Spain has a lot on offer for expats – which is why over 360,000 Brits have decided to call it home (BBC, 2021).

When it comes to where you want to live in Spain, there’s a lot to choose from. You could head for a coastal town, a cosmopolitan city, a party island, or a peaceful village in the mountains.

Thankfully, we’ve narrowed down the list for you by creating our roundup of the nine best places to live in Spain.

aerial view of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

An aerial view of Antoni Gaudí's impressive Sagrada Familia

Best places to live in Spain – at a glance

If you don’t have time to read the whole article, here’s a quick run-down of the best places to live in Spain.

CityBest for
San SebastiánFood and drink
FrigilianaRural escapes
MarbellaFamilies
ToledoAffordable property
BarcelonaCulture
The Canary IslandsClimate
MadridJob opportunities

San Sebastián

Best for: Food and drink

Located on the north coast of the country, San Sebastián has long been touted as Spain’s food capital.

Anyone strolling through the streets in the Old Town will find that most restaurants display pintxos – small snacks that have been dubbed ‘haute cuisine in miniature’ – to showcase what’s on offer.

Foodies can also make their way through 11 Michelin-star restaurants, each with its own speciality – from pipas en tempura (prawns in fluffy batter) to slow-cooked beef in red wine. And to wash it all down, visitors can try a glass of the local white wine, txakolí.

Too full to think about any more food or drink? There’s still plenty to do in San Sebastián. Take a walk around the gorgeous Old Town, admire amazing views from the top of Mount Igueldo, or check out the local film and jazz festivals.

ProsCons
Excellent food and drink sceneEnglish isn’t as common as it is in larger cities
Coastal citySlightly more expensive than some other Spanish areas
Lots of things to do Small city

Frigiliana

Best for: Rural escapes

Tucked away on the mountainous slopes of Sierra Almijara is the small town of Frigiliana, roughly 70km from Malaga on Spain’s southern coast.

This rural town is built in the traditional Andalusian style, with narrow winding streets and whitewashed buildings framed with colourful flower pots.

Locals here are surrounded by sweeping views of the Costa del Sol, and nature lovers have endless places to explore. Here’s an idea of what to expect:

  • Santa Fiora Botanic Gardens – As well as admiring flora and fauna, learn how local vegetation has been used in Frigiliana for things like medicine, basketry and even perfume throughout history
  • The Natural Park of Tejeda, Almijara, and Alhama – Hike through miles of mountainous terrain or wander through towering trees in this scenic nature park. With plenty of trails on offer, beginners can stroll through valleys, whilst more experienced hikers venture up to higher peaks, like the 2,000-metre-high Maroma
  • Playa Burriana Beach – Just a 20-minute drive away from Frigiliana, you can find Playa Burriana Beach. This large stretch of sandy beach has plenty of space for sunbathers, adventurers, or families
  • Nerja Caves – Originally discovered in 1959 by a group of young locals, these caves host some of the largest rock formations in Europe, as well as the oldest artwork known to man – dating back 42,000 years ago. The Nerja Caves also host the Festival of Music and Dance every July
ProsCons
Breathtaking sceneryNot as much to do compared to cities
Close to various beachesLimited job opportunities
Slower pace of lifeEnglish isn’t as common as it is in some Spanish cities
White washed homes in Frigiliana

Whitewashed homes in the small town of Frigiliana looking over a pastel pink sky

Marbella

Best for: Families

Thinking of moving to Spain with little ones? Located on the south coast of the country, Marbella could be the perfect place to help you all adjust to life abroad.

Although many people know this Spanish city as a tourist hot-spot (Brits tend to patrol the bars and entertainment venues on the Golden Mile), Marbella also has a family-friendly side to it.

The city’s renaissance architecture, charming narrow streets, and incredible beaches draw in plenty of people from around the world. In fact, one in four people in Marbella are expats, which means newcomers have a solid community to help them settle in.

Concerned about how your kids will fare in the Spanish education system? Put those worries aside. There’s a strong selection of international schools to choose from, including The International School Estepona, The British International School of Marbella, Swans International School Marbella, and The English International College.

ProsCons
Huge expat communityAuthentic Spanish experience is harder to come by
Range of international schoolsLimited job opportunities
Hot weather throughout most of the yearProperty can be expensive

Toledo

Best for: Affordable property

There are a lot of cheap areas in Spain compared to other European countries – but when it comes to affordable property, Toledo comes out on top.

