Barcelona Vs. Madrid

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 equally amazing, but delightfully different, and it’s a little weird for me to understand the rivalry between them and the neverending 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

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 region is more and more committed to separate from Spain and become an independent state. Although Catalonia 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, declared that his goal was to achieve the independence of this region.

I am far from being a political analyst and certainly not able to judge their internal decisions, hence 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’ve 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 wonderful lain-back vibe, the nightlife, the siestas, the 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 fanciful works of art displayed on the streets of Barcelona? Or between the capital’s stunning collection of art and Barcelona’s hip hangouts and sunny beaches? This is nothing more than just a matter of taste.

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 in their 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.

Gran Via, Madrid
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 and 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 and more valuable works of art – take Museo del Prado for example, but Barcelona has Parc Guell, La Boqueria, and a sunny Mediterranean stretch of coast. 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, spirited, and relaxed, and the real Spanish language (Catalan is more difficult to learn), I can’t ignore the Mediterranean vibe that permeates the beautiful, sunny streets and mysterious corners 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 aura forever, to never lose 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 great classic and a less conventional one. This is funny because neither Shakespeare nor Dostoyevsky 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.

I prefer Barcelona because it is sophisticated, daring, and cosmopolitan, it belongs to the future, and it has tons of style, but I would never underestimate Madrid, its culture, traditions, and wonderful locals.

And then there’s the football

Real Madrid Vs FC Barcelona
Photo via FC Barcelona

First of all, I’m an ardent fan of La Liga (the top Spanish league). I religiously watch every match involving FC Barcelona or Real Madrid, I know all players (past and present, living and dead), all stats, all news, and I never stop talking about football with whoever is there to listen. Whenever they play together (aka El Clasico), it’s party time in my house. Actually, what am I talking about?! The entire sports world and half of the planet stop to watch them crossing swords!

Rooted in history and culture, the legendary competition between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid is seen as the biggest rivalry in the sporting world, albeit a fascinating topic in itself. Every time the two teams meet, the hostility between the Spanish capital and the Catalan city, along with their opposing political positions, extends onto the football field, and the magic begins.

FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is more than a football match, and even more than the current BBC vs MSN – Madrid’s Bale, Benzema & Cristiano Ronaldo against Barça’s Messi, Suarez & Neymar – it’s Spanish nationalism vs. Catalan pride, and it will always remain so.

In 2017, Spain’s greatest clubs will meet at least two times: on April 23rd on Santiago Bernabéu (Primera División) and on July 29th at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida (International Champions Cup). This will be the first Clasico outside Spain. I’m still hoping for an encounter between Barça and Los Blancos in the final stages of UEFA Champions League. Fingers crossed for yet another spectacular clash of the titans.

P.S. I’m a Blaugrana fan, but most of all, I’m a football lover.

  1. Jeff Dobbins Jeff Dobbins says:

    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. 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. 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. 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. 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. I’m Dutch, but Spain is one of my favourite countries.

  7. frank james frank james says:

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

  8. 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! 😉

  9. 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…

  10. 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!

    1. You’re wrong, Madrid has the best nightlife in Europe, in Spain is known for decades. I’m from Madrid and the times I’ve been in Barcelona I was surprised the little nightlife. Madrid nightlife is huge, by areas, bars and clubs Small sample: Sol, Latina, Chueca, Malasaña, Barrio Salamanca, Alonso Martinez, Moncloa, Argüelles, etc, etc. And very importantly, in Madrid you can go any day of the week at night there are always many people and environment (winter or summer, rain or snow) especially the weekend. That does not happen in Barcelona. Barcelona sold very well known to tourism, with Gaudi and having sea. But who really wants to know Spain and its people should live in Madrid. Barcelona is Catalonia, Madrid is truly and completely Spain.

      1. Hi Andres,
        I have to disagree with you… IMHO, both Madrid and Barcelona (or Sevilla, or San Sebastian) represent equally what Spain is… Different history, (slightly) different culture but both part of the same idea… I lived in Madrid for a long time in it is a great city but I would never say it is the best on something. I also know Barcelona and is a great place too… Every place is different and they all have something to discover and enjoy.

        I reckon that Spain is a great country with a huge potential but most of Spaniards don’t believe in themselves (what comes from outside is always better) and the rivalry between regions is not helping to improve that either… Rambling mode OFF 🙂

  11. 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:).

  12. Andrés R. Andrés R. says:

    “…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.

  13. 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…..

  14. 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.

