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Where to Live in Spain 2023

Joseph Scaife

Written by Reviewed by Dave Sayce

3rd Jan 2023 (Last updated on 31st May 2023) 12 minute read

The best places to live in Spain include Madrid, Barcelona, Alicante and Malaga.

Before you book removals to Spain, you'll need to decide which area of the expat-friendly country you want to live in. From the average cost of living in Spain to what you prefer to do in your spare time, there’s much to consider before committing to the move.

There are over 293,000 UK citizens currently living in the country. If you’d like to join them with the help of our international removals, here are some of the most popular expat locations to live in.

  1. 1. Madrid
  2. 2. Barcelona
  3. 3. Alicante
  4. 4. Málaga
  5. 5. San Sebastian
  6. 6. Valencia
  7. 7. Seville
  8. Scoring Each City
  9. Compare Removals to Spain
The best places to live in Spain include:
  1. Madrid
  2. Barcelona
  3. Alicante
  4. Málaga
  5. San Sebastian
  6. Valencia
  7. Seville

1. Madrid

With a population twice the size of Barcelona, Madrid stands strong as Spain’s cultural and spiritual hub. Bustling with businesses, cultural events and vibrant nightlife, the city has something for every kind of expat.

House prices in Madrid often exceed those offered for similar houses in UK cities. Put into context, Spainhouses.net currently lists the average house price in Madrid at €1,151,438.

For renters, you’ll be looking at around €788 per month for a one-person apartment. before bills and expenses. This is quite a reasonable rate compared to many British averages, especially considering the quality of life offered.

Fans of a Sunday stroll will love the El Rastro flea market, packed with stalls selling clothes, ceramics, books and antiques. Another crowd-pleaser is the shop-bristled street of Gran Vía - sometimes referred to as ‘Spanish Broadway’. The street features dozens of restaurants and bars to complement its great selection of shops.

If you prefer something natural, there’s plenty of beauty to admire in the gardens of Parque Del Retiro.

Though it is Spain’s most populated city, Madrid isn't the most expensive in general expenses. Compared with Barcelona, Madrid was rated cheaper for grocery prices, rental rates and restaurant costs. Thanks to an extensive and improved public transport system, most residents can get to where they need without a vehicle too.

Madrid’s air quality is currently rated as ‘Excellent’, making it one of the least polluted capitals in Europe. Madrid has a thriving expat community of roughly a million non-Spanish inhabitants. This makes it an ideal city in which to mingle and meet new people.

Madrid Review

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2. Barcelona

The first Spanish city that comes to mind for many expats, Barcelona has rightfully earned its place as one of Europe's most popular locales. With generally warmer weather all year, a stretch of magnificent coast on the Eastern Mediterranean and a relaxed lifestyle, it’s easy to see why.

If you like the look of Barcelona, the biggest expense will come from finding a property. According to 2023 data from Idealista, the cost per metre² averaged out at €2,707 in Barcelona. Houses in the city average out at €888,549 on Spainhouses.net. Once you’ve secured a spot of your own, you can enjoy city living which is 42% cheaper than living in London, according to Expatistan.

If you’re looking to rent instead of buy, Barcelona is slightly pricier than Madrid. A one-person apartment will cost about €836 a month before bills.

The city holds many gems when it comes to attractions, including the world-famous Sagrada Família and Park Güell (both works of Gaudi). There’s also the bustling thoroughfare of La Rambla, renowned for its many kiosks, cafes and street performers.

Being part of Catalonia, Barcelona also possesses a strong sense of independence. Most locals favour the centuries-old Catalan language over Castilian Spanish. Barcelonians are also some of the friendliest people in Spain, which contributes to the city’s already stellar reputation.

Barcelona is one of Spain’s most cosmopolitan cities, with over 20% of the city’s population hailing from other countries (roughly 300,000 people). Keeping in mind the near-endless sunshine, phenomenal food, exciting Mediterranean lifestyle and unique Catalonian character, Barcelona makes up for its higher rental and property prices.

Barcelona Review

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3. Alicante

Anyone looking for a less populated city to move to will find a welcome alternative in Alicante. The city is famed for its palm tree-flanked boulevards, particularly the picturesque Explanada de España. There’s also the formidable Santa Bárbara Castle that overlooks the city. With sandy white beaches and many historical and architectural sites, it has all the perks of Spain’s coastal areas with fewer tourists.

