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Madrid or Barcelona: Which is best to visit out of the 2?

The debated question, which city should I visit. Well, today’s discussion will be about Madrid or Barcelona. As a person who works 9 to 5 every day, I understand the importance of making the most of the vacation time you have. It can be difficult to choose which cities to visit and when to visit. I’m creating this for the indecisive traveler who probably is short on time. I will always say you should never choose between Madrid or Barcelona, but that’s me and I’m sure you came here to find an answer. 

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READ: Spain and Portugal Itinerary

Madrid or Barcelona | Casa Mila in Barcelona
Casa Mila in Barcelona

Madrid or Barcelona: Which is best to visit?

Major Differences between Madrid and Barcelona

There are a lot of similarities between Madrid and Barcelona, but also a lot of differences. I would say there are more differences than similarities. The difference between Madrid and Barcelona is related to vibe, food, culture, and the types of cities that they are.

madrid versus barcelona

Madrid

  • A bigger city and less visited by tourists
  • Less expensive than Barcelona
  • More centralized location and only about a 2-3 hour train ride from Barcelona
  • A lot of things to do especially regarding art
  • More affordable and authentic Spanish dishes
  • Friendly and welcoming people

Where is Madrid in Spain?

Madrid is located in the central part of Spain. It is the capital city of Spain and is the largest city in the country with a population of over three million people. Madrid is a popular tourist destination and is known for its museums, art galleries, and historical landmarks.

What is Madrid famous for?

Madrid is famous for its museums, art galleries, and historical landmarks. The city is also home to the Royal Palace, which is one of the largest palaces in Europe. Madrid is a popular tourist destination and receives millions of visitors each year.

READ: 2 Days in Madrid

Barcelona

  • A city filled with tourists
  • Lots of things to do related to architecture and art such as Gaudi and Picasso
  • Major international airport
  • Since it is a big city with tourists, it’s harder to connect with people
  • Beautiful beaches and parks

Where is Barcelona in Spain?

Barcelona is located in the northeastern part of Spain. It is the second-largest city in Spain and is a popular tourist destination due to its beaches, architecture, and nightlife. Barcelona is also home to one of Europe’s largest football stadiums, Camp Nou.

What is Barcelona famous for?

Barcelona is known for its beaches, architecture, and nightlife. The city is home to some of the most famous tourist destinations in Europe, including La Sagrada Família, Camp Nou, and Park Güell. Barcelona is also a major center for fashion and design, and hosts several international fashion events each year.

READ: 3 Days in Barcelona

Should I visit Madrid or Barcelona?

Whether you are looking to visit Barcelona or Madrid, I’ve got you covered on things to consider before planning your trip, moving, and more.

Madrid or Barcelona

Madrid vs Barcelona: Pros and Cons of Madrid

There are a lot of pros to visiting Madrid and maybe I am biased by my experience there. Upon arrival, we had an amazing hostel which was very friendly, had some great activities for people traveling solo or even in groups, along with a lot of information that was helpful to people visiting. I found the food to be much more excellent in Madrid compared to Barcelona. It was easy to find a good place to eat and enjoy ourselves while when we spent time in Barcelona, there were more tourist trap restaurants that we found to be expensive and not as good as what we had in Madrid. 

I think personally as a person who loves art and studied art and architecture in school, both cities were excellent locations to explore the possibilities of both. In Madrid, there is the Prada museum there and if you go there, be sure to see the “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez. It’s important to see this piece because if you do end up going to Barcelona, you should check out the Picasso museum. At that museum, you will see an entire room of his studies of Diego Velázquez’s piece. 

In terms of people and crowds, it was a lot easier to connect and socialize with people in Madrid over Barcelona. I’m not sure if it was because there were fewer tourists or if the locals were more friendly, but we had a better experience. I think in Barcelona, many of the locals are overwhelmed with the large number of tourists that flood in. Additionally, I do have to say we arrived in Barcelona at a bad time. We were in Madrid the day the terrorist attack happened, so 2 days later when we arrived in Barcelona, many of the people were quite heartbroken. There were lots of candles all over the place and people protesting in the streets.

Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona

Madrid vs Barcelona: Pros and Cons of Barcelona

Just because I had a bad experience connecting with people in Barcelona, does not mean I did not enjoy myself. Let me tell you, this city is one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. There is so much rich culture and architecture here that makes it absolutely stunning. There are so many interesting places to walk and look around at, lots of delicious treats (you just need to research it a little better), and so much more. 

