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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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