I am constantly asked questions about what my personal thoughts are on living in London Vs living in Barcelona. Finally, a blog post on this topic!
Moving to a new city is a big deal. Most Londoners I know are now thinking about what it would really be like to move to another city. Changes in the cost of living, the UK having the worst quality of life in Europe (read article) and Brexit has maybe pushed more Brits and expat Londoners to consider other options. Within Europe, Spain has always been a firm favourite with the UK community
Before I begin, I always like to remind people to explore living/travelling their dreams anyway! I say this because there have been many times in my life where I have read or heard reviews about a place to travel or live (both positive and negative), only to find that my experience was completely different. If you feel drawn to do something, explore it anyway. These are just MY personal experiences and opinions on living here through my life and through the people I know.
Also, I like to share my background – so you know where my opinions are coming from. I am a travelling yoga teacher and therapist, city-shifting from London and Barcelona. I have been a Londoner since 1998 (when I started university life) – so basically 20 years now. I have mainly lived in the UK since 1993. In that time, I still travelled and moved in/out of Spain because I half of my family are in/from Spain and my nationality is Spanish. As a TCK (third culture kid), I grew up in many countries, with one foot in/out of Spain. To be honest, most times I seem like an expat to most people in Spain as I obviously don’t look Spanish (I’m biracial African-Spanish) and my first language is English. “Where are you from?” is a complicated question for me to answer lol! So, I speak from both sides of what it is like to be an expat and to be from Spain.
Now that I’ve said all of this, let’s get started! (Long blog post!)
🌟 Job Opportunities: ❎ BCN – ✅ LDN
OK, let’s get down to the job situation. It’s not great here in Barcelona – and the rest of Spain in general. Most Spaniards head to London (and other cities) exactly for this reason. If you are not already set up with a job before you come, finding work can be a challenge – even if you do speak Spanish. You might be able to find seasonal work, like bar jobs over the Summer. But if you’re looking for a stable long-term job, la crisis económica is very real. Most expats I know have left for this reason.
Barcelona job hunting ideas: You could try finding work with international English-speaking companies and job roles based in Barcelona. A lot of people find English speaking jobs in customer service and call centre fields. Teaching English is another option. And if you’re fresh out of university, watch out for internships that promise jobs afterwards – it can be a disappointment too as they take advantage of this. Sounds grim right? Don’t get disheartened, I will list some good points below too… stay tuned!
Do people even work in Barcelona? I get asked this all the time… With siesta culture, it can be annoying for a Londoner to get used to having large gaps for lunch and the pace of work being so easy. Or maybe that’s a good thing? I often think of London and Barcelona as 2 extremes – In London you work your Self to the limits and commute over long hours – and in Barcelona, it can be difficult to even maintain a steady work routine with how laid back things can become!
For these reasons, I think London is much better for job seekers. Generally, the set up of finding work is easier in London too – You can go through agencies, the job center and positions change quickly, so they also become available. Finding part time work is easier. Yes, there is more competition but there are still way more options available I think.
I feel London has taught me SO many life lessons, which other cities in Europe probably wouldn’t offer me. I honestly think that London is a place to really soak up opportunities for growth in any work field… I couldn’t imagine Barcelona offering the same amount of challenges and fast-paced environment that I needed to learn.
🌟 Business & Networking: ✅ BCN – ✅ LDN
If you run your own business (especially if you are a digital nomad), things start to look better here in Barcelona. I honestly think that this is the ideal set-up in Barcelona – You have your own work and you get the benefits of living in great city. London can be expensive to live and run your own business, especially if you’re just starting out and income isn’t regular.
In Barcelona, networking with others tends to be more organic and personal in its approach to business, which has some positives. There are also many co-working spaces that offer opportunities to network and meet people. Chances are you will meet others who are doing exactly the same thing as you or have skills that you can exchange.
I love that you can enter most shops and meet the owner first-hand. Business people take pride in their work – whether it’s a coffee shop, a shoe shop, a bar or whatever! I like seeing how passionate people are about their businesses. Unlike the mass chain stores that take over the high streets in the UK and eat up any independent businesses, Barcelona has way more character. Thanks to the business owners. Sadly, I have watched many business owners in London giving up due to the high expenses involved and the chain stores taking over.
