The capital city of Madrid sits in the centre of the country, but most major cities are on or near the coast. The Costas and the villages and towns near the coast are popular with British expats and all offer a warm climate for most of the year, great restaurants and bars, access to attractive beaches, beautiful architecture and a range of fiestas.
Many will base their choice on the areas they have fallen in love with on summer holidays, but the choice needs to consider what the life will be like if you are living there all year. Will the influx of tourists at the peak of the season become a problem once you are living there all year? What is there to do outside the holiday season?
Even if you live outside the city itself it is worth basing your self where you will be able to access the cities.
Barcelona with a population of around 4 million is the second largest city in Spain, capital of Catalonia and the largest city on the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful city with great architecture including the stunning buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi in the Eixample district. His greatest work is the Sagrada Familia cathedral which although still not completed provides a dramatic highlight to the skyline.
The city has beautiful parks and gardens, charming medieval streets and atmospheric markets. There are endless tapas bars and restaurants serving excellent seafood and other Catalonian classics. There is a vibrant cultural scene and the nightlife continues into the small hours of the morning. The beaches are one of the options for an active outdoor life for retirees in and around Barcelona. There is a good infrastructure and amenities in the city as a legacy of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The lively Ramblas with its flower stalls, open air restaurants and bars runs from the Placa de Catalunya down to the waterfront at the heart of the city. It has La Boqueria, a lively market where you can see piles of fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables and other goods in an atmospheric covered market.
The city has consistently pleasant weather throughout the year averages of 30°C in the summer and lowest temperatures of 10°C in the winter months.
Catalonia has the beautiful rugged coastline of the Costa Brava to the north of Barcelona and the long sandy stretches of the Costa Daurada to the south. To the north, Figueres is a charming market town and home to Salvador Dali and location of the Teatre-Museu Dali. Behind the coast Catalonia has the Spanish Pyrenees with its green valleys and picturesque villages as well as the monasteries of Montserrat and Poblet. Baqueira-Beret offers good skiing in the winter.
FC Barcelona in the Nou Camp with their highly successful football team are the pride of the city. The club also has basketball, handball, ice hockey and other teams. The city also hosts the Spanish Grand Prix as well as providing opportunities for road running, tennis and many other sports.
The Catalan people are conservative and hardworking and some in the region claims a greater affinity to the northern Europeans than with other Spaniards. Catalans claim to be guided by two emotions: seny which means solid common sense and rauxa a creative chaos.
As well as tourism and the active hosting of conferences and exhibitions, Barcelona is a major Mediterranean port and a financial centre as well as having an active manufacturing area with energy, chemical and metallurgy as well as car manufacture (SEAT and Nissan). Barcelona is also a developing into a high technology centre.
Spain’s third largest city is set in the intensely farmed region of the Huerta with its fertile plain of market gardens and orange groves. Although a medieval city it also has the City of Arts and Sciences a futuristic complex that houses an aquarium, an opera house, an IMAX theatre and a science museum.
The city has concert halls, arts and science museums and a sprawling historical centre.
A series of festivals can be enjoyed in Valencia including Las Fallas in March with huge papier maché figures set between buildings and in squares around the city. On the night of St. Joseph’s Day they are set alight and the city echoes to the sound of firecrackers. In August La Tomatina sees thousands of people pelt tomatoes at each other. This began in 1945 and has no historical cause.
Poeta Querol Street has exclusive stores featuring international designers and leading Spanish brands. Shoppers will find well-known high street brands and exclusive jewellery and interior design stores dotted along Calle Colón and its surrounding streets, as well as around Colon Market. Plaza Redonda is located in the Historic Centre of Valencia, where you can find find traditional products and handicrafts. On Sundays, in the adjacent streets, there is a market where visitors can find a range of collectable items. The huge art nouveau building, Mercado Central, is a marvellous combination of iron, glass and tile and opens each morning with a bewildering variety of seafood, vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices.
The dry bed of the river Turia is popular among running, athletics and cycling enthusiasts. The Marina is the home of boating activities and water sports. Valencia also hosts The World Motorcycle Racing Championship. The city has a marathon, half marathon and triathlon. There also excellent local golf courses to enjoy.
There are fewer British expats here than in many Spanish cities, but there are English schools and the cost of living and property prices are lower than in Barcelona or Madrid. This coastal town provides a rich cultural lifestyle and the opportunity to stroll through the historical centre and enjoy its beautiful parks
Tourism is important to the economy of Valencia and it is primarily a service-oriented economy with only around 9% from industry, mainly car assembly. The port is the largest on the western Mediterranean and its container port carries around 20% of Spain’s exports.
