So, you just have a few days in Spain and you have to choose between Madrid and Barcelona. What do you do?!
Spain is heaven for those like me who like to stay up till late, wake up considerably late, and be welcomed by a cuppa of strong coffee. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do and stay in bed till much later than 7 am. Used to having an early breakfast? You might have to bend some of those rules when you visit this country as you cannot expect an authentic Spanish hotel breakfast to be ready before then. Sure, there are some places open, but I am not sure those places are really worth the effort of waking up early. So, it goes without saying that the dinner comes into picture quite late too. And no, these two wonderful places you are thinking of visiting soon are not going to change anytime soon. So, is it going to be Madrid or Barcelona for you this time?
If your focus is culture
Both Barcelona and Madrid have an almost equal number of areas for fascinating food, shopping, and music. If you are in Barcelona, don’t miss the Gracia area, and if you are in Madrid, don’t miss the Malasaña area.
Barcelona has a much more intriguing, different, flower-child vibe. It offers visitors so much to see and everything is steeped in appeal and art. There are multiple free concerts to choose from, multiple free films that get aired on the street, and many interesting people to meet.
I don’t have a word to describe Madrid’s vibe, but let me tell you that I am in love with the place for its people and places of interest. There are many who say that, compared to Barcelona, the people in Madrid are stuck up. That’s a huge myth. I can tell you for a fact that Madrid is where the pulse of Spain is. All over Madrid are places to go out and meet interesting people. Making friends is an art that the people of Madrid have mastered.
Madrid is also home to many art museums, the most popular of which is the Prado. This museum houses a collection of European art and is really worth a visit. Also notable in the area is the Reina Sofía, which is home to Picasso’s famous Guernica. If it’s historic art you are in search of, Madrid is where you need to be.
However, if you are more into seeing interesting architecture—the kind that you wouldn’t see ANYWHERE else—then Barcelona wins hands down, all thanks to Gaudí. This famous architect has created some wonderful architectural wonders all over the city, and any trip to Spain in incomplete without a visit to his modernist masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, and the mesmerising Parc Güell.
Do not be mistaken that there are no art galleries in Barcelona. There are some modern art galleries here that are worth a mention, and these include the Picasso Museum, Museum of European Modern Art (MEAM), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), and Miró Museum.
If your focus is on food
If you choose to go to Barcelona, you will be rewarded with a choice of the best Catalan and international cuisine; what’s more, you can find these at very affordable costs if you stumble upon the right places.
Oftentimes referred to as a “veg-friendly city,” Barcelona offers more vegetarian eateries than you could possibly find anywhere else in Spain. If you are vegan, you wouldn’t go hungry here either.
I have always found La Boquería on Las Ramblas to be an absolute delight of a food market in Spain. It’s also highly recommended by all Europeans!
If you choose to go to Madrid—the capital city—instead, be ready to embark on unexpected culinary adventures. All of Madrid boasts of an array of bars and eateries, from famous international cuisine restaurants to the most old-fashioned Spanish tapas bars. If you want to take a round of a gourmet market to pick and choose what you eat every day, Madrid is the place to be as these are abundant in the city and are often frequented by the locals as well.
Fun fact: The first real eatery in Spain opened in Madrid. And guess what? Botin in the old town of Madrid holds the title of “The Oldest Restaurant in the World” in The Guinness Book of World Records!
If your focus is on nightlife
Madrid is home to big clubs as well as some amazing small clubs. Barcelona, on the other hand, has some of the best small clubs around. Someone like me who likes smaller clubs would find Barcelona to be more worth their time, but this is just a personal opinion. Which place has a more global feel to it? I am lost on that one. I guess you have to visit each place to know that for yourself.
In Madrid, I strongly recommend Galileo Galilei for music. In Barcelona? I would have to name three: Jamboree, Sala Apolo, and Harlem. You might want to check their schedules every single day that you’re there as they present a mix of music types on different days.
Again, if you are willing to go a little further, you might also like Danzatoria in Tibidabo—also for the location and the surrounding views. If you have time to wander all the way to Port Olimpic, you will also be able to stumble upon posh clubs such as CDLC.
If you are thinking that you would rather prefer watching Flamenco shows, remember that these now exist mostly as tourist traps. But then, if you haven’t ever seen a Flamenco show before, don’t miss out on one of the shows happening in Madrid. However, you will not find too many locals hanging around those shows—it will pretty much be limited to tourists.
If you want to watch (and maybe even pick up) some Tango, head on over to the modestly sized Argentinian club Tinta Roja, which is located near Paralel. Would you find locals hanging around there? No, again.
And if you are planning to visit Spain in September, you should not (don’t even dream of it) miss La Mercé, the biggest annual festival of Barcelona. The festival is rightfully called “The Festival of Festivals,” and you might not want to go back home and say that you missed it while visiting Spain!
If your focus is on shopping
If you are into shopping, Madrid should be one of your go-to cities. One of the most frequented shopping streets in the capital city is the Fuencarral. Also add to your list the Rastro, which happens to be among the largest Sunday flea markets across the globe!
In most central neighborhoods of Barcelona too, you would be able to step into several small shops that are worth visiting. My favorite shopping place in Barcelona is the trendy El Born. While you’re there, you might also not want to miss Els Encants Vells, the largest flea market in Barcelona, which is located in the Plaça de Les Glòries.
It’s Barcelona all the way! It truly is one among Europe’s most fascinating cities. Whatever you’re looking for, Barcelona has all that and more! Beautiful Barcelona has on offer: a charming old town, numerous art museums, marvelous architecture, beach, shopping, and mucho partying. Word of warning though: You just cannot cover the whole of Barcelona in just 2-3 days. So, take your time and experience the place to its fullest—it’s really worth it!