It has now passed a little more than a week since I returned to Portugal and I thought it would be an appropriate time to review my experience in Barcelona. I'll try to focus on some of the aspects I consider the most relevant for someone who's thinking of living in Barcelona for an extended period of time. If you have any further questions, feel free to post a comment.
Barcelona is a very big city with a little over 1.5 million people in its administrative area and around 4.5 million if we count with the suburbs. That makes Barcelona the 6th most populous urban area in Europe and the biggest on the Mediterranean Sea. It is divided in 10 districts: Les Corts, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, Gràcia, Horta-Guinardó, Nou Barris, Sant Andreu, Sants-Montjuic, Eixample, Ciutat Vella and Sant Martí.
My place of residence during my year in Barcelona was in Les Corts right at the point where it intersects with Eixample and Gràcia. It was a very quiet and peaceful area with lots of elderly people. This might not sound very exciting but one of my objectives was precisely to stay at a place relatively close to my university (UPC, in the middle of Les Corts), calm (because I prefer to study at home) and where everything I needed was as close as possible. In addition, it should be relatively close to the party and nightout zones for when I was sick of studying. I'd say this place performed marvelously on all 3 components:
- In 10-15 minutes by walking+biking I reached UPC (40 if only walking).
- During the day, lots of people walking in the street and on the big boulevard on Josep Tarradelas avenue. Lots of children as well (perhaps I only noticed this because there was a children playground right next to the entrance to my flat). During the night you see very few people around as there's not much for entertainment except for some small bars and discos. However, I have never felt insecure and I never had any problems during my return trips which frequently took place after midnight.
- Supermarkets, hairdressers, shopping centers (L'Illa and El Corte Ingles), restaurants, tram, metro and bicing stations all within a 5-minute walk. The train station of Barcelona Sants was 10 minutes away from my place which comes very handy as it is the cheapest way to get to/from the airport and it's also one of the main connection hubs to other places of interest outside Barcelona.
- 15-20 minutes by bike and you are in La Rambla.
The north of Les Corts and Sarrià houses Barcelona's upper class, with beautiful and modern houses and flats surrounded by gardens and occasional swimming pools. I enjoyed walking around here after classes while looking for a bike and just appreciate the wealth.
Another district which is frequently praised as a good place for living, specially students, is Gràcia. Gràcia is known for its plazas surrounded with bars and restaurants where people meet to chat and have a good time. Most flats in this area are rather small (3-4 stories) and usually have common terraces which are great for parties. It was the part of Barcelona that most reminded me of downtown Lisbon, with its small streets, cramped up buildings and great collection of small little bars and restaurants.
Eixample is another nice district sporting a very strict grid pattern which makes it seem very organized. It also means that you can easily get lost since every street looks almost the same as the next one. One thing I didn't like was the apparent lack of green areas as during my frequent passages through Eixample with my bike I don't recall seeing a lot of parks or vegetation. Based on what I saw, it also appears to be a nice and affordable place to live.
Ciutat Vella is perhaps one of the most popular districts for tourists, with La Rambla, the port area, Barri Gòtic and the nearby Plaza Catalunya. During the day, specially if the sun is shining, expect to see a lot of people of dozens of different nationalities walking around, looking at the street-side shops, street performers or just wandering around the tight mesh of small streets that is characteristic of Barri Gòtic. It is very nice to wander around these streets because you often find the most peculiar and interesting shops and bars, making it a real adventure. During the night, this is also one of the main spots for going out with dozens of nightclubs, bars, restaurants and the nearby beach. It is not, however, a place where I'd say I felt safe. It is all too common for people to approach you in the street attempting to sell you all kinds of drugs and I've often seen very suspicious-looking people wandering around when returning home at 2-4am. This was, in fact, the only place where I was almost mugged, precisely on one of the side streets to La Rambla.
Sants-Montjuic is not very different from Les Corts. The best part about this district is the whole Montjuic area where you can go and enjoy the myriad of green areas, the MNAC, Olympic Stadium and the beautiful views over the city of Barcelona. I usually went running from my home to Montjuic and back: 11km in approximately 1 hour. You have to walk up a little but it pays off because it's one of the greenest areas in the city.
I won't comment on the other districts as I either didn't visit them or spent very little time around them to be able to make a meaningful analysis.
Barcelona's public transportation system is truly a wonder. Buses, metros and trams cover virtually the entire city and you never have to wait much to catch one. Inside the city, the integrated ticket system allows you to use the same ticket in all aforementioned types of transportation. A single-trip ticket costs you 2€ but if you buy 10-trip tickets each trip costs under 1€. You also have month plans which, depending on your situation, might result in increased savings. Note that each trip has free transfers from different types of transportation such as from metro to bus up to 75 minutes from the initial validation. You do have to watch your belongings in the metro stations as some of the people I knew in Barcelona "lost" wallets, cellphones and other valuable items to pickpockets.
