The expat lifestyle in Barcelona is filled with exciting cultural events, attractions, fine food and great shopping as well as nightlife.
People in Barcelona generally place equal importance on working 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. Barcelona also hosts several annual events to entertain the population each year.
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 within walking distance from the city centre. 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 the beaches in Barcelona with public transport if they use a combination of buses and the 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 fashion by world-class designers such as Armani and Burberry, as well as Spanish outlets, including Zara and Mango. Bargains can be found during 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 the shops in Barcelona are open on Saturday morning, but many are closed in the afternoon and on Sundays and holidays.
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 partygoers 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 neighbourhood’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 culinary influences 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 thanks to 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 Catalan, paella and sangría.
Sports and outdoor activities in Barcelona
Expats can spend time in one of the city’s numerous parks looking for fresh air. Alternatively, Barcelona’s location and clement weather allow expats to take part in plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking and mountain biking on its many mountain trails that overlook spectacular views of the city.
The gorgeous coastline, dotted with stunning beaches, also provides expats with snorkelling, diving and kayaking opportunities, and there are also plenty of adrenaline-inducing activities available, such as bungee jumping and skydiving.
Expats can also get involved in the sporting scene in Barcelona as a spectator, with football matches and Formula 1 racing events taking place in the city each year.
See and do in Barcelona
Residents and visitors in Barcelona 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 avenue that stretches from the city centre to Port Vella, Barcelona’s oldest harbour. There is also a wealth of ancient and modern architecture to explore, with many of the local buildings designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudí having been declared World Heritage Sites. Below is our list of favourite things to see and do in Barcelona.
Dating back to the Roman era, the Gothic quarter or Barri Gotic is the oldest district in the city. The medieval streets are filled with trendy bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as many gothic buildings and cathedrals that are worth exploring.
FC Barcelona Museum and Stadium
Camp Nou is one of the world’s greatest football stadiums, and the largest in Europe. A collection of photographs, trophies, memorabilia and documents connected to the city’s beloved football team, FC Barcelona, can be appreciated here.
Joan Miro Foundation
The Joan Miro Foundation is a museum on Montjuic Hill that celebrates this surrealist sculptor and painter’s life and works with displays of sculptures, paintings, drawings and textiles.
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 Basilica designed by Antoni Gaudí in the late 19th century. It has been under construction since 1882 and is expected to be finished in 2026.
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, Fontana and Barcelo.
Discover the delightful designs of Gaudi in the fascinating gardens of Park Güell. Located on Carmel Hill, it is the city’s most popular recreational park.
Picasso Museum Barcelona
Five medieval palaces from the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries in one of Barcelona’s greatest Gothic areas have been converted into the Picasso Museum. This site houses an impressive collection of the great artist’s early work, consisting of more than 4,200 pieces – a fantastic find for art-loving expats.
Tibidabo is another hill in Barcelona worth climbing and is linked to the city by funicular services. Those who make an 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. We’ve listed some of the most popular festivals and events in Barcelona below.
In a lead-up to the fasting practised during Lent, Carnival is a week-long 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 race that has been running since 1978, the Barcelona Marathon takes participants past some of the city’s most popular sights, including Sagrada Familia, the Camp Nou soccer stadium and the beach.
Palm Sunday (March/April)
An important holy day for the Catholic Church, Palm Sunday is celebrated in Barcelona with a procession involving many beautiful floats, sculptures and artworks, as well as the sound of beating drums.
Spanish F1 Grand Prix (May)
The Spanish Formula One Grand Prix always attracts a crowd, with thousands of spectators converging in Barcelona to watch the world’s best drivers compete.
Sonar Festival (June)
The Sonar is a contemporary arts, design, and electronic and experimental music festival. The festival takes place over a weekend and is split between two different sites around the city: one in the city centre for Sonar by Day and one further afield for Sonar by Night.
European Balloon Festival (July)
The sky fills with colourful hot-air balloons in a four-day event that draws thousands of tourists and participants from all over the world each year. It includes a hot air balloon competition and fireworks.
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, music, flamenco, film and circus. The Grec festival is held throughout the summer months, 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 held at Avinguda de la Catedral, with a history dating 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.
►Kids and Family in Barcelona gives a summary of the essentials for parents moving to the city
"I love the laid back way of life. First, I obviously had to get used to it. But by now I can say I enjoy how the Spanish just take everything a bit easier. No matter what day or time, you’ll always find people on terraces, walking by the beach or just hanging around on the local plaza with their children. (Obviously, things changed during the pandemic, but it’s slowly getting back to normal)." Read about Linda, a Dutch expat, and her experience of life in Barcelona.
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