A practical guide to real estate in Barcelona for buyers, owners, vendors, and investors.
Barcelona city has 10 districts:
1. Ciudad Vieja (includes Raval, Born, Barrio Gótico & Barceloneta)
2. Ensanche (divided by Paseo de Gràcia into Izquierda y Derecha, includes Sagrada Familia)
3. Sants-Montjuïc (includes Poble Sec)
4. Les Corts (includes Pedralbes)
5. Sarrià-Sant Gervasi
8. Nou Barris
9. Sant Andreu
10. Sant Martí (includes Poble Nou)
- Barceloneta is one of the 4 districts that make up Barcelona’s Old Town. The other districts are the Ribera (which includes the Born), the Gothic Quarter and the Raval. The Old Town is known as Ciudad Vieja in Spanish and Ciutat Vella in Catalan.
- Barceloneta was built 150 years ago to house the fishermen working out of Barcelona’s port. The original inhabitants were not wealthy and the real estate for sale reflects this.
The relative poverty of the original inhabitants means that Barceloneta’s real estate for sale is not of the best quality. Nevertheless buildings are basically well constructed but lack any of the fancy detail and charm found in wealthier zones of Barcelona, such as the Ensanche and the Born. Furthermore the buildings of Barceloneta were built close together as maximising living area per square metre was more important than comfort and style at the time Barceloneta was built. This means that real estate and apartments in Barceloneta feel somewhat claustrophobic, noisy and lack privacy.
- Priorities change and in the present day Barceloneta’s location is unbeatable; right on the beach and walking distance to many of Barcelona’s main attractions in the Old Town and the Born. It also has several parks and sports facilities near by.
- Barceloneta apartments are now some of the most sought after areas in Barcelona amongst foreign buyers. Foreign buyers tend to be relatively young and from other EU countries like the UK. These buyers are looking for small second homes with access to the youthful attractions of Barcelona such as the beach and the Born. They also wish to rent out their apartments on a short-term basis when they are not there. Locals are also buying up apartments in Barceloneta with a view to renting them out on a short-term basis.
- Barceloneta’s residents are a mixture of old timers, new-age types and young foreigners from other European countries. Given the amount of apartments in Barceloneta offered on short term lets there are also a large number of tourists staying in Barceloneta.
- Apartments tend to be small and expensive in terms of price per square metre. Many of the buildings in Barceloneta do not have a lift. For the time being many if not most apartments need some sort of refurbishment.
- There are two main reasons why Barceloneta is relatively expensive. One is because if its unique position on the beach without any barrier such as the Ronda Del Litoral dual carriage way between it and the beach. The other is because most of the properties in Barceloneta are small and prices per square metre tend to rise the smaller the property.
In the future Barceloneta will continue to attract younger international buyers and short-term rental investors largely due to its unbeatable location. Because of the small size of most apartments in Barceloneta prices are still accessible though in relative terms they are expensive. Barceloneta has the potential to become one of Barcelona’s trendiest districts if it is developed the right way.
- The Born area of The Old Town is centred on an attractive street know as El Paseo Del Born (Passeig Del Born in Catalan), not far from the famous church of Santa Maria Del Mar and in a district more generally know as the Ribera.
- Like Barceloneta, The Born is extremely well located within Barcelona from the point of view of proximity to Barcelona’s most famous attractions. It is an easy walk from the main attractions of The Old Town, the city park, the old port and the beach.
- The Born was built as an extension to the old town, outside of the original city walls. Some of the Barcelona’s richest families built palaces and other grand buildings in The Ribera, especially on streets such as Avenida Marques De L’Argentera and Calle Montcada (where the Picasso Museum is located). This means that there are some beautiful period buildings to be found in this district. Nevertheless the housing stock is old and many properties for sale in the Born need renovation.
- Over the last 10 years The Born has undergone a radical transformation, even by Barcelona’s standards. It has become one of Barcelona’s most edgy and fashionable districts, home to an enormous variety of restaurants and bars, not to mention anti high street fashion boutiques. At the same time it has become an extremely popular residential district, especially amongst younger foreigners with good budgets wishing to live in amongst the action. This has driven up prices considerably. The Born area now has one of the highest proportions of foreign real estate owners of all Barcelona’s districts.
- Residents of The Born are a mixture of old-timers left over from the period before The Born became achingly cool, trendy Barcelona professionals such as designers and architects, and increasingly foreign buyers who use their properties for weekend breaks and rent them out the rest of the time.
