If you’ve been dreaming about moving to Spain, or even just buying a second home there to spend holidays in the sun, then you’re probably spending time researching the best places to live in Spain.
It’s not surprising that Spain is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for expats. In fact, it’s the first choice for Brits, who make up the third largest foreign population in Spain. With a warmer Mediterranean climate and a historically rich culture, who wouldn’t want to immigrate to Spain?
That said, settling on the best place to live can be difficult. There are 17 autonomous regions to explore across the country, with dozens of provinces, municipalities, and major cities to choose from. Each area has its own unique community, attracting different kinds of people to live there.
Whether you’re a young professional or retiree, and prefer cosmopolitan cities or coastal villages, there’s somewhere perfect for you in Spain. To help you narrow down your shortlist, we’ve made this list featuring 16 of the best places to live in Spain. When you’re ready to get your paperwork in order, contact an immigration lawyer to make sure the big move goes smoothly!
While it may not be the country’s capital city, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, and arguably the most popular city in Spain for tourists and expats. This is because its coastal location allows urban city life to meet relaxing beach life in the same place. From world-famous modernist architecture to Catalan cuisine, high-end shops and a busy nightlife, what’s not to like about living in Barcelona?
It’s an excellent choice for those who love the outdoors, with further benefits like plenty of job opportunities and international schools. While assimilating can be difficult if you don’t speak much Spanish or Catalan, there are many expat communities of varying nationalities, so it’s easy to make friends in Barcelona. One of the only downsides is that this prime location comes with a higher cost of living than other places in Spain – though it’s still less expensive than many other European cities.
As the capital of Spain, Madrid is the second most popular city behind Barcelona. The landlocked central city may not have sandy beaches, but it does boast a vibrant range of lifestyles. This cultural hub offers many attractions, ranging from art and cuisine to multi-national business and transport links. There are lots of opportunities to be found for English-speaking jobseekers and their families.
Being such a major city, the cost of living is higher in Madrid than elsewhere in Spain. However, there are several ‘satellite cities’ close by that are excellent alternatives – with cheaper real estate and the ability to commute into the capital. For example, there are many small towns around an hour from Madrid in the province of Toledo, or even closer, connected by high-speed rail services.
The third largest city in Spain, Valencia, has just as much to offer as Barcelona and Madrid. With fewer tourists and a smaller geographical area, it’s very walkable – but also has excellent public transport. Known as the home of paella, it’s not surprising that Valencia boasts great food and family-friendly activities. It definitely isn’t lacking in culture and entertainment, or great weather throughout the year.
Surrounded by plenty of mountains and beaches, there’s plenty to do in this coastal city. There’s also a focus on art and education, making it a must-visit location for creative types. A small but growing community of expats and digital nomads are bringing attention to Valencia as a more affordable alternative to Madrid and Barcelona. It’s fun and friendly, and you’ll get more value for your money.
One of the biggest and most well-known municipalities in the Andalucía region, Malaga has the third largest airport in Spain and plenty of resorts along a beautiful stretch of southern coast. It’s a tourist favourite for good reason – Malaga has everything you expect and want from Spanish life. Sunny beaches, fishing and boating ports, Moorish architecture and historical landmarks… the list goes on.
Of course, there is no shortage of Mediterranean cuisine, celebrated art, and buzzing social scenes. With students, workers, and pensioners from all around the world making up its large population, Malaga has quite an international feel. Despite its popularity, though, living in Malaga is relatively cheap. There’s a variety of properties available, including central apartments and suburban houses.
Similar to Malaga, a tourist and expat favourite is the star of the Golden Mile – Marbella. While this area is known as a party hotspot for holidaymakers, it’s more family-friendly than you might think. It’s not just the nightlife that’s vibrant, but also the scenic views, gastronomy, and galleries and shops. Aside from leisure and entertainment, there’s history, too – with many ancient ruins to visit.
With beautiful beaches and the luxury marina Puerto Banus on the coast, plus the mountains of Sierra Blanca behind, Marbella is truly the jewel in the crown of the Costa del Sol. It’s very easy for expats to integrate, as there is such a mix of people and many options to suit all lifestyles. That said, Marbella is among the most expensive areas when it comes to living costs, so it’s not for everyone.