    1. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. Wow, that was a really cool and accurate way to describe Spanish cities “where one can feel relaxed and stimulated at the same time”. I agree.

    2. You nailed it! “they are the only ones in the world in which one can feel relaxed and stimulated at the same time”. I’ve been to Madrid and Barcelona a few times and that’s precisely the way I’d describe my experience of both cities.

  16. 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.

    1. I understand, Andrew, but which of my “facts” are false?

      1. Fina Ruiz Fina Ruiz says:

        ” Although Catalonia has officially gained its autonomous position in 2005″: Sorry, Meeroona, 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 Meeroona, all cities and countries are genuine when you take the trouble to know them.

        1. 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!

        2. Hello!

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

        3. DaniPandaPoo DaniPandaPoo says:

          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.

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

    1. I’ll have to agree with you on this one, Dylan. Madrid has an amazing nightlife!

  18. Hello Meeroona, 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.

    1. 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. 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.

    1. 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. Thanks for the wonderful post Meeroona! 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!

    1. 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. Hi Meeroona, 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. 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. 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. 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 Andreu Santamaria says:

    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 Andreu Santamaria says:

    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. Andreu Santamaria Andreu Santamaria says:

    and Barcelona boring? please!

  28. Hi!
    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.



  29. I am an American of Spanish heritage. My family is from Salamanca and Burgos, actulally small towns in those areas. I have spent time in both areas and agree with the apples to oranges arguement. However, I am thrilled that Madrid and frankly Spain, in general is underated and under appreciated as it allows a more authentic experience for those of us tourists who do visit there. I feel the same way about San Sebastián. For me It is nice to escape the more disneyland-esque tourists experiences and emerge into a places that have a more traditional old world feel. I own a small winery in Northern California that specializes in Spanish varietal wines. My father who was a Castilian and I started it together and we say that we are a little piece of Spain in the Sierra Foothills. Our tasting room is stone barrel cave and it was inspired by the small bodegas we visited in old Spain. I love the convivial experience that you get in Madrid and visiting my family in Palacios de la Sierra, a small village in Burgos where my Abuelita was born and raised has given me a lifelong love of the old world culture that still exists in many parts of Castile y Leon. Friends gathering for Tapas after work and families embracing evening life in town squares just can’t be beat. Even in Madrid, you get that smaller, more convivial feel that I feel is missing in Barcelona. Having said that, I love Barcelona. Every country needs a cosmopolitan modern city. It is nice for the traveller to have different experiences. As a native Californian, I liken this comparison to San Francisco vs. Los Angeles. They are too different to compare, but they serve to feed different parts of the soul. I prefer San Francisco to L.A. but I would be devistated if someone told me I could no longer visit there.

  30. Both cities are beautiful, no doubt! However, I tend to gravitate towards Barcelona as I stayed longer there than in Madrid. Am not saying though that Barcelona is more beautiful and lively than Madrid. I thought that Madrid has a more reserved and dignified atmosphere while Barcelona has a more vivacious and relaxed feel overall – well, at least in the touristy areas like Las Ramblas. As mentioned, Madrid is easily a good base for day trips to Toledo, Avila, Segovia, and Salamanca, but Barcelona has Montserrat, Tarragona and the beaches minutes away from the center. Languagewise though, I can connect more with Castillan than with Catalan. Let’s have more fun in these two cities, fellows! Cheers.

  31. I know Madrid and Barcelona really well having family in both cities.
    I find the lifestyle of Madrid alot more fun than Barcelona.
    I dont think Barcelona is boring but its certainly not in in the same league as Madrid concerning things to see , and especially nightlife where ive seen nothing comparable to Madrid.
    Its true Barcelona is older than Madrid but then again Madrid was the capital of one of the biggest empires ever known and it is also surrounded by some of the most historic cities in Europe.
    For a visit both are great. to live in Madrid.
    And i agree get away from the tourist zones in Barcelona and it is indeed surprisingly quiete.

    1. Hi Rakas. Next year I’ve been wanting to go for my internship in spain for 5-months ( maybe 6) . I already speak good Spanish, but my goal is to let my Spanish language improve to a fluent level. Seeing from your background I would like your perspective if that is possible, seeing that Catalan is the preferred language of the locals there? Thanks.

  32. I am going to say that Seville, Granada and San Sebastian are all better than both of them but if I had to choose i would go Barcelona. Madrid was nice but was just another ‘capital city’, Barcelona is more exciting but thats just me!

