What is it about Barcelona that wins it so many admirers? A quick review of its strengths and weaknesses helps answer this question.
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Location & surroundings
Barcelona is on the Mediterranean and almost everyone loves to be by the sea. The city has 4.2 kms. of good beaches within a few minutes of the city centre and easy access to some of Spain’s best beaches both to the north on the Costa Brava and to the south on the Costa Dorada.
Just one and a half hour’s drive to the north are the beautiful Catalan Pyrenees with their charming medieval villages, rivers, valleys and ski resorts. The wine regions to the South and West of Barcelona offer varied and delightful forays into spectacular countryside and the opportunity to enjoy some of the best food and wine in Spain. One hour due north of Barcelona by car is the Empordà region – often compared to Tuscany – and the South of France is just 3 hours away by car so weekend trips to the Languedoc and Provence are an added bonus. Few other cities in Europe are surrounded by such a variety of attractive regions.
Barcelona has a pleasant climate that is free of the oppressive heat of Madrid and the South of Spain whilst never being too cold or miserable in the winter. It is one of the few cities in Europe to have a perfectly balanced climate in which one can enjoy the change of seasons and the impact of this change on fashions and menus.
Barcelona is big and cosmopolitan enough to avoid the dreaded small town parochial feeling without being overwhelmingly big, impersonal, sprawling and choked up like many of the world’s big cities. Once again it gets the balance just right. Furthermore the fact that Barcelona is hemmed in by the mountains and the sea means that sprawl is not an option so Barcelona is forever destined to be the perfect size.
Barcelona is the gateway to Spain from Europe and extremely well accessed by road, rail, sea and air. Its popularity with tourists and the size of its business community ensure a large choice of regular and low cost flights in and out of Barcelona every day from all over Europe. The main Mediterranean motorway running down from France passes Barcelona and in due course the arrival of the TGV-fast train rail link will make cities like Paris and London accessible by rail in a mater of hours. Ferries leave Barcelona for the Balearics and other Mediterranean destinations several times a day.
Barcelona is undoubtedly Spain’s most modern city. Under Franco’s regime Barcelona was always the rebellious city striving to be a part of modern Europe in contrast to the conservative and establishment leanings of Madrid. In the present day Barcelona is thoroughly modern with excellent infrastructure, services and some of the best health facilities in the world. Living in Barcelona means not having to compromise on any of the advantages of modern life.
Culture & Style
Barcelona oozes style and culture. Designers consider it a leading centre of design flair and innovation, which is why many international design companies have offices in Barcelona or even head offices. The architecture is world famous and stimulating, as is the cuisine. Barcelona is very much a part of the international art circuit and important exhibitions often pass through Barcelona (for instance the Lucien Freud exhibition which came to Barcelona after London and before San Francisco). The city is also a paradise for shoppers looking for both high fashion as well as something different and Barcelona Fashion Week brings in all the big names.
It is no secret that Barcelona suffers from petty crime in the main tourist areas of the old town. However outside of the Raval and parts of the Gothic Quarter and certainly everywhere above Gran Via Barcelona is a safe city in which to live and mooch around. Out on the town in Barcelona of an evening you never sense the undercurrent of violence so common in British cities.
Cost of living
Though the cost of living in Barcelona has risen substantially since the introduction of the Euro it is still a cheap place to live in comparison to other European cities. Compare the cost of dinning out (including taxis) Between Barcelona and London and you will understand what we mean.
Though the Catalans are bi-lingual in Spanish and Catalan it can be difficult to get by in other languages. However this is already beginning to change as younger generations grow up learning and speaking good English.
The job market for foreigners in Barcelona is relatively weak and local employers are somewhat close-minded about the type of people they are willing to employ. This is probably the single biggest reason why more young professional Europeans have not moved to Barcelona. However foreign entrepreneurs are starting to locate in Barcelona (tech companies, hedge funds and so on) and will in time create a job market for international professionals. Nevertheless, for the time being, interesting and adequately paid jobs for foreign professionals are scarce in Barcelona.
Every city has its strengths and weaknesses, the sum total of which determines its quality of life. Many people agree that Barcelona’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses to a greater degree than is the case with most cities. This explains why Barcelona consistently tops the European cities rankings for quality of life carried out by consultancies such as Cushman & Wakefield.