So, you’re searching for the best places to live in Spain with a family? A congratulations is probably in order since it sounds like you’ve decided to up sticks and move to a sun-splashed land of idyllic Mediterranean beaches and tasty tapas. You’ve made a good pick. A very good pick indeed.
The thing is, Spain isn’t all the same. It varies a lot from north to south, east to west, not to mention across its different island chains in the Balearic Sea and the Atlantic. There’s a daunting mix of places to consider when you come to put down roots, from wild surf towns to buzzy resorts to big cities with populations that number in the millions.
Where to choose? That’s where this guide comes in. It aims to showcase just a few of the best places to live in Spain with a family to reveal some of the spots that we think really suit a whole crew, parents, little ones, teenagers, and all. Let’s go…
Malaga is the gateway to the uber-iconic region of the Costa del Sol. A city and a resort in one, it offers all the hubbub and enterprise of a lived-in Spanish locale, only with blinding beaches and warm Mediterranean waters right on the doorstep.
The main area – the old town – is a maze-like district that has bars and tapas joints coming out of its ears, not to mention handsome Moorish-era castles and Mudejar churches. There’s also a stunning seafront promenade stretching along the main urban sands at Playa de la Malagueta, along with an upcoming hipster and design quarter in Soho.
Families living here can choose between days on the shoreline soaking up the Spanish rays and wallowing in the Med or hiking adventures in the nearby sierras, which begin just to the north of the town with the wild Montes de Málaga Natural Park. Malaga is also close enough to launch day expeditions into the white villages of Andalusia, where you’ll get to introduce the little ones to real south-Spain culture and heritage.
Consistently listed among Spain’s most livable and loveable towns, San Sebastian is arguably the jewel in the crown of the autonomous region of the Basque Country in far northern Spain. We say arguably because there’s also lots to be said for elegant Vitoria-Gasteiz and the more industrial and artier Bilbao, but the point is this one’s a downright lovely place to be based.
The first thing to note about living here is that you get access to the crème-de-la-crème of the northern beaches. They string along the edges of the French borders and run westwards along the Bay of Biscay. There’s the body-packed in-town duo of Playa de la Concha and Ondarreta, but also more secluded Antilla and Hondartza, along with loads of top-class surf spots (some of the best in the whole of Spain, no less!).
The next thing to say is that San Sebastian is a vibrant and cultural melting pot. It’s hailed as a foodie mecca for the long tradition of pintxos cooking – the northern version of tapas that includes dishes like shrimp skewers in pepper sauce, salty sardines with peppers, and deep-friend prawns. It’s also a big student town, which means countless bars and beer halls await when the sun goes down.
Apart from its ever-tasty oranges (no problem getting your five a day here, folks!), Valencia is known for the mind-boggling complex of the City of Arts and Sciences. It’s the most cutting-edge museum and conference space in all of Spain right now and means that this is a top location for any parents looking to nurture an interest in the natural world with the little ones.
There are a number of attractions included within. You’ve got the L’Hemisfèric, a planetarium and IMAX cinema combo with a curious carapace-style architectural design. There’s the L’Umbracle, a fusion of exotic plant species and sculptures by global names like Yoko Ono. And there’s L’Oceanogràfic, which reigns as the biggest saltwater aquarium in all of Europe.
Of course, the City of Arts and Sciences will take care of only a couple of weekends. When it’s been ticked off the list, you can head just south of town to case out the brilliant beaches of the Costa Blanca (home to some of the most affordable resorts this side of the Canaries) or north to the lesser-known sands of the Costa del Azahar (where it’s possible to escape the crowds but still enjoy 300+ days of sunshine in the calendar).
Granada is a southern gem and one of the most alluring cities in Andalusia. It’s wedged into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which you can spy gleaming with dashes of white snow on the horizon in the winter months. In fact, there’s enough of the white stuff there to warrant a couple of ski resorts, which puts this one up there with the best places to live in Spain with a family that enjoys pulling on the salopettes and skis.
But back to the town itself. It’s a gorgeous one, no doubt. Set on a steep ridge some 700 meters above sea level, it cascades in a wisp of white and terracotta between wooded hills where you can easily find relaxing walking trails. There’s a bit of a buzz about the center thanks to the big student cohort that call it home, along with a fine foodie scene that claims some of the south’s top tapas dishes (patatas bravas among them!).
However, the piece de resistance here has to be the great palace of the Alhambra. Started by the emir Muhammad I Ibn al-Ahmar way back in the 13th century, it’s considered one of the greatest achievements of Moorish and Christian building work in all of Europe. For people who live in the city, it offers a fantastic backdrop of spiked towers and honey-colored walls before a phalanx of mountains in the distance. Imagine calling that home?
No list of the best places to live in Spain with a family could possibly be complete without a mention of the fantastic capital of the country. Perched high on the central plateaus almost equidistance from the Bay of Biscay and the Med, it’s not for those on the hunt for beaches. However, where it does excel is on the culture front…
Come here to wander the majestic Puerta del Sol, see the opulent palaces of Spanish kings and queens from centuries gone by, tour the Barrio de las Letras and the home of the writer Cervantes (the inventor of the novel, don’t you know?). Come to wander the priceless exhibits in the Museo Nacional Del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, or gawp at great monuments on the street corners.
Where Madrid falls down is in cost of living. It’s not the cheapest place to settle in Spain. In fact, rental rates and property prices close to the center of the city are among the highest in the country and prices for food and drink are up there, too. Such is the curse of the capital, eh?
Of all the Canary Islands to compete to be one of the best places to live in Spain with a family, we think it’s Lanzarote that wins out. Good old Lanza, where the backcountry is scored by brown-paper peaks and smoking volcanos, where the beaches are tar black, and the seas are crystal clear.
Lanzarote has been cutting its teeth as a family destination extraordinaire for decades now. It’s got resorts like Playa Blanca and Puerto del Carmen that are tailor-made for families, with restaurant-dotted promenades and well-serviced urban beaches. When you tire of the sands, you can also go inland to see ancient volcanos or cactus gardens.
There’s also a growing adventure scene in Lanzarote that we think the teenagers are sure to love. That’s anchored on the sand-billowing surf town of Famara on the north shore, which has a five-kilometer beachfront with waves for all levels. Close by, the Risco cliffs are a trail-running mecca and there’s hiking aplenty to boot.
Second only to Madrid in terms of population, Barcelona is a sprawling megacity on the shores of Catalonia. It’s the capital of a fiercely independent region that has a unique history and set of traditions, including its own language, shared by a few neighboring areas and the mountain country of Andorra.
Famed around the planet as one of the most bucket-list-busting towns there is, Barcelona often finds itself on must-see lists along with the likes of New York and Bangkok. There’s certainly the pedigree on the sightseeing front, what with the Sagrada Familia (a UNESCO church that’s taken decades to build and still isn’t finished) and Park Güell (the magnum opus of one Antoni Gaudi).
But it’s not just for the visitors. Barcelona scores highly for livability, especially when it comes to connectedness and public transport, provision of healthcare and abundance of cultural interest. It’s also downright fun, offering a Gothic Quarter that spills with beer bars, a nascent vegan eating scene, and the most vibrant beach communities in the country.
The best places to live in Spain with a family – our verdict
There are lots of towns and cities that could claim a spot among a list of the best places to live in Spain with a family. Here, we’ve whittled it down to just seven picks, showcasing the options that we think cover a broad cross section of life in the land of flamenco and paella. Some are fantastic for surf-mad families on an outdoorsy adventure. Others are better for bookish city slickers pining after centuries-old history and culture.