Which Spanish City is the Best for Digital Nomads?

Our comparison guide Madrid vs Barcelona for remote workers

Oct 4, 2023
Barcelona and Madrid playing each other in soccer in stadiumBarcelona and Madrid playing each other in soccer in stadium

If you had the choice, would you rather work in an office in your home country or in Spain? Remote work is on the rise, and it comes at no surprise that more and more people are packing up their lives to experience a new city for a few months - or even longer. While there are many popular destinations to choose from, Spain remains among the most popular!

If you’re considering moving to Spain, you’ll be happy to know that Ukio provides top quality accommodation in both Madrid and Barcelona. For many, deciding whether to relocate to Madrid or Barcelona poses a tough choice, as both offer so much; fortunately we have employees in each city, who have helped us create this city comparison guide to help you find the best city to suit your needs. We’ll compare the key things, such as cost of living, remote working options, and what you can do in your free time.


The first thing to mention is visas- traditionally one of the main obstacles to moving abroad. There is no problem if you hold a passport from another EU country, but most other people will need a visa to stay for longer than three months.

passport open to stamps page

The Spanish government has responded to this growing remote work community by introducing a digital nomad visa, which allows you to reside in the country without changing jobs for 12 months. Being located in the same country, those who have received their digital nomad visas from Spain will be eligible to live in Barcelona or Madrid under the same conditions.

Which city is the most affordable?

Reducing it to pure numbers, Barcelona comes in at 138th on the list of most expensive cities in Europe, with Madrid following at 158th. That being said, most coming to Spain for remote work will find it to be fairly affordable. Past the numbers, there used to be less of a difference between the two cities, but prices in Barcelona have risen recently, while Madrid’s have stayed lower.

In terms of food and drink, the cities follow the same pattern, with Madrid being the cheaper option, and Barcelona the more expensive. Most of our readers move to these cities from the US or the UK though, so they usually find basic costs lower than back home. Luxuries though, can be as expensive, or more so. So, Madrid takes the prize for cost of living.

Working life

Let’s get down to business shall we? Digital nomads might be moving to Barcelona or Madrid to experience a new culture, but it’s important to keep one’s professional life going strong. Others may be moving from smaller towns, specifically to find a better place to work from. Both of our contestants are renowned for being great places for remote work, so there isn’t much to separate them here.

Woman working from cafe

One important consideration is the reliability of internet connections. As you would expect from the major cities of western and southern Europe, these are strong across the board. Though both cities have a thriving digital nomad community, Barcelona in particular is known for its co-working spaces and creative communities, and also for having the best cafes to work in. In terms of Madrid vs Barcelona in this case, Barcelona takes the cake.

Not working life

What to do when not working is the deciding factor for many when choosing to move to Madrid vs Barcelona, and it really depends on what you’re into, as both cities have so much to enjoy. However, compared to deciding between Madrid or Barcelona to visit, choosing your new home involves going a bit deeper into where you will be spending your time.


A large pull of moving to Spain for many is the weather. Both Madrid and Barcelona enjoy a Mediterranean climate, which includes warm summers and mild winters. However, the climates of each city varies slightly with Barcelona having a milder climate than Madrid due to its location by the sea. In Madrid, you can expect colder winters and hot, dry summers, with temperatures easily reaching 40ºC (105ºF). In Barcelona, you can experience a milder winter as well as hot and humid summers, but the access to the Mediterranean and slight sea breeze help to balance out the summer weather.

Art and culture

For art and culture it’s a really tough decision. In Madrid you have the holy trinity of museums with the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen among many other smaller museums and galleries. Barcelona’s streets are littered with the works of Gaudí, and also boasts the Picasso Museum and the closeby Dalí Museum. Madrid has a lot more traditional masterpieces that must be seen when visiting Spain, while Barcelona’s booming creative and contemporary scene gives the city a unique presence.

view from park guell with mosiacs in view


For sports, Barcelona is the city that really does have everything: beaches for watersports, mountains for snowsports, the weather to be outside whenever you want, and F.C. Barça if you’d rather just sit and watch. Madrid is landlocked, but they have the closeby Sierras and parks littered throughout the city. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid both call Madrid their hometown too, so be sure to catch a game or El Clasico in whichever city you find yourself in.


With food it’s too close to call. Spain’s tapas scene is just the start of a fantastic world of meat and seafood dishes that will keep you happy throughout your stay. In Madrid, you’ll find all the traditional plates as well as some local specialties, such as the bocadillo de calamares. Barcelona has its fair share of Spanish food as well as Catalan delicacies, such as the calçotada. You’ll be sure to find something tasty in whichever city you are.


In terms of just sitting round and enjoying a drink with friends, it’s impossible to choose, as this lifestyle is so ingrained into the culture of each city. If you’re looking to go a bit harder, both cities also have a fantastic club scene to explore.

Which city is the most expat friendly?

An important thing for new arrivals. Both cities have thriving expat communities, making them all easy places to relocate to. Safety, language, and social security are other important things to consider. So let’s have a look at Madrid vs Barcelona.

How safe are the cities?

Our residents of each city all said the same thing- their city is safe, but you should watch out for pickpockets in the touristy areas. There are also some areas to avoid at night, although these are rarely central.

What languages will I need?

street in madrid with outdoor seating

If you want to learn a language, you’re in luck. Spanish is a really useful language, and is spoken in many countries. In Barcelona you get no points for speaking Spanish as their first language is Catalan, which is sadly not too useful once you leave. Given that Spanish is generally the most useful language to learn, we’ll give this one to Madrid.

You can, however, get by in English in both Madrid and Barcelona, as they are major tourist destinations. But, it never hurts to learn a bit of the local language to show some effort and appreciation towards the culture.

Which city has the best social security?

In terms of workplace and welfare benefits, a Glassdoor report Spain joining Denmark and France to make up Europe’s top three. Spain has the most public holidays, with 14 over the year, and more local ones scattered between. On top of that, for maternity leave, Spain pays 100% salary. In terms of sick leave, Spain offers 75% of your total salary after 21 days. All in all, there is no Barcelona versus Madrid in terms of social security as they both receive the same protections under law.

The verdict

When it comes down to it really, there is no clear winner between Barcelona or Madrid. Both are beautiful cities, with a great lifestyle and fantastic work opportunities. Each city has its strengths though, so here is our final breakdown:

spanish flag waving in the wind


Barcelona is brilliantly located between the mountains and the sea, and comes out on top for professional opportunities, and variation of things to do outside of work.


A beautiful city with a fantastic lifestyle and art scene. The best for language learning, and one of the most affordable major cities in Europe.

Decision time

Now you know the advantages of each city, only you will know the perfect one for you. Once you know your decision you can find your new apartment, and we wish you the best of luck with your next adventure!