If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re a new expat or student getting ready to move to this special little city called Murcia, and you’re looking for some information about living here. When I was first accepted to a Spanish teaching program that places North Americans across Spain, I was imagining life in an old city. I pictured something like Seville, with ancient cathedrals, cobblestone streets and famous, abundant history that I would become immersed in.
Then I was informed that I had been placed in the region of Murcia. I had never heard of Murcia. I didn’t know a single thing about the region, or its capital city – which is also called Murcia. “Is that in Spain?” I thought to myself, sitting behind my laptop back home in Virginia.
As the location I was assigned by the Auxiliares de Conversacion program was not up for debate or subject to change, I instantly accepted my placement. I was grateful for the opportunity to live and work in a foreign country as wonderful as Spain. So upon my electronic agreement to relocate my life to this underrated city, the search was on for a little insight. I was dying to know, what was Murcia famous for? What is there to do there? What makes it unique? What cultural nuances should I expect?
My Google, Pinterest and blog searches were short and relatively unfulfilling. There was not a lot of information about Murcia out there beyond Wiki, and even that page didn’t involve a lot of scrolling. I wasn’t sure what this was indicative of, and I was okay with that. Not until reaching the city would I figure out what makes Murcia special and what it’s like to live here. This was June of 2017.
Fast forward to March, 2018. I’ve been living in Murcia for about six months now (when I initially started writing this post. It’s now July 2018 and I’m temporarily back in the US). Holding my own as an English conversation assistant in a public school about thirty minutes from the city center. I can easily say I’d gotten comfortable living here. Murcia is a smaller city – great for first time travelers and expats. It’s big enough to find new things to do all the time, but small enough to make you feel good about getting out of the city here and there for further travels.
Down to brass tacks, good and bad, here’s what you can expect from life in Murcia:
Low cost of living
Murcia has a reputation for being one of the least expensive places to live in Spain. This reigns true, to an expat’s delight. Even in the capital, Murcia. I lived on the most central part of the city, quite literally, on the oldest street in Murcia.
To give you an idea of what we’re working with… the center of the city is the most picturesque, urban part of town – and as picturesque as it’s gonna get in Murcia – with designer stores, Italian lingerie and posh shoe shops on the bottom floor of my neighboring buildings. I lived with one other American in a two bedroom apartment and pay a total of 550 euros a month. Yup, that’s 275 a month for a comfortable apartment in a great neighborhood. While the flat isn’t exactly the face of luxury or the most spacious, I’ll take it when considering the 800 US dollars/month I was paying for a one bedroom back home in Richmond.
If you have more time to look for a place when you move here, you’ll be able to find an even better deal for a place further from the city center, especially if you have more than one roommate.
Real estate aside, general cost of living is low. While I can’t compare too well to the other parts of Spain, I often feel like my groceries are a steal – once again, compared to my costs in the US. I was able to live easily off of 30 euros worth of groceries per week (around 45 USD). Eating out, I can say, is way more affordable here than in the larger cities I’ve visited. Tapas run you about 2-6 euros each and are top-knotch. Drinking the local beer, Estrella Levante, is less expensive than drinking bottled water. And of course, and the wines, especially from the local town of Jumilla, will spoil you – not to mention, they’re exponentially cheaper than wines in the US. Add this to your list of ‘wins’ when being placed in Spain in general.
Public transportation for me adds up to about 40 euros a month, which isn’t cheap, but paying for the costs of a car and gas would undoubtedly be more of a financial commitment. This was due to the fact that I traveled to a neighboring town, Las Torres de Cotillas, four days a week to work at a public school and teach private lessons. These private lessons were abundant in Murcia’s city center, not just the outside towns. The families were in a position to pay me very well for these lessons, which, in turn, permitted a very comfortable and fortunate life for me in Murcia.
Murcia is no doubt an old city with plenty of history. Like many Spanish cities, Murcia was once under Arab rule (Abd Al-Rachman around 800 AD). And as explained, there is an ‘old town’ area, an astounding Cathedral and historic architecture in the center. However, Murcia is, in essence, considered a “modern” city. Many of my fellow expats have expressed feelings of disappointment upon arriving to Murcia, due to the expectations which I described earlier. Without much exploring, it will become evident that Murcia is “modern” in that it consists of less historic charm and more of 20th century architecture.
Beautiful plazas & a gorgeous historic center
There are still plenty of great spots to enjoy the art of drinking beer at sidewalk cafes and plaza people watching. Additionally, shopping. Spain’s rep of fire shopping lives up to the hype. In the old center, you’ll get a great mix of high end boutiques and chains that are unique to North Americans – Stradivarius, Mango, Parfois etc.
Murcia has a decent public transportation system within the city and surrounding area, should you need to commute to work or plan on taking day trips. I have about a 45 minute commute to the school I work at (which is only 15 minutes away by car). But the LATbus schedule on their website is a bit tricky at first – be warned. Worth mentioning is a tram that goes between the center and a few surrounding areas.