London also has some good sides in this too – If you have an idea and want to find the right person to connect with… boom – done! It seems to flow much faster and in a more structured set-up – meaning it’s very business-minded, less personal in approach – which has it’s strengths. You get things done fast in London. I love that.
I have also heard that it is much more easier in London to start being a freelancer or company than in Spain – I have been registered in the UK for years as this is where my base is and I am an official resident of London. It’s as easy as filling out an HMRC online form and declaring your tax once a year – I never found the system to be difficult to understand. Spain is apparently much more complicated and costly to set up as a freelancer. Worth looking it up though!
Yoga teacher life UK-BCN – I’ll give you a simple personal example to show you what I mean: If I have a client in London, I will generally find them through marketing online and meet them in a work environment – In my case, at the therapy centre or yoga studio. Bookings are well in advance and the hours are set. The client/student comes, enjoys the session, pays and books again for the future. In Barcelona, things take time to book! I find that I often meet clients within my personal group of friends through word of mouth (people like to know who they are connecting with), bookings can change at the last minute and timings of sessions can run into a coffee break afterwards where you really get to know your client better. I really had to adjust the way I worked to make it work, this was a big transition in itself!
Obviously, it all depends on how/where/what you like to work in, your type of business and preferences for networking – All in all, I enjoy having a mix of both. 2 ticks!
🌟 Cost Of Living: ✅ BCN – ❎ LDN
London is TOO expensive. This is not my personal opinion, it just is! Even if you’re earning a good high income, the cost of living means that you still have to compromise a lot to be in London. When I moved to London in the 90’s as a student, it was still considered an expensive city to live in – But the difference was that it was still “do-able” (You could still pay the bills, save money and enjoy your life). Now, it really has pushed everything out – As one London YouTuber said: “In London, you will never have enough money to not worry about it”. This is one of the major factors for people moving out of London to live – But ready to commute back into London from nearby towns/cities in the UK, or even in Europe.
Simple joys in London feel like a rip-off now. A simple example: I remember when I first came to Barcelona, buying s cup of coffee and 2 huge cake slices (I needed a serious sweet fix) shocked me with how cheap the price was. I knew this was possible already from being in Madrid (and other parts of Spain), but I honestly didn’t expect the same in Barcelona… In London something so simple would have been 2 times (maybe 3 times) more… I had a giggle by my Self at a local cafe when witnessing shocked faces from a British couple who couldn’t get over how cheap their meal was – “That’s not right, it can’t be that cheap!”.
I am not saying Barcelona isn’t expensive… It can be. It’s definitely starting to soar in prices now. However, In comparison to London, it is still much cheaper. If you’re looking for a cheap city in Spain, there are cheaper places to live in – Barcelona is probably one of the most expensive to compare. Knowing the right people in Barcelona and not acting like a tourist will get you better prices in everything in Barcelona.
Euro-commuting has become a popular topic for people who can work their job schedule this way. With Brexit, this might change things but it still is something many people consider. It wasn’t too log ago that articles were shared on the news about this – A man euro-commutes from London-Barcelona – Prices and rents have changed in Barcelona since then as 2016 seems to have raised a lot of prices but it is always cheaper than London – Click here to read it!
In general, I think you get much more for your money in Barcelona… The plus side is that because it is a small city (feels like more like a village compared to London!), daily expenses on food and transport are much better! Most times, you can go by foot or bike to your destination (free) and food shopping includes a much more fresher variety for a cheaper price – I’m thinking of all the wonderful fresh fruits and veg (vegan eaters paradise!) plus local sea food and meat.
Check this website out for a general cost of living comparisons – Click here! This will tell you everything you need to know about average daily expenses. I love using this website to compare any places in the world. It’s clear that Barcelona is much cheaper than London
🌟 Shopping: ✅ BCN – ✅ LDN
I put a tick for both because they both offer different positive things. Obviously, shopping is a personal thing and what I may need in my weekly shop is totally different from others, so I will try to keep it general.
Barcelona has fresher and cheaper food than London. This is something I love about shopping in Barcelona (compared to London). The fruits/veg are fresher and you can really taste the difference – Plus, it costs much less. As a veggie, I don’t buy meat/fish/dairy, but my friends also comment that the same applies to buying this food in Barcelona. As a veggie eater, this is heaven for me – My weekly shop at a local supermarket feels like it’s much better value for money and tastes much better than the same shopping cart in London.