The one thing I didn't really like about public transportation in Barcelona is that from Sunday to Friday, everything closes at 0:00. Since spanish people (and catalan are no exception) dine rather late, one would expect a little more margin in this regard. In any case, there are still some special night buses which operate all night every day so you can always resort to one of these. Fridays they are open till 2AM and Saturday everything stays operational 24h.
Barcelona also has a significant number of taxis. During the day, you can see up to 100 around Barcelona Sants station and there's always a taxi passing in a nearby street. It is quite expensive for just one person but if you manage to split it between 4, it may prove more economic than other means of transportation. Just keep in mind that if you take a taxi to/from the airport, there's an added cost of close to 5€ and you can never pay less than 20€, even if the taximeter only shows 5€.
Finally, the best part about Barcelona public transportation, at least for me, was [Bicing](https://www.bicing.cat/es). Bicing is a network of public bikes which are parked in stations throughout the city. For 45€/year you get a card which allows you to pick one of these bikes from any station in the city. You get 30 mins for free on every pick-up with subsequent 30 mins costing 0.7€ until the 2 hour period at which points things get exponentially more expensive. In any case, 30 minutes is more than enough time to get to most places and, if not, you can just leave the bike at an intermediate station, wait 10 minutes and then pick another one. Except on rainy days, all my transportation around the city was done by Bicing. This is not only great for working out a little bit but also to save money. At a minimum of 100€ for a 3-month ticket for metro/tram/bus (and that's with under-25 discount), 45€/year is negligible. Just be sure to always have a 10-trip ticket (9€) with you for emergencies or rainy days.
Overall, I have to say I found people in Barcelona to be really friendly. Most of the people from Barcelona speak Catalan but easily change to Spanish if you start speaking with them in Spanish. However, do not count on them knowing English. In my experience, the number of people, not counting with tourists, which spoke English was really diminute. Therefore, I'd definitely recommend that you take a Spanish course prior to your arrival in Barcelona or, at least, start a Spanish/Catalan course when you arrive. If I'm not mistaken, the government even offers free Catalan courses as an incentive to make the language more widespread. They are tolerant of language mistakes and even try to help you out if you're having difficulty.
Cost of Living
During my year in Barcelona, I registered all my expenses using my android application, Track My Money. This now allows me to give you some details pertaining to the cost of living in Barcelona. Keep in mind that these values correspond to a student's way of life and that my main focus were the studies so, while I did go out quite often, I did not do it almost everyday like some of the other students I knew that were spending their Erasmus semester in Barcelona.
Per month, I spent an average of 720€ divided as follows:
- 50% for my room (single bedroom with private toilet - 350€/month).
- 17% for supermarket/groceries (I shopped mostly at DIA and Caprabo since they were the nearest to my house and also very cheap).
- 11% for restaurants (includes meals at the university).
- 10% for shopping (clothes, office material, kitchen supplies, amazon orders, pharmacy stuff, etc.).
- 4% for transportation (tram/metro tickets, bicing card, trips outside Barcelona, not counting with plane trips to/from Portugal).
- 3% for bar/disco drinks.
- 2% for entertainment (cinema, classical music concerts, museums, disco entrances, etc.).
- 2% for snacks (sandwiches, waffles, ice creams, that kind of stuff).
- 1% for mobile (I had a Tuenti plan with 1GB/month for ~7€/month).
- 1% for other misc stuff like registration fees, some web services I subscribe to, etc.
- 1% for hairdresser (near my place I had this academia hairdresser where you get your hair cut by students at a discount price - 8.40€. In professional establishments a male haircut can range from 9-15€ and at least double that if you want those fancy female haircuts and treatments).
Just one thing I wanted to mention regarding what you spend in your nights out to the disco. A curious thing about Barcelona is that every day you have guest lists to at least 3 different discos so, if you keep to those discos with guest lists, you never have to pay for entering a disco (nor have minimum consumption inside). And on the 2 instances where I actually paid to enter, 1 (9€) or 2 (15€) drinks were included.
Also a remark regarding the supermarket vs restaurant costs: as I've said, I tended to cook my meals at home which puts their cost at an estimated 2-4€ per meal. If you cannot be bothered to cook yourself and always eat out, expect most of the supermarket costs to migrate towards restaurant costs and then some.
I also wanted to write something about places of interest but the truth is that TripAdvisor and others already go a good job in that regard. If, however, you feel like a personal opinion would be useful, drop a comment and beat the laziness out of me!