Barcelona vs. Madrid – Which Do You Prefer?

Spain is an amazing country that has a lot to be proud of in terms of incredible things to do, remarkable places to revel in, and a rich culture to soak up. Travelers who want to venture to the beautiful land of Spain are usually confronted by a dilemma of which city to visit between these two, and weighing down pros and cons can be a feat, since both have so much to offer, and both are remarkably different from one another. What is evident between this Barcelona vs. Madrid battle is that it all really boils down to personal tastes—ask yourself what is more important to you, and what are the things you find yourself you enjoy doing the most when you travel.  Do you prefer a bustling, active nightlife, or visiting museums? Do you thrive in busy, edgy, urban atmospheres, or prefer a laid back vibe by the beach? Both cities are great on their own, which makes deciding between the two of them immensely difficult, and a common debate between travelers. But, if you don’t have the time or resources to pull off both cities during your trip to Spain, hopefully this article will help you decide which city will be more enjoyable and worthwhile for you. Best Barcelona Guide Book

Our video of our visit to Barcelona

Barcelona vs. Madrid

Location and Climate

Barcelona is located on the northern part of Spain in an autonomous area in the Mediterranean, and it is closer to the border between Spain and France. Barcelona is a larger city, with beachscapes and surrounded by a mountainous area. It experiences a subtropical Mediterranean climate, featuring humid summers and rainy seasons. Spain’s capital Madrid is quite landlocked, as it is located in the geographical center perched on top of a plateau, and it is also the highest capital in Europe. With this said, climate here is extreme, and Madrid experiences really chilly winters and very hot summers. Madrid’s city center is much smaller than Barcelona as well, but you can arrange several trips to other parts of Spain such as Salamanca, Segovia and Toledo, using Madrid as your home base.

Both cities have great international airports that do service a great deal of international flights, but if you’re travelling by land, and coming from France and nearby European countries, you can easily rent a car and drive there and cross the border yourself, or you can take a train or a bus. Barcelona is a great, convenient stop for travelers who are doing a land-based Euro trip. Since Madrid’s location is higher and more centralized, unless you will be flying going here, it will take you more time to go to this city land-based as it is further away from the rest of the Europe.

Sights to See

The most common thing people will instantly associate Barcelona with is with the mention of Antoni Gaudi, a world-renowned architect noted for his remarkable stunning Art Nouveau buildings found all over Barcelona, such as La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, and several structures ranging from parks, to residential buildings, which all have Gaudi’s signature style and masterful details. Gaudi’s architecture alone is worth visiting Barcelona for. Barcelona also has a lot of beaches to soak up some sun in, and this is what greatly differentiates the two cities apart.

Madrid, on the other hand, is a very classy city that has beautiful, majestic European architecture, numerous historical sites, ancient buildings, grandiose Madrid museums such as Museo del Prado, which is the second largest in the world. Madrid’s streets are considered more picturesque and charming than those of Barcelona’s, and this city is one that begs to be explored on foot as it is very, pleasantly walkable. The whole city itself is both complex and beautiful with a distinct Spanish authenticity.

Things to Do

Barcelona is notable for having a topnotch nightlife, with its beautiful discotheques, and its party nature. Since there are beaches here, spending time under the sun along the shore is a major feature that the other city does not have. The atmosphere in Barcelona is more sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and the vibe is more European. It’s also more expensive to travel here. Madrid, on the other hand, offers a lot of cultural activities such as musicals, theater, great art at the Reina Sofia, flamenco, tapas bars, and charming cafes. The overall vibe here in Madrid is decidedly more Spanish in terms of its gems. While you can’t hit the beach in Madrid, you can revel in its many beautiful parks. In terms of nightlife, both cities have an active, bustling nightlife that will blow you away. The great distinction between both, however, is who are the ones doing the partying. Since Barcelona draws in more tourists, its partying is also done mostly by the tourists, so the scene is more international. In Madrid, naturally ingrained in the nature of Madrilenians is partying, so the party scene here is more local, and more vivacious and authentically Spanish.

Both places will not have a shortage of exciting things to offer, and food in both cities are incredible. Mealtimes in Spain come much later than the rest of the world, as its commonplace here to have lunch at 3pm, whilst dinner can be as late as 10pm. Going to bars can commence around 12pm to 2am, until the wee hours of the morning. In both places you will be introduced to the culture of having tapas, which are small plates of food with either meat or seafood to be eaten together with friends and colleagues.