- The Born is also one of the prime areas for short-term rental flats given its charm and proximity to prime tourist attractions.
Due to the amount of bars and restaurants in the Born it can be very busy at night. Buyers who do not wish to be bothered by the sounds and smells that come with this should pay careful attention to the surroundings when deciding where to buy in The Born. Buyers would be well advised to visit the area they wish to buy in at night to determine how much noise they will have to put up with.
- The Born will continue to attract overseas buyers and trendy local professionals without children. However the high prices in the centre of The Born and the negative side effects of tourism, bars and restaurants are expected to drive people looking for ‘Born without the noise’ across Calle Princesa and up into the quieter streets of Sant Pere Mes Baix and Sant Pere Mes Alt. This area is at present dominated by wholesalers in the clothing trade and there are not many bars and restaurants in this area. It is nevertheless a very attractive part of the Ribera.
Barrio Gótico (Gothic Quarter)
- Broadly speaking the Barrio Gótico (Barri Gòtic in Catalan) lies between the Ramblas and Via Laeitana, and runs down from Plaza Cataluña to the Paseo de Colon at the old port. This is one of Barcelona’s most touristy areas.
- Being the oldest part of Barcelona the Barrio Gótico has a lot of charm. However the downside to this is that many of the streets are narrow, old buildings often don’t have lifts installed and many properties are in poor condition and need considerable reforms. The narrowness of the streets means that apartments tend to be starved of natural light and noise can be a problem, especially so given the amount of tourists wondering around the area day and night. Much of the area is difficult to access by car, which has an impact on the convenience of living there. It is not a family-friendly area to live in.
- When the Eixample was built during the 19th Century local people with money moved out of the Barrio Gótico to take advantage of the wider streets and better quality of life that the Eixample had to offer. For much of the last century wealthy locals avoided the Barrio Gótico and the lack of residential wealth meant that the Barrio Gótico became rather shabby and sleazy. However over the last 10 years the area has been transformed and is now one of Barcelona’s trendiest districts. Hip local professionals such as designers have moved back into the area and foreign buyers, drawn by style combined with old world charm, have had a significant impact on the real estate market in the Barrio Gótico. Rising prices have gentrified the area and petty crime has fallen, though it is still a problem. As a general rule of thumb the further down you go towards the Paseo De Colon the shabbier the streets and the higher the risk of petty crime. However the quality improves again once you cross Calle Ample.
- Developers have been at work in the Barrio Gótico though much of the development has been focused on converting buildings into hotels. However private apartments have also been refurbished though prices for these types of properties have risen dramatically throughout the beginning of the decade.
We expect the gentrification of the Barrio Gótico to continue as it increasingly appeals to foreign buyers and trendy locals. However the area will not attract families and older buyers due to the noise and inconvenience of living in the Barrio Gótico. This limits the pool of buyers more so than in other areas like the Ensanche.
- The Raval lies across the Ramblas from the Barrio Gótico and stretches over to the Ronda De Sant Pau.
- The Raval has always been one of Barcelona’s poorest districts, home to the most recent immigrants in each period, and a den of iniquity catering to the tastes of sailors given its proximity to the old port.
- Today, as ever, the Raval is very much an immigrant district, with a high proportion of immigrant groups living there. Many locals from Barcelona will not choose to live in a district with this type of resident profile if they can avoid it.
- The Raval suffers from some of the highest levels of petty crime in Barcelona and this is a serious problem for people who live or rent in the area. Many tourists are also affected by petty crime during their brief forays into the district. Petty crime means that renting out property in the Raval, whether on short or long term contracts, can be a serious problem for owners and rental management companies.
- Much of the Raval is comprised of poor quality housing stock set along narrow streets (a function of the districts origins as a deprived neighbourhood). Many properties for sale in the Raval will need significant refurbishment and few buildings have lifts installed. Furthermore the municipal government’s plans in the district mean that many properties are ‘afectada’. This means that, at some point in the future, owners might be served with a compulsory purchase order and be forced to sell their properties to the local government below the market price. Buyers of real estate in the Raval should always have a lawyer check whether a property is ‘afectada’ or not.
