Barcelona Vs. Madrid

Spain, one of my favorite countries in the world, is very 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 race – 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 Ramblas

Photo by xlibber

After 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 to 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.

Recently, 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 even less 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 develop the challenge between Barcelona and Madrid in terms of tourism.

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

My first holiday in Spain resulted in 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 brand 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 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 like this!

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

Madrid Gran Via

Photo by PromoMadrid

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 the majority of 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 Barcelona’s buildings. 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 feeling that shrouds Barcelona.

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

FC Barcelona necklace

Photo by Eyad

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. Is 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, it 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 move forward.

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

41 Responses / Leave a comment

  1. Jeff Dobbins Reply

    I love them both. But, if pressed, I’d have to go with Barcelona. But then, it may be my top pick against all others.

  2. Karen Reply

    I lived in Barcelona, so I’m a bit biased. The people of Barcelona seem more devoted to culture and the arts. Its colorful Ramblas can’t be beat. It’s also by the ocean – a big plus in my book. Madrid on the other hand, is a good base for visiting Toledo and Segovia. The hot chocolate in Segovia is the best!

  3. Emma Gray Reply

    I’ve never been to Madrid before but I absolutely adore Barcelona so I can’t imagine I’d like it better. Plus Barcelona are my football team so I’m biased on that front!

  4. Hugo Reply

    I used to be in love with Barcelona, but nowadays I prefer Madrid. Less glamorous, but more interesting. But to be honest I think neither Madrid nor Barcelona rank among the most beautiful cities of Spain. Personally I much prefer small(er) gems like Sevilla, Salamanca, Segovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Caceres or even San Sebastian and Girona.

  5. Miruna Reply

    Interesting perspective, Hugo. I am in love with both of them, that’s why I wrote this post(in search of an answer). Of course, as you can see, most of my articles are about Spain, I actually have a passion for this country. I simply love it! Seville is amazing, so is the entire Andalucia, Valencia, Taragona, Asturias, the islands and of course the cities that you’ve already mentioned. Where are you from, actually?

  6. frank james Reply

    Madrids lifestyle and nightlife are amazing. Ive lived in both and barcelona is quite boring compared to madrid. My fav city in europe

  7. Kate Reply

    As Frank James said….Barcelona is a boring city and anybody who has actually lived in Madrid and Barcelona will tell you this, Madrid has the best nightlife hands down and it is more vibrant, Barcelona is fine if you are visiting for a few days….but Madrid is far better, and people from madrid are nicer too,people from Barcelona think they have the best city in the world and that they are the best of the best and coolest ppl in the world….and you know what? IT IS NOT TRUE! ;)

  8. Joan Reply

    If you think Barcelona is less authentic, blame the tourists. They have kidnapped the center of the city from the people from Barcelona. But don’t worry you just have to look a little more harder for the real Barcelona…

  9. Joan Reply

    By the way, I live in Barcelona and it’s not boring at all. I don’t think that Madrid has more nightlife, it’s just that they have diferent concepts of nightlife. Madrid has more “nightlife areas”, streets with many bars and activity, Barcelona in the other hand has more individual clubs with diferent styles there’s always party in Barcelona but you just have to know which club to go… Different styles both great!

  10. Miruna Reply

    I perfectly agree with you, Joan. There’s always a debate regarding these wonderful cities, but as you said, this is a matter of taste, both of them are great. However, Barcelona is my favorite, as well:).

  11. Andrés R. Reply

    “…because the majority of Spaniards hate Barcelona”
    That’s not true. The most of Spaniards like Barcelona very much. Usually what we don’t like is their nationalism.
    I think if you want architecture, town planning -it’s so great in Barcelona!-, a beautiful sea and modernity, Barcelona is your choice you, but if you want nightlife, culture, arts and friendly people is better Madrid. I personally choose both cities, it’s very difficult for me because I love Madrid and Barcelona and they both have so different things to offer and moreover they complement each other. Whatever you choose, it’s a very good choice!.
    by the way I love your blog.