  33. Love everyone weighing in here. I am American from San Diego, California and just moved to Madrid last month, after a very difficult decision against Barcelona. As a tech entrepreneur and investor, I would add that if your work requires frequent travel beyond Europe, Madrid gives you a lot more nonstop flights or let least easier connections. On the other hand, Barcelona is marginally more central in Europe geographically than Madrid and has plenty of regional flights. If you love the sea and have no need to frequently fly outside of Europe, Barcelona is a great option. But like many people have said here, can’t go wrong with either!

    1. Hi Victor,

      What is your business’ name? Want to get some info if you don’t mind. I am looking to go work there as an intern next year and wanted some perspective. Cheers !

  34. Catalonia didn’t earn “autonomous” status in 2005, but in 1979, just like the rest of Spanish regions and nationalities, making Spain one of the most “decentralized” countries in the World.
    País Vasco is not independent (at least, today, fabruary 6th 2016) but another Autonomous Region of Spain.
    I prefer Madrid, for the Museums and the people, much more open minded from my point of view, than catalans.

    Greetings from Granada! 😉

  35. Having lived in Mallorca many years, travelled to Asturias where my father is from and visited both Madrid and Barcelona I think I’ve pin pointed exactly where this distinction can be made.

    As a travel agent I find people tend to flock to places where there’s a lot of monuments and assume that its a better city because of it. Barcelona is fantastic for a very short stay, there are lots of monuments to see and touristy areas to go to and they’re all concentrated fairly close to one another. I was pleasantly surprised in the people as all my life I had been told how difficult and rude the people are in Barcelona only to find that they were actually quite helpful and friendly. Aside from all the Catalan flags, I heard 2 people in the entire time not speaking Spanish and everyone was quite accommodating. The city is quite distinct and weird in a cool way, so I definitely see the appeal in it.

    However, as a city and looks wise there is no doubt in my mind that Madrid is a superior city in most ways. It is so underrated and disrespected as it has so much to offer to so many different people. It is a place where you need to spend more time in as it grows on you and you end up appreciating it more. Its not as big of a tourist trap, it is very affordable and much cleaner I found.

    People will always have their bias, if you ask me I don’t think theres a better place in Spain than Mallorca and asking my father theres nothing better than Oviedo, Gijon and Llanes but as both of these world class cities are pitted against one another the most important thing is to remember that both places are fantastic and you should do both in your life time.

    1. Thank you. I’m doing Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and have 11 nights to split up. Looks like I need to do 3 in Barcelona and 4 or 5 in Madrid perhaps? Any thoughts?

  36. Hi Bob,

    I honestly don’t know what to say. All three cities are wonderful and offer plenty to see and do, no matter your preferences. You’ll probably find the best nightlife in Madrid, the most stunning art (plus the beach) in Barcelona, and the most delightfully laid-back vibe in Lisbon. I’m sure you’ll have a great time whatever you choose.

    Safe travels!

  37. Sophie Rose Sophie Rose says:

    Great Post! I am planning a short trip for next spring to one of these 2 cities, but I am still uncertain which to visit. This will be my first trip to mainland Spain, having visited Palma De Majorca last year. I adored Palma, especially the old town. I have a great love for Spain and her people. I think, at this current time, I am leaning more towards Barcelona.. its so difficult to decided as they both seem so wonderful and full of excitement!

    1. Hi Sophie,

      Thanks for your nice words! If you adored Palma, you will certainly love Barcelona, its beautiful Mediterranean weather, excellent culture scene, and sun-drenched streets lined with striking architecture. Madrid, on the other hand, is a city full of life, with lots of vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, great nightlife, and fab tapas bars. It’s a difficult choice!

  38. I’m from Madrid and I do not intend to defend my city. But I read things like that Barcelona has more art and culture. Say that if by having Gaudi buildings is to have more art and culture … Madrid has the Prado, perhaps many people do not know about the monumental importance of this museum, is the largest art gallery in the world, not only by the enormous number of frames, also by the enormous popularity of painters. Madrid has another huge museum of world importance, as is the Reina Sofia. Barcelona is not even close to Madrid in major museums. Someone who does not know Madrid can not say that Barcelona has better nightlife, just come to Madrid and see with your own eyes the best nightlife in Europe (it really is). I recognize that Barcelona is very nice, very special, because monuments are not typical of European capitals. Gaudi was different and fantastic. It also has the plus of the sea. But if you want a city with a huge life, both day and night, with hot or cold, you see people and atmosphere, this is Madrid. Madrid is the capital of a very ancient kingdom, the kingdom of Spain. In Madrid, Spain this summary. And please if you want to really learn Spanish, inquire well before choosing city. Here only we talk and we promote the Spanish language. To say that tourism has Madrid is perfect, and I would not see it like Barcelona.