I would say between Madrid or Barcelona, Barcelona focuses more on the architecture done by Gaudi than the art itself, so if you love architecture, it’s definitely the place for you. They also have some great parks which are a great place to relax, have a picnic, and just enjoy the moment there. It was a great way to wind down. Additionally, you can easily take a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat if you want to get away from the big city and deal with a ton of people. 

Flamenco Dancing in Madrid
Flamenco Dancing in Madrid

Which has the best nightlife: Madrid or Barcelona?

I would say both have a big nightlife. Most people will say Barcelona has a bigger nightlife than Madrid’s nightlife, however, I’ve heard so many people enjoy the nightlife in Madrid. While I did not go out clubbing in either location (just not my thing), I did go to several restaurants and bars at night.

The nightlife in Madrid to me was more laid back.  There were more bars, late-night restaurants, and just overall good fun.  The nightlife in Barcelona was very fast-paced. So it really depends on your personality and what type of nightlife you like. Both have great places to go clubbing, go out to drink, and enjoy delicious food late at night. I do have to add one of the best ways we ended the night in Madrid was eating churros at Chocolatería San Ginés.

Which has better food, Madrid or Barcelona?

Both places had great food, but I would have to say hands down Madrid has much better food, especially the tapas. We weren’t tricked by expensive tourist traps in Madrid like we were in Barcelona. Also, Madrid has a fantastic food tour which made the experience that much better. The food was absolutely delicious at every place we went, even the tapas at the bars were excellent. 

Barcelona has Rambla street where you can easily get some fabulously delicious food and I wish I had more time to try all the different stalls in the area. There were so many places and not enough time to try them all. I would say do some research to find good food in Barcelona instead of going somewhere out of convenience. I did research a place to visit for my birthday and the food there was excellent. It was one of the best restaurants in Spain I have been to. I still dream about the octopus there. 

Which has a better vibe, Madrid or Barcelona?

I think this all depends on personality. The choice between Madrid or Barcelona has been a long battle among so many people. Like I stated before, Barcelona is more of that city life and Madrid even though it is a city, is a little less intense. Barcelona also has beach vibes, while Madrid has more laid back. Madrid is closer to a lot of other popular Spanish cities like Toledo and Chinchon.  It’s more centrally located, so you can easily get to Barcelona and Seville in about 2.5 hours by public transportation. 

Is Madrid or Barcelona more expensive?

Madrid is typically more affordable and less expensive than Barcelona. It sees fewer tourists. Barcelona is definitely more expensive, but it can still be done fairly affordably depending on the things you choose and want to do. There are a lot of free things you can do in Barcelona. 

Madrid or Barcelona for Study Abroad

When it comes to studying abroad between Madrid or Barcelona, I would have to say Madrid would be a better location for Study Abroad, mostly because I’m assuming you came to Spain for the culture but also to learn the language. I found Madrid had way more Spanish speakers and in Barcelona, there was more access to English speakers because of the influx of tourists. Not only will you get more chances to practice your Spanish, but you’ll also have a more traditional experience there. Madrid also speaks Castilian Spanish which is considered to be pure or more traditional Spanish compared to Barcelona where they speak Catalan

However, it’s also important to factor in the program you plan to take. Is it more ideal with what you want? If you aren’t in Spain to learn the language, then maybe Barcelona will be better. The city has a lot of programs including Art, Architecture, Media Communications, International Business, or Marketing.

View from Catedral de la Almudena | Madrid or Barcelona
View from Catedral de la Almudena

Madrid or Barcelona for Expats: Living in Barcelona vs Madrid

Are you choosing between living in Madrid vs Barcelona? Does Madrid or Barcelona have a big expat community? There are large expat communities in both Madrid and Barcelona. If you are wanting to make friends with people who are dealing with similar things as you are, there are a lot of Facebook groups and communities you can be a part of. 

I think I stated the same in the study abroad section. I suppose it depends on the reason you plan on going to Madrid or Barcelona. Do you want to experience more of an art and social aspect or do you want a more traditional and language exchange experience? 

  • Madrid – Laidback, traditional, authentic, more affordable, and great for learning Spanish
  • Barcelona – Big city life, lots of tourists, beach life, a lot of things to see and do, great for learning art, architecture, media, etc.

Cost of Living Madrid vs Barcelona

In terms of affordability between Madrid or Barcelona, Madrid is more affordable in terms of living compared to Barcelona, so your monthly fees should be typically lower, however, both are cities and you should budget accordingly. 

Should I go to Madrid or Barcelona for Travel? 

Why choose between Madrid or Barcelona? Go to both if you can.

