Where are the best places to live in Spain? A second residence on the Iberian peninsula or one of its islands combines the opportunity to live abroad with the chance to diversify your assets and tax benefits. Where should you live in Spain? In this article we will answer your questions.
Spain offers warm weather and with a lower average rental price, as part of a more affordable real estate market. Thanks to the many expats and tourists, you can enjoy Spain and its wonderful cities, and you don’t necessarily need to speak Spanish to get by.
A new life in Spain means you and your family can take advantage of the generously subsidized education, healthcare, and public transport facilities available in the country.
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Spain continues to increase in popularity amongst digital nomads, and a thriving expat community makes up over 10% of the Spanish population. Here are the 11 best places to live in Spain.
11 Best Places to Live in Spain
Spain is one of the most popular countries for visitors. Its good weather makes it an increasingly favored option for those who want to enjoy its beauty all year round. We’d like to help you choose your Iberian base where you can find the best investment opportunities and better quality of life.
English is spoken less than in other Spanish cities because Zaragoza is less touristy.
Zaragoza is Spain’s fifth largest city, with close to 739,000 people calling it home. It’s the capital of the historical region of Aragon in the northeast of Spain, and the River Ebro runs through it.
Three famous historical figures are closely associated with the Aragonese capital.
The first was the Roman emperor Augustus who made it a colony called Caesaraugusta. Zaragoza’s main tram line passes along downtown Via Augusta which includes a statue of his imperial greatness next to the municipal market.
Then there was Ferdinand of Aragon, whose 1479 marriage to Isabella of Castile led to the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. This union also created what we now know and love as Spain.
Previously, the non-Portuguese part of the Iberian peninsula had been made up of independent kingdoms.
Thirdly, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) is the artist better known simply as Goya. He is celebrated as one of the last of the Old Masters and one of the first of the new breed of modern artists. A central art gallery dedicated to his work also chronicles his influences, contemporaries, and those he inspired.
Zaragoza is home to not one but two cathedrals. Walking its cobbled streets feels like traveling back in time. El Tubo is the principal place to tuck into flavourful tapas such as El Champi, where you can only order skewered grilled mushrooms, with or without a shrimp topping, to accompany your caña (small beer).
The foundations of Zaragoza are its Roman walls. Inland Zaragoza is a world away from the sunny Spain depicted on postcards. Indeed, navigating the fearsome cierzo wind that roars through the city can feel like a test of endurance at times.
Digital nomads have turned this vacation destination into a more year-round location.
The easterly Balearic Islands, including Ibiza, Mallorca, and Menorca, are amongst the most visited tourist destinations in Spain, along with the more southerly Canary Islands.
Ibiza is a western Mediterranean island some 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Mallorca. It was a strategic battleground conquered by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians in ancient times. Ibiza is home to some key archaeological sites, relics from which you can see in the island capital’s Archaeological Museum.
The island has a mere surface area of 221 square miles (572 square km). Yet Ibiza’s ecosystems are diverse and unique, so much so that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1999.
Ibiza is a world-famous party island. Its nightclubs are as glamorous as they are decadent. But before it became popular with clubbers, Ibiza was a beloved hippy destination. Beatniks adored the relaxed and mystical interior, which remains a mystery still to those who spend their time dancing the night away in the superclubs and sleeping the day away in the gorgeous coves that surround the coastline.
If you were to become a resident in Ibiza, however, you would notice things hotting up from spring to summer and cooling down in autumn and winter. The island goes from a hive of activity to a graveyard. If you are OK with that switch, you will acclimatize better.
The opening of the Guggenheim art gallery in 1997 established Bilbao as a style capital.
In the 1990s, Bilbao, the largest city in northern Spain’s Basque Country with a population of just under 347,000, was a former industrial superpower that seemed to be accepting its end days. Then award-winning architect Frank Gehry was commissioned to design the new Guggenheim art gallery in the city.
“They needed the building to do for Bilbao what the Sydney Opera House had done for Australia,” explains Gehry. So he designed an iconic building. Gehry recalls it was an instant success: “After it was built, people started to go to Bilbao, and that changed the economics of the city.”