  39. I’ve been to both and have to admit: Team Madrid anytime!
    I’m a teen and my friends that have been to Spain also prefer Barcelona but I couldn’t care less.
    Madrid is so beautiful and classy, so many things to see (Palacio Real and Retiro were my absolute favorites) and people are so beautiful and polite.
    I liked Barcelona (the beaches were awesome and Montjuic is really nice too) but IMO it’s expensive and dirty.
    Anyway, I’d love to go back anytime, doesn’t matter if it was Barcelona or Madrid (but I’d be a little happier if it was to the capital 🙂

  40. Hi everyone,

    I am highly considering moving to Spain next year for a 5 to 6-month internship. I already can speak good Spanish, but I have the goal in improving it while I am there and get it to fluent level in the end of my internship. Knowing the fact that in Barcelona people speak Catalan I am doubting now whether if I end up there and it will not really happen because of the Catalan language. So in comparison to Madrid, do you think based on your experience there it is still possible to have the chance to improve the Spanish language while in Barcelona?


    1. Hi Anthony,

      In both Barcelona and Madrid you will practice your Spanish. If you go for Barcelona, you will also learn some Catalan. If I were you, I wouldn’t base my decision in language as you will be doing that in both. Overall, everyone that has come to live in any of the two cities has absolutely loved it and I’m sure you will too.

      All the best!
      Tayo from Madrid

  41. Hi there,
    I am from Berlin and have lived in both cities, about 2 years in Madrid and about 6 month in Barcelona. As many have stated it already, it is really a matter of taste but I am personally more of a city person and therefore I go for Madrid anytime. I really really enjoy culture and music and both is much more available in Madrid for sure. Especially in terms of music (live music, shows, concerts, etc.) I experience that Madrid has a lot more to offer. In fact, a few times in Barcelona it felt a little bit like a poor rip off of Berlin (because of the electronical music scene). I might be wrong about it, but that is just how I expericend it.

    What I strongly disagree with is that Barcelona is more international than Madrid. I can ensure you that both cities are very international, Madrid slightly more. I guess it feels a bit more international in Barcelona because it is a lot smaller and does not offer such a big variety of barrios such as Madrid.

    As I feel emotionally much more attached to Madrid, my opinion is probably not very objective, but for me Madrid plays in a different league and can not be compared to Barcelona!

    Saludos from Berlin

  42. Ive been to both 9 times.
    Give me Madrid any day of the year.
    My wife has family in Barcelona which is the reason I visit so often.
    Madrid is in a different league as it is a huge city compared to Barcelona which is much smaller.
    Barcelona has some unique architecture but I feel ive seen everything it has to offer kver a couple of trips. Yet Im always discovering so many new things in Madrid.
    What I love the most though is Madrids unbelievable nightlife which must be the best in the world.
    It is such an incredibly fun city. It also has some fantastic daytrios such as Avila, Segovia , Toledo , el escorial , Cuenca etc…
    Must say I also loved Girona which is a great daytrip from Barcelona.

  43. Any idea where is a better place to study Spanish for 2 months? Barcelona or Madrid?

    1. Hi Chloe,

      Madrid is a safe bet; in Barcelona, they mainly speak Catalan.

    2. I’m Dutch and my husband Italien we have lived in New York City for 25 years and are looking to move to either Barcelona or Madrid. We have 2 kids my older child is interested in studying in Spain and my younger one does not care where we live. We all do not speak a word of Spanish but we all speak Italien
      and of course English. We do not miss NY but we miss our European friends in NY. We are in our fifties and are entrepreneurs and can work from anywhere with good internet speed. We are looking for good/miled weather and a more relaxed and less stressful lifestyle. We like daily outdoor walking and biking. We enjoy healthy and meals with a good glass of wine and some dancing ocasionsly. In your opinion which city would be better for our family ? Madrid or Barcelona ? Thanks for your advice 🙂

      1. Hi Melanie,

        I think both cities will deliver, but if you’re looking for mild, sunny weather all year round, I will definitely recommend Barcelona. Madrid has cold winters (even snow) and extremely hot summers.

