Spain, one of my favorite countries in the world, is well-known for the endless battle between Barcelona and Madrid. I’ve visited both and somehow, I have watched the “fight” from inside, having friends on both sides.

I believe these two cities are great, different but beautiful, and it’s a little weird for me to understand the rivalry between them and the never-ending questions underlying this competition – Barcelona or Madrid? Messi or Ronaldo? Santiago Bernabeu or Camp Nou? Catalonia or Castilla? Spanish food or Catalan cuisine? Modernista or Classico?, and the list can go on.

Barcelona vs. Madrid
Barcelona vs. Madrid

Following the events that took place on the streets of Barcelona in 2010, when over one million people marched for the independence of Catalonia, it seems that this Spanish area is more committed to follow the example of Pais Vasco and earn the status of an independent state. Although Catalonia has officially gained its autonomous position in 2005, the financial crisis did nothing but reinforce the Catalans’ desire to break away from Spain.

A couple of years ago, Artur Mas, the leader of the autonomous government of Catalonia has declared that his goal is to achieve the independence of this region.

I am far from being a political analyst and certainly not able to judge their internal decisions, that’s why I do nothing but reporting the facts without drawing any conclusion. On the other hand, my area of expertise allows me to speak about the rivalry between Barcelona and Madrid in terms of tourism (or football :)).

Park Guell, Barcelona
Park Guell, Barcelona

They say Madrid is a real city while Barcelona is a tourist trap, but as I already told you, I’ve spent some time in both and I’m far from believing this.

My first trip to Spain consisted of a few days spent in Madrid. There, I fell in love for the first time with everything Spanish – the food, the people, the hot Latin vibe, the nightlife, the siestas, tortilla, rebajas, and of course, the culture of tapas. But then, I flew to Barcelona, where I discovered a whole new world.

These two cities seem so different to me that I don’t even know how anyone could possibly compare them. How can you make a parallel between Madrid’s monumental architecture and Gaudi’s works of art displayed on the streets of Barcelona? This is nothing more than just a matter of tastes.

People’s choices

I have to admit that besides my local friends’ opinions, which I found insufficient, I’ve also spent a lot of time on the Internet reading people’s preferences. You would be surprised to find out how many forums are constantly dedicated to this dispute. Some of them find Madrid boring, and I suppose these are teenagers; others, on the contrary, find it lively and stylish, and I assume these must be persons over 30’s.

Someone said “Madrid is likable but Barcelona is to be loved”. I liked this!

Most people believe that Barcelona is more attractive, while Madrid is definitely a better place to live.

Madrid cityscape
Gran Via, Madrid

From what I saw, Madrid has a better rate because of its architecture, nightlife, because it’s a complex city, because it has a history, because it provides better day trips such as Toledo, Salamanca, Avila or Segovia, and probably because most Spaniards hate Barcelona.

My choice

I like them both, not equally, but in different ways. I love Madrid because it taught me how beautiful Spain is, but I also adore how the sun softens the majestic buildings of Barcelona. Madrid might have better museums, for example Museo del Prado, but Barcelona has Parc Guell; the capital has Plaza Mayor, but who wouldn’t prefer a walk on Las Ramblas instead?

Although I prefer los Madrillenos because they are gentle and relaxed, and the real Spanish language (Catalan is more difficult), I can’t ignore the Mediterranean vibe that permeates the beautiful streets of Barcelona.

I would give Barcelona a plus for the beach, for its cosmopolitan nature, for the food, for Sagrada Familia, for Barri Gotic, for the shopping and for L’Eixample, for the style, and for its futuristic vision. I would encourage Madrid to retain its classic appearance forever, to keep its pride and nobility.

I believe the authenticity of Madrid is stronger and more genuine than Barcelona’s charm, but what can I say, I always prefer the unknown. It’s like someone would ask me to choose between two good writers: a classic and a less conventional one. This is funny because neither Shakespeare nor Dostoevsky have been classics from the beginning, even Christianity started as a sect. Disdaining the City of Gaudi just because it’s not as authentic as Madrid would be like suppressing a brilliant idea without letting it grow. I think we are all traditionalists in a way, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to look forward.

My point is that I prefer Barcelona because it is sophisticated, daring, and cosmopolitan, it belongs to the future, and it has style, but I would never underestimate Madrid, its culture, traditions and wonderful people.

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