Barcelona or Madrid – Where to Go?

Last updated Dec 21, 2018 @ 1:00 pm [clear h=10]

You should go to both, of course! But what if you have limited time and can’t make up your mind whether to visit Barcelona or Madrid? TravelGeekery is here to help :)

With nearly 400 miles being the distance between Madrid and Barcelona, the two cities differ in many aspects.

From subtle details to outright differences (beach!), it’s important to be clear whether you should travel to Madrid or Barcelona.

Both cities have a great vibe, but how do they score on the common things that us travelers are interested in? Would the one city for you be Madrid or Barcelona? Read on.

Please note the opinions are purely subjective, even though I tried to look at things from as wide angle as possible and not be partial in any way.

Barcelona vs Madrid City Comparison

Weather

If visiting throughout the winter, you’d better opt for Barcelona. It doesn’t get as cold as Madrid does during the winter months. The Mediterranean climate helps keep it cooler during summer and warmer during winter.

So if you’re as cold sensitive as me and are considering whether to visit Madrid or Barcelona in December / January, don’t think twice and book a trip to Barcelona.

Barcelona in winter
This is pretty much how Barcelona in winter looks like – people often need to take off the heavy coats!

+1 for Barcelona


Beach

The winner is pretty clear for this category. Just look at the map – Madrid is enclosed by land and Barcelona is on the Mediterranean Sea.

The city beach in Barcelona is not too pretty, but you can easily hop on a train to Sitges and enjoy a nice beach just 30 minutes away from Barcelona.

Sitges near Barcelona
Sitges – just 30 minutes away from Barcelona

+1 for Barcelona


 Art & Museums

Madrid is the capital of museums. There’s the “Golden Triangle of Art” that encompasses Museo del Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza and Reina Sofia – all within a walking distance from each other.

Go to Madrid to admire Spain’s national art, from historical to contemporary pieces.

There are all sorts of museums in Madrid, even a museum of ham! Museo del Jamón rocks, it’s my favorite!

Barcelona is famous for the Picasso museum.

Museo del jamón Madrid
There are all sorts of museums in Madrid, even a museum of ham! Museo del jamón rocks!

+1 for Madrid


FOOD

Well, this is the tough one. There are amazing food markets and restaurants in both cities, so if you travel for food, travel to Barcelona or Madrid. You won’t make a mistake, there are tapas everywhere.

In Barcelona stick to neighborhoods outside the main tourist areas or at least walk into a quieter street. I myself wouldn’t eat at any restaurant straight at La Rambla.

At a market in Barcelona
At a market in Barcelona

Tie!


Architecture

Although Madrid also has architecturally rich buildings, nothing can compare to Gaudi’s quirky, fantasy style. Gaudi gave Barcelona the unique character that so many travellers come to marvel at.

The architecture is stunning and Barcelona’s looks actually fully rely on Gaudi’s legacy.

Still not convinced? See how beautiful Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo are. And for that reason, Barcelona will easily look cooler in photos.

Also, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is quite famous. There are buildings that are indeed from the Gothic era but a lot of houses that just pretend to be that old!

Inside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The beautiful play of lights seeping through the stained glass windows.. Sagrada Familia is so beautiful.

+1 for Barcelona


Culture & Tradition

In my opinion, Madrid belongs to the locals while Barcelona is far more touristy and crowded. What you experience in Madrid is more authentic and real than the theatre for tourists in Barcelona.

Barcelona’s touristy shell can be cracked only after one stays for an extended period.

Considering traditions and culture, I consider Madrid better than Barcelona.

Authenticity in Madrid
To me, Madrid feels more authentic. There are still locals living in many of the houses in the city centre.

+1 for Madrid


Partying

Nightlife in both Barcelona and Madrid is pretty good. In Barcelona, you’ll be partying with fellow tourists, going out in Madrid with have you mingle also with locals.

While in Barcelona you have a few clubs really worth going to, in Madrid expect whole streets full of funky bars.

Madrid's Plaza Mayor at night
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor at night

+1 for Madrid


 Football / Soccer

It depends whether you’re a fan of Real Madrid or FC Barcelona. If you don’t care about soccer, this aspect should have no influence on whether you visit Madrid or Barcelona.

Both stadiums are worth seeing, but you know… they are only stadiums after all. (Sorry guys, I’m not a big fan!)

Barcelona's Football Stadium: Camp Nou
Barcelona’s Football Stadium: Camp Nou

Tie!