  12. beaderbubbe Reply

    Unfortunately never been to Barcelona but loved Madrid….Flew to Portugal, rented a car and drove to Madrid…the sights were magnificent and must admit the stop at Casa Del Sol and the people who live there….was breathtaking…..

  13. Jambro Reply

    I’ve visited both cities (Madrid and Barcelona)many times in the past and I must say that both cities are gorgeous! Its really crazy to be comparing these great cities. Apples or Oranges anyone? If you go to Spain visit both cities if you can. Savor and treasure each of them because they’re both special.

    • Miruna Reply

      Although I prefer apples :), I must say you’re perfectly right about Madrid and Barcelona. They’re both fabulous and jam-packed with wonderful attractions, and each of them worth a visit whilst in Spain.

  14. Frederic Reply

    I think the question is biased: we have to choose between Madrid and Barcelona just because they belong to the same state. But I think these two cities are top destinations and should not be put in a competition between them but, instead, the question should be to compare them with other Europe cities.
    And clearly, very few cities can rival the easy-going atmosphere of Spain, its unique mix of warmth, sophistication, ambient, culture, etc.
    London and Paris can be seen in another league but apart from them, the rest of European cities cannot compete with them (even Rome, with all its history, is defeated by these two Spanish cities).
    Spain cities are really special and they are the only ones in the world in which one can feel relaxed and stimulated at the same time.

  15. Andrew Reply

    Some of the “facts” that you expressed are false.

    Pais Vasco isn’t a independent state, it’s another autonomy like Catalonia and like the 17 autonomous regions and 2 autonomous cities in Spain (in fact it doesn’t exist a single populated not autonomus region in Spain). They all gained their autonomy like 30 years ago with the restoration of the democracy and the autonomous project for Catalonia was restarted after 40 years of dictatorship.

      • Fina Ruiz Reply

        ” Although Catalonia has officially gained its autonomous position in 2005″: Sorry, Miruna, but that’s not true. The first statute of autonomy of Catalonia(also known as “Estatut de Sau”) dates back to 1979. But Catalonia is not an “autonomous region of Spain”. It is and has always been a nation -and a free one up until 1714. That’s why we Catalans have never given up our right to regain our former political status (have you ever heard the lyrics of Catalan national anthem, “Els segadors”?). Catalans as myself are well aware that most Spanish people like Andrés R. are unable to understand aspirations for national independence in a country under foreign domination… That’s the actual origin of the Catalan-Spanish / Barcelona-Madrid confrontation. Anyway, what is important in terms of “touristic interest”, is that no place in the world can really be understood and appreciated without an extensive knowledge of its history. And Miruna, all cities and countries are genuine when you take the trouble to know them.

        • Miruna Corneanu Reply

          Wow, thank you for the precious history lesson, Fina. It’s wonderful to learn so many things from a local. As for Catalonia gaining its autonomous position in 2005, that’s something I found out while researching the Web. I guess I’ll have to revise my post a little bit. Thanks again for the useful comment!

          • Alex Reply


            Fina .. you are wrong.. Catalonia wasn´t a independent state or country just to 1714. Catalonia was a part of Aragon Crown since Middle Age and .. Catalonia has been integrated in Spain since XV century. when Kingdon of Castille (Castille, Andalusia, Asturias.) and Aragon Crown (Aragon, Catalonia, Mallorca) merger in Kingdon of Spain… the old Hispania…

            Fina tell me.. Who were the Kings of Catalonia in XVI or XVII centuries? ;-))) …. the Kings of Spain.

            In 1714 was a civil war in Spain “Spanish Sucession War”… and Barcelona was in the defeated side…. But Barcelona was Spain in that time.

            The Catalan nazionalism….with their manipulated history … very sad :-(

            sorry Miruna…anyone can check on wikipedia or in the history books that Catalonia was part of Spain since the fifteenth century. The Nazionalism creates myths…

            • DaniPandaPoo Reply

              when we had ” Los reyes Catolicos” we still weren’t the same country ( A relatively large group of people organized under a single, usually independent government; a country. ) thats the definition of state.

