Madrid or Barcelona?

It’s the age old question, not unlike the chicken and the egg (for which the answer is easy by the way: a circle has no beginning. Thank you, Harry Potter!). Where should I go in Spain: Madrid or Barcelona? Of course the.ego.tripper has an answer for you, but ask yourself this question: do you value the.ego.tripper’s opinion? Honestly, I don’t want to claim one is better than the other, but for me personally one really is better than the other. You see the distinction. It’s not a black and white kinda story, so if you disagree, that’s fine with me. But I’ll give you my two cents anyway, since I’ve been to both places about three times (and one time even stayed in Barcelona for almost two months).

Anyway, to go back to the age old question: there are many other fantastic cities in Spain! What were you thinking? That there’s only the choice between Madrid and Barcelona? What about Seville, Granada, Valencia, Toledo, Cadiz, Bilbao, …? Okay, I’m sure this didn’t answer you question, but I thought I should mention it anyway. Now the Barcelona vs. Madrid situation. For me, there’s only one winner in this match and that winner clearly is Barcelona. I find the capital of Catalunya simply enchanting, while the capital of Spain is alright.

Madrid’s Palacio Real

Let’s look at the location. For being in the center of the country I should give Madrid some extra credit. It’s easy to get there, by train, by plane. Plus it has good (better than Barcelona) public transport. On the other hand, Barcelona has the beaches, the ocean and the mountains surrounding the city. Doesn’t this trump all? It’s close to the Pyrenees and thus to France, while Madrid is close to amazing smaller cities like Segovia and Toledo. Depending on when you are going the proximity of the ocean could be a decisive factor.

If you’re planning a citytrip, culture and art are pretty important as well, aren’t they? Well, you’ll find both cities very interesting when it comes to culture and art. In Madrid you’ll find three of the best museums in the world very close to each other: the Prado, the Reina Sofia (which holds the amazing Picasso’s Guernica) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. For me, these three make a visit to Madrid well worth it. In Barcelona they offer you the Gaudi Museum, the Picasso Museum and the Miro Museum (among many other museums of course), but they can’t really compete with their Madrid rivals. Sure, you could take the train to go to the amazing Dali museum in Figueres, but this doesn’t really count as Barcelona any more, does it?

Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia

In this last ‘culture and art’ paragraph I didn’t include architecture. Thanks to Barcelona, architecture deserves its own paragraph! Honestly, if this were a penalty shoot-out between Barcelona and Madrid, the score would be 5-0 in favor of Barcelona right now. Walking around in Madrid is quite nice, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t make my blood run any faster. The buildings and avenues aren’t really that historic (at least not compared to many other European cities and capitals). And Barcelona has Gaudi, which again trumps all! I mean, nine buildings in Barcelona are on Unesco’s World Heritage list: e.g. the amazing Sagrada Familia (only one look at this church will make your visit to Barcelona worth while), Palau Güell, Parc Güell, Casa Milà, … To summarize: there’s no comparison!

Madrid’s La Cibeles

So what about food and money? Well, moneywise this round will be won by Madrid, I feel. Barcelona is so very touristy (for good reason of course) which pushes up the prices. Of food as well. A stay in Barcelona will cost you more, also because the museums in Madrid have no entrance fee on week nights. I don’t think anything in Barcelona comes free. And what about the nightlife? Well, I guess you can party hard in both cities. This is actually not a guess, I’m sure you can party hard in both cities. Let me rephrase again: I know I can party hard in both cities. Maybe even more so in Madrid, where the party scene might offer more variation.

Barcelona’s Parc Güell

My conclusion: for me the architecture, the excellent setting between the sea and the mountains, and the extreme wow-factor make Barcelona my absolute favorite. As I said, I’ve been to Madrid three times, and while it’s good, it just wouldn’t or couldn’t get in my top five of European capitals. It can’t even get in my top five of Spanish destinations. But com’on, you have to see Guernica some time in your life. And in the Prado, you can find the Garden of Earthly Delights, the stunning triptych by Hieronymus Bosch (or like the Spanish call him, El Bosco). Which still makes it well worth a visit, or two, or three.