Trips around

Ok, so from Barcelona you can visit the already-mentioned Sitges for throwing your body on the beach and then there’s basically just one more option for a fun trip: Figueres with its impressive Dali museum. Girona and the region of La Selva offer a lot of options for trips as well. 

But these are pretty much the only cities near Barcelona worth visiting.

On the other hand, I’d say there are even more options if you want to take a day trip out of Madrid – you can head to Toledo, Salamanca, Avila or Segovia – all well worth visiting, all magnificent cities rich in history.

La Selva Day Trip from Barcelona
The lush region of La Selva can be visited from Barcelona

+1 for Madrid


In the end…it’s a tie! And that is a commonly shared opinion. After extensive research for this article I haven’t found a unified view on which city is better.

Barcelona and Madrid are just way too different. So much for trying to compare apples with oranges :) So stop asking ‘Is Madrid worth visiting over Barcelona’ or the other way round. The fact is – both Madrid AND Barcelona deserve your visit!

Should you spend more time in Madrid or Barcelona?

This will highly depend on what it is you’re after. Beaches? Barcelona. Day trips? Madrid.

Make sure you’re clear on what’s important to you on a vacation and decide accordingly.

How to travel from Madrid to Barcelona?

Or vice versa? If you’d like to visit both cities on one trip, it’s actually quite easy to do. Your best option is the train.

Travelling from Madrid to Barcelona by train takes just 2,5 hours and you don’t even need to transfer anywhere.[clear h=5]

The final message is: Go to Barcelona for glamour and awe, go to Madrid to get to know the real Spain.

In case you couldn’t make up your mind based on our points above, how about solving the great dilemma by going somewhere completely different? :)

In case you’ve been to both cities – which one was your favorite?

Here’s a pinnable image for you, if you’d like to save this post for later.

 

Should you visit Barcelona or Madrid? See how both cities compare and which one is better for your Spain Travel. Both beautiful, Madrid and Barcelona each have amazing architecture and food.. but each stands out in a different way. Click to read if you want to travel to Spain. #madrid #barcelona #spaintravel #cities

33 thoughts on “Barcelona or Madrid – Where to Go?”

  1. I have a soft spot for Barcelona and I don’t mind going back again and again. And yes the beach in the city is filthy and crowded… However I have to agree that culture wise, Madrid takes the lead. Football wise however… Go Barça! :)

  2. I will always prefer Madrid! It just his this flair! I have to admit that I know Madrid better than the capital of my own country!
    (Plus I haven’t got any good memories of my trip to Barcelona, so that makes it even easier to chose from)

  3. Hey Veronika,
    Nice article, you have added useful point into compassion. But whenever I get the chance to travel Spain. I will choose Barcelona.

  4. Nothing around BCN to visit apart from Sitges and Figueres? WRONG! The landscape and architecture in the area are amazing, and there is plenty to see not far at all that equals the beauty of BCN: Girona and Tarragona to start with, of course, as cities; then, Vic, Cadaqués, Tossa de Mar, and the list goes on…Whereas to get to the other cities mentioned from Madrid, you have to travel a bit longer…+ there won’t be much variety in the landscapes. Madrid is also a newish city…can’t be compared to the older cities with areas full of nothing but Medieval buildings. But, God, to say there is nothing to see around BCN, you really have to know very little about the place to say such a thing…

  5. I am planning to visit Spain at the end of this month for 4 days , I am traveling alone just to have a break , should I visit one of them for the hole period or I have to visit them both during the 4 days ? thanks

    • Hi Shiko! I suggest you choose just one. That way, you’ll have a chance to get the real feel of the city. If you tried to see both, it would have to be way too fast and you’d see barely what’s on the surface.
      It depends what you prefer, but if there’s a chance that you’ll come back to Spain one day, I’d say decide just for one.

  6. I’m currently living in France and just returned from a trip with 3 friends to Barcelona and Madrid! I completely agree with your opinion about how the cities felt and how to choose where to go. Even in the off season, I’d say that Barcelona had more of a fun, playful, artistic vibe than Madrid simply due to Gaudi’s influence and the tourism, while Madrid felt a little more serious and more truly cultural. If I HAD to choose, I’d say go to Barcelona, but either way, you can’t go wrong!