              The aragon kingdom and Castille had different laws, while in castille the monarchy had 100% power, in Aragon existed the Corts Catalanes o La generalitat de Catalunya, in les corts, the king had to convince the representants of the country’s institutions to change a law or order something to the citizens. so untill 1714, when we were defeated we didn’t form spain

              Also Catalonia has always been more advanced. Barceona industrialized first and now It is considered to be one of the 2 biggest edges of Spain, and by some the most important.
              I love Spain i just would love catalans to be able to build their own country.

  16. Jefferey Reply

    Both barcelona and madrid have their own attractions and places to see. So if will be quite difficult to decide which of these cities is best. But someone visiting any of these cities will definitely love them.

  17. Dylan Reply

    I respect both cities but I am 19 and look for the best nightlife which is madrid

  18. María Reply

    Hello Miruna, I was reading your blog and I wanted to tell you that a sentence impressed me: “I adore how the sun softens barcelona’s buildings”.. I am from Barcelona and I also adore Madrid (in fact I don’t understand this competitions because they are different).. but if you ask me what I miss most from Barcelona when I am far away is the sky and his light. And It is something I never saw until I staied away for long time.. Your sentence expressed exactly my feelings. Thanks and kisses.

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      Thanks for the sweet comment, Maria. Barcelona has an amazing light, isn’t it? I think this is the main reason why I feel so inspired by this gorgeous city. Of course, there is also the magnificent architecture and the wonderful Mediterranean vibe, but there’s definitely something with the light there, a glow that I’ve never seen somewhere else. On the other side, I totally agree with you, both cities are beautiful and they probably shouldn’t be compared. Besos.

  19. Vince Reply

    I lived for 6 years in Madrid and moved 6 months ago to Barcelona, so basically I am someone who has experience living in both cities. I moved to Barcelona because of the sea and I wanted a change of scenery and the whole feeling of being new guy in a city, also I don’t mind learning a new language (Catalan in that case). So far I can agree with the many of the above comments, basically Madrid nightlife is much much better than Barcelona nightlife, Even many of the people living here admit that, Barcelona is kind of a tourist trap and Erasmus students amusement park (all of them coming so wide-eyed and amazed at being in the famous Barcelonaaa). the Barrio Gotico area with the constant throngs of tourists and cheesy souvenirs and even the many of the night clubs in Barcelona are aimed at the tourists (Puerto Olimpico). Step out of the Barri Gotic and the rest of the city is virtually dead at night, empty streets everywhere. During the week Catalan people like to go to bed early and they aren’t really party animals. The party in Barcelona comes from the tourists. Additionally, and probably some of the people here might get offended, but it’s the way I’m experiencing it: Catalan people aren’t the most welcoming and friendly bunch. Truth be told, they might as well be Scandinavians, very reserved, very private people, mostly interested in work, their families and getting away at the weekend. So far I haven’t made any friends here and people don’t really seem interested in welcoming you in their social circles. It seems that foreigners can even Spanish from other cities can live for years in Barcelona and not have any Catalan friends. What I like Barcelona for is its location, though. You have plenty of mountains nearby, small and big, the sea, Costa Brava, France, and you can fly in 2 hours to other European capitals. Madrid was easier for me in terms of getting work and was lucky to get better paid work, too. Nightlife, people and girls are friendlier and more approachable in Madrid.

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Vince. My friends in Madrid would definitely agree with you. I must admit, nightlife in the Spanish capital is one of the best I’ve ever seen. However, I was just curious, where are you from?