Costa del Sol
If Malaga or Marbella doesn’t appeal to you, there are endless other choices on the Costa del Sol.
Just along the coast from Puerto Banus, but with properties available at a fraction of the prices there, Estepona is a quieter town with excellent access to all the amenities an expat could need. Cafes and bars, museums and golf courses, beaches and mountains – and an easy commute to Gibraltar for those who want to work in the headland territory while avoiding its high living costs.
Mijas Pueblo is only 30 minutes from Malaga Airport and 5 miles inland, making it easy to travel and visit coastal beaches whenever you want. It’s known as the golf valley of the Costa del Sol, and hosts a large expat community. Alternatively, Cordoba is further inland and the third largest municipality in Andalucía, with the white-washed buildings and strong heat traditionally expected from Spain.
Another often-overlooked location is Cadiz, a peninsular port city in southwest Spain near Puerto Real. Originating from one of the oldest settlements in not only Spain but all of Europe, there’s lots of authentic architecture and charming food markets. While there are fewer tourists and fewer job opportunities, the cost of living is low and you’ll have access to the sea, beaches, and nature galore.
Two hours south from Valencia along the Costa Blanca – the ‘white coast’ named for the colour of the sand on its stunning beaches – lies the historic port town of Alicante. It has everything you could ask for from a Spanish expat town: pleasant weather, a blend of traditional and new architecture, great transport connections, even better cuisine, lots of greenery and natural wonders to explore…
Seafood, sunbathing, sailing, street festivals – there’s more than enough sources of enjoyment to be found in the town. Its iconic landmarks include a mountain-top castle, a Baroque church, a seaside promenade, and a fresh food market. All of this for a much lower cost than living in one of the major Spanish cities. No wonder so many expats call Alicante or one of its satellite villages their new home.
Despite being the fourth largest city in Spain, Seville still has a quaint small-town feel to it. As the capital of Andalucía, it takes up the mantle of representing the roots of southern Spain. Life in Seville, also known as Sevilla, is slow-paced and socially-oriented. Its flat terrain makes it especially accessible for walking and biking, with mountains and beaches not too far away on public transport.
Central Seville may be more expensive than the outskirts, but it’s still much cheaper to live there than Spain’s urban hubs. The riverfront, Moorish buildings, and horse-drawn carriages make it seem much more relaxed than most cities, with some of the warmest weather in Spain to accompany its visual vibrancy. The cost of living here is similar to other Andalucian areas like Alicante and Malaga.
If you’d prefer to live in northern Spain, close to the French border, consider the fashionable surf city of San Sebastian in the Gipuzkoa region. While the general area is popular with expats, it’s nowhere near the extent of the south, so it’s guaranteed to be a bit more peaceful. The trade-off is that due to it being a luxury area, and despite being around the same expense-wise, the weather is far milder.
San Sebastian is sometimes compared to Paris for its Belle Époque architecture and rich quality of life, as well as having a high concentration of bars. It also has sandy beaches perfect for surfing and mountains ideal for hiking. Known for excellent food and sophisticated style, you can live like royalty in San Sebastian. Rent here is cheaper than Madrid and Barcelona, but consumer prices are higher.
Bordered by the Sierra Nevada mountains, and home to iconic medieval buildings like the Alhambra palace (a UNESCO World Heritage site), Granada is another Andalucian jewel. It’s the perfect place for those looking to live a tranquil, traditional Spanish lifestyle. There are fewer tourists but plenty of students, and many attractions, including botanical gardens, water parks, and subtropical orchards.
Around 70km or an hour’s drive from the southern coast, the sea and sand are never too far away. So, if you’re interested in outdoor activities like swimming and scuba diving, it’s possible to do these as well as hiking and skiing in the mountains. With affordable housing, fairly inexpensive consumer prices, and typically delicious cuisine, Granada is an excellent place to put down new roots in Spain.
Spain’s northern shores may be less popular than the excessively sunny south, but Basque country is still beautiful. Just over an hour west of San Sebastian, the port city of Bilbao overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It has everything that individuals and families could want from a Spanish city-dwelling life, but it’s a more peaceful place than the sometimes frenetic energy of big central hubs like Madrid.
