Expat life in Barcelona is filled with exciting cultural events, attractions, fine food, nightlife 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. 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 cafes, 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. 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 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 of 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 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 Catalan, paella and sangría.
Sports and outdoor activities in Barcelona
Expats can spend time in one of the city's numerous parks if looking for some 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 sky diving.
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.
►What's On in Barcelona gives a summary of the year's best events.
►See and Do in Barcelona lists some of the city's best attractions.
"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.
Are you an expat living in Barcelona?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Barcelona. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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