People

The Spanish are a remarkable people, and are considered to be people who are fun, and they love celebrating the good things in life. This is evident in their culture of siesta, drinking, vibrant nightlife, and numerous celebrations. Barcelona and Madrid speak different languages, as Barcelona speaks both Spanish and Catalan, while Madrid speaks Spanish. If people’s warmth and friendly nature is important to you when traveling, Madrid is the place for you, as the Spanish here are generally more helpful and forgiving towards tourists. In Barcelona, people can be quite unfriendly and rude, as a lot of tourists have mentioned. As far as crowds go, Barcelona is way more touristy and is far more crowded than Madrid.

Transportation

Getting around the city is convenient since both cities have an excellent underground metro station, and the high-speed Eurorail. Tourists will find the metro system easy to navigate. However, Madrid’s metro is better in terms of quality, cleanliness, timeliness, and efficiency. Both cities also have buses and taxis aplenty. The bus is priced averagely, but will require you to speak a bit of Spanish for you to easily get yourself from one point to another.

Cost of Living

While both cities are both in the list of the top most expensive cities in the world and neither are cheap, a lot of tourists do say that Barcelona will set you back by just a little bit more than Madrid. However, this may be because Barcelona as previously mentioned, can be quite the tourist trap. There aren’t vast differences between one another in terms of prices of commodities. It largely depends on what you intend to do in each city, in which your preferences will also determine the perceived value of money in this places. However, if you are wondering if both cities can be good for budget travelers, the answer is that it can be, if you compare it to the other countries in West Europe. A conservative budget to set aside in both cities is around €50/day, but it’s very possible to get by with less than that amount if you decide to be more frugal.

There has been a long standing rivalry between Barcelona vs. Madrid, not only between locals but also between loyal visitors who all praise that their favorite is better than the other for one reason or another. So let’s stir it up a bit and compare the cities with this cool infographic from HostelBookers 😛 – where would you prefer to go?

City Wars: Barcelona vs. Madrid

City Wars: Barcelona vs. Madrid

This feud could, and probably will, go on forever. There are good and bad things about both cities, and depending on what you want you will find that one city fits your needs better. As both cities are extremely popular, you would think that when it comes to finding Cheap Hotels, Barcelona and Madrid would disappoint – but this is surprisingly not the case. There are many cheap hostels and restaurants to keep your wallet happy. Another factor we would like to add to this inforgraphic is the “entertainment” factor – Madrid has the better museums, where, for the record, two of the best are free every night of the week. But Barcelona has that “wow” factor with incredible architecture that you see by just walking down the street.

Its amazing how 2 cities can be vastly different from each other, and these differences make each of these two places unique from one another. It needs to be noted here that because Barcelona and Madrid have had different histories, there is an ongoing rivalry between them until now between the Madrilenians and the Catalans, for many reasons that go down deep in history. However, like what has been stated in the start of this article, it all greatly depends on what your preferences are. To summarize:

Barcelona is great for people, who prefer an active, more European vibe. It’s for lovers of the beach and the sun, and though this place is heavily touristy, it is touristy for great reasons, most notably the architecture that’s definitely not to be missed. Madrid is a city that’s for lovers of culture and art, and those who decidedly want a more authentic and classy urban-meets-old world Spanish experience. It’s a place to immerse yourself in if you would like to absorb more of the vibrant cultural scene and its people. Whichever your choice is between who wins the Barcelona vs. Madrid debacle, there are no wrong choices to be made either way. Both cities are great on their own, and they just happen to be in the same country, which is why it is inevitable not to compare them to one another.

5 Responses to Barcelona vs. Madrid – Which Do You Prefer?

  1. andi_fisher June 11, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    I lived and worked in Madrid and did business in Barcelona and I don’t hesitate when I say Barcelona is my favorite!

  2. Andi Perullo June 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    Viva Barcelona!

  3. Lengthy Travel June 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    I have been in Madrid a month but haven’t visited Barcelona yet so I don’t have a personal opinion. However, I can say that in my travels in other parts of the world it seems that non-Spanish backpackers seem to prefer Barcelona. On the other hand, my friends here in Madrid (admittedly biased, but many have lived in both cities) Madrid is the better of the two, especially for everyday living. Thus far, I really do like Madrid.

  4. Love & Adventure June 12, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Cute graphic – but I don’t think I could ever choose! They are both amazing, but different places to visit :)

  5. Susan July 17, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    Loved the previous comments and so glad we chose Barcelona as part of our honeymoon in August /September – cant wait !!