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Barcelona or Madrid – Where to Go?

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Last updated Aug 28, 2020 @ 11:05 pm

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.

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

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Jan Ridgeway

Friday 30th of August 2019

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?

takin

Wednesday 8th of February 2017

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.

Veronika

Wednesday 8th of February 2017

Thank you, great to have an insight from someone who visits both cities regularly! :)

Laura

Sunday 10th of July 2016

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!

Veronika

Tuesday 12th of July 2016

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!

Kwame

Saturday 11th of June 2016

Madrid is the real Spain because Catalunya is not Spain!

Greg

Friday 10th of June 2016

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.

Veronika

Saturday 25th of June 2016

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