Bound by two rivers, the Besós and the Llobregat and an arc of inland mountains, Barcelona did not expand beyond its medieval walls until the 19th century, when industrial age towns and suburbs developed around the city centre. Now the largest in Catalonia, the second largest in Spain, and sixth largest in the European Union, Barcelona is an Alpha City. The 1992 summer Olympics saw vast regenerative infrastructural changes, including the creation of 3 km of sandy beaches in the city centre.
The escarpment of Montjuïc hosts Montjuïc Castle, a fortress built in the 17–18th centuries. Today, it houses a museum and is home to several sporting and cultural venues, as well as Barcelona’s biggest park and gardens. The Gran Teatre del Liceu is a renowned opera house on La Rambla — a long, tree-lined pedestrian street. The Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) encompasses the old city of Barcelona. Catalan ‘modernista architecture’ left an important legacy, most famously, the unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, by Antoni Gaudi.
Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (La Boqueria) is a public market in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona which has existed since the 13th century; a feast for both the eyes and the appetite. Barcelona’s restaurant scene celebrates both international and local cuisine, with everything on offer from fast food, bistro cooking, beachside dining and bakeries. Spanish artists such as Picasso, Dalí, Miro and Velázquez and many others, feature in public spaces plus there are plenty of museum collections spanning medieval times to the current.
Properties in Barcelona are big-ticket investments, and it’s a crowded market. The city has clamped down on the buy-to-lets forcing local residents out; it’s worth researching if the area you’re buying in is a frozen rental licence zone. Within the city walls, apartments are the most common type of accommodation but houses and even small chalets are an option if you’re prepared to live on the outskirts.
Barcelona is the twelfth most popular tourist destination in the world and fifth in Europe, with its airport seeing a whopping 40 million passengers pass through per year. Located 17 km away, it’s connected to the city by highway, metro, commuter train and bus service.
The central railway station Estación de Sants Barcelona is home to the high-speed rail system which runs to both Madrid and Paris (via Perpignan). Commuter services include trams, metro, buses and even aerial cable cars.
It’s 1.6 million inhabitants are roughly 80% native-born, and due to the language immersion system in state schools, 95% of them understand the second language, Catalan. As one of the first Mediterranean ports to harness steam power, Barcelona has a prosperous, industrial heart. Both the mercantile and automotive industries are long-established, and Barcelona has Spain’s highest employment rate.
Register at a local centre d’atenció primària — or CAP — and they will give you details of a local general practitioner (Metge de capçalera). There are six hospitals in the city, and essential phone numbers are 061 for medical emergencies or 112 more general emergencies — the equivalent to 999 in the UK.
The city has a network of public schools, from nurseries to high schools, under the responsibility of the city council. There are also many private schools, many of them either Roman Catholic or international.
As in many cities, it is possible to live well on a range of budgets. Many of the attractions, galleries and museums are free. Rent though, is very high, due to demand outstripping supply.