Food labels are better in London/UK. This is another one of those personal things but I do like to easily know what is in my food – especially as a vegetarian/vegan. There are food labels in Spain, but you might have to dig out your reading glasses and learn the ingredients in Spanish every time you pick up something. In London/UK, the labelling system is much more clearly coded and easier to understand.
London has much more variety/options of things to buy in your local high street and supermarkets. After saying the above point, I admit that I still miss many things about shopping in London. Your average Tesco or Sainsbury’s supermarket in London (even the smaller branches) will offer more variety in food choices – like food from around the world, veggie options or different varieties of the same ingredients… It just feels like you can get a bigger choice under one roof – Whereas, I sometimes have to shop in different locations to get different food choices I like. In Barcelona’s supermarkets seem much more basic. The London (and UK) high street also has more choices of clothing brands where you can buy at ease – Barcelona does have high streets and shopping malls, but the variety does not feel as good.
Shops are closed on Sundays in Barcelona. I thought I would mention this because many Londoners are used to doing their weekly food shopping on Sundays (like me!). It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you have a habit of doing something on Sundays and realising that you have to cram in food shopping on Saturdays instead, it can feel like a hassle. Small corner shops are sometimes open, but the main big food and clothing chains will be shut on Sundays in Barcelona. I still prefer London when it comes to having the freedom to shop anytime of the week.
Fashion styles and shopping seem different too. I am definitely no fashionista! And I don’t want to offend Barcelonians, but Londoners tend to make more of a fashionable effort when it comes to daily dress-sense. I notice the immediate difference when moving from one city to another… Barcelona is much more casual – A pair of jeans and comfortable sneakers will take you everywhere in Barcelona. No rights/wrongs, it just depends which you prefer!
So, who wins for me in this category? Tough one, I know I mentioned more good points for London – But in my daily life, I probably will still go for Barcelona being the better choice (for me)… The reason being that I love how my weekly food shopping is much fresher and costs so much less than in London (for the same shopping cart). I am pretty minimalist when it comes to clothing and other items of shopping… food is the main thing I enjoy each week. Again, no right’s/wrong’s in this, it all depends on what we prefer/need.
🌟 Social & Family Life: ✅ BCN – ❎ LDN
Now, we’re starting to see the benefits of Barcelona, especially if you have a family. Barcelona is a city for connection. Like most mediterranean cities, family life and personal life is important to people – and they will make time to nurture this too. As with my business example above, personal connection is important – You really get to know people on a daily basis, even if it’ your local shop keeper.
Sundays are now for rest and play. The good point about having shops closed on Sundays is that you have this day to dedicate to Self care, catching up with friends and spending time with family.
Children are a big part of life. In comparison to London, I feel like this city rally nurtures both young and elder people. You will see small playgrounds regularly dotted around the large pavements and pedestrian spaces, so kids and parents can spend time just being happy as they walk along. Children really are children here – Whereas in London, I feel children grow up much quicker. In general, one of the things I look out for when I visit a city is this… If both the children and elders seem happy, it feels to me like a society of healthy and balanced family life.
Barcelona is smaller and easier to travel in so meeting friends isn’t an effort. I know when I am in London, travelling just to be in the same area as friends can dampen the joy (packed train, expenses to get to/from location, night buses taking ages to get home etc). I also remember people literally scheduling their friends in their diary in order to make time to travel and have enough money to enjoy the day out in London! Not a problem in Barcelona, which makes spontaneous meetups much easier to arrange.
Barcelona is also much cheaper to go out and enjoy your Self than London. Going out in London really hurts the budget sometimes… it’s expensive just to get in a club and get 1 drink. Going out during the day or night in Barcelona is much cheaper and tastes better (thinking of all the delicious tapas bites with your drink).
Festivals and local events for everyone to enjoy! Speaking of cheaper and better times out… Every weekend there are free events and festivals in the city… You honestly don’t need to travel far before you step into a space where something is going on. Unlike London (where you have to pay to enter into everything these days – even the official London New Years fireworks!), these regular events are mostly free and last all day. No excuse not to go out and enjoy your Self with friends and family!
