Barcelona or Madrid?
The easy answer is that you should visit both. But that’s no fun. The question is, if you have to choose, which of these cities should you visit?
I have my opinion which I’ll tell you further below.
But no matter what your opinion is, one thing that is definite is that both cities are very, very different. And those differences are probably why you prefer one city over another.
Barcelona is an old city, dating back over 2000 years. You see that in districts such as the Gothic Quarter and El Born. You also see 19th century grandeur in L’Eixample Neighborhood which reminds me somewhat of Paris.
But Barcelona is probably best known for its modernist architecture. The Sagrada Familia is the signature piece, a basilica built by Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona’s favorite architect). But there’s more than just Gaudi, there’s Lluís Domènech i Montaner as well as Puig i Cadafalch. Together they produce UNESCO site such as Casa Batlló, Casa Milá, Park Güell, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and Palau de la Música Catalana.
Barcelona has a lot of things to see and also has beaches.
Barcelona is very much a tourist city with all the side effects of being a tourist city: hordes of tourists, high prices, and lots of pickpockets (I personally know 3 people who’ve been pickpocketed in Barcelona. It was the first thing we were warned about when checking into our hotel).
Madrid is a modern city with most of its architecture dating from the 19th century. While Barcelona had Catalan Modernisme, Madrid had a mix of styles in including Art Deco, Neo-Plateresque, and “Eclecticism”. Madrid is a city of wide boulevards, high buildings and large squares.
Madrid doesn’t have the tourist attractions of Barcelona. Highlights include the Prado museum, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, and Retiro Park. Madrid also has some great art museums. Overall though, Madrid doesn’t have the big name attractions or the quantity of attractions that Barcelona has.
While there is tourism in Madrid, significant tourism in fact, it doesn’t approach the level of tourism you’ll see in Barcelona. It means prices are lower and lines thinner.
So which city would I choose?
If I had to choose one of the two cities, I would choose Madrid.
I found it (overall) grander. The buildings of the Gran Via impressed me as did many of the monumental buildings and large squares you find throughout the center. We liked the parks, both big and small.
The city felt cleaner and more spaced out. I’ve heard people talk about Madrid being “gritty”. We didn’t see too much of that in the center. It in fact seemed much less gritty than what we saw of Barcelona.
But again, it depends on what appeals to you. Madrid doesn’t have the history that you’ll see in Barcelona and doesn’t have the Catalan Modernism that attracts so many people to Barcelona.
An interesting comment from our Spanish FB friend Marziano: “It’s interesting that among Spaniards and in Spain, Madrid is preferred… but abroad Barcelona has a better image. If you ask a random person in the street about Barcelona… most people are going to tell you that is a city that is overrated, overpriced and dangerous..”
Always interesting to hear what locals say.
So what’s your opinion? Madrid or Barcelona?
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