Madrid vs Barcelona: which is best for me?

Madrid and Barcelona are two wonderful cities in Spain with lots to offer visitors. Madrid is Spain’s majestic capital city and the Spanish centre politically, culturally and geographically. But Barcelona has a more Mediterranean theme, with a laidback vibe and more tourists.

So which of these cities is more suited to you? In this article, we give you the lowdown on what they both have to offer.

Madrid vs Barcelona

I’m a foodie. Which is best for food?

Madrid offers plenty of culinary adventures, from famed names in international cuisine to traditional Spanish tapas bars and hearty stews. Interestingly, Madrid was the place in Spain where the first real restaurants opened. The Guinness World Record Book recognises Botin in Madrid as the place with the oldest restaurant in the world!

Barcelona has a creative cuisine, with plenty of Catalonian cheese, mushrooms and jamon. La Boqueria on Las Ramblas is one of Europe’s most famous food markets too. Vegetarians will be interested to know Barcelona has proclaimed itself “veg-friendly” – you won’t discover more vegetarian restaurants anywhere else in Spain and there are lots of vegan restaurants here too.

Where’s the party at?

It is said that Madrid has more bars per capita than any other city in the European Union and this is something we believe – many streets in the centre are filled with cafes and bars. Every night in Madrid you can go to the theatre, a concert, a party or another nightly event. You might get tired though, because they start very late here. No Madrileno will consider hitting the dancefloor before 2am.

Barcelona has plenty of party spirit as well, generally with a more laidback attitude. Head to Port Olimpic for upscale clubs and bars, or dodge the tourists at the cool bars in the Gothic Quarter. This city also has some of the best summer festivals in Europe, with great street parties at night. The Merce festival is even worth timing your Barcelona trip in September for – it’s one of the most impressive festivals in Spain.

I’d like to see some Spanish culture

Being the Spanish capital, Madrid has some of the country’s leading art museums. The Prado is home to a collection of European art from the twelfth to the nineteenth century. Few cities can boast quite as much historic art as Madrid.

But Barcelona has Gaudi, with beautiful examples of his work all over Barcelona, from the magical, sculpture-filled Park Guell to the still unfinished modernist masterpiece that is Sagrada Familia basilica.

I’m interested in sports

In Madrid you can visit the Santiago Bernabeu football stadium, home to Real Madrid. Experience a game with up to 81,044 Madrid fans, or if you’re not lucky enough to time your trip with a game, take one of the regular tours.

The Casa de Campo park is popular with people who are into mountain biking, or head to Retiro park where people enjoy jogging, cycling or skating.

Barcelona on the other hand, is host to the biggest football stadium in Europe – Camp Nou. Go backstage and visit the changing rooms and press room of some of the best players in the world, and admire the FC Barcelona trophies up close at the museum.

If you’re into exercising on your holiday, in the coastal city of Barcelona you can take part in beach volleyball and water sports such as windsurfing and stand-up paddle surfing. Also enjoy endlessly walking and cycling along the wide beach boulevards lined with palm trees.

How about shopping?

Madrid boasts a huge range of shops, from departments stores (mostly around the Gran Via) to alternative fashions in Fuencarral. Don’t miss the Rastro, the largest Sunday flea market in the world!

Barcelona has plenty of new, chic designers as well as vintage clothing shops in Sant Antoni. It’s also host to the famous Rambla and the Gothic Quarter, where you can stroll around and enjoy the sunshine.

So which one should I visit?

Madrid and Barcelona are both exciting cities bursting with so much on offer. But it depends on what you’re looking for. Madrid is especially good for those who love a bustling capital with a real Spanish atmosphere and many possibilities for nightlife and entertainment. Barcelona on the other hand offers a great combination of city and beach, with fascinating architecture and art in the streets.


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