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Best Spanish city to live in? No, it’s not Barcelona or Madrid

Por: | 28 de agosto de 2014

How should you decide where to live in Spain? Barcelona and Madrid both offer world-renowned museums and art galleries that house priceless pieces.   One has a beach, the other an enormous palace.  They are regularly listed as two of the most desirable cities to visit for their food, music and history, but according to the data, you’re better off living in Malaga or Oviedo than either Madrid or Barcelona. 

Urban Audit, a research group from the European Commission, earlier this year released the results from its 2012 Perception Survey.  Its aim was to measure the “quality of life” of 79 European cities, including 4 in Spain.  With questions ranging from how satisfied residents were with their public spaces to the presence of foreigners the survey makes for some interesting reading.

According to the survey we should all be on the next flight to Malaga.  96% of those surveyed from the southern city agreed that they were “satisfied to live” there, placing Malaga in the top-fifteen of the 79 European cities surveyed.    10% fewer said the same about living in Madrid (86%).  Malaga was pipped to top-place by Aalborg (99%) Hamburg (98%) and Zurich, Oslo, Copenhagen and Groningen (97%).  According to the results you should think twice about moving to the Greek capital as last place went to Athens (52%) trailed by Athens Surroundings (59%), then Napoli (65%) followed by Palermo (71%).

While the southern city came top on the big question, Oviedo took the most individual top-spots in the survey, and is high on the list of Spanish cities with a high quality of life.  According to the survey, a resident of Oviedo is more likely to be pleased with their city’s “public transport, “schools,” “public spaces,” “streets and buildings,” “sport” and “health care services,” than someone living in Madrid, Barcelona or Malaga.

Also in Oviedo, with its 225,000 residents, you are most likely to “feel safe” in both your city and neighbourhood.  94% of respondents agreed they felt safe in their city, while only 68% feel safe living in Spain’s capital.     One reason why people in Oviedo feel safe may be that this year Asturias witnessed a 6% drop in crime, whereas Madrid and Barcelona witnessed reductions of a much smaller rate.

Trust in public services and the belief that they run efficiently elicited some of the lowest levels of agreement of the entire survey nationwide.  50% of residents in Malaga in the survey agreed, “the administrative services of the city help people efficiently.” In Madrid it was only 38%.  Two figures that have both decreased since the same study was carried out three years ago.

If you’re looking for job satisfaction however, Malaga isn’t the place to go, as it comes out bottom of the four.  Oviedo comes first, with 63% satisfied with their “personal job situation.” Barcelona is second with 62%, Madrid third with 56% and Malaga with 55%. 

As for health services, Malaga, the sixth largest city in Spain, is the least satisfied coming bottom at 63%, however respondents did claim to be most pleased with their “retail shops.”  The other three cities score lower on shopping but higher on “public spaces.”  The residents of Oviedo are so happy with their public spaces that they recorded the second highest level of satisfaction out of all 79 cities.

What about how foreigners are perceived? These results also make for interesting reading.  

The four cities agreed that “the presence of foreigners is good.”  They are however less likely to agree that foreigners who live in their city are well-integrated.   While Barcelona has seen an increase of 18% in respondents agreeing that foreigners are good for their city since the 2009 survey - the second largest positive change in perceptions of foreigners of all the European cities surveyed - there was a lower level of agreement that these foreigners “are well integrated.” Barcelona and Madrid scored 50%, Oviedo 59% and Malaga 64%.  These statistics on foreigners integrating are however up in each city since the 2009 survey.

To live in a city that is satisfied with its schools, transport, streets and buildings and agrees that both their city and neighbourhood is safe and its people trustworthy, Oviedo will be the city for you.  Your job satisfaction will be one percent higher than Barcelona if Oviedo is your home, but satisfaction with the “life you lead” will be two percent lower. 

Looking for a city to set up a home in Spain can be a tricky affair but marshalled with the facts it is evident you should book a flight to one of only two Spanish cities, and they aren’t Barcelona or Madrid.

You can follow Christopher Finnigan @chrisjfinnigan

Hay 15 Comentarios

The purpose of having a contest is to be objective and above all personal comments, which can be too restricted to the subject's life experience.
The rank is clear, it is objective
Sorry for the others, they should focus more on contributing somehow their city's position than complaining.
Self-criticism is healthy!!!

Well done Oviedo! Itr is a very clean city and very safe. What more could anyone want? I love the Asturian cider, much better than sangria. Though Basque cider is good too. And well done Malaga, at the opposite end of the Peninsula so to speak.

the best región for live is Galician and the best city is A Coruña because had: nice beachs, good foods (seafood) good people, nice monuments (Torre de Hércules) and it is beautiful!!!...

If not Madrid then Santander without question. I would also put San Sebastian and Valencia way ahead of Oviedo. Asturias is the poor man's Cantabria.

Oviedo, yes... if you are looking for a place to die of boredom.