Though house prices in Alicante went up by 11.5% between March and April 2023, it still equates to €2,254 per square metre, 17% cheaper than Barcelona. According to Spainhouses.net, houses in the two lowest-priced districts of Alicante averaged out at €170,280 and €188,651. The overall average for a house in Alicante is around €537,847.

Alicante retains the highest percentage of foreign nationals in Spain - around 25% or 450,000, 69,000 of them being British people. High concentrations of expats are found in the Torrevieja, Orihuela Costa and Ciudad Quesada areas. It’s unsurprising considering both property and rental prices are more affordable than in bigger cities.

Alicante is one of the most accommodating areas of Spain for UK expats. There are many international schools as well as English-speaking doctors and dentists. Plus there's a nearby airport for easy flights back to Britain.

Alicante also has a great public transport system, notably using trams. This system comes well-priced and is always comfortable thanks to round-the-clock air conditioning.

Alicante Review

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4. Málaga

Those looking to retire to Spain often put Málaga at the top of their list. As part of Spain’s ever-popular Costa Del Sol region, Málaga is home to numerous museums, incredible beaches and yearly festivals.

In terms of buying, Spainhouses.net sets the average house price in Malaga at €630,844. Housing in areas of Málaga like Casabermeja and Alhaurín de la Torre are less expensive at €486,575 and €513,864. These higher prices help explain why this section of Spain is preferred by retirees with bigger bank balances.

Málaga is one of the cheapest places to rent in Spain. When compared to living in London on Numbeo, the average rental price for a 1-bed apartment in the city centre is 66.5% lower and 68.9% for a 3-bed apartment. These lower costs mean better access to a higher quality of living for most expats.

Something that sets Málaga apart is its unique and delicious Andalucian cuisine. Spanish tapas are delicious enough, but Málaga boasts unique recipes of its own. Popular local dishes include the Gazpachuelo fish stew, chilli and paprika prawns (Gambas Al Pil Pil). Another popular treat is Tortas Locas - cream-filled cakes adorned with orange frosting.

As for entertainment, Málaga is only a short drive from Marbella. This city hosts the glorious Golden Mile, a beachside paradise complete with 5-star hotels and a golf course. It also hosts the Puerto Banus marina, packed with shopping malls, bars and restaurants.

Those looking for a less busy retreat can quickly reach the countryside gem of Frigiliana. Voted the ‘prettiest village in Andalucia’, the narrow streets feature distinctly Moorish architecture.

Malaga Review

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5. San Sebastian

Occasionally referred to as a mini Paris, the city contains breathtaking architecture and is rich in history. San Sebastian is famous for its Pintxo, a social Spanish snack featuring selected foods skewered to bread. This is best experienced in the Parte Vieja or Old Quarter. For those that like a drink or two, this rustic city centre also holds the record for having the highest concentration of bars in the world.

If you want to rent in San Sebastian, Idealista lists 2-bed apartments going for anywhere from €800 to €1,300 per month. Buying, by comparison, comes competitively priced, with a home in this northern retreat selling for around €538,000.

Being less of a tourist magnet than its southern cousins, San Sebastian is a very safe city to live in. This is thanks to lower crime rates than in more populated areas. This is great news for expats with children, as the area has several international schools.

There are popular locations within and outside the city, such as the Monte Urgull that silhouettes the skyline. Climb the top for a good walk and be treated to the 12th-century Mota Castle that adorns the peak.

The Museo de San Telmo is a great way to explore the history of the surrounding Basque Country. Polish it off with a taste of the best Basque wines in the Plaza de la Constitución for a perfect finish to your day.

San Sebastian Review

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6. Valencia

Expats looking for a mid-range area of Spain shouldn’t pass up Spain’s third largest city, Valencia. Home to the famous Fallas Festival every March, Valencia is particularly attractive due to its focus on art and architecture. Particular sites of note include the Gothic-inspired Valencia Cathedral and Silk Exchange. There's also the Valencia Institute of Modern Art for fans of museums.

Compared to Madrid, Valencia real estate is affordable. According to Numbeo, the price for a city centre apartment is 43.7% lower than in Madrid. This difference increases to 53% for an apartment outside the city itself. To give you an idea, an average property in Valencia can be bought for around €633,330 according to current data. Renters will get less of a good deal, but will still save 15%-17% renting an apartment within Valencia’s city centre.

