Which cities in Spain are the noisiest? (Clue: It’s not Madrid)

It can be hard to find peace and quiet in urban Spain, but if you want to experience life in a Spanish city without going deaf in the process, here is a list of the noisiest and quietest towns and cities in the country.

Which cities in Spain are the noisiest? (Clue: It's not Madrid)
Photo: Vitalie Sitnic/Unsplash

In case you didn’t know already, Spain is the noisiest country on the planet together with Japan. The two countries have been switching top spot over the past decade, fighting over who can be the most earsplitting for its residents. 

Funnily enough the other podium position Spain and Japan share is for being the nations where people live to be oldest (Spain is currently set to be top), but that wellbeing bonus has little to do with the damage the World Health Organisation has warned being exposed to too much noise can do.

Around nine million people in Spain are exposed to noise levels above 65 decibels, the recommended threshold by the WHO.

Traffic is reportedly responsible for 80 percent of noise pollution in Spain.

Whether the remaining 20 percent is attributable to people in bar terraces shouting until the early hours, or eldery neighbours watching their TV soap at top volume, we simply don’t know.

But noise does “cause stress, sleep problems, interference with cognitive processes and can even lead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases,” as Spanish NGO Ecologistas en Acción points out.

So which city in Spain is the loudest? Madrid, right?

Nope, the Spanish capital is the 37th noisiest city in Spain, according to WHO data ranking how much of its population is exposed to harmful noise levels.

The most deafening city in Spain is in fact Vigo in the northwest of the country, where up to 71 percent of the 290,000 residents of this Galician city are exposed to too much noise, especially at night.

Gironés, the region that’s home to the beautiful medieval city of Girona, came in second place followed by its Catalan big brother Barcelona, with 45 and 46 percent of its people exposed to too much noise (Barcelona’s nighttime noise rates affected even more residents: 62 percent).

Another surprise entry in fourth position was Logroño, the capital of Spain’s wine-centric region La Rioja, where daytime noise levels reached 43 percent of the population but at least dropped to 27 percent at night.

Castellón de la Plana was the noisiest city in the Valencia region and fifth overall and Madrid dormitory city Getafe came out as the loudest area in and around Spain’s capital.

The graphs below show the full list for daytime and nighttime noise pollution to which people in cities across Spain are exposed.

Ranking of daytime noise pollution in Spanish cities 

Ranking of nighttime noise pollution in Spanish cities 

Source: Spain’s Environment Ministry 

Why Madrid is far down the list may seem hard to understand as the Spanish capital is indeed a lively place full of restaurants, clubs and of course traffic (less so in the centre since Madrid’s recent traffic restrictions).

Perhaps the fact that its 6.5 million residents are more spread out over its 604 sq km surface area could have made a difference, in comparison other more tightly packed cities in Spain.

Another possible reason is a 2011 Madrid law that rolled out fines of between €90 and €600 for drivers and motorcyclists whose vehicle noise exceeded the permitted decibel levels.

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.