The glorification of “I am busy” is part of London life. The opposite can be said for Barcelona. In London, being “busy” (or just feeling like you need to be on-the-go all the time!) is hard on the personal side of life. For me, I find that many Londoners will approach their personal/social life the same way they do with their work… fast and furious, to see what they can get out of the experience and ruthless if another option comes long. It’s a very yang energy – great for work, terrible and unhealthy for genuine friendships/connections/relationships. Therefore, coming to live in Barcelona can be like pulling out the plug from the socket and letting the electricity die down for a while… It can feel strange to just Be and enjoy it… to just sit in a coffee shop without having to rush off, to be part of siesta culture, to walk slower, to have more room to walk (unless it’s tourist season), to not have your guard up all the time and more. It takes some getting used to for some people – I certainly have to go through this transition. The same an be said with the social side of life – Let it Be in Barcelona! And you will meet some amazing people…which brings me to the next topic.
🌟 Making Friends – Expats & Locals: ❓BCN – ❓LDN
A question mark for each city because this is such a personal thing! There have been some years In London where I made tons of friends and other years where I was just doing my own thing. The same with Barcelona.
How you make friends and the kind of friends you have is also personal. What I value in friendships and connections have also changed with time. I used to love having many friends, now I prefer having a handful, but with more in-depth connections. No rights or wrongs. I will list general things that I have noticed with both cities.
The gap between expats and locals seem bigger in Barcelona than London. Some people may joke that “Who is a real Londoner anyway?!?“. London is a big mix of people from every walk of life and corner of the world imaginable. It’s all just one big pot of people who are in a city that offers a lot of opportunities to improve education and work skills. In Barcelona, expats tend to stick together much more… the “expat bubble” is very real here, not just in Southern Spain’s Costa Del Sol – and locals don’t tend to mix as much, unless an effort is being made.
One thing that both cities have in common – expats come and go quickly! This can also reflect on our connections and friendships with people. Many expats in Barcelona come to teach English or study for a year and then leave. Or they will come to Barcelona to learn the language and live for a few months, before they are off agin. However, In London, I feel people stick around longer – due to more opportunities to climb the work ladder, to continue their studies and experience, to build their home life. In Barcelona, I found that many expats leave quickly to find these exact things. But generally, making friends and long-lasting connections are very fluid and fast paced with both cities.
It is often said, Catalans are more reserved than the rest of Spain – But these generalisations happen in many other countries too – For example: Many people would say that people from Northern England are much more friendlier than Southern… That people from Munich are much harder to make friends with than from Berlin… The same might be said about Catalan people in comparison to other parts of Spain. Is it true? Not always – it all depends. In my own experiences, I find that the Catalans I have met are still much more open that you’re average Londoner (maybe more reserved than Spaniards fro other regions) – I think after being in London, most cities seem friendlier too! But I still feel there are comparisons – both Londoners and Barcelonians might have a hard outer shell to begin with, but once you get past it, you can make some amazing friends.
In every day life, London still feels harsher than Barcelona. For example: I will go to a Catalan owned shop to buy something and won’t get much of a friendly acknowledgement (If you say Hola first, it goes a long way to how friendly the person is)…But then after 3-4 times of coming to the same shop, the shopkeeper will be really friendly and try to make conversation. Once you get to know one Spaniard or Catalan, chance are you will be open to meeting many more new local friends. It comes down to making an effort to make friends and enjoy the exchanges you learn from each other.
If you find that Barcelonians are unfriendly to you, this may be why… Locals in Barcelona are starting to get annoyed with tourists – which might explain why some of them are not so friendly to you. If you’re an expat living in Barcelona, you could sadly be lumped into the label of being an annoying tourist – which has been a big issue for residents of Barcelona recently. I can understand why this is a big problem in a small city. Barcelona is currently tackling issues with tourism because of the type of tourists that can come (think obnoxious party animals, streets smelling of piss from after-parties and loud noise) + Plus rising rents (AirBnb has taken over this small city and many buildings are now legally/illegally renting out to tourists – click here to read article on the AirBnB illegal crackdown) + And the overwhelming huge crowds in small spaces (which can get in the way of local life). More issues are raised in this article. If you don’t live in Barcelona, you probably wouldn’t feel the urgency of the situation – But if you live in Barcelona, it can be no fun when you have to find a place to live and suffer some of the issues mass tourism brings in such a small city. Sadly, as a person who looks like a tourist, you could also be put into the same pile of problems for some people.
