Madrid vs Barcelona, that is the question. Every passionate traveler would love to visit Spain at some point, but most people don’t have unlimited time. If you are one of them, you are probably debating between these two cities.
As you may have noticed, picking one over the other is no easy task. Each city is amazing in its own way. It will come down to which one is the best fit for your personality and taste.
To help you out with this overwhelming task, I’ve decided to do an objective comparison based on my experience in both places.
By the end of this article, you should have picked a winner based on the things that matter the most to you.
Which city is the winner for you? Read below our Madrid vs Barcelona match-up.
Things to Do
Both cities have plenty of attractions to keep you entertained. Barcelona has Gaudi’s modernist architecture and La Barceloneta beach. Madrid has Parque El Retiro and La Gran Vía.
However, when it comes to things to do in the surrounding area, Madrid beats Barcelona. There are two awesome day trips you can do from Madrid: Toledo and Segovia.
Toledo is a beautiful medieval city known for being a melting pot of 3 cultures: Judaic, Islamic, and Christian. Segovia is a similar vibe; known for its architecture and famous Roman Aqueduct. Both are only a 30min train ride from Madrid. There are some day trips you can do from Barcelona, but those can’t compare to Toledo and Segovia.
Both cities have similar weather except for summer and winter seasons. Madrid is usually colder in winter months, and hotter during the summer. The weather in Barcelona is less extreme.
Both cities have a top-notch public transportation system. Madrid Metro covers a greater area and is also cheaper. In terms of private transportation, both cities have access to Taxis and Cabify. However, as of April 2020, Uber is not available in Barcelona. Due to a slightly cheaper metro and Uber availability, I will give this one to Madrid.
Both cities are relatively safe; violent crime is rare. However, due to a crazy amount of tourists in Barcelona, there is a higher risk of petty theft. Barcelona has some of the best pickpockets in the world. These usually hang out in crowded areas like La Rambla and El Gótic.
Madrid is less touristy and safer than Barcelona. This point has to go to the capital.
This one is very close to a tie. Ultimately, it will come down to your taste. There is something going on in both cities every night of the week. The nightlife vibe is different though.
Madrid’s nightlife is a more authentic experience. It has more of a local vibe. If you enjoy interacting with locals when you travel, you will prefer Madrid.
As you would expect, Barcelona’s nightlife is just more touristy. That doesn’t mean it is bad; some people feel more comfortable being around fellow travelers.
Even though both cities have great nightlife, I feel that Madrid has a slight edge here. While Barcelona has some good bars spread out throughout the city, Madrid has whole streets filled with cool bars and clubs. It is easier to do bar hopping and meet locals. There is also less scamming and tourist traps.
As Gilbert said in one of his guides for God Save The Points:
“If Barcelona is the party, Madrid is the grown-up graduate school after party”
Cost of living
As said before, Barcelona has been overrun by tourism in recent years. Tourism makes the cost of living go up. Rent, food, and transportation are more expensive in Barcelona. In the center of Madrid, you can still find places with free tapas, €1 tapas, and €5 drinks.
What makes Barcelona so attractive is Gaudi’s modernist architecture. Most of his works are in Barcelona. While Madrid has some nice classic architecture also, it is hard to beat Barcelona in this category. The architecture lovers out there will love Barcelona.
This one is easy. Madrid is in the center of Spain; there is no beach. Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean coast and has a few nice beaches (including nudist beaches). The most popular one in the city is Barceloneta. There is also the option of doing day trips to beaches in nearby towns.
There is plenty of delicious food in both cities. Catalan food is highly regarded in the country. There are definitely great restaurants in Barcelona, but those are more difficult to find than in Madrid.
Madrid city center has streets packed with restaurants and tapas bars. The capital’s gastronomy does a better job of representing the diversity of Spanish cuisine. It’s also cheaper and feels more authentic.
Barcelona has Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Picasso Museum, and Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (to name a few). These museums are top-notch. Any art lover will love what these have to offer.
However, Madrid does museums at another level. The capital has some of the best museums in the world. Only global cities like New York, London, or Paris can compare with the level of Madrid’s museums. This category has to go to Madrid; hard to beat Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofía, and Museo Thyssen Bornemisza.
So, who’s the winner? Madrid or Barcelona?
I will leave that to you. It depends on the things that matter the most to you.
Based on this comparison, which one fits your personality better?
Do you enjoy quiet parks, museums, free tapas bars, and a local nightlife experience? If yes, you should start in Madrid.
If you prefer modernist architecture, beach vibes, and western-style nightlife, Barcelona should be your #1.
The best thing you can do is try both! They are both amazing in their own way. If you are a first-time visitor and have at least a week, you should start with Madrid and Barcelona. 3-4 nights in each city would be perfect.
Stay tuned for more Spain content in the near future.
More to come,