Foodies will find a firm friend in Valencia, the city known as the birthplace of traditional Spanish paella. Valencia also boasts the Fideuà, a seafood noodle dish that incorporates monkfish, cuttlefish and squid - an absolute must for fish fans. Top it off with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice from the many trees that line the city streets to quench your thirst in true Spanish style.

As for expats, Valencia was rated 1st of 50 cities in the 2022 Expat City Ranking, having topped the ranking for quality of life. Valencia also scored high for affordable healthcare, safety, friendly residents and ease of settling in. All these traits along with an average lower cost of living make Valencia one of Spain’s most alluring locales.

Valencia Review

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7. Seville

Still close enough to the sea to enjoy the Mediterranean climate, Seville provides a great inland alternative to Madrid. If you fancy a swim, you’re only a 90-minute drive from the ancient coastal city of Cadiz. Seville even offers an easy route over the Portuguese border if you fancy sampling the country’s culture and delicious cuisine.

Having only a quarter of the population of Madrid, Seville’s real estate market is much more accessible to lower-budget expats. Rental rates are 34%-38% cheaper than in the capital according to Numbeo, with buying prices also offered at an equally reasonable 29.5% less - a current average of €520,094.

Architecture lovers shouldn’t pass up the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, the world’s largest Gothic cathedral. This mosque-turned-cathedral contains mixed elements of Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance design. This makes it one of the most unique structures in Spain.

Escape the Seville sun with a dip in the equally historic Arab baths. You can even add a massage or exfoliation service for a Spanish spa day you won’t soon forget.

Seville is Spain’s bike city, owing to its flat terrain and over 100km of dedicated cycle lanes. If you’re accustomed to cycling around UK cities like London or Bristol, Seville is the perfect Spanish counterpart.

Seville Review

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Scoring Each City

We conducted a great deal of research into providing a comprehensive overview of each city’s perks and drawbacks. We’re aware that there are elements related to lifestyle and finance that will be of equal importance to UK expats. We’ve done our utmost to be as transparent as possible in regard to the data and sources we used to rate our selection of cities:

  • Food - TripAdvisor helped demonstrate the culinary expertise available in each city, as well as the variety of cuisine available in each city. We combined this data with whether a city or region was particularly renowned for its food, for example if it has its own unique dishes or was particularly known for specialising in select ingredients or offering food experiences - Culture Trip was a great source for this.
  • Things to do - TripAdvisor was immensely useful for gauging the quantity and quality of attractions available in eachcity. The volume of reviews left per attraction also helped demonstrate the popularity of landmarks, musical acts, tours etc.
  • Property price - Spainhouses.net helped provide a comprehensive overview of the market in specific areas, including average house prices and the price per m2. Numbeo also made it easy to get clarity on average property price thanks to its price comparison index. Idealista also provided insight into the rental markets of each city, including price ranges and property availability.
  • Cost of living - Expatisan offered phenomenal insight into the individual pricing of everyday items and provided a price index to summarise the affordability of each Spanish city. Numbeo also proved invaluable thanks to its cost of living comparison tool, through which we were able to give accurate and up-to-date comparisons. Livingcost.org also provided similar information through its international cost of living calculator.
  • Expat community - Internations.org helped give us an idea of the general expat community present in each city, whilst its Expat City Ranking from 2022 helped provide clarity on each cities particular perks for international movers. We combined this data with figures from Expat Network, International Living and Expat Arrivals regarding the percentage of expats in each city’s population.

Compare Removals to Spain

At Compare My Move, we’re there to help you make the move to a new country. If you’re considering shipping your possessions, our article on shipping container costs can help budget the process. Those buying abroad can also benefit from our comparison between Rightmove and Zoopla, so you can pick the best property retailer to suit your move.

We at Compare My Move want to make the transition of moving to Spain from the UK as easy as possible. That’s why we’ve built a trusted network of international removal partners to assist with your move. Fill out our form today and you’ll be paired with up to six removal companies, saving you as much as 70%.

Joseph Scaife

Written by Joseph Scaife

With previous experience in eCommerce writing, Joe creates helpful articles to assist customers in every element of their move.

Dave Sayce

Reviewed by Dave Sayce

Owner & Managing Director, Compare My Move

Dave Sayce is the owner and managing director of Compare My Move and has over 10 years of experience in the house removals industry.

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