of Spain The ten largest cities are Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Malaga, Murcia, Palma, Las Palmas and Bilbao. Here we profile each of them and look at the sectors in which they excel.
Population: 3.14 million (metropolitan population: 6.16 million)
Madrid is the capital of Spain and its economic and political center. It is a major European financial center, although the service sector tends to dominate its economy. In the 20th century, Madrid became a manufacturing center for goods as diverse as automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food and leather goods. In the 21st century, this has given way to technical niches supported by 17 universities and more than 30 research centers. Madrid is also an important center in Spain when it comes to infrastructure and construction, and as befits a large capital with a sunny climate, tourism is a major contributor to the economy, with many travelers coming to see Real Madrid in Santiago football play to watch Bernabéu stadium. Madrid-headquartered companies include Bankia, Iberia Airlines, Logista, Telefónica and the Mahou-San Miguel Group.
Population: 1.6 million (metropolitan population: 5.18 million)
Based in the Catalonia region, Barcelona’s status as a world-renowned center for tourism and football remains undiminished. However, the city is also a center for finance and biotechnology with a strong start-up scene. Manufacturing is also important to Barcelona’s economy, with the energy, chemical and metallurgical industries being the most important. It is also important for the automotive industry and houses Seat’s headquarters. Fashion and textiles are also areas where Barcelona thrives. The Catalan capital is also one of the most important cultural centers in Europe and includes eight Unesco World Heritage sites.
Population: 790,000 (metropolitan population: 1.65 million)
Valencia is on the east coast of Spain. It hosts the busiest port in the entire Mediterranean and the fifth busiest in Europe. In 2018, the annual container volume was 5.2 million TEU. Away from the port, Valencia’s economy is driven by tourism and construction, although telecommunications and transport also play important roles in the city. The service sector is a major employer in Valencia.
Population: 690,000 (metropolitan population: 1.31 million)
Seville is located in southern Spain, about 340 km from the border with Portugal. It is an extremely popular tourist destination and is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Seville has seen tremendous infrastructure improvements over the last 30 years and has also become a research and development center in Spain. It is also known for its role in the renewable energy industry.
Population: 660,000 (metropolitan population: 686,000)
Zaragoza is located in northeastern Spain, just over 100km from the French border. The transport and automotive sectors are vital to Zaragoza’s economy as Opel operates a plant near the city, CAF builds rolling stock there and the Spanish Air Force is based there. Zaragoza Airport also acts as a major cargo hub. The city hosted Expo 2008, where sustainable development was a key theme.
Population: 570,000 (metropolitan population: 1.22 million)
Málaga, located on the southern coast of Spain, has earned a reputation for being a high-end tourism destination. However, the city also has strengths in the areas of construction and technology services, transport and logistics. Considered the technology hub in Spain, it houses the headquarters of Spanish bank Unicaja and is also buzzing with manufacturing activities.
Population: 440,000 (metropolitan population: 623,000)
Located on the southeast coast of Spain, Murcia, like most Spanish coastal cities, is dependent on tourism. However, the city is also an important center for agriculture in Spain, both in terms of crops and fishing. Apart from these areas, Murcia has a very active service sector, while in Spain it is also highly regarded for the quality of its museums and theatres.
8. Palma (Majorca)
Population: 400,000 (metropolitan population: 593,000)
Palma is the largest city on the Balearic island of Mallorca. Its economy is heavily dependent on tourism, with up to 80% of the city’s population working in industry-related jobs. In addition to tourism, Palma is an important location for agriculture, the cultivation and export of almonds, oranges, lemons and olives. It also has deposits of copper, lead, and marble.
9. Las Palmas (Gran Canaria)
Population: 380,000 (metropolitan population: 640,000)
Las Palmas is the largest city in the Canary Islands and is located on the north coast of Gran Canaria. It is about 150 km from the north-east coast of Africa. As in Palma, tourism is by far the city’s most important industry, although the seaport is a busy import/export centre. Fishing is also a key industry in Las Palmas.
Population: 350,000 (metropolitan population: 990,000)
Bilbao is the largest city in the Spanish Basque Country. It is located on the north coast of the country, less than 100km from the French border. The city has won numerous prizes and awards for its quality of life in recent years, and its cultural offerings are known throughout Europe. As a result, tourism is a huge contributor to Bilbao’s GDP, but a busy port, a strong financial offering (Bilbao is home to the multinational BBVA Bank) and mining and metallurgical industries mean it has a very diverse economy.
Population figures for the cities are based on Statista figures from 2015. Metro numbers are from ESPON, 2007.