like to experience from your new home should be the ambiance of the village, town or city you’re moving to, and Barcelona offers open views, open people, and an open mindset which inspires and entertains.
The Catalans generally have a reputation for being hard-working, ambitious and conservative, and their folklore has been strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism.
Their love of superior fashion and the traditional importance they give textiles is reflected in Barcelona’s drive to become a major fashion centre.
There have been many attempts to launch the city as a fashion capital, and The Brandery, an urban fashion show, is held in the city twice a year. The dress style in Barcelona is classed as formal for both men and women. Shorts are still vaguely catching on for ladies, but most of the time you will get a weird look when wearing shorts. Stick with skirts and dresses for the summer.
Very few European cities can compete with the cultural experiences on offer in Barcelona. The city celebrates its remarkable artistic legacy at every turn and British expats living there can while away hours exploring its numerous delights.
Reason #3 – Barcelona Has Beautiful Architecture
Ornate medieval buildings appear alongside Gaudi’s unique modernist creations, ultra-contemporary, sleek high-rises stand shoulder to shoulder with ornate, ostentatious old churches, and traditional tapas bars intermingle with chic eateries and glamorous Michelin-starred restaurants.
Barcelona really is a mishmash of structures, and has a series of architectural works awarded the World Heritage designation by the UNESCO.
Other important things to consider about Barcelona
Picturing yourself living in Barcelona is one thing, working out whether it’s feasible to actually live there is something entirely different.
The thought of spending long, warm summer days exploring the city’s maze of alleyways and narrow streets whilst immersing yourself in culture, treating yourself to a shopping trip, and smelling the intoxicating aromas of rice dishes and tapas as you go, is all well and good, but can you afford to do the shopping? Will you be able to cope with all that walking?
These are just some of the questions you’ve got to ask yourself, and below you’ll find all the other things you should consider before moving to Barcelona from the UK.
We’ve also thrown in a few tips and tricks on how to “Hack Barcelona” like a local.
1. Cost of Living
The cost of living in Barcelona is over six per cent higher than it is in Spain’s capital, Madrid. Therefore, you really need to have substantial savings to start your new life here. An average sized, two-bedroom apartment across the city can cost you around €1200 to rent, per month. Try Foto Casa, it’s a great website to view apartments to rent/buy and gives you a general idea of how much your new dream home might cost.
A cinema ticket will cost you about €8, a gym membership will be around €40, a bus ticket costs more than €2, and most essential grocery items cost upwards of €1.50. If you’re looking for a gastronomic delight, a three-course meal will set you back about €40 per person.
If you’re looking to buy or sell things once you’re in Spain, try downloading the Segundamano app. It’s the most popular secondhand service in Spain, like Gumtree, where people can sell and buy their used stuff.
Barcelona is a small, compact city of just under 40 square miles, making it smaller than London and similarly sized to Amsterdam. You can explore the city’s nooks and crannies, its 86 gardens and parks, plus its 3 miles of coast by foot, but this can be incredibly tiring.
So, here are a few suggestions of how to move around the city like a local.
- Bicing to move around – If you like riding a bike, renting a Bicing bike is the perfect way to move around Barcelona. Very efficient, quick and simple.
- Bla Bla Car to go outside Barcelona for less – Bla Bla Car is a hitchhiking system that connects passengers with drivers who have spare seats in their car. It might not be for everyone as it is based on ridesharing but I assume it’s worth to put it out here for your consideration.
- Free parking outside of the city center – Parking in Barcelona city center can easily give you a headache. We highly recommend leaving your car on a free parking away from the city center and getting to your destination by metro.
- Download the TMBApp – The official Barcelona public transport app. After downloading it and creating an account you can configure it to work best for you. Choose underground and bus lines, the ones you use most frequently, and get the access to their timetables. You will also get notifications with alerts about “your lines”.
3. Meeting New People
Download the Meetup App or join their website. This application is well-known all over the world but its particular value is shown when you arrive in a new place. Barcelona is a vibrant city and it would be a sin to just stay at home all the time.
If you want to make friends or acquaintances to jog with, go to yoga with, play golf, drink wine, watch a movie, on Meetup you’ll find groups with similar interests. Many of them are expats just like you, so chances are you’ll find someone with common interests. It’s always worth trying at least once anyway!
Other useful information
We really hope our handy guide has been helpful. Either you’ve learned something new about this wonderful place, or it’s helped you to make your decision and you’re thinking of moving to sunny Barcelona!
If that’s the case, please don’t hesitate to contact us now for help and advice on your removals from the UK to Barcelona, or anything else about becoming an expat in Spain. If we don’t know the answer to your question, we can point you in the right direction to get one!
If you’ve enjoyed this article, you may enjoy