(copyright free images)


  1. I would have to agree with you and say Barcelona would be my choice as well. I stayed there for 6 weeks a couple years ago, right in Barceloneta across the street from the Marina. Absolutely fantastic and as much as I appreciate Madrid, Barcelona has me heart. Make sure to go back and enjoy!

  2. I’d probably agree with you TET, but for a reason you didn’t bring up in your post: Imperial Madrid vs. free spirited anti-establishment Barcelona. And the cold, in Madrid in the winter, and the hot, in summer. No, seriously, the cultural differences between the two cities is evident in every facet of life there – food to fun, and for me, the Catalans have it:) Enjoyed your piece; good on you.

    1. Interesting read! Never been to either, but def think I’ll be going to Barcelona first. When I think of Madrid I only see bulls in my head.

  3. Certainly Barcelona comes out on top IF one is more interested in the aspects you mention. I preferred Madrid because it offers more “walking around” opportunities. After the “Gaudi” and the Ramblas / Barri Gotic walks, there’s not too much left. And after the walk, where do you sit, besides the Ramblas?

    Madrid has more walking around sights and more places to sit. We enjoyed sitting outside the Prado, Plaza del Sol, and Plaza Major to name a few. And when you want a change in scenery, there’s many day tours to take to neighboring cities, whereas Barcelona doesn’t offer as many. (I don’t count a day trip to the Andorra outlet mall as “legitimate”…LOL!)

    But you’re absolutely right about there being many fantastic cities in Spain, so visit for at least three weeks and get all the big ones in: Sevilla / Cordoba / Jerez. Also Granada area, including Rhonda.

    I have photos of all those cities on my travel photo website:

    1. You are right about Ronda, that’s for sure. And about Granada, and Cordoba (Jerez not so much in my opinion). I studied in Granada for a while, so I’ve been to many cities in the area. I must admit that Ronda is still one of the Andalucia highlights in my memory, as is Cadiz.

      About the walking around in Madrid or Spain, I don’t really share this vision. Besides the Barri Gotic and the Ramblas, I enjoyed walking in Barceloneta, the Olympic village, parc Güell, the mountain outside of the city, … On the day tours I absolutely agree!

      Thanks by the way, for sharing you website, I will check it out soon.

  4. Thanks for your post! it was interesting.
    I would vote for Barcelona as well for the beaches, great food, sightseeing and shopping… But for both cities they are too touristy in my opinion and having been to many cities in Spain I particularly fond of Salamanca :)

    1. Hands down Madrid, but then I’ve lived here for 2 years and I find the city to be less chaotic than Barcelona. Tourists usually say they prefer Barcelona to Madrid and it doesn’t surprise me, I understand Barcelona’s appeal. :)

      Madrid isn’t as touristy as Barcelona and for that reason alone I prefer it. Also there are mountains outside of Madrid and the scenery is beautiful. I do want to go back to Barcelona and visit–but for me saying Barcelona is better than Madrid, it’s like comparing apples and oranges. It’s like saying New York is better than Boston or vice versa (two cities that also have a long standing rivalry and I use these two simply because I’m from outside of NY!).

    1. You’re totally right about your Barcelona-choice. I went this year in Januari (I was a bit afraid the weather would be bad), but it was a great sunny week.Such a beautiful city where i lost my heart.
      You only forgot to mention the famous football stadium: Camp Nou. Really, also if you aren’t a football-fan you’ll like it.

        1. Barcelona is beautiful but it bears a touristic theme park atmosphere and didn’t seem to me as authentic as Madrid, best of Madrid its crazy endless nights and daringly warm inhabitants, one of the liveliest cities i’ve ever enjoyed

  5. Been to Barcelona for the first time about a week ago. It amazed me, had no specific expectations other than the weather being great. Such a laid back vibe, people eating late, drinking wine outside the bars, the beaches. It’s just the best of both worlds; sun, sea, beach – sight-seeing, walking around, acitivites! I want to go back really bad. Barca over Madrid any time!

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