For many years, travellers to Barcelona would make straight for the Gothic Quarter (El Gòtic), one of the city’s most central and best-known neighbourhoods. So full of character (and local characters), its labyrinthine streets weave warren-like past medieval facades set along-side shop-fronts, erupting into sun-lit squares where locals gossip around fountains while someone strums a guitar.
While it could be salubrious and shady at times (you’d be as likely to stumble across an iconic tapas bar as a master-mind pick-pocket) it was a discoverer’s trove, one of those places where you never knew what you’d find around the next bend. Yet as Barcelona smartened its act up, spurred by the 1992 Olympics – and more recently – a resurgent economy, the Gothic Quarter has slowly, quietly got trendy.
Brimming with history and pockets of beauty, it still carries the same scent of adventure, ancient awe-inspiring basilicas and iconic local tapas haunts (it’s here you’ll find Cal Pep, the inspiration behind London’s best loved tapas bar Barrafina); but now, alongside the artisan leather-workers and hand-crafted sweet-shops, you’ll find hip boutiques and a smattering of the city’s hottest new restaurants. Testament to its new kudos of cool, it was here that the trend-setting hospitality group Soho House chose to open their first Spanish outpost of their private member’s club in 2016.
Originally settled by the Romans as a village, the Gothic Quarter thrived during medieval times as a merchant’s trading spot due to its proximity to the harbour, before falling on harder luck as the city’s elite moved towards Eixample in the 19th century. Thanks to its enthralling history, fantastic central location and an influx of new energy, in recent years the Gothic Quarter has evolved back into one of the most sought after places in town.
Stroll through cobbled streets, past buzzing bars and nightclubs, and you’ll find yourself at the water’s edge, with Barceloneta beach and the chic super yachts that nestle along Port Vell just moments away. Hop across La Ramblas, a sloping 1.2km central avenue that borders El Gòtic, and join locals shopping for fantastic fresh produce at La Boquería market, where delectable tapas can prove a constant distraction. While the Gothic Quarter’s streets are too narrow to accommodate its own metro stop, its periphery is ringed with stations, making it an excellent hub from which to access the rest of the city.
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.