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. Read more on mayor Ada Colau’s cap on short-term rentals.
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.