Living in London is different with these exact same issues because the city is bigger, rent has always been expensive, tourists only seem to be in areas that Londoners don’t actually live in (there is no way you could afford to live in the centre of London!) and Londoners are just used to crowded streets and a colder approach (even when Londoners have a heart of gold, their outer shell hardens up quickly in this city) – it’s become very normal in London. Sad, but true. I call Londoners crabs for this reason… even when you may not originally be from London, it can turn you into one 🦀 Londoners are soft inside, I promise!
If you’re in Barcelona, make an effort to learn the language (Spanish and some little phrases in Catalan). In London, it feels like a given that you need to know English… But in Barcelona (and around Spain), many expats will live here for years without learning anything of the language. This automatically puts a barrier up for getting to know people from Barcelona. As with all new places, learning some of the language goes A LONG WAY for getting to know people and where you live.
🌟 Healthy Living: ✅ BCN – ❎ LDN
If you haven’t already checked out the link at the beginning, check out this article on quality of life: UK has ‘worst quality of life in Europe’
Barcelona wins, full stop. The city is set up for being active – whether you like biking, swimming, walking, running or just eating healthy food. Barcelona just generally feels much more healthier and the outdoor lifestyle is part of life, all year around.
The approach to health is different in each city. In London, there are also gyms and opportunities to be healthy – but at a cost. For example: People will probably be more likely to go to the gym and pay a huge gym membership price for it. The same goes for a yoga studio. Whereas in Barcelona, people just head to the park and join a class there for as little as 5 euros. Or head to the beach for a jog and some fresh sea air.
Again, London is more structured in approach. Londoners will schedule in their time to see a massage therapist, go to a yoga class or head to the gym. In Barcelona, it just feels much more easy-going… go with the flow. Plus, people walk and cycle everywhere anyway, so exercise is just part of daily life.
There are plenty of health events in both cities. This is one of the reasons I love being in both… Although Barcelona does attract an international crowd to these shows, London will most definitely win when it comes to having a larger audience and crowds from all corners of the earth. This is great if you are a health and fitness professional – But it can sometimes feel like you’ve entered a ring where everyone wants to stop and sell you something if you’re coming to just relax! For this reason, I like each city for a totally different vibe when it comes to these events. I have written a blog post on this… See the link after the video below…
( Read the blog post: 20 Creative, Food & Health Events In Barcelona )
For the yoga teachers reading this blog post (there seems to be many of you!): As a health professional, yoga teacher and/or holistic therapist, you get paid better in London. As the set-up for therapy clinics and yoga studios are better than Barcelona, you normally get clients quickly, regular scheduled classes at good rates and a more structured work life than in Barcelona. Even when Barcelona is a hub for health in Spain, it can be a bigger challenge than London to get the ball rolling with clients/classes – As I said earlier, Barcelona is much more about getting to know people and it is slower in pace, so it does take time to get a regular stream of clients in Barcelona – especially if you don’t know Spanish. Plus, unlike London, people ain’t as stressed out and have other free options like de-stressing at the beach!
🌟 Weather: ✅ BCN – ❎ LDN
Maybe this is an obvious one for many of you when it comes to choosing! I initially even forgot to add this factor into this post because it felt too obvious… Why do many expats choose a city by the sunny Mediterranean Sea anyway? Hmmmm lol! But then again, I have met many people who have chosen London for the weather too…. Maybe not so obvious after all.
Barcelona has proper seasons. If I had to compare it to Madrid, it has the seasons, minus the sharp contrast – Madrid’s Winters and Summer can be intense, whereas Barcelona still has the seasons but it isn’t too cold or too hot. I really like this part – Getting in tune with the seasons is something I miss in London. I like my Winter to be cold (even when it’s laughable to call it “cold” if you’re coming here from Northern Europe… But remember, Barcelona had snow twice in the winter of 2017-18 which shocked us all!) – And I like my Late-Spring/Summer to be beachable, where I can still head to the beach for a long walk.