  20. JReed Reply

    Thanks for the wonderful post miruna! I am from Madrid and I think it is just stupid how MAD and BCN are in a constant competition. Half of my family lives in Barcelona and I’ve visited the city many times- and I absolutely love it. I think however that the rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona is not very well understood outside of Spain. I have to say it is not true at all that we Spaniards hate Barcelona as you say. But madrileños might not appreciate Barcelona much because of how Madrid gets constantly ignored in favour of Barcelona. As I’ve said before, Barcelona is a truly wonderful city-I’ve been to many places and Barcelona beats most of them easily, even London (London is amazing but not among the most beautiful cities in the world in my opinion); I also think Barcelona is not very well understood, with Gaudí architecture receiving much more credit than the Barri Gotic which is way more beautiful. But foreigners seem to think Madrid is kind of an inferior city. Barcelona is always in the TV, movies (I remember watching this action film in which the main character was supposed to be in Barcelona, and suddenly I realised it wasn’t Barcelona but Madrid when he steps into Villanueva street, a street I know well as my grandparents used to live there), travel guides… I work for an English company and I am a great admirer of the UK as a whole, and I’ve heard trillions of times from my friends and colleagues how wonderful Barcelona is, neither of them having been to Madrid. We madrileños eventually get tired os seeing how underrated Madrid is, the little credit it receives outside of Spain and constantly hearing that Barcelona is the best city in the world. As I said, the Barri Gotic is stunning, but the Habsburg district of Madrid beats it every time. The Eixample is in my opinion a little bit uglier than the Barrio de Salamanca, and all of the are comprising the Royal Palace, Gran Vía, Plaza de Cibeles and the aforementioned Habsburg district simply is on another whole new level. There is and extended belief thay Madrid only beays Barcelona on the arts field, Barcelona being a much more beautiful city, but this is simply false. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I hope I’ve summarised well the subject. And I have to conclude saying that, being the great fan I am of Barcelona and Madrid, Seville beats both of them in terms of beauty. Besos!

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      Thank you very much for taking the time to explain us so many things! I agree, Madrid is underrated, and it’s a shame because it really is one of the best cities in Europe (amazing art and culture, tantalizing cuisine, creative neighborhoods, awesome people, excellent shopping, great value for money, the best nightlife,…). As for Seville, it is indeed a fascinating (and very Spanish) city .

  21. Juli Reply

    Hi Miruna, I’m a catalan that lives in Barcelona, I’m 14 years old, sorry if I write some things wrong, it’s because I am learning english, but I think that I haven’t got a high level. So, I want to tell you, the problems of Catalonia vs Spain. One of the biggest example is that the last 11th of september, the catalans that want the independence, did a human chain, they were 1,6 milion people, me and my family too. You have to think, that Catalonia has a ppopulation of 7,5 milion people. And what did the government of spain?? NOTHING!! We want the iindependence because, we have an other language, culture, and form to think. They want to keep out of the schools the catalan language. I love a lot of cities in spain, like Sevilla, Granada, Santiago de Compostela, the Canary Islands…. So, I want yo know, why we want the independence, is not for nothing. If you want to know more about the catalan process, search imformation in google. Bye, xxx!

  22. Louis Reply

    There are some cities in the world which everybody loves even before they have visited it. Even before leaving your own house for the first time in your life, you can already assume that Paris, London, New York and Barcelona are great cities because they are in the daily spotlights.

    So that’s why most people are prejudiced when they visit those places. Of course it will be great, beautiful and cool because that’s what everybody says. And yes they are. But then it’s up to you to make the decision whether you just stay on the beaten path forever or if you give the other places a try too. Cities that don’t appear in movies or commercials and are hidden from the commercial eye.

    Paris is great but I love Lyon way more. Of course New York is a unique city but I like to spend more time in Chicago. Barcelona is a gem but I put the old and proud open-minded lady called Madrid on top.

    Maybe it’s because cities who aren’t in the spotlight just try better to convince people that they are worth it. The spotlight cities don’t have to do any effort to attract people because the media do it for them. They are worth seeing but instead of being blocked by millions of tourists on La Rambla, I far more prefer getting lost in the narrow streets of Madrid being the only tourist.