These days, Bilbao is one of the more expensive cities in Spain. Indeed, the north coast of the country is more expensive than its south coast. In the same way, properties cost more in the bigger cities than in the pueblos, the Spanish name for the country’s smaller towns and villages.
Bilbao is the 10th biggest city in Spain.
This River Nervión port is situated 7 miles (11 km) inland from the Bay of Biscay. There is a packed calendar of cultural events in the city. Locals share a love of rock music.
Granada’s Moorish heritage sets it apart from other Spanish cities.
Granada has a small expat community compared to most other cities in this selection. Instead, it allows you to tap into authentic Spanish culture.
Situated 2,260 feet (689 meters) above sea level on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in southern Spain’s Andalusia, you are conveniently placed to access the nearby ski resorts when the snow falls in winter.
The city, whose population of just under 235,00 makes it only the 20th biggest in Spain, is dominated by the famous Alhambra. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a Moorish palace that was celebrated in what was then Al-Andalus. The building fell into Christian hands when the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella captured it in January 1492, the year Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Eating out in Granada is more reasonable compared to other cities in Spain. For every drink you order in a downtown bar, you will receive a tapa, a snack.
Granada has an international airport. Renfe also offers train services connecting the city with Madrid, 259.5 miles (417.6km) to the north, and Almería, two hours by rail to the southeast, the dry and dusty location where they filmed many classic Spaghetti Westerns.
7. San Sebastián
San Sebastián may be known as the jewel of the Basque Country, but it is, in fact, quite a small town.
Stroll through the impeccable streets of San Sebastián’s old town, where nothing is further than 15 minutes walk from the central train station, and you feel what it is like to live in Spain.
Everyone moves at a slower pace, and there is very much a philosophy of working to live rather than living to work. This city is only 12 miles (19 km) from the French border.
San Sebastián Airport (EAS) is a small airport. To increase the number of connections, consider flying into and out of nearby Bilbao Airport (BIO) or Biarritz (BIQ) in France.
San Sebastián is also known by its Basque name, Donostia. With a population of just over 188,000, it’s only the 41st largest city in Spain. Formerly the summer residence of the Spanish royal family, it remains a stylish resort.
As well as tourism, other major industries in San Sebastián include artisan beer and craft chocolate. You will certainly eat and drink well in the area. Drive in any direction for 10 minutes from the Old Casino, which now houses the City Hall. You’ll soon reach one of the Michelin restaurants which have brought, at last count, 16 stars to the center and surrounding areas of Donostia.
For a more relaxed, but at times just as a fancy, culinary experience, head to one of the city’s bars for pintxos. These are the Basque version of tapas. Originally, they were towers of food balancing on top of a slice of baguette held together with a cocktail stick. But they have evolved into ever more mouthwatering works of art.
Cider houses rule in San Sebastián. Visit one for an authentic taste of the region. Another local beverage of renown is Txakoli wine, a fruity yet sophisticated white.
Playa de la Concha is one of Spain’s most beloved urban beaches. Donostia is also well known for its annual international film and jazz music festivals.
Valencia enjoys a lower cost of living compared to other cities in Spain. The public transport system is easy to navigate, linking the provincial capital with its outlying areas. There are also high-speed rail connections to other major cities in Spain.
The third largest city in Spain, with a population of around 838,000, Valencia has its own Valencian language. This is taught in schools alongside Spanish and English, replacing French as the most common foreign language children learn.
If you love food, Valencia is one of the best cities in Spain. The signature dish is paella. This communal rich rice specialty is traditionally served with rabbit and snails rather than chorizo and prawns.
Please be careful when you order an agua de Valencia. This is not local mineral water but a potent cocktail. It combines cava with the juice of Valencian oranges, gin, and vodka. It’s an acquired taste, much like horchata, tiger nut milk.
Valencia is the urban hub of the Costa Blanca. There are beautiful beaches within walking distance. This stretch of the Mediterranean coast is famous for its sandy beaches. Overall, Valencia has everything that the big cities in Spain offer at a fraction of the price. It’s a bargain Barcelona, a more moderately-priced Madrid.
Seville may be one of Spain’s major cities, but it has a small-town feel.