Premium beaches, markets, bars, and ancient architecture are all at your fingertips – without being overrun by tourists. As more people discover the alternative urban lifestyle that Bilbao has to offer, the expat population is increasing, as the once-industrial city attracts young professionals and their families. As Spain’s fifth-largest city, the cost of living isn’t the cheapest, but it’s also not too high.
For those in search of an upmarket residential area, Sotogrande is a haven of polo, golf, yachts, and fine dining. Further down the coast than Estepona, it’s also a key location for people with business in Gibraltar, as it’s just under 25km north of the border. This is one of the main reasons for the thriving expat community in Sotogrande, as well as hosting one of the best international schools in Spain.
Many rich and powerful international families have summer homes in Sotogrande, with the exclusive location boasting luxury properties with sea views and private pools, plus gourmet restaurants and beach clubs along the seafront. Still, it’s possible to find real estate in Sotogrande for little more than the average costs across the country, which is still much lower than the average in places like the UK.
The university town of Murcia, capital of the Murcia region in the southeast, is around an hour’s drive south of Alicante. The city may be 50km inland from the coast, but the port cities and sandy beaches of the Costa Blanca aren’t impossibly far away. If being by the sea is a dealbreaker, there are still pretty seaside towns in the region, like San Pedro del Pinatar, Cartagena, and Cape Palos.
While prices will be higher the closer you are to the coast, life in Murcia is generally very affordable, especially in comparison to high-demand areas like Alicante and Valencia. Despite having its own section of sunny coastline between the regions of Andalucía and Valencia, Murcia avoids the hordes of tourists. That’s not to say it doesn’t have tourist attractions, though, as there’s lots to see and do.
As one of the most popular Spanish islands, if not the number one choice for second home buyers, Majorca is a paradise of clear waters and Mediterranean sun. Also known as Mallorca, it’s the biggest of the Balearic Islands off the eastern coast of Spain, and its capital city Palma is a hotspot for digital nomads and tourists. It’s ideal for outdoor adventurers and laid-back beachgoers alike.
Lively streets, fresh seafood, beaches and coves, mountains and citrus groves – it’s a truly wonderful place to explore Mediterranean island life. As it’s a little slower and less well-connected than the mainland, Majorca is often favoured by older expats and retirees. There’s a large international community, with properties being more expensive in tourist areas but affordable further out.
Another extremely popular destination in the Balearic Islands is Ibiza, though this island is known for drawing a much younger crowd. As Europe’s party capital, it’s famous for its nightclubs and DJs, but Ibiza’s gorgeous weather and naturally beautiful landscapes are also perfect for other activities, like biking, horseback riding, hiking, and swimming. Ibiza definitely has its quieter, more relaxed side.
Since there’s a high demand for real estate in Ibiza, properties here can be on the expensive side, as can the cost of the living. For example, rent and food are much higher than even Barcelona. For this reason, it’s not the best location for retirees – but it’s a good choice for young remote workers, who want to live somewhere with a buzzing nightlife scene without having to find work on the island.
If heat and sun year-round in a self-contained archipelago is more your speed, consider the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. There are plenty of smaller islands to explore if you find the tourist-heavy areas like Gran Canaria and Tenerife too busy, with lots of beautiful nature to explore in your free time. It’s easy to keep up an active lifestyle here with so much to do outdoors.
As the largest island, Tenerife draws the most expats and nomads. There are more traditional villages to the north that are suitable for families, and areas to the south with entertaining nightlife that may be more attractive to younger expats. Being on the Greenwich Mean Time, it’s especially great for remote workers needing to keep in line with British and western European time zones.
Looking for an immigration lawyer in Spain?
Have any of these locations caught your attention? We may be biased here at Manzanares Lawyers, but we believe Andalucía is the best region to live in. With offices based in Marbella and Alhaurin, our team of Spanish immigration lawyers are always on hand if you need professional guidance on moving to Spain. Just give us a call on +34 952 82 41 12 or +34 952 59 50 42 to get started today.
If you have any enquiries about how we could help you with Spanish immigration, or even just buying a holiday home in Spain, don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our expert lawyers will gladly assist you with your legal queries, always for a competitive fee.