London is like a year-long Autumn… Where you choose whether to add an extra warm coat or an umbrella here and there. If you’re coming from up North (UK), the London weather seems very mild in comparison. However, the strange thing is I actually miss London weather when I am in Barcelona… this was so weird for me! I missed my thick jackets and puddle hopping… I missed the darkness lol… I even think I’m getting a little too soft now while I am in Barcelona! Simple delights of having a good down-pour of rain reminds me of London life… You can take the girl out of London, but not the London out of the girl…
🌟 Safety: ✅ BCN – ✅ LDN
I can honestly say I have never felt unsafe in my daily life in either city. Touch wood, I have never been assaulted in any way – I have had my tablet stolen from my bag in the metro in Barcelona (NEVER have your bag on your back in the metro! Hold it or have it in front at all times and you’ll be OK)). Like in any big city, you need to clue your Self up and take steps to keep your Self safe too – especially in tourist hotspots, where there will naturally be more pickpockets taking advantage.
BUT if I had to choose one of these cities where I would rather walk late at night or through a dark space, I would pick Barcelona as the safer option. “Dodgy” areas in Barcelona don’t seem so rough after being in some areas in London lol! Londoners are hard innit, just saying’ 😎
Now let’s talk about the rare times when a city is rocked by a terrorist attack, a riot, a strike etc… When something happens in the city, you will feel it more in Barcelona. Sadly, these types of events have come up in many places around the world – and London and Barcelona have had their fair share of activity recently… This is the sad part of our modern life that we are all getting used to. They are all horrible, we all feel the heavy aftermath and the chaos – but when you are in a small city (like Barcelona), it can sometimes (quite literally) be at your doorstep. This is the main issue/difference that I noticed recently… AND one of the reasons I will NOT live in the centre of Barcelona (read my blog post here). Londoners may work in the city, but rarely live in the centre (unless they are super rich!) – If something does happen in the centre of London, it feels like another part of town – it’s not in your face, even when we feel the horror. However, when something happens in Barcelona, you will practically hear it (through the low hum of the overhead helicopters etc) before you’ve realised what it is! This is where I feel living in a larger city, like London, can have its advantage.
🌟 Politics In Daily Life: ❎ BCN – ❎ LDN
The last point leads to this one… Let’s face it, every country/city has its own social issues and political dramas! I guess we just need to choose which ones we are prepared to put up with. Without putting my personal opinion on any of the political issues, I can say that both UK and Spain have topics that DO affect daily life, even if you are not into politics (like me). Things change all the time – but for now, these are the daily topics that you can’t escape from if you live in London or Barcelona.
UK- Brexit. In these recent times, this has been a hot topic for both Brits and expats in the UK. What does this mean for everyone and how is this going to play out? Who knows! It’s a messy divorce and we’re all watching to see how this will affect our own lives. I have already seen many expat friends leave the Uk in the last year because of this. It’s getting very real now. I have also met many British friends who moved to Barcelona to keep “one foot in” Europe when the time comes. Time will tell.
Spain – Catalonia Independence. If you are talking about living in the heart of Catalan pride, Barcelona is going to always find a way to remind you that it is NOT Spain. Catalans have their own language, different foods, their own flag, their own culture etc (as do other regions in Spain). If you are brave enough to say it is Spanish, be prepared to get some heavy arguments with Catalans who are passionate about their culture. I personally enjoy learning about Catalan culture – But as a Spanish national, I also can see the difficulties that are arising within Spain (and the Spanish identity) and the consequences that might come from it. I wrote a recent blog post on what it is like to live in Barcelona now (daily life), after the referendum and with the Catalan independence being a hot topic >>Click here to read my honest thoughts
Both of these political issues seem never-ending at the moment. As I write this blog post, where we stand seems very foggy and uncertain. It’s not an easy place to be living in between London and Barcelona for this reason. It has left a heavy energy and I am hoping this shifts soon.
🌟 Find out more…
These were just my personal opinions as a city-shifter from London-Barcelona. On a personal level, I enjoy both sides of the energy coin. I think London and Barcelona brings out a different side of me that I thrive on. This is why I need both of these cities in my life!
There was a wonderful survey done where people expressed their thoughts on life in Barcelona… See what you think!
Teleport also has some amazing stats and thoughts on many cities, including Barcelona and London – It’s worth having a look!
🌟 More about living in Barcelona…
I hope you enjoyed this blog post – I am just trying to be as honest as possible on my own opinions and through my experiences!
What are your thoughts and experiences? Feel free to share in the comments section below!