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The Catalan capital has journeyed through the worst recession in Spain’s modern history with a grace and charm that seems cemented into the very pavements. Lying between the glittering Mediterranean to the east and the Collserola Mountains to the west, residents in cosmopolitan Barcelona enjoy the city’s spectacular cuisine, inimitable style and contemporary culture year round.

What is it known for?
Ever since the 1992 Summer Olympics revealed the city in its post-Franco glory, Barcelona has moved from strength to strength, becoming one of the world's most visited cities for its architectural icons and culinary and cultural bona fides. And even though Spain’s current economic woes mean some residents are having to find creative ways to get by – such as receiving help via BarcelonActua, a “favour bank" – the tapas and copas (cocktail) bars are packed nightly after the languorous Mediterranean sun gilds the streets with molten light.

Barcelona is the soul of Catalonia and a modern, world-class destination. Its grand 19th-century boulevards studded with Art Nouveau buildings, including Antoni Gaudi’s La Pedrera, run straight as arrows, pointing to the heart of the Ciutat Vella (Old Town) and the narrow, tangled streets of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which hides dusty plazas and Moorish eight-pointed fountains. The city has successfully preserved its historic buildings and streets, bolstered its cultural institutions such as the Picasso Museum and MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art), developed a comprehensive public transportation system and transformed its waterfront.

Eating well is not hard in a city that is home to one of the best chefs in the world, former El Bulli master Ferran Adria, who in 2011 opened Tickets, a tapas bar in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood, and is also home to institutions including the century-old, 14-seat Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria market. 

And the fans of the Barça football club do not need telling, but the club is currently the best in the world, due in no small part to Lionel Messi, their star player. Barcelona’s strong sporting heritage and past as an Olympic host city is leveraging their bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Where do you want to live?
The Ciutat Vella, which includes the neighbourhoods and pedestrianised streets of El Raval and Born-Ribera, are very popular with young couples and expats. However, it is also expensive and many people look in areas of just outside the historic centre, such as the Sant Antoni neighbourhood in the Eixample district and Poble Sec in the Sants-Montjuïc district. Both of these are filled with lively restaurants and bars and are close to the large Parc de Montjuic. “Eixample is one of the most popular districts,” said David Franks, sales agent for Lucas Fox estate agents. “It appeals to all groups, while the Old Town appeals to couples between the ages 25 and 40.”

Further out from the centre, the Zona Alta area is popular with families, and Diagonal Mar, a beachfront neighbourhood, is popular with Russian and Scandinavian buyers.

Side trips
Barcelonés have miles of Mediterranean beaches at their doorstep, not only such city beaches as Barceloneta, but beach resorts like Sitges (which has 17 beaches itself), just a 45-minute train ride south of the city. Northeast of Barcelona, the beautiful small city of Girona is about an hour and a half away by train, while the beach towns of Calella de Palafrugell, Tamariu and Begur are about a 130km drive drive north along the Costa Brava. A little further north the whitewashed town of Cadaques, home to Salvador Dali’s house and studio, clings to the cliffs of the Cap de Creus peninsula, reached by a hair-raising drive over the steep hills. During the winter months, people head to ski resorts such as La Molina in the Pyrenees Mountains, a three-hour train ride north from Barcelona.

The AVE high-speed train reaches Madrid in just two-and-a-half hours and Valencia is about three hours away. The Barcelona-El Prat Airport is close to the city centre and has flights to regional cities, European capitals and international destinations. Flights to London are about two hours and New York is eight-and-a-half hours.

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