Murcia has a train station and bus station that can get you to some neighboring cities. To get to the northern coast and down to Southern/Western Andalucia and appeared much more difficult and WAY more expensive. I had been trying to plan trips to Malaga and Cadiz all year. Took only 8 months of waiting for the opportune car share to make it happen.
Your best bet in many cases however, in terms of accessibility, travel time and cost, will be Bla Bla Car. I’ve used Bla Bla Car about four times and have had great experiences. I believe my ride to Seville (about 5-6 hours) was 35 euros.
As far as flights go, Alicante airport has been my go-to. I’ve found flights to everywhere I’ve wanted to go to and from this airport for decent prices. There’s a relatively frequent bus that takes you straight to front doors of the airport in an hour for about 6 euros. But double check to see if your flight times are too early or late to catch one of these buses. If so, you might end up staying the night in Alicante or having to catch a ride with someone who owns a car.
Option #2 for flights… the Murcia-San Javier Airport. Oh, Murcia-San Javier… this airport is definitely a tricky one. First off, the flights here are generally to and from the UK, so, like me and my international visitors, you might be tempted by the 30 euro flights to London. However, you’ll need to know your route to the airport in advance. A bus runs from Murcia’s city center to the town of San Javier twice a day. From San Javier, you’ll need to take a taxi to the airport (or walk 40 minutes with your luggage). Additionally, have the phone number for a taxi service on hand. The stop where you’ll be dropped off at is not exactly swarming with taxis. Why not take a taxi between Murcia’s city center and the San Javier airport? Because it will run you around 60 euros. This airport is NOT near the city center. Further, the Murcia-San Javier airport closes at night and they will kick you out, so don’t count on sleeping there for whatever reason. Murcia-San Javier seems to simply be better for those travelers renting a car.
Especially if you have a car or a friend with a car, you’ll be near plenty of other unique places worth visiting for the day. Try the Jumilla wine route, Cieza during the Floracion, Cartagena’s picture perfect location on the water, Aguilas during Carnival, historic Lorca, the spas of Archena, hiking near Caravaca de la Cruz or the UNESCO World Heritage Site palm tree grove in Elche. There are small trips you can take to get out of the city if you’re interested in getting to know this lesser-known region. Check out my previous post on 5 Charming Day Trips from Murcia, Spain for more information!
Lower level of English & a unique accent
I’ve mentioned this in previous posts – Murcia is not a touristic city, so it can, at times, be difficult to navigate daily life without any Spanish skills (that’s me). Boy, have I learned. First of all, bilingual programs (such as the one I teach in) were not commonplace in public schools until recently. So in my experience, older generations don’t typically speak English. This has largely been a challenge for me when I needed to communicate with my landlord, doctors and bank employees.
However, plenty of people in their thirties and younger speak some English and are super friendly about this! If you’re smarter than me and plan to bring along some Spanish skills, know that little can prepare you for the Murciano accent. Dropping certain vowels, pronouncing letters differently and one-of-a-kind slang is a reputation this area lives up to. I’ve even heard Spaniards from other regions talk about how difficult it can be to understand Murcianos. It’s made it difficult to learn Spanish as a first-timer here, but it’s all a part of the experience. It will open your eyes to how varied the forms of Spanish are across the country (and between Spanish speaking countries in general).
Deadly heat & cold winter
‘Donde Vive El Sol’ (‘where the sun lives’) is the region’s calling card. This is not an exaggeration. I know I get it bad in Virginia with the humidity and unpredictability. But in Murcia, it regularly exceeds 100 degrees fahrenheit during the summer months. On the other hand, the winter here has been short and still pretty damn cold, but no snow or ice. Much more do-able than the East coast in the US. So my advice for those of you coming September – May: Either bring warm clothes and a heavy jacket, or anticipate shopping for these items while you’re here. You WILL need it. Especially if you plan on traveling to any other part of Europe during the winter.
*My roommate and I failed to plan for this. We both ended up buying quite a few sweaters and heavy duty jackets. If you don’t have the room in your suitcase or don’t want to make the investment just yet, get a thermal fleece sweater from Carrefour for 15 euros to wear under a lighter jacket. This saved my life when I spent Christmas/NYE in Berlin.
Did you know that Murcia is known as the “Huerta de Europa” (the Market Garden of Europe)? Murcia’s agricultural industry is huge, exporting throughout the country and continent. If you’re living here, you’ll be fortunate enough to have fantastic produce in abundance from the city’s surrounding area. I’ve never seen so many fruiterias in any city. Don’t miss out on the infamous Murcian lemons and lemon-lime hybrids.
Incredibly Unique Food
I am so angry at myself for not doing a better job of documenting this, but hey, that’s what happens when you’re busy living in the moment, right? Murciano specials, like paparajotes, marinera, pisto, zarangollo and caracoles reflect that agricultural abundance and historic tradition. You can try these fantastic specialties at El Palomo (a traditional Murciano restaurant in the center) and at the barracas during Bando de la Huerta.