- Some say that the Raval has great potential for gentrification and hence capital appreciation. It is well situated in the centre of the city and according to this theory all that is needed is for prices to rise sufficiently to push out the criminal elements and suck in trendy professionals with money looking for a new hip and edgy central district. The process starts with early pioneers who can cope with the risks and who are drawn in by the relatively low prices. They are followed by entrepreneurs opening trendy bars, restaurants, shops and galleries, much as has happened in areas of North West London and lower Manhattan in New York. This creates a virtuous circle that improves the area and opens up the market to more risk-adverse buyers who are attracted by the central location. This was expected to happen once Barcelona’s Museum of Modern Art (MACBA) was opened in the Raval, and to a certain extent it has in parts of the Raval above Calle Hospital and between the MACBA and The Ramblas. These are also streets in which some of the best buildings in the Raval are to be found and in which the Municipal government has invested resources into improvements. However the process seems to have lost momentum with the result that the top corner of the Raval between the MACBA and The Ramblas and above Calle Hospital is attractive and safe by the standards of the Raval, whilst the rest of the district leaves a lot to be desired in terms of crime, housing stock and facilities. Will the process of gentrification continue to the rest of the Raval? Given its central location and the shortage of space in Barcelona it is likely that it will. However it is going to take longer than expected.
- As a general rule the worst areas of the Raval are below Calle Hospital and also in the triangle between Ronda De Sant Antoni, Joaquín Costa and Sant Antoni Abad. In the ‘bad’ areas the closer to The Ramblas the better.
- When buying in the Raval we recommend using more caution than for other areas of Barcelona. Most property will need refurbishment, which is a big headache for overseas buyers. Other than it’s central location it is not a convenient district to live in and there are high levels of petty crime, relatively poor housing stock and a significant number of properties that could be affected by compulsory purchase orders in the future. Furthermore it is not an ideal district for renting properties; good quality rental agents do not like managing real estate in the Raval because their tourist clients and staff are much more likely to experience personal safety problems. Our research shows that despite the high number of properties for sale in the Raval, there are relatively few apartments for rent (not including properties for rent to immigrants which is a rental market best left to the ‘experts’), which says something about the difficulty of renting out property in the Raval. On the other hand the Raval’s location in the centre of the city and close to many of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions means that it has considerable room for improvement, which, if it were to happen, would be reflected in rising real estate prices. In our opinion this improvement is likely to happen but will take time and may not be a smooth process. In the meantime most of the Raval is only suitable for intrepid buyers who are in a position to cope with owning real estate in the Raval. In particular buyers with plans to rent out property in the Raval should be very clear about the rental market in the Raval before proceeding to buy.
Ensanche (Eixample in Catalan)
- The Ensanche is divided into the Ensanche Izquierda (Left Ensanche) to the left of Paseo De Gràcia as you walk up it from Plaza Cataluña and the Ensanche Derecha (Right Ensanche) to the right of Paseo De Gràcia. A district know as La Sagrada Familia – around the famous Segrada Familia cathedral by Guadí – will also be considered as part of the Ensanche for the purposes of this guide.
- The Ensanche was built during the 19th Century in the first big expansion of Barcelona beyond its city walls. The construction of the Ensanche coincided with an explosion in local wealth earned from the industrialisation of Cataluña and repatriation of profits from places such as Cuba. Wealthy local families commissioned grand buildings from Modernist architects – the most famous of which was Gaudí – to demonstrate their wealth and social standing. This explains why the Ensanche is home to many of Barcelona’s most splendid buildings and has some of the best housing stock in Barcelona. A walk around the central parts of the Ensanche from Calle Ausiàs Marc up to Avenida Diagonal and from Calle Muntaner across to Paseo De Sant Juan will reveal many stunning beautiful façades and entrances. However beyond these streets there are few modernist buildings and the overall quality of the housing stock is lower, with many more buildings constructed between the 1960’s and 1980’s.
- At the time of the Ensanche’s construction the best apartments were built on the first floor – know as ‘principal’ – as the main residence of the owners of the building. This was because lifts did not exist in those days and owners did not relish walking up several flights of stairs to reach their homes. Therefore first floor apartments in the Ensanche have the highest ceilings and most elaborate interior finishings. Servants and other employees of the family used to live on the upper floors, which therefore had the most modest apartments in the building. This meant that Barcelona’s social classes were divided by floors rather than districts. In the present day the top floors in the Ensanche are now highly sought after as residential properties because lifts make them just as easy to reach whilst they are quieter than first floor apartments and benefit from more natural light. Large roof terraces are also highly valued in a city with such a good climate.
- The Ensanche has a grid system of city blocks built around large interior patios (know in Spanish as patio de manzana). The ground floors of buildings, which used to house factories, are now used as commercial premises. The large patio in the middle means that most apartments have a good natural source of light both at the front and back of the building.