When it comes to travel to Madrid vs Barcelona for vacation I definitely can’t make this decision for you, however, I did enjoy Madrid best. I think you have to weigh the pros and cons of each location and decide what is best for you. I will always say you should try to make time for both. Both are different and similar in ways, which is why it would be good to experience both.

If I were to make the trip back again and had to choose between Madrid vs Barcelona travel, I would definitely go back to Madrid over Barcelona. Madrid and Barcelona are both beautiful places to visit, however, I prefer fewer crowds and more authentic connections. As an introvert, it’s exhausting to be around people all the time and I felt in Madrid I was able to escape from people more than in Barcelona.

Is Barcelona a city? Is Madrid a city?

Yes, both are cities. Madrid is the capital of Spain which is centrally located and Barcelona is a fairly large city on the coast of northeastern Spain. Is Madrid a country? – No. It’s a city in the country of Spain.

Barcelona vs Madrid: Futball

If you want to talk futball or soccer, Madrid versus Barcelona is always a competition. Some will say that the Real Madrid versus Barcelona games are some of the most intense competitions out there. Some will argue the reasons why Real Madrid is better than Barcelona. Be sure to check out these popular soccer games! Madrid vs Barcelona is some of the most competitive soccer games in Spain.

Interested in visiting both Madrid and Barcelona?

Couldn’t decide between Madrid or Barcelona? Then travel to both destinations!

How to get to Madrid from Barcelona

The best way to get to Madrid is to take the train from Barcelona to Madrid. There are other options as well like taking a flight which can save some time and money, it really all depends on you. We took the train from Barcelona to Madrid because it was affordable, you can show up right before your train arrives, and we find it relaxing to take train rides.

Distance from Madrid to Barcelona

The distance from Madrid to Barcelona is approximately 600 kilometers.

By Train

The easiest way to get to Madrid from Barcelona is by train. There are several high-speed trains that operate between the two cities, and the journey takes just over three hours. Tickets can be booked in advance, and prices start at around $30. If you’re looking for a more luxurious option, first-class tickets are also available, and prices start at around $100.

By Plane

Another option for getting from Barcelona to Madrid is by plane. There are several airlines that operate direct flights between the two cities, and the journey takes just over an hour. Tickets can be booked in advance, and prices start at around $50.

By Bus

If you’re on a budget, the cheapest way to get from Barcelona to Madrid is by bus. There are several companies that operate between the two cities, and the journey takes just over eight hours. Tickets can be booked in advance, and prices start at around $15.

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Which one would you choose? Madrid or Barcelona? Leave it in the comments. 

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2 Comments

  1. Barcelona is one of the smallest “capitals” in Europe and is six times smaller than Madrid (a minuscule 100 km2 compared to the Capital’s 600 km2). Madrid is the fifth biggest city in the European Union (as the size of the territory of the municipality within its limits) and the sixth considering its metropolitan area.
    Barcelona is also much less populated than Madrid: 1,6 million inhabitants compared to 3,2 millions. This is also true for their respective metropolitan areas: 3,2 millions for Barcelona’s MA and 5 millions for Madrid’s MA.
    Nonetheless, it is true that Barcelona has several millions more tourists than Madrid.

  2. I find this review to be fairly spot on.
    The amount/frequency of Catalan used in Barcelona was astonishingly high to me. About 50/50 Catalan to Castilian in my opinion – and I had the feeling many people were speaking Castilian to accommodate me as a visitor. Signage is often in Catalan, so just be aware that your Castilian Spanish may not take you as far in Barcelona. However, I felt service workers were more willing to use English with English speakers.

    If you know a little bit of Spanish I bet you will find Madrid easier to navigate, even though you may encounter less English. The Madrid residents have a way of using Spanish to help lower level speakers (short phrases, simpler vocabulary)… it’s hard to explain, but it’s very effective for communication.

    Another set of things I noticed in my short 10 day visit:
    1. Madrid seemed to be a bit warmer in hospitality imho. Not to say Barcelona was unwelcoming, but just seemed a bit more jaded due to the tourism.

    2. Barcelona seemed to have a greater focus on modern art and the graffiiti art scene while Madrid had a stronger focus on baroque and renaissance art.

    3. Barcelona also seemed to have more 12-hour tour options when it comes to international quick visits. There were tours that crossed over to France or Andorra in one day. It’s a good deal if you’re trying to hit 2 or 3 countries for the price of one. Madrid seemed to be more of a centralized experience, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The half day trip to Toledo is definitely worth it if you have a free day with nothing planned in Madrid.

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