This was the second time I was making my way to Barcelona all the way from another continent, the reason being simply, that Barcelona is a city that effortlessly wraps itself around the strings of your heart.
So here I was, at the dawn of 2023, looking back at the different neighborhoods in Barcelona I had already lived in over the course of the last 5 years. After various stints in hip Eixample, quiet and elegant Sant Gervasi and bohemian eclectic Gracia, this was the perfect time for me to go a little more southwest of the city towards the industrial socio-cultural melting pot that is Barcelona Sants, a neighborhood which I remember a French inhabitant saying it was ‘chouette comme quartier’ when I first visited in 2017. For the non-French speaking, ‘chouette’ means ‘cool’.
So, what makes Sants ‘chouette’, you ask? Well, for starters, it still has that rough, raw and authentic ‘not trying to be pretty’ vibe as opposed to Sant Antoni for instance, a neighborhood only 10 minutes away from here which, looking back only 5 years, also possessed this rough-around-the-edges, shamelessly real and in-your-face aesthetic and energy.
In order to understand this roughness that makes Sants so distinctive, one should go back in time and understand its history. It was an industrial town par excellence, home to some of the oldest cotton, textile and porcelain factories. The Vapor Vell (‘Old Steam’ in Catalan) for instance, is the first structure that comes to mind. A public library today, Vapor Vell was the oldest steam-driven textile mill factory in the area in the mid 19th century. Another testament to its industrial past is the Vapor Nou (‘New Steam’), another textile factory, which if you take a stroll around the Sants Barcelona train station today, you will stumble upon the park it has been turned into: the Parque de l’Espanya Industrial, a delightful green oasis and landmark of the neighborhood.
Even today, they still stand, cottage-like houses 2 to 3 storeys high, where factory workers and their families lived over a hundred years ago.
Up until 1897, Sants was an independent village, outside the limits of the city of Barcelona and it quickly grew and expanded, given the population boom it experienced in parallel with its industrial expansion. Around the mid 19th century, with the factories booming and drawing in more workers, the population quickly grew around Sants, and with it, the demand for housing which led to a dynamic real estate movement as more and more residential construction took place in the streets around the plants.
You will typically find these properties in Barcelona Sants interspersed with more recent, higher rise buildings dating back to the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as more recent constructions.
That mix of modernist and recent construction is very distinctive of Sants and gives it this rougher blue-collar identity.You have to bear in mind though, that what is referred to as ‘modernist architecture’ here will be widely different and more humble looking than the typically opulent modernist buildings you might be feasting your eyes on around Passeig de Gracia for example.
There’s nothing pretentious or luxurious about Sants, and I think that’s what people love about it. It still retains its humble working-class identity, it’s safe and very well connected to the rest of Barcelona and actually, the rest of the country, thanks to the Sants train station. It still offers the old vintage charm of century-old businesses and market stalls, and it has the narrower streets, reminiscent of a simpler, slower pace of life. And most of all, it is still considered a less expensive area to invest in, real estate wise.
To give you an example, a 2 to 3-bedroom house in Barcelona Sants in need of renovation in an early century building typically sells for around 250.000 - 300.000€. For a coveted ático with a terrace with the same characteristics, you’re definitely above the 500.000€ mark.
So if you are looking for a house in Barcelona in low-rise buildings, historic charm, narrow semi-pedestrian streets and an unbeatable location, then you’ll find all of that and more in Sants, a neighborhood that definitely gets Barcelona Flat Hunter’s seal of approval.
A word to the wise, though, its rapid and ongoing gentrification means the neighborhood is becoming very trendy, very fast, and we all know what this means as far as real estate prices in Barcelona go
But for now, Sants is high up on Barcelona Flat Hunter’s top 5 neighborhoods list.
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