The first thing that strikes many about Barcelona is how quickly and easily you can explore the city, Spain's second-largest, thanks to its compact, well-laid-out design. And, indeed, there is so much to explore, including fantastic art and architecture from pre-Roman to Modernista, plus galleries, monuments, theaters, restaurants, and shopping. In addition, you have easy access to the beautiful Costa Brava to the north and the Costa Dorada to the south.
Barcelona appeals to a wide audience. It's a vibrant, colorful, proud, interesting place with the passion of the Spanish combined with the efficiency and organization of the Catalans. It's also one of the most affordable European cities and a top choice for a retiree interested in an Old World lifestyle.
Barcelona is the economic, cultural, and administrative capital of Catalonia, situated in the northeast of Spain on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The city covers a small area (100 square kilometers) and has a population of 1.6 million people in the city center and another 4 million in the suburbs.
Economically, the situation in Spain overall is depressing. But you don't get this in Barcelona. This city has a great vibe and so much energy. Each neighborhood and district has its own community spirit, and most celebrate with their own fiestas.
More than 150 nationalities live in Barcelona. The Catalan people are open and receptive to newcomers, including not only tourists (almost 8 million in 2013, up nearly two percent over the previous year), but expats and retirees, too.
From the 1992 Olympics until the global property collapse of 2008, the city's housing market and infrastructure developed hugely. Today, however, thanks to Spain's ongoing real estate crisis, property prices are down by almost 35 percent, which is very good news for the would-be retiree interested in owning a home of his own.
All the infrastructure installed to support the 1992 Games remains and makes it easy to get around Barcelona without owning a car. There's an inexpensive five-line metro, an airport just outside the city center, plentiful buses that typically run until 4 a.m., and a well-planned bicycle rental program.
The city has 10 districts, but the areas of greatest interest to the would-be retiree are likely the oldest quarters, including the Ciutat Vella, which is divided into four parts: La Ribera, also known as El Borne, to the north; Barrio Gótico in the central Gothic quarter; El Raval to the south; and the seaside suburb of Barceloneta.
Barceloneta used to be where all the fishermen lived. The streets are narrow and the buildings small and in many cases not at all fancy. But because of the beach, the easy walk to see the sites, and great sports facilities, this area is becoming popular among foreign residents and buy-to-rent investors.
The Born, originally built as an extension of the Old Town, where the city's richest families lived, has undergone a massive transformation over the past 10 years from rundown to chic and desirable. It is now considered the "in" place for foreigners with decent budgets.
The Barrio Gótico is possibly Barcelona's most touristy area. Historically, it was where the wealthy lived, but when the Eixample was built in the 19th century, the wealth moved out, and the area went downhill. However, over the last 10 years Barrio Gótico has become popular again and has undergone a revival, with the chic and trendy moving back in. It is an area of narrow streets, small apartments, and lots of tourists, but, of course, all that intriguing ancient history, too.
Centrally located Raval is the area for the pioneer investor. This would not be a place that most local real estate agents would recommend buying. Over the centuries, it has been the district that new, low-paid immigrants have headed to. Petty crime and prostitution are common, and the government may soon label some properties "afectada," meaning they must be torn down. All that said, this is an interesting up-and-coming district. A luxury hotel has been built, and affluent expats are moving in.