  23. anya Reply

    I lived in Madrid a long time ago, coming from Cuba, it was heavens. I visited Barcelona only a couple of days, and I liked a lot. I can’t choose any on top of another. I Think is futile, unless you are offered a job and must chose one city or another to live. As tourist, the whole of Spain is amazing, one of the best countries. And catalans wanting not to be Spaniards, is sad and wrong. Isabel and Fernando made Spain ONE COUNTRY, differentt cities. Rivalties exist everywhere, Boston and NYC. Once I told a chinese girl who was wearing a baseball cap with NYC logo to remove it while walking in Boston. She didn t and got insulted and almost beat up by Boston thugs. Madrid and Barcelona are not there yet. By the way, Real Madrd all the way.

  24. Dammas Reply

    I am Dutch and I live in Barcelona for 3 months now after 2,5 years living in Malaga. I have been to Madrid a couple of times and I don’t know it well enough to say whether I would prefer Madrid of Barcelona. But Madrid is more Spanish whereas Barcelona is more international.

    In Barcelona they at least speak a little English or will try to, whereas in Madrid and the south of Spain they don’t in my expierence. If you really want to get something done you need to speak Spanish, but as long as you are a foreigner they will always answer speak Spanish to you, whereas to Spanish people they might reply in Catalan.

    I do think Madrid has better night clubs than Barcelona. But then Barcelona has outdoor festivals en parties such as Sonar and Electronic Picknic (every sunday) for example. Because there are a lot of foreigners living in Barcelona there are a lot of authentic foreign restaurants, no one makes pizza´s like the people who came from Napoli. But then again if you like Spanish food then Madrid is a lot better.

    And I think Barcelona is more alternative than Madrid. Barcelona has a beach and a better climate than Madrid, but the Airport in Madrid has more direct flight to far away countries. Madrid is more a real city whereas Barcelona are a bunch of villages united in one big city, because I find it difficult to say what the real centre is in Barcelona.

    I am not a big fan of Spanish culture (Based on my expierences in Malaga), therefore because of the international nature in Barcelona i prefer Barcelona. But otherwise I think Madrid might suit me better.

    I am wrong in some of my opinions please let me know.

  25. Andreu Santamaria Reply

    I read many people saying that Madrid has more history than Barcelona but Barcelona is nearly 1000 years older than Madrid, you can find there the rest of the old roman city and a well preserved Gothic Quarter with many old buildings and palaces to visit.

  26. Andreu Santamaria Reply

    I would like to add: people who say that Barcelona is a tourist trap, just remind them that they are tourist too. True, Barcelona is a very tourist city, because it is many things to see and do there, that happens. But if you try your own way to explore it by yourself and avoid sometimes the main tourist spotlights and let it flow, you will get a more authentic feeling.

  27. AL Reply

    I’ve read most of the comments and I can see an endless debate around of two realities, because this is what these 2 cities represent, and of course, there is no “winner” here, because one city is as “valid” as the pther. I was born in Barcelona but I have never lived “in” the city as my family moved to a smaller town when I was a kid and now I live and work in Norway. But yes, I know Barcelona better than Madrid, and all I can say is that Barcelona is no better/worse than Madrid, they are simply…different. However, I must say that Barcelona is quite unique in many ways, due to a combination of factors that are difficult to find together anywhere else: cultural offer, good weather, sea, international atmosphere and modernity. I don’t say Madrid is worse, I am saying it lacks this unique combination of factors, that to the eyes of many people, make Barcelona attractive and a top international destination. However, I admit tourism in Barcelona is tranforming some parts of the city in a theme park and this needs to be reoriented towards a city more livable for the locals, so, In this sense, I kind of envy Madrid for not being so “selled” to tourists as Barcelona. Honestly, I wouldn’t live in Madrid because I prefer to be closer to the sea, but in all other aspects, I donçt think Madrid is better/worse than Barcelona, is simply a matter of taste and cultural background what makes us prefer one city or the other.



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