@Terruño OK If you want to have sun all hours you can go to Almeria even if you want to go naked. Even better you can have sun, go naked and drunken and go to Barcelona...oh wait and have free sex in Magaluf! Pretty nice, but this is article is not about this..The bad weather? Come know it's not true what you say...mild weather both Winter and Summer...nowadays I live in Madrid and the weather is better in Oviedo, unless you are a lizard

I am very pleased for Oviedo, and I very much agree. I'm originally from England, but I have lived in this lovely city for the last 14 years, and I couldn't be happier! The city is beautiful, safe, clean (it's won awards as the "cleaniest city in Europe" a few times), the food is great and there are loads of things to do. I am sure that the people who wrote there is nothing to do are from Gijon, a neighbouring city. With the years I've learnt about the crazy rivalry between these two cities, and it's unbelievable how much they dislike each other! I had never seen anything like it! Anyway, it does rain sometimes, but believe me, much less than most foreign tourists like me are used to. And thanks to that there are lovely green pastures and mountains everywhere!, Winters are mild (but they are still winters), and summers are warm. Actually they are nice warm, without reaching stupid temperatures like 40 or 45 degrees, so it's perfect for me... I just hope not too many people discover it, so it keeps being Northern Spain's Best Kept Secret!

Oh yes, you like the rain 'cause it's 'your rain' What a logical and reasonable point you have here! Please know that this northern weather of yours is simply not pleasant and unhealthy. Let's face the truth. Oh and what is it to be an Asturian? Should we all like that 'Asturian rain'? Do we also have to worship 'Don Pelayo'? Again this cheap 'Asturianness'? Dont give me that! There aint no real or fake Asturians, we dont have to milk cows, drink cider and eat fabada to prove who we are.

As I said before, Asturias is beautiful but we are not the centre of the universe!

Makes one think,that the major big cities,Madrid and Barcelona don't make the cut.Just goes to show that the quality and rythmn of life in these cities is superior!Congrats to Malaga and Oviedo.

I don't agree with some of you that say that in Oviedo nothing happens. That's not true at all, maybe you are not interested on what happens here, that's different. In Asturias, Oviedo is more classical and Gijon is more modern, specially when you talk about music and culture.

In Oviedo, we have a lot of culture: Opera, Zarzuela, Piano Festival and other classical musical festivals, also plays and other shows and of course TONS of bars, pubs and good restaurants and a lot of place to do sports. Maybe those from Oviedo who say we don't have anything to do should move their asses from the chair.. Of course we are not Madrid or London, we only have 225.000 inhabitants..

The weather is..northern weather, since june to the middle of september we normally have 20º to 30º, ist enough and pleasant. In the winter the average temperature is (more or less) 10º.

Oh it rains, that's new! But we like the rain because it's our fuc**** rain! And Asturias it's what it is because of it. If you don't like rain you are not a real asturian.

And of course we WELCOME all tourists who come visit us! You will enjoy here, trust me.

Asturias is an amazing region to visit. It's got the best sights in the whole of Spain and prices are ridiculously cheap compared to the big cities. Asturian cuisine is also worth mentioning. You can get a full menu (and a very filling one, indeed!) for less than 10 euros. What I mean is you can have a great time there. Locals are quite friendly and they will not hesitate to help. If you're coming to practise your Spanish, they will be forgiving with your mistakes. Alright. It's a perfect hide-away. Yes. Fine. But the weather is TERRIBLY bad and EXTREMELY irregular. I have spent most of my life in Asturias and I can really tell how it affects our mood. If we compare it to the other three cities, Oviedo is insignificant in many respects. As said before, NOTHING happens there. There are very few things to do and they cannot compare to the big festivals, concerts, art exhibitions and events often held in major Spanish cities. Oviedo is a nice city - that is out of the question. The BEST one in Spain? Sorry, I'm not gonna take this ;)

The weather is always good, everything is extremely cheap (besides internet connection) and you have a load of options to go to from the Sierra Nevada to all the Andalucian cities. Which makes it an awesome place to go on vacation but not to live.

The following quote:
"96% of those surveyed from the southern city agreed that they were “satisfied to live” there"

Is probably because most of the people there have never le of the people there have never left Andalucia. So they have nothing compare it with. The only foreigners in Malaga City are people who work at Oracle and Ericsson and Erasmus students.

It is not true that nothing ever happens in Oviedo. In three weeks Bad Religion and No Fun At All plus other interesting bands are playing in Oviedo's two week festivities, with lots of other artists performing and music, gastronomy and lots of fun in the streets!

In Oviedo nothing happens. Ever. This is the kind of things surveys never talk about. It might be a good place for a quiet living, but don't forget it is also a very rainy place too. If you are escaping from a Northern weather, I don't think it is the place you are looking for.

It depends. If I were a British I'd take Malaga as my first choice. A German would prefer everywhere in Balearic Islands, or even in the dry Canary Islands. Vitoria will please everyone for sure. There are too little places to chose among in thatsurvey.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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