Barcelona’s best neighbourhoods for a family come in all different sizes, styles and locations. Do you like classic or modern architecture? Would you prefer an authentic or trendy atmosphere? Does your family feel more comfortable on a peaceful or popping street? With efficient public transportation, as well as short driving distances to the centre from outlying areas, your new home doesn’t have to be smack dab in the middle of urban life. Living away from downtown affords a village feel and more green spaces with no real sense of isolation. Rental prices in Barcelona are low compared to much of northern Europe. Many expats find they can afford a larger space and get the luxury of picking an apartment with a bright terrace or a house with a garden to take in as many of the region’s 2,500 hours of sunlight as possible. The decisions are yours to make.
But first, which neighbourhoods should you be looking in?
Poblenou lies between Barcelona’s best beaches and the city centre. Residents can enjoy a chill seaside lifestyle while still being near downtown shopping, bars and restaurants. Living in Poblenou, you will have access to plenty of green spaces, as well as a variety of family-friendly restaurants and kid’s clothing shops. The area’s public library, Biblioteca Poblenou – Manuel Arranz, has a special section for kids, you won’t be far from the Barcelona Zoo, and there’s even an English-speaking Poblenou playgroup that meets Fridays around 5.30pm at different homes and parks. The group aims to bring local English-speaking families together to make friends and play.
Mar Bella, meaning beautiful sea in Catalan, is Poblenou’s artificial beach. The wonderful views and agreeable weather draw locals here for their daily exercise and invite families to spend time together in the sand. Just a few paces inland lies Parc del Poblenou where you can find people cycling, running, doing yoga or having a picnic in the shade of the pines. Poblenou also has lots of playgrounds for younger children and areas to play sports and skateboard for the older ones. Even with this array of activities to keep your family occupied and happy, street culture should not be overlooked.
During the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Poblenou was the epicentre of Catalan and Iberian industry. Old industrial spaces still define this coastal neighbourhood. However, when you’re wandering through the streets, keep an eye out for contrasts between old and new. You may well stumble upon a crumbling 19th-century house next to a cutting-edge office building. It’s a funky collage of history that can be read on the neighbourhood’s facades and from the pavement cafes of the Rambla del Poblenou.
Many of the neighbourhood’s once abandoned warehouses have been reinvented and now house design studios, art galleries and architecture firms. Grounds have been repurposed as makeshift gardens and crumbling walls have been turned into blank canvases and repainted. Despite these changes, Poblenou hasn’t lost its edge.
Climbing the southern slopes of the Collserola mountains, Sarrià–Sant Gervasi is both literally and metaphorically upmarket. This quiet, primarily residential neighbourhood is characterised by its spacious, sunny apartments and village feel. One of the reasons this area has held on to tradition so strongly is because it was the last municipality to join Barcelona, in 1921. Today it is one of the largest and most prosperous districts of the city.
As picturesque as it is elegant and unhurried, Sarrià preserves its essence in its traditional architecture—featured in the Mercat de Sarrià—and old, historic centre. Evening and weekend life revolves around Carrer Major de Sarrià, where it seems that everyone knows everybody. Don’t fret about feeling like an outsider, though, as the locals are extremely hospitable. The main street features iconic restaurants and shops such as Bar Tomás—a modest bar known for serving some of the best patatas bravas around town—and Foix de Sarrià—a pastry shop that has been selling exquisite cakes since 1886, making it one of the oldest in Barcelona.
Sarrià becomes very active during business hours. With 20 clinics and hospitals, in addition to 200 private medical centres, and some of the best schools in the city, including international institutions such as Santa Clara, there are a lot of people up there with places to be and things to do. It’s an interesting contrast to the tranquil atmosphere that settles over the area once the workday finishes.
Sant Cugat boasts a child-friendly vibe. Full of families and two international schools, it is certainly a place to consider moving to. Plus the commute into the heart of Barcelona is a quick 40 minutes via public transport.
Although it’s within easy reach of the beach, Sant Cugat is better known for its trees. Here you can enjoy lovely walking trails—firm enough to push babies in a pram or for older children to bike along—and amazing views of Tibidabo. Held up by multiple support beams, the towering Pi d’en Xandri (Xandri’s Pine Tree) is another highlight. There are also a variety of routes to explore at Baixador de Vallvidrera. Getting off the train at this stop, you step right into the woods. The serenity of the park is palpable. Just remember to keep an eye out for wild boar!
We’ve found the majority of expats who relocate to this area never regret their decision. One Irish mother said, “My family is very happy in Sant Cugat. To give you an idea of the number of families here, my 10-year-old daughter played a game while my husband and I were having coffee one Saturday evening. She had a notebook in which she kept track of how many babies/toddlers passed by us. She counted over 100! And that only included those young enough to still ride in a buggy. How amazing is that?”
This residential town is south of Barcelona, between the Mediterranean and the Garraf Massif. It takes less than 40 minutes by train to get into the city, or if you choose to drive, you avoid the €6.60 toll that residents of Sitges, the next town over, have to pay. The price of apartments is generally higher than other neighbourhoods we’re suggesting, but you’ll be rewarded with a quiet life, gorgeous views and no irritating partygoers wandering the streets after a night at the disco – because there aren’t any discos in town.
Els Canyars is a great part of Castelldefels for a young family. There is a British Market and a large commercial centre, which is open on Sundays (a rarity in Catalunya).
Once you’ve settled into your new home in Castelldefels—no matter which part of town that’s in—there’s plenty to do. Take your time exploring the ancient castle of Fels, which gave the suburb its name and dominates its coastline. Canoe in the Olympic Canal, built for the 1992 Olympic Games. Listen to a DJ set or watch a movie with your toes in the sand at the popular chiringuito Tibu-Ron. Or drive five minutes up the coast to Gavà where your whole family can learn to wakeboard at the Olimpic Cable Park.
Although Alella is known for its wine, cava and perfume, it’s quickly gaining a different kind of reputation amongst expat families as a wonderful place to live. Only about a 30-minute drive from Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, it’s a warm and inviting town. While explaining her relocation experience, American mom Theresa said, “The first week we moved here several of our neighbours came over to introduce themselves and invited us to their homes once we were finished unpacking. It was such a nice welcome and came as a complete surprise, but we soon learned that’s how people are here.” The sense of community in Alella increases during the year’s worth of activities, fiestas, processions and seemingly never-ending feasts in the town hall square. During these festivities, there are always special activities for kids.
The people of Alella seem to enjoy the company of children, whether they’re a part of their family or not. This is a place where you can step into a restaurant with kids of any age without receiving annoyed glares from your fellow diners. Tiny babies to shaky grannies can all be seen out and about, and everyone is treated as a valued member of village life. A network of mothers from around the world also provides support and diverse perspectives on everything from child rearing and education, to recipes and ideas for fun, adults-only nights out.
Moving to a new city can be daunting, and there’s no doubt that finding the right neighbourhood for you and your family can make the whole process much easier. Whether you prefer mountains or sea, bustle or calm, you’re sure to find an area of this vibrant city to soon call home.