A recent study found that the cheapest place to buy in Spain in 2021 was El Carpio de Tajo – a small town in the province of Toledo, roughly an hour from Madrid. This municipality has the cheapest property price square metre, with homeowners asking for an average of just 304 per m².

To compare, a study by Rightmove found that the average asking price of a house in England and Wales is £2,954 per square metre.

But don’t be fooled by thinking these cheap prices mean the province of Toledo has less to offer than other spots in Spain. Expats can spend their days hiking through mountainous areas, getting to know the tight-knit community, or venturing into Toledo city for more of a buzzing atmosphere.

ProsCons
Very affordable propertyNot many things to do
Beautiful sceneryLimited job opportunities
Roughly an hour from MadridEnglish isn’t as common as it is in some Spanish cities
Toledo at sunset

Fancy Spain's cheapest property prices and breathtaking views? Head to Toledo

Barcelona

Best for: Culture

You can find art and culture on practically every street corner in Barcelona, situated along Spain’s northeastern coastline. No, seriously: the streets are literally paved with architectural gems.

One of the key features drawing millions of tourists to Barcelona is the architecture – particularly buildings created by modernist-architect Antoni Gaudí. Expats can spend their weekends admiring Gaudí‘s Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and some of his lesser-known works too, such as Casa Batlló.

The city is also home to one of the largest collections of medieval paintings in the world, located at The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC). The MNAC also has artefacts from Romanesque cloisters, over 130,000 precious coins, and various paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, El Greco, and Salvador Dalí.

Need a break from art? Take a trip to Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum, which is housed in a former Christian monastery.

ProsCons
Lots of things to doSalaries are lower than many other European countries
Beautiful scenery in and around the cityProperty can be pricey
Huge expat communityLots of tourists

The Canary Islands

Best for: Climate

Spain is renowned for its glorious sunshine and balmy weather during summer. Want this all year round? Head to the Canary Islands, located off the coast of northwestern Africa.

Despite the good weather, summer in this Spanish archipelago doesn’t get unbearably hot. Temperatures usually hover around the high 20°C's during the summer, and only drop to 15°C–20°C in the winter months.

The Canary Islands’ idyllic weather is mainly thanks to the vast deserts of North Africa. According to the Met Office, a dome of hot rising air sits over the Sahara for most of the year, and acts like a shield that pushes harsh storms away from the Canary Islands.

Expats can also soak up an average of 9–10 hours of sunshine each day through June, July, and August in the Canary Islands. If you’re used to the UK’s 5–6 hours of sunshine a day during these months, you’ll be practically drowning in vitamin D in Spain.

ProsCons
Hot climate all year roundVery isolated
Incredible views on all islandsLimited job opportunities
Large expat communityLots of tourists

The Canary Islands have it all – glorious sun, crystal clear waters, and a huge expat community

Madrid

Best for: Job opportunities

Madrid has got it all – stunning views, lots of activities, a buzzing nightlife, and a thriving expat community. It’s no wonder almost one million expats call Madrid their home.

Although the city’s job market is competitive, expats have a better chance of getting a well-paid job here compared to other areas of Spain.

The average salary in Madrid is £39,000 per year – although this will fluctuate from job to job – with the economy mainly focusing on the services sector. This industry includes maintenance and repairs, training, consulting, and accounts for 88% of the city's GDP. 

Some of the other major industries in Madrid include sales, transport, healthcare, social services, business services, and hospitality.

Expats might even be able to bag themselves a job at one of Spain’s largest companies – Santander, Telefónica, and BBVA – which are all headquartered in Madrid.

ProsCons
Job opportunitiesExpensive accommodation
Excellent public transport optionsSalary isn’t as good as some other cities
Buzzing nightlifeVery busy and noisy

Best places to live in Spain: the verdict

If you’re after plenty of sunshine, incredible culture, and delicious delicacies, you’ve got plenty of options in Spain.

As a recap, the best places to settle in are:

  • San Sebastián: best for food and drink
  • Frigiliana: best for rural escapes
  • Marbella: best for families
  • Toledo: best for affordable property
  • Barcelona: best for culture
  • The Canary Islands: best for climate
  • Madrid: best for career opportunities

Once you know where you’re heading, you just need to know how to get there.

If you’re unsure about where to start with this, simply pop a few details in this short form to get started. We’ll put you in touch with some of our trusted shipping suppliers, who’ll provide you with free quotes to compare. You’ll be soaking up the glorious Spanish sun in no time.