- The Ensanche is home to an area know locally as the ‘cuadro de oro’ or golden box in English. This expression refers to the streets between Enrique Granados, Bruc, Diagonal and Gran Via. This area is the most exclusive part of the Ensanche, home to the finest buildings and is referred to as golden because the real estate prices are always robust. Enrique Granados and Calle Bruc are two of the best streets to live on in all of Barcelona.
The Ensanche is one of Barcelona’s most desirable areas to live in. It is elegant, attractive, clean, central, safe, well communicated with excellent shopping and restaurants / bars and has a large housing stock of excellent quality. It attracts sophisticated buyers of all age groups (unlike the Old Town, which does not appeal to older buyers or families with children). Residents are predominantly affluent locals. Shopkeepers in the Ensanche tend to know their customers, which helps build a sense of community in the area. Everything in the Ensanche is within walking distance.
- The Left Ensanche, which also includes the Gay Ensanche (the gay community helped to revitalise the area after several decades of decline during the 60’s and 70’s), is home to a wide range of bars and restaurants. Beyond Calle Muntaner the streets become shabbier and buildings less impressive but nevertheless the area is attractive from a residential perspective, though not perhaps from a short-term rental perspective. The redevelopment of the old bull-fighting ring (Plaça De Braus Les Arenes) on the corner of Plaza De España along with the proximity to Montjuïc could have a beneficial impact on real estate and prices in the bottom corner of the Left Ensanche.
- The Right Ensanche below Diagonal and across to Paseo de Sant Juan is smaller than the Left Ensanche and has fewer bars and restaurants. However it has some of the best buildings in Barcelona and is one of the most exclusive residential districts in the city. Facilities are excellent (for instance fresh food markets and gyms), and the district is in the very centre of Barcelona with good access to all areas including Barcelona’s Old Town and beaches.
- The Sagrada Familia district of the Ensanche is a pleasant residential area though it does not have as many fine buildings as the more central areas of the Ensanche (with the obvious exception of the Segrada Familia itself). It lacks a sense of sophistication but it is well located and communicated. Properties with good views of the Cathedral command a premium. The streets around Paseo De San Juan are particularly attractive.
- Investors who are prepared to take on refurbishments should consider buying larger Ensanche apartments – generally bigger than 100 m2 – and converting them into stylish 2-bedroom apartments for which there is a growing market.
Gràcia real estate
- Gràcia used to be a village outside of Barcelona but as the city expanded it became one of Barcelona’s central residential districts.
- Rather like the Old Town Gràcia has a network of narrow streets that makes the area feel cramped. However it also has a high number of attractive squares to compensate.
- Gràcia has a youthful residential profile and is home to a large number of bars and restaurants that appeal to a younger clientele. The downside is that street noise can be a problem for residents.
- On balance Gràcia is an agreeable residential area with a good local feel to it and without the petty crime problems common in the Old Town. The streets between Via Augusta and Calle Verdi but below Astúries stand out.
Sarrià – Sant Gervasi real estate
- Centred on the Paseo De La Bonanova this district is one of Barcelona’s poshest residential areas and is 10 – 15 minutes by car from the centre of town.
- Some of Barcelona’s best hospitals / clinics and almost all the best schools are located in or near this district. Children can walk to school, which makes it very popular with affluent local families.
- In the streets above Bonanova you find individual houses and semi-detached properties. This is one of the closest areas to the centre of town where you can buy these kinds of properties. The high price of these properties reflects this fact.
- In contrast to the affluent neighbouring district of Pedralbes (see below) this area has a great community feel to it, with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants within walking distance. It is also well communicated with the centre of town by bus and metro.
The Sarrià part of the district is especially attractive with a charming Spanish village feel to it.
- This area is perfect for comfortable living in pleasant, easygoing surroundings whilst only being a short taxi ride from the centre of town. It is also the perfect district for renting real estate on a short-term basis to MBA students at nearby business schools such as IESE and ESADE. MBA students tend to be affluent and well behaved tenants. This is a potentially profitable rental niche that is largely overlooked.
- Pedralbes, like parts of Sant Gervasi, used to be an area where wealthy families had grand out-of-town homes. However as demand for housing grew in the 60’s and 70’s it was developed into a residential area offering upmarket apartments with communal gardens, pools and parking.