Seville is the primary metropolis of the Andalusia region in southern Spain. Compared to the big three of Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia, Seville is a fairly small city with just over 701,000 inhabitants. This smaller city life can impact you in two ways, with a lower salary but also lower overheads.
Get lost in the alleyways and avenues of the old town where bar owners write out your bill in chalk on the bar top. Head across the Guadalquivir river to Triana, which almost feels like a separate settlement. Here, you can watch the best flamenco shows in town.
Seville’s pleasant weather means that there is plenty of al fresco entertainment. This includes lots of music festivals. Look and listen out for the Feria de Abril. April Fair takes up 75,000 square meters of prime Seville downtown, with 1,051 booths rented out to prominent Andalusian families. Locals dress elegantly, and the noche del alumbrao (night of the lighting) is celebrated with all the enthusiasm of NYE.
Shopping in Seville is a sheer joy. The elegant facades recall ancient times and offer entry to institutions that are as much museums as stores. Bridal fashion is big in the city, with Plaza del Pan the epicenter of the bespoke wedding dress industry.
Compared to other Spanish cities, the cost of living in Barcelona is relatively high. But it is cheaper than major cities in the US.
The Catalan capital is a favorite with digital nomads. Spain’s second-biggest city, located in northeast Spain with a population of around 1.6 million, is also home to many expat communities.
Barcelona is a gateway to the beautiful Costa Brava and the lovely beach town of Sitges. However, you do not have to leave town to find a stretch of sand, with Sant Sebastià beach conveniently situated in the central La Barceloneta neighborhood.
Exploring the various barrios of Barcelona is a pleasure you’ll treasure. Eixample’s grid layout is easy to navigate. Head to Passeig de Gràcia if designer fashion is your passion.
Food costs are higher than in smaller neighboring cities. But they don’t offer international cuisine of the caliber of Barcelona. For more local produce, hit one of the city’s 39 fresh food markets. The most famous is Mercat de la Boqueria, housed in a stunning 19th-century art nouveau building.
The largest of Spanish cities, Madrid is Spain’s capital city.
While the cosmopolitan city center of Madrid can be manic, there are places to relax in the capital city, such as Parque Retiro. Travel further out into the province, situated in the heart of the country, and there are some beautiful old towns, including Alcalá de Henares, if you want to live in Spain a la Don Quixote. This is the birthplace of Cervantes, after all.
More and more single expats and expat families are relocating to Madrid for new job opportunities or a new start in this economic hub. Just under 3.2 million people live in a hip and happening capital that marries historical and architectural sites with cutting-edge cuisine and fashion.
Barcelona and Madrid are the two main cities in Spain. Their sheer size, with all the potential for personal and professional expansion, makes them among the best places to live in Spain. More flights fly into and out of their airports than anywhere else on the Iberian peninsula and islands.
Once in Madrid, the Metro connects 300 stations via 15 lines. The Cercanías suburban train system links Madrid with other towns and villages in the region, including El Escorial and Aranjuez. Alternatives for getting around the city include buses and rental bikes.
Exclusive neighborhoods include the Salamanca barrio. This is home to the Golden Mile of luxury boutiques, Michelin-starred eateries, and trendy nightclubs. In terms of residential properties, HNWIs such as Real Madrid soccer players favor the estates of La Finca and La Moraleja north of the city.
Sotogrande is home to a large expat community.
Sotogrande in southern Spain offers sunny days and little rain all year round. One of the best things about living in the Cádiz municipality of Andalusia is its proximity to Gibraltar, Marbella, and Málaga. Sotogrande is conveniently situated close to airports enabling you to fly to and from a number of major international cities.
Three-quarters of new Sotogrande residents fund their real estate purchases through private equity. They come with a plan to establish a base for their family that will take their children from school to university and beyond.
Sotogrande is home to an international community who have made a new life abroad. The marina offers mooring (over 800 berths), sailing facilities, gated developments, peace of mind, and security.
There is a refined air to Sotogrande. This has a lot to do with the number of equestrian activities. You can indulge your love of the sport of kings in cross country, dressage, polo, and show jumping events.
Become a member at Real Club Valderrama if you love golf. Testing fairways and immaculately maintained greens have earned the course the “Augusta of Europe” nickname. Top players compete at the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters, part of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai schedule since 2010.