    I fell in love with Barcelona and decided I have to go back. It was beautiful and very artsy and somewhat reminded me of a cross between Austin, TX and New Orleans, Louisiana in terms of art (I’ve lived in both places and love cities with a music and artistic culture). In the gothic quarter, you just walk down the streets and can find independent artists selling their original work in a shop. I rarely buy art, but I ended up buying two paintings in Barcelona. Of course, I fell in love with Gaudi’s architecture too. Barcelona was a gorgeous city and had some of the best views I’ve ever seen in a major metropolitan city because you can see both the mountains and the sea from various places.

    That being said, all three of the friends I traveled with enjoyed Madrid more, and while I was in Madrid I loved it too. To the person asking about food, I much preferred the food in Madrid! Barcelona was fun because they had nice brunch places; brunch is my favorite meal and I hadn’t had it in about four months since moving to France, so it was a real treat, but for the other meals we tried to save money and mostly cooked our own food. Madrid’s tapas were to die for, though. I honestly don’t remember much of what I ate in Barcelona, while I’ll always remember Madrid’s food, so I think that says enough about which I preferred.

    Also, side note, the people seemed a tiny bit friendlier in Barcelona. By absolutely no means were they unfriendly in Madrid, but they seemed to go out of their way to help in Barcelona. One time I got lost in the Gothic quarter without cell service or a map (they’re basically all side streets and can be super hard to figure out), but decided to make the best of my time by looking around in local artisan’s store. When I walked in I must have looked really confused because the owner stopped, asked if I needed help figuring out where to go, and after I explained how lost I was, he hand drew a map and had an employee walk me half way back to my hotel without ever insinuating I should buy something (I did anyway). I didn’t have any experiences like that in Madrid, but I also didn’t have any bad experiences. The people in Madrid just seemed to keep to themselves a little more.

    • Thank you, Rebecca, I really appreciate you writing your opinion up so nicely. Playful – what a well-fitting adjective to use for Barcelona, I love it! :)

      Great to see that even in your group of friends, the preferences were different. In the end, it’s really just about our own preferences as both Barcelona and Madrid are great cities worth every visit.

      Btw. maybe on your next trip to Barcelona, you should stop in Madrid on the way and buy lots of take-away tapas! That way you’d have both the fun Barcelona feel and the mouthwatering Madrid food! :)

  7. I think the real capital and big city is Madrid. Impressive. Imperial. Elegant. Classy. Barselona looks more like a small and dirty arab city in a small province. Just cheap tourists go there. I don’t like it at all. Cheap is the word that defines Barselona.

    • Jasper, thank you for your opinion. I don’t agree with it, but we don’t have to share opinions :) Perhaps one day you’ll give Barcelona another chance and you’ll fall in love ;)

  8. Completely agree with jasper. Besides you can actually breathe the Spanish atmosphere in Madrid, it feels like much more elegant and smart city, whereas Barcelona is just commercial and only gets bad-quality tourism. If you wanna have a great time go to MAD +1

  9. Not easy to compare these beautiful cities as Madrid is a capital and business city, but Barcelona is a top destination for beach lovers. Both, of course, are very touristic. To avoid expensive hotels prices in Barcelona, consider staying at nearby resorts of Costa Brava (Calella, Tossa de Mar, Lloret de Mar). They are just 1 hour away from Barcelona centre, but hotel prices start as cheap as 15 EUR per person per night including Full Board catering at 2-star hotel. Don’t forget to visit La Boqueria market to buy freshly squeezed fruit juices and smoothies starting from 1 EUR.

    • Thanks for the tips, Greg! Yep, I also stayed outside Barcelona (in Calella) and found it quite convenient. Much better accommodation costs there!

  10. We loved both! The museums in Madrid are amazing – especially seeing Guernica at the Renia Sofia. Overall, though Barcelona was our favorite. My favorite day in Spain was a trip to Monserrat from BCN. I would recommend that trip to anyone!

    • Good to hear about your experience, Laura! And thanks for the Reina Sofia museum recommendation, I might give it a go when in Madrid next time. Saludos!

  11. I go every year to visit Madrid my favourite city anywhere and Barcelona which is where my partner is from.
    Both beautiful cities in their own way Madrid is grander and much bigger. Barcelona has the unique Gaudi architecture.
    What attracts me more to Madrid is that its such a fantastically fun city with a far better nightlife. The best nightlife ive ever seen.

  12. I am interested in seeing a bull fight while in Madrid and will be in this City in November. Are there bull fights in November and are they easy to get into? Any helpful hints?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.