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park guell in barcelona and white building in madrid spain
Travel tips

Barcelona vs. Madrid: Which city is right for you?

Jul 12, 2022 by Nick Patterson

We’ll just cut to the chase—Barcelona and Madrid are both fantastic cities. You can’t go wrong visiting either Madrid or Barcelona. These Spanish cities are filled to the brim with history, art, and architecture. But, if you’re limited on time and need to decide between the two, read onward to find out if Madrid is right for you, or if Barcelona is more your style.

outside the prado museum in madrid

Madrid has unrivaled museums & art galleries

Madrid’s museums are on a level few cities in the entire world reach. If Paris has the Louvre, then Madrid has the Prado. The Prado is the country’s national art museum and home to a collection of European art from the 12th to the 19th century. The museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of Spanish paintings, with over 7,000 works. See masterpieces by legends like Velázquez, one of the greatest Spanish painters of all time. View the eerie Black Paintings by Goya, which were painted directly on the walls of his house. If you’re an art lover, Madrid is surely the city for you.

barcelona architecture gaudi

Barcelona boasts world-class architecture

You’ll be spoiled with one-of-a-kind architecture in Barcelona. Barcelona is a treasure trove of brightly colored and uniquely shaped structures by architect Antoni Gaudí. The city streets were his canvas—there are nearly a dozen buildings designed by Gaudí. No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Família, and you’ll walk through this towering basilica on all our Spain tours.

“At the staggering Sagrada Família, light filters in through the stained glass windows, filling the unfinished cathedral with ever-changing color throughout the day,” said staffer Claire. “I could have spent hours and hours just looking up.”

If you can’t get enough of the whimsical buildings (and who can blame you?), pay a visit to Park Güell. Stroll amongst stunning buildings, intricate stonework, and colorful mosaics. At the top of the park, marvel at the brilliant views of Barcelona.

local food madrid

Madrid is better for more authentic Spanish food

This is a close call—you’re going to eat more than well whether you visit Barcelona or Madrid. But it’s just easier to find truly authentic Spanish food in Madrid. The streets of Madrid are lined with everything from tapas bars, markets full of fresh produce, and Old World restaurants.

“The Market of San Miguel is a great place to try an assortment of traditional Spanish food and other types of food from around the world,” said staffer Rebecca. “If you pace yourself, you can try a little bit of almost everything!”

One of the more unique dining experiences you can have in Madrid is heading to Restaurante Botin for dinner. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the restaurant is considered the oldest in the world. Dig in to their two specialties: Castilian-style roasted lamb and the suckling pig. If you’re looking for a quick bite, head over to Plaza Mayor and have a calamari sandwich. We know, we know, it sounds a little different. But trust us, the locals love them!

barceloneta beach barcelona spain

Barcelona has miles of beautiful beaches

This is where Barcelona really shines in the Madrid vs. Barcelona debate. After admiring some architecture, go unwind and soak up the sun on some of the best beaches in Europe. Barcelona sits along the Mediterranean Sea and has 60 miles of white sand and crystal clear water. It’s shocking to think that Barcelona didn’t have much beach access until the 1980s. The world-famous beaches Barcelona is known for today were constructed for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Located close to the city center, Barceloneta is undoubtedly Barcelona’s gold-medal-winning beach. Come sunbathe and enjoy a drink at a cafe or beachside bar. After some much needed relaxation, seek out some fresh seafood in the restaurants nearby.

streets of madrid spain

Madrid’s location is perfect for day trips to Toledo and beyond

When it comes to exploring the rest of Spain, Madrid’s central location makes it easy to discover what this amazing country has to offer. Toledo is just a half-hour train ride away and is a can’t-miss destination if you’re a history buff. The former Spanish capital is full of well-preserved landmarks that provide a look into Spain’s history and heritage. The clifftop city is famous for the Toledo Cathedral. The massive, Gothic structure houses 750 medieval, stained glass windows and a collection of golden artifacts. After exploring the labyrinth of medieval alleyways at the heart of city, visit one of Europe’s oldest synagogues: Santa María la Blanca. If you have some free time while in Madrid, Toledo is a must-see (and you can add the Toledo excursion on all our Spain tours).

futbol stadium campnu barcelona

Barcelona takes the slight edge if you’re a sports fan

Real Madrid fans, please forgive us. But seeing Camp Nou is possibly one of the best things you can do in Barcelona if you’re a sports fan. Camp Nou is the enormous home of one of the world’s most prestigious football clubs, FC Barcelona (known as Barça by the locals). Seating nearly 100,000 fans, the stadium is the highest-capacity sports arena in Europe. Visit the stadium to walk through the team’s museum and see the club’s rich history up close and personal. But if you want a true glimpse into Spanish culture, there’s nothing like feeling the energy and passion at a match. In the spirit of this post, maybe you can catch Madrid vs. Barcelona!

Have your mind made up between Barcelona vs. Madrid? Check out our Spain tours!

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About the author | Nick Patterson
After one deep breath of the crisp Iceland air, Nick knew travel was for him. He’s been hooked ever since. In his free time, you can find Nick on the golf course playing poorly, getting too worked up about the Celtics and Patriots, or enthusiastically talking about the most recent movie he watched.

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