The following is a destination post brought to you by Oh Barcelona.
Barcelona is an incredibly popular destination for city breaks and family holidays. The combination of long sandy beaches and a buzzing metropolitan centre also makes the city ideal for longer stays and career breaks. While the day-to-day cost of living in Spain has increased substantially in recent years Spain is still a far cheaper place to live than northern European countries like Germany or the UK.
Despite all these advantages the city can be overwhelming to the first time visitor, particularly if you’ll be in the area for longer than a few weeks. Barcelona is a faster-paced and more businesslike city than Spain’s reputation for siestas and ‘mañana’ might lead you to expect. Meeting people can also be difficult unless you really make the effort to put yourself out there so use this guide to make sure you hit the ground running on your trip to Barcelona!
Where to Stay
The best area of the city to live in depends on how long you’ll be in Barcelona and what you want to get out of the city. If you’re only in the city for a short period of time then consider staying in Eixample. The area is more expensive than others (particularly if you’re visiting in the height of summer) but is well located for all of the city’s main tourist attractions and is also a short metro journey from the beaches of Barceloneta. If you’re only renting a room in an apartment then double check if it actually has a window (a surprising amount do not!) and whether the window faces an internal courtyard or the street (Barcelona is a very noisy city and if you’re a light sleeper it’s worth paying the premium for a courtyard room).
If you’re looking to rent an entire apartment then air-conditioning is a must if you’re visiting from May-September (if the temperature doesn’t get you the humidity will…). Oh-Barcelona.com is an excellent place to start your search as you can easily filter apartments by area, amenities, number of beds and price.
Those staying in Barcelona for a little longer may want to consider looking in Poble Sec. Previously dogged by a poor reputation the neighborhood has improved markedly in recent years and many young professionals have moved in to take advantage of the area’s bohemian culture and comparatively lower property prices. You will be a little further from the main attractions but the area is well connected to the city centre by metro.
Working in Barcelona
While working during your ‘career break’ may seem a tad counter-intuitive it can be a great way to meet new people and will also allow you to extend your stay (or enjoy yourself that little bit more!). Casual work in bars and restaurants is easy enough to pick up during the summer months. Anyone working in Spain is required to obtain a N.I.E. from the local police station or foreign residents office (in central Barcelona this is located at Calle Balmas 192, get there early (before 8 o’clock) as spaces for the day will run out quickly. A N.I.E. can take up to two weeks to obtain, however if you apply at the main office in Barcelona you can generally pick up your certificate the following day or on the day you apply. If you’re only going to be doing casual work it is possible to get by without a number but you would be working illegally and some landlords will require a copy of your N.I.E certificate before renting you an apartment.
Eating like the Locals
Spain’s love of late night dining is legendary and even on weeknights you will struggle to get a table in a good restaurant before around 8 o’clock in the evening. Should hunger overtake you before this then your best bit is to hit one of the city’s tapas bars. If possible avoid going to the bars on the city’s more crowded avenues such as Las Ramblas or Passeig de Gràcia. Not only will you save money (€10 tapas on Las Ramblas are not unheard of, whereas €3-4 is a far more common rate elsewhere) but you’ll probably eat better food, receive far better service and be able to soak up a far more authentic atmosphere.
The internet has made meeting people with similar interests and hobbies far easier than it might once have been. Language exchanges are great way to meet up with fellow newcomers and improve your Spanish. Additionally there are yoga sessions, Pilates classes, meditation and wine tasting. Meetup.com features around 50 weekly events in the city so there’s bound to be something which appeals to you!
Learning the Language
Barcelona is a bilingual city and most signage and public announcements are in Catalan. This can make picking up Spanish more difficult than in other cities as you won’t be exposed to the language as much as in Madrid or Seville.
Nevertheless Barcelona is still an excellent place to practice your Spanish. The Babylon language school runs a huge variety of part-time, intensive and one-to-one courses and is very popular with its students. Tuition like this doesn’t come cheap however so don’t be surprised to be paying over €500 a month for your language course. Many language schools offer taster sessions so don’t be afraid to pop in and meet the teachers before you decide to part with your cash.
As wonderful as Barcelona is it can, from time to time, become a little too much. Luckily there are many lovely villages and small towns in the region and most are easily accessible by train.
Sitges is a charming traditional village around 30 minutes south of Barcelona. Boasting traditional Spanish architecture, several long sandy beaches and a diverse dining scene the town is also popular with gay and lesbian travelers and regularly hosts cultural and music festivals.
Figueres, around an hour north of Barcelona, was the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali and is now home to a museum hosting his work. The museum building is as eccentric as the art inside and is almost worth the visit in itself. The town itself is a typical Catalan community with beautiful squares, a few interesting boutiques and (yet again!) an excellent selection of restaurants, tapas bars and other eateries.