The vibrant, boho-chic neighbourhood of Gràcia sits above Eixample and was originally built as an independent village before being annexed by Barcelona’s government in 1897. While it is now central enough to walk to central Barcelona in 20 minutes (past the elegant shops that line Passeig de Gracia), it retains an air of a tight-knit village community. Ask a local, and they’ll be sure to tell you they live in Gràcia, rather than Barcelona. To their credit, there’s much to be proud about. This lovely little neighbourhood seems to strike the perfect balance between highly regarded international restaurants and organic food shops, trendy boutiques and forward-thinking child-care centres, cool co-working spaces and local grocery stores. In recent years, it has become something of a hub for chic shops stocking hand-crafted pieces showcasing local designers.
If it’s community life you are after, Gràcia is where to find it. Stop by Plaça Sol on a sunny afternoon and you’ll find it bursting with activity: someone strumming a guitar while older couples sip a vermut (Barcelona’s eternally popular local aperitif) at sun-dappled tables and families stroll to the shops swinging woven-palm baskets. Come August, the neighborhood’s lively spirit reaches fever-pitch during its Festa Mayor, the annual street party, where streets compete for who can hand-craft the most creative and – true to the barrio’s ethos – eco friendly decorations. The all night parties, tables snaking through the streets and overflowing with residents’ home-baked bread, are legendary.
As well as being something of a local secret – Gràcia’s just-out-of-the-centre location means it’s yet to be discovered by tourist hoards – it also harbours a few secrets of its own. The first is the Collserola Park, a 8000 hectare woodland set on its Western tip, that is nicknamed ‘the green lung’ of Barcelona. A playground for hikers and mountain bikers to hit a natural high without having to leave the city, the park is something of a foodie haunt, where old farm houses known as masias set in the forest cook up seasonal feasts throughout the week – Can Borell is a particular favourite. Gràcia’s second, not so secret-secret is Unesco world heritage site Park Guell, a Gaudi master-piece that epitomises Gràcia’s vibrant, creative flair. Combining beautiful views over the city with endlessly quirky design details, it’s the perfect spot to stroll to with a picnic and while away an afternoon listening to impromptu performers and artists.
Readily accessible, Gràcia is well served by a train station, as well as the metro stations of Fontana, Lesseps, and Joanic, the last of which can carry commuters straight to the city’s beaches in around 20 minutes.
Set on the ocean, this sunny seaside town is regarded as Spain’s second capital. A city of many faces, it dances between staunch traditionalism and a new wave of entrepreneurial Catalan creatives who, combined with the recent influx of global innovators, are shaking things up. Ask each one what’s to love about Barcelona, and the answer will be the same – its exceptional lifestyle culture. Nowhere else can you sip speciality ales at a craft beer festival in laid-back family hotspot Poblenou, slip in a spot of paddle-boarding on your lunch-break, then parade through the streets in one of the many cultural festivals before michelin-starred midnight tapas. In recent years, Barcelona has begun to shake off its boho-roots and step up in sophistication. This has been helped by a gourmet food-scene considered to be amongst the world’s best, coupled with the opening of a new spat of hip hotels and private members clubs, such as Soho House, One Ocean Club and Casa Bonay.
For the city’s long-time bohemians and locals, this evolution has come at a cost: while life here is still around half the cost of London, rental prices have risen 11% in the past year and will continue to do so. From a property perspective, foreign demand from mid-to-high earning entrepreneurs and global nomads continues to rise, along with non-eu resident investors investors attracted to Spain’s Golden Visa program. The city also continues to attract international students and their families, who are drawn to Barcelona’s wealth of excellent schools and universities. There’s so much fun to be had in Barcelona, so much culture to soak up, that the city’s tourism continues to skyrocket. While most municipal governments brainstorm how to boost figures, here the challenge is how to manage them, with numbers climbing to 9 million in 2016 alone for a population of 1.6 million.
Yet however chic the city gets, it is rooted at its core in a strong sense of community combined with a die-hard pride in the Catalan culture. Each neighbourhood feels like a village within itself, where local characters and residents of all ages converge daily on small squares and grand plazas and there’s almost always something to celebrate. Stroll its streets, and what abounds is a vibrant cultural heritage that darts between medieval facades and the eclectic, enigmatic architecture of Gaudi, modernist curves and revered museums that honour home-grown masters from Picasso to Miró.
While nature lovers praise the city’s proximity to both world-class beaches and wild mountain terrain, where you can spend a morning hiking or mountain biking before sundowners by the sea, it’s an equal mecca for foodies. Now with over 20 michelin starred restaurants, the general standard is applaudingly high, helped by the genius of local chefs such as the Adría brothers of El Bulli fame, and the abundance of spectacular local produce. Chefs now come from all over the world to train under Barcelona’s masters and find inspiration. Head along stunning coastline of the Costa Brava towards France, and explore spectacular Mediterranean seaside towns such as Cadaques, where PIcasso and Salvador Dalí sought inspiration.
Here in Barcelona, life after dark is as important as daytime, with siestas ensuring that locals stock up on the stamina needed to hop from award-winning tapas to pulsingly hip salsa clubs, live music shows and late-night cocktail dens. The summer months see a vibrant roster of world-class music events, from Sonar and Off-Sonar, to Primavera and Cap Roig on the Costa Brava. Underlying it all is a deep-rooted touch of irreverence, a love of the eclectic and the avant-garde, that has evolved into a unique sense of style and an independence that has set the city in a light of its own.
The property market in Barcelona
In recent years, Barcelona’s property market has evolved into one of the global hotspots of Europe, as both local and international buyers catch on to the opportunities on offer in one of Europe’s most attractive cities. In 2016, prices rose an average of 14.36%, with neighbourhoods like well-heeled Eixample reaching almost 20%, and the number of annual transactions in Barcelona’s for-sale property market rising by 26.7%. While this is no small jump, prices remain approximately 3.5 times cheaper than London and are still well below their 2007 highs by around 20-30%. This is an especially appealing time for investors thanks to historically low mortgage rates, pegged to the Euribor which is in its 12th consecutive negative month.
There are a few other factors to consider when looking ahead at the future of Barcelona’s property market
- Spain’s economy grew 3.2% in 2016 and predictions are that it will continue to do so, helped by the property market.
- The city is evolving beyond its bohemian roots into a chicer lifestyle destination, demonstrated by the recent opening of global trendsetters such as Soho House.
- With a wealth of excellent international schools and universities, Barcelona is becoming a place for families seeking a higher quality of life for their children to move who seek (link to section in Buying Guide on Schools)
- The tourism market is changing from a bohemian holiday-spot, considered a cheap destination for booze-fuelled weekends in the sun, to a luxury destination with a world-class gourmet scene and fabulous beaches.
- Spain’s Golden Visa continues to prove very attractive for foreign investors seeking European residency, particularly for Latin American buyers who can benefit from a 2 year fast-track process to citizenship, although interest from China and the Middle-East remains strong and consistent.