25% of the population of the province of Málaga are foreigners, and there are plenty of international schools to cater for non-Spanish families and incredible beaches on the Costa del Sol.
Mario Garnica, director of the Engel & Völkers real estate company offices in Málaga, argues that foreign interest in the city “has pushed developers to build homes with quality standards, regenerating areas and creating wealth and employment.”
The small city center of Málaga is lively and a cultural hub, but if you like the quiet life, there are plenty of tranquil villages east of the provincial capital. Hidden away in the Sierra Almijara is the small town of Frigiliana, constructed in traditional Andalusian style with whitewashed buildings that offer birds’ eye views of the Costa del Sol below.
Public transport is amongst the best in Spain. Marbella is a popular Spanish city that has long attracted tourist crowds, and many return as residents. Its irresistible old town is a significant draw, as are its beautiful beaches.
The Marbella Golden Mile is misleadingly named as this famous strip stretches four miles (6.4 km) along the coast which also includes the luxury marina of Puerto Banus.
Malaga province enjoys fantastic weather all year round. The area is well connected by airports, and there are ferries to the Canary Islands from the nearby lively town of Huelva. As always, there are many sunny days on Spain’s southern coastline.
The Natural Park of Tejeda, Almijara, and Alhama allows you to get away from it all. You can trek through miles of mountainous terrain or hike past towering trees in this scenic nature park.
Málaga enjoys a relaxed lifestyle and the region has a thriving expat community who will be on hand to help you settle in to your new life in Spain.
Live in Spain Conclusion
There is so much history to enjoy, and you can join the locals on a gentle paseo, walking through the old town of wherever you choose to reside. Step inside a time machine by discovering the historical sites on your doorstep.
Warmer weather brings those looking for warmer weather and many expats alike to the Balearic and Canary Islands and the Costa Blanca. In terms of the best places to live in Spain, if luxury is what you want, it is difficult to look beyond Marbella and Sotogrande. In descending order, here is our list of the 11 best places to live in Spain:
- San Sebastián
If you want to go where You’re treated best, we understand why you want to live in Spain. It is one of Europe’s most glamorous countries. However, it can be difficult to navigate the bureaucracy if you don’t speak Spanish. Other countries, including neighboring Portugal, also offer lower and less complicated taxes. It’s all about finding the right balance, so if you’re looking to start a new life on the Mediterranean, but not sure where to start, talk to us.
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Live in Spain FAQ
When it comes to crime rates, Andalusia has a lower one compared to the bigger cities in more metropolitan Spain and tourist hotspots such as the Canary Islands. So, the likes of Granada, Málaga, and Seville would be safer than Barcelona, say, or Madrid.
Generally, though, gun crime is not an issue, and you can avoid pickpocketing by applying common sense. Please keep your personal belongings in front instead of back pockets. Money belts are a good idea too.
Other safe areas include Murcia, which is popular with expats, but, apart from golf courses, offers fewer leisure opportunities than elsewhere.
Yes. The many expats residing in the country would suggest that. Spain has a cross-generational appeal. It is popular with both families and retirees. Parents appreciate the fact you can go out for a meal with toddlers and not raise any eyebrows.
Children love being able to play outside without having to rush inside when the rain comes down. Pensioners find life’s slower pace more accommodating than their home country’s rat race pace.
Spanish cities are popular with expats. They are cheap compared to what you may be used to.
Madrid is a charming capital and its great rival Barcelona is a paradise for foodies. Valencia is a combination of the two. Seville is one of the most beautiful cities to be find anywhere and most likely matches the Spain of your imagination. Granada shows that it is about more than just the sun in Spain and is an excellent base for winter sports.
But the warm and welcoming Sotogrande and Málaga top the lot. In Sotogrande, luxury living is the name of the game. Meanwhile, nearby Málaga is so diverse it can accommodate absolutely anyone.
If you choose to live in Spain, it may give you the taste for more nomadic adventures.
After some time in the Iberian mainland or islands, you might want to move somewhere else. Perhaps you will be drawn towards Asia. Or maybe South America will call you. Wherever it is in the world, we can help you establish a firm footing. We can ensure you legally reduce taxes offshore, become dual citizens, and protect your assets.