Additionally, Murcia is chock full of kickass restaurants. Too many to list here, frankly. I will go ahead and mention one of our favorite spots in the whole country – Beer Shooters! This is a craft beer bar in the city center with a killer bottle and tap selection and even better food. With only a single cook in this whole place, he never ceased to blow my mind and tastebuds with one-of-a-kind combinations. He takes tapas-sized portions and some traditional formats, such as croquettas and empanadas and creates progressive dishes. The menu rotates every week. We visited once or twice a week and were NEVER disappointed by our orders. I can’t emphasize enough how awesome this place is. Run by the world’s sweetest couple and their bff chef, you’ll feel totally taken care of, full and buzzed (at least) when you leave here. It’s probably my top recommendation for all of Murcia.
Parades, parades, parades. Celebrations of every religiously significant day will become apparent quickly. Music, religious garb, chanting, the whole nueve yards. My roommate and I heard everything going on on just below our apartment on our street, Calle Jabonerias. It was pretty damn awesome. And of course, during Semana Santa, should you choose to stick around town, Bando de la Huerta is a massive party in the streets where Murcianos dress in ancient traditional costume and celebrate Murcia.
Another celebration, Tres Culturas, a festival ‘promotes the exchange between peoples, through its artistic manifestations’ was one of my favorite weekends of this entire year. Muslim, Christian and Jewish culture in harmony were celebrated through musical performances all over the city, though largely in the the central plazas. With Islamic studies and Sufism being subjects I studied deeply at university, I especially appreciated the serendipitous performance of a whirling dervish and the Tehran Orchestra. Read more about Tres Culturas here.
Carnival is celebrated in abundance in Murcia as well. In Cabezo de Torres, where you can reach by a ten minute tram ride from the city center, as well as Aguilas and Totana, both around an hour by train from the city of Murcia. Read about carnival Carnival in Spain here.
One of my favorite aspects about Spain – the subcultures – especially with respect to music. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Clubs in and near the center, such as Moss and REM, play plenty of house and techno until dawn.
Luckily for me, one of the few nights I ended up at REM, it was a night full of mid 2000’s hip hop – Nelly, Missy Elliot, Eminem and Cypress Hill made us Americanas quite happy that night. But it was a rarity – believe me. I’ll admit, one of the biggest downsides to me about Spain was that the hip hop presence was much less apparent and seemingly less threaded into the cultural fabric of Spain. I spent all year discussing this with locals to discover that Spanish hip hop is a newer world of it’s own which I still am due to explore before making a greater assessment. It was not an area I found much refuge in nor a subject of common interest I shared with many of my Spanish friends.
REM also hosts a lot of Spanish indie bands. In fact, if you’re interested in Indie, you’ll be pleased to know that an Indie festival is held every spring right there in Murcia! The festival is called Estrella WAM. Some of the artists playing the 12018 festival included Alt-J, Kasabian, Nada Surf, The Bloody Beetroots, Viva Suecia and Dorian. Opening parties were held in the city throughout the preceding week with bands like Rufus.
One of my favorite spots, Republika, often plays a lot of metal, grunge, punk and ska. In fact, metal is huge in Murcia – and Spain in general. I think Napalm Death rolled around town several times during my stay in Murcia. There are also a crazy number of metal tribute bands in Murcia.
Obviously, reggaeton is scattered everywhere. Just feel like that should go on record saying that. Don’t be surprised should that be what you’re hearing 60% of the time when you go out. Now, down to the good stuff and my personal favorites…
For Drum & Bass, check out Pandemonium DNB who hosts fantastic artists like Kyrist, Benny Page, Prototypes, Mollie Collins and so many more every month or so during club season.
There’s also a small, but kickass dub community in the area. Often, soundsystems from neighboring regions of Spain (such as South Vibes from Malaga and Dub Valle HiFi from Granada) bring the pressure to Murcia, but Alicante Dub Club had a few events throughout the short duration of time I lived in the area. This is more than most places in the U.S. can say, so I was overjoyed. As a matter of fact, International Dub Gathering, typically held near Barcelona, was held in Alicante in the spring of 2018. Greatest musical weekend of my life. Jah Shaka, King Shiloh, Alpha Steppa (performing with local resident Don Fe, as well as Ras Tinny and Rootsman Sax), Adrian Sherwood, Twinkle Brothers, Iration Steppas, Egoless, Bukkha, Gorgon Sound and OBF – to name only a few – made my experience in Spain one I’ll never forget.
I’ll be honest here… part of the reason I chose to come to Spain involved the music I knew I’d get a chance to experience (and had been dreaming of since I was a teenager). I never thought, however, that I would be fortunate enough to see this many incredibly talented artists, let alone all in one beautiful place.
So what am I trying to say? Your music expectations will be exceeded. You don’t need to be in Madrid or Barcelona if this is something you’re looking for.
I hope this helped, even if it’s just one of you future auxiliares, and even if only a little bit. Perhaps little to none of this information is useful to you yet, but if it gets you excited, then that’s more than good enough for me. For any expats who have already lived in Murcia, I hope this has taken you on a fond trip down memory lane. To my friends and family in the US, I like to think this gives you a bit of insight to the practical side of my life in Spain.
What were your thought on living in Murcia? What other practical things did I forget to include here that an auxiliar should know? What questions do you have as a future auxiliar? Comment below & good luck on your journey!