- Much of the recent architecture in Pedralbes is unattractive. Apartments may be big and the lifestyle convenient but the architectural language of the area is dull. Furthermore, the area lacks life, and in many places you need a car to get to anything resembling a shop, restaurant or bar. The good schools, large apartments, communal gardens, pools, parking and safe streets obviously appeal to families but beyond this the area is lacking character by Barcelona’s standards. Having said this there are of course some fabulous properties in Pedralbes – some of the grandest houses in Barcelona are located there – and parts of Pedralbes have their charm.
Sant Martí & Poblenou
- Sant Martí, which includes the area called Poblenou, is the backdrop to most of Barcelona’s best beaches. For most of the past century this area was neglected and few affluent locals, other than the community already residing there, would have chosen to live there.
- The street layout is based on the model used to develop the Eixample though the stock of real estate is completely different. The area originally emerged as one of Barcelona’s key industrial zones with factories and warehouses in abundance. This industrial development engulfed but did not overrun the village of Poblenou, which has managed to keep its village charm as can be seen from a stroll down the Rambla De Poblenou. Poblenou was a humble district where local tradesmen, factory workers and fishermen lived. This gave the area a strong sense of community that can still be felt today.
- In the present day Sant Martí is home to many small business and is also starting to attract larger national and international business. The contrast between daytime and night in Sant Martí is starling. During the day it is difficult to find parking and the area is heaving with business activity. At night parking is abundant the most streets are quiet, with the exception of the streets around the Rambla De Poblenou.
- As a district Sant Martí has some of the most exciting potential in Barcelona. It has a good location running along most of Barcelona’s best beaches yet it is well communicated and close to the centre of town. For the ’92 Olympics the local government developed the Vila Olímpica to house athletes and staff and as a consequence Sant Martí is now home to facilities such as the new Olympic port, the Icaria shopping / cinema complex, and the Hotel Arts – one of the best hotels in the world. More recently the Diagonal Mar residential complex has been built and the Forum hosted – both on the far side of Sant Martí as you move out of town. These are huge developments whose impact on the district will take time to be felt. However there is no doubt that they leave Sant Martí closer to the centre of town than before and will bring in money, interest and real estate buyers.
- Given the beachside location and number of old industrial buildings in Sant Martí this is a perfect district for redevelopment along the lines of Docklands in London, Manchester and Lower Manhattan in New York. Some of Barcelona’s most stylish lofts and hip architecture are already to be found here, and recently the ultra-chic restaurant / nightclub ‘Oven’ opened up as the first glamour destination in the area. Then of course there is the out-of-this-world ‘Els Pescadors’ restaurants in the Plaza Del Prim, surrounded by abandoned redbrick factory buildings and serving up the best seafood in town. We believe that the district has the potential to become one of the funkiest centre-of-town, Mediterranean-beachfront residential districts in all of Europe but it does depend upon the decisions of the municipal government. At present much of Sant Martí is given over to the@22 project in the hope that it will become one of Europe’s hottest new technology parks. The result is that much of the real estate in the area is classified as commercial and cannot be developed for residential purposes. Some developers have ignored this and gone ahead with residential redevelopments on commercial real estate but there are risks inherent in this course of action (not least of which is the difficulty that buyers have getting mortgages for this type of real estate). @22 has not been a great success due to the dotcom meltdown at the time it was launched but it might yet bring in tech companies and do wonders for the district. On the other hand it might starve the district of sufficient residential real estate and prevent it from taking off.
- Diagonal Mar deservers a mention of its own. Situated on the far side of Sant Martí, where Avenida Diagonal ends near the beach, Diagonal Mar is a luxurious modern residential development of high-rise apartment blocks that has sold extremely well to investors. The development offers beachside modernity, luxury, gardens, pools, tennis, parking and sea views, all within 15 minutes from the centre of the city. It is a type of Pedralbes on the beach but without the awful architecture. No doubt this will have a positive influence on real estate in Sant Martí but for the time being Diagonal Mar has a somewhat desolate feel to it. It lacks life and character and its proportions are impersonal. Furthermore it will have difficulty attracting affluent local families whilst all the good schools are on the opposite side of town. Nevertheless its advantages outweigh these disadvantages and given that it is still in parts a building site we expect the development to take on more charisma with time.
- This is a small but agreeable residential area with a pleasant community feel to it. It falls within the district called Sants-Montjuïc and is located just below the hill of Montjuïc with all its theatres, galleries, gardens and Olympic sports facilities (where many concerts are now held). The Poble Sec is also just across the Avenida Del Parallel from the Eixample and the Raval, not far from the centre of town.
BARCELONA real estate guide by Spanish Property Insight