  44. Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this article together.
    I once again find myself spending way too much time
    both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  45. Madrid´s tremendous nightlife (whenever you choose) has no pair in tranquil bourgoise Barcelona

  46. Erik Torres Erik Torres says:

    I would have to say that Madrid is a far better city. Barcelona is a gorgeous city that is basically a walking museum, but the people are stuck up, the food is not the greatest, not in the city at least, and far too many nightclubs with people selling drugs (as they walk up to you pushing heroin in the hopes you will buy). Madrid, is just vibrant, relaxed and laid back. People are friendly. It’s very European. The food is great. The streets at night with their soft lighting and historic small streets but full of tapas bars and wine, are mesmerizing. Not once did I feel safe waking at night in Barcelona ( and I live in NYC ), but in Madrid, i wanted to walk every inch and felt completely safe. Barcelona has a young vibe, with young people partying it up in clubs until the sun rises. Which there is nothing wrong with that, but Madrid feels like home and not a club.
    Both beautiful, yet distinctive.

  47. I wish I read this post before I planned my trip to Europe. Basically have two nights in Barcelona before going to Paris. Yes, I’m doing the basics – Mykonos – Athens – Barcelona – Paris – Milan/Venice.
    If I could replan it, I’d change Barcelona to Madrid and Paris to some southern place in France.
    It’s good to see your two opinions of the two cities but I was definitely hoping to see the real Spain and not the one as people are saying here “is taken by the tourists”. Also sad to hear the nightlife isn’t great in Barcelona. Would definitely visit Madrid in the future.

    I live in Thailand and I guess the comparison could be made between Bangkok and Chiang Mai – two different places but great in their own way.

  48. I’ve been to Europe twice and agree that Madrid is by far the better option than Barcelona.

    Barcelona is a tourist trap with all kinds of tourist trap features: well-branded art/architecture that be easily recognized in pictures, beaches, lots of nightlife, touristy streets like Las Ramblas.

    Madrid is a real city. Lots of culture, life, nice people, good food, lots of places to walk to and explore. You feel like you’re visiting a city where people live, not where they vacation. And the funny thing is, Madrid does have more nightlife than Barcelona…more clubs, more restaurants, more areas to hang out. And caters to all kinds personalities; chill vs party vibes. Barcelona just feels like an endless Vegas bachelor’s party. Madrid is also safer and more fun for people of all ages, even kids, families, etc.

    Barcelona is perfect if you’re like from 18-25 and want to drink a lot. I’m stereotyping but please visit both and see for yourself. I also found Barcelona to be full of pickpockets, weird roaming bands of gypsy-looking thieves/drug-dealers, and lots of racist anti-foreigner/anti-tourist sentiment. Madrid was pleasantly laid back and just chill. Everyone was having fun, even the people who lived there and was working, whereas Barcelona only seemed fun if you were on vacation.

  49. I am researching for my 16 yo son, who needs to chose a city in which to study Language immersion this summer (on scholarship-lucky kid!)
    Choices are: Madrid, Seville, Barcelona, Alicante & Palma de Mallora.

    I have never been to Spain so looking for input.
    He does like large cities and exploring, but also the sea and excursions that would be on beautiful beaches. I’m guessing (hoping) the club scene wouldn’t be an option as he’d be with a host family and is only 16.

    1. Hi Kelly.

      Sorry for the late reply. I really don’t know which city would be best for your 16 year old son, but if likes the sea, I guess Barcelona and Palma would be great. They’re both beautiful, cosmopolitan cities with tons of attractions. But then again, in both Palma and Barcelona they speak mostly Catalan, so don’t expect him to learn Spanish there.

  50. Madrid: one time is enough. Barcelona: I repeat every year.

  51. Definitely Madrid.
    Beautiful classic European capital with one of the best shopping,restaurant,museum, scenes in the world.
    One of the best infrastructures anywhere and an unequalled nightlife.
    Shops stay open late 7 days a week.
    Surprised that most shops even most department stores closed on Sundays in Barcelona.
    Shops open till 9 pm and department shops 10 pm on Sundays in Madrid.
    A lot of the big supermarket chain of Carrefour are open 24/7 in Madrid.
    There’s even a huge Carrefour hipermarket open 24/7 in Madrid .
    You can find places to eat 24/7 IN Madrid. I. E chocolateria san gines ,Papizza etc…..

  52. Jacob Sadler Jacob Sadler says:

    Nice article. Very well writen I have visited both but I prefer Barcelona. Keep up the good work.

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