Alicante on the Costa Blanca is a contemporary city with a population of around 350,000. It is at the centre of a major tourist area with its hot, dry summers and mild generally dry winters. Alicante is a small town and retains a laid back and welcoming feel.
It is an area with many attractive beaches and even in the city there are beaches to the north and south of the characterful port. If you venture in from the urban beach you will find a warren of narrow streets and lanes with many pavement cafes and tapas bars serving classic Spanish dishes. There is also plenty of nightlife for those that seek it.
There are many British expats in Alicante and there are very popular areas for retirees along the coast, especially around Denia and Xavia to the north and down to Torrevieja to the south. English is widely spoken and there are a number of English speaking schools.
Despite the tourists property prices remain affordable in Alicante and the surrounding area.
Malaga has a population of around 600,000 and is one of the oldest cities in the world. It is situated on the Costa del Sol on the south coast of Spain and therefore enjoys hot summers and very mild winters.
Malaga despite its high tourism has a very Spanish feel. It is a city with a bustling harbour, attractive urban beaches, pedestrian-only centre, the popular shopping along Calle Larios and many parks, museums, restaurants and tapas bars. It is well known for its ferias or festivals.
Malaga provides a chilled-out lifestyle with easy access to the beach and water sports as well as golf and hiking and trekking in the hills. The people of Malaga are renowned for their friendly and relaxed approach to life. As the birthplace of Pablo Picasso it features the Pablo Picasso Museum as well as various other art galleries and museums.
Malaga is accessible with a well-connected airport and has easy road links to other parts of the Costa del Sol. It also has a modern port where large cruise ships dock.
As well as the vast stretches of coastline, Malaga is just an hour from Marbella with its ‘Golden Mile’, a stretch of coastline with luxury beach front homes where the rich and famous live. There are also top class restaurants and bars to enjoy if you cannot afford the homes. Marbella has a stunning old town, culture, fantastic cuisine and wonderful year-round weather.
Just down the road from Marbella is Puerto Banus with its bars, restaurants and boutiques along the edge of the marina full of swanky yachts with expensive cars cruising and parked all around.
A 2 hour drive takes you to the Sierra Nevada with its spectacular scenery in summer and skiing in the winter.
Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain with a population of over 3 million. It is situated in the centre of the country and with its altitude of 660m has cold winters and hot summers.
Madrid has three internationally recognised art galleries, many museums, a stunning royal palace and grand public squares. There is a wide range of shopping options from the colourful El Rastro street market, fashion boutiques in the Salamanca district with Europe’s top designers and more trendy and modern options in Fuencarral Street.
The Mercado de San Miguel a former market is well worth a visit with its series of delicatessen stalls and bars that enable you to enjoy the food and communal atmosphere. Other dining options include Madrid’s world-famous tapas bars as well as gourmet restaurants and humble tabernas. The world-famous Plaza Mayor allows you to sit and watch the world go by in one of the terrace bars and restaurants.
Madrid has one of the most famous and successful football clubs in the world: Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium is the home of major domestic and European football matches. Other sporting venues in Madrid include Real Madrid’s rivals Atletico de Madrid’s Estadio Vicente Calderon and the Palacio de los Deportes where you can see basketball, athletics, tennis and boxing among other sports. El Hipodromo is the home of weekly horse race meetings. Those wishing to participate can use one of the outdoor swimming pools or Aquasur Water Park, the jogging tracks or numerous golf courses.
The people of Madrid are very social and with 17% of the population made up immigrants from outside Spain generally welcome newcomers. The streets are busy with people all hours of the day and night every day of the week.
Madrid has the third largest GDP in the EU and has the headquarters for many Spanish and international companies. It is one of Europe’s largest financial centres and with 17 universities and over 30 research centres it is a centre for knowledge-based and technological industries. Services dominate the economy of Madrid with only around 8% of GDP coming from industry and 6% from construction.
When looking at property in Madrid you will need to consider your budget. The exclusive districts include historical Salamanca with its shopping, classy Justicia/Almagro and the cultural district of Opera el Madrid de los Austrias. More trendy areas include Chueca, Malasana and La Latina. For value in the heart of the city you can try Lavapies/ Anton Martin. Chamberi offers apartments just north of the centre. For those that work in the business centre to the north of Madrid Chamartin is popular. Retiro is popular with families with its apartments close to the park.