Twice a year, soccer (football for the non-Americans) in Spain gets really vicious. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona face off and it’s hardly a friendly match. The debate always continues: which team is better, Madrid or Barcelona?
The debate is the same in Spain travel: which city is better? Madrid or Barcelona? For some, it’s an easy choice. Hands-down, it’s…
It’s time to put this debate to rest! Based on five criteria, let’s see which city is really the best.
I’ve toured the historical monuments and tourists sights of Madrid many times as a tourist myself and when friends come to visit. Maybe it’s because I live in Madrid, but the tourist attractions in the city have lost its luster for me a bit.
Granted, I love watching the sunset at Templo de Debod and the bright lights of Gran Vía and Puerta del Sol at night, I tend to avoid some of these places on a day-to-day basis.
But Barcelona? I don’t think I could ever get tired of walking by Antoni Gaudí’s works like the Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, or La Pedrera.
The Sagrada Família is obvious; it’s Barcelona’s icon, but Casa Batlló really had me staring in bewilderment. I was so blown away by this building that I immediately bought my entrance ticket on my phone without really thinking twice about the fee.
Barcelona’s sights have that kind of pull. I wandered around the winding alleys and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter with no aim, and found myself marveling at all the architecture around me. The neighborhood itself is a tourist attraction. And how could I forget La Rambla? Sure, it’s crowded and touristy, but this pedestrian mall that leads to the beach is unlike any street in Madrid. It’s unique, and I like that.
Score: Barcelona: 1 – Madrid: 0
We’re in Spain here, so we have to talk about the mercados (markets). I am a huge fan of checking out all the different markets in the Spanish cities I visit. Some are more local and are used daily to buy groceries while others mainly draw the crowd for tapas and beers.
La Boqueria in Barcelona is a bit of both. Groceries like meat, fish and veggies can be purchased at this market, but you can also buy fresh juices, tapas, or pintxos. Located just off of La Rambla. La Boqueria hardly appears to be a local experience.
Madrid has its touristy mercado too –Mercado de San Miguel. It has essentially the same vibe as La Boqueria and is located in the touristy center of Madrid near Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, but the building is more architecturally pleasing and there’s so much more to offer!
Aside from San Miguel, Madrid has lots of amazing mercados: Mercado de San Idelfonso, Mercado de San Antón, Mercado de San Fernando, just to name a few. These markets are a bit less touristy and have lots of fun Spanish items to try.
If you think Barcelona markets, you’ll think of La Boqueria. But in Madrid you can find a cool market in every neighborhood!
Score: Barcelona: 1 – Madrid: 1
While Barcelona boasts Parc de la Ciutadella and Park Güell, Parque del Buen Retiro is one of Madrid’s major selling points.
I like when city parks transport me from a city to nature and make me forget that I’m actually in a city. Ciutadella didn’t really grab me; it’s a nice park in the center of Barcelona, but it I felt like there was more sand than grass and I still felt like I was smack-dab in the middle of a city.
Located outside the center of Barcelona, Park Güell, displays stunning views of the entire city and Antoni Gaudí’s architecture within the park itself is the real reason anyone goes there at all.
The smooth shards of tile used to create the seat that curves around the park is exquisite, but tourists have to pay €8 to get in! It’s difficult to find a comfortable space to sit between selfie stick and iPad wielding tourists; Park Güell is unfortunately more of a tourist destination than a fun place to just hang out (although there is much more to the park that doesn’t require an entry fee).
Madrid’s Retiro Park is everyone’s favorite place in the city. Regardless of season or weather, people will always visit the park. Along with probably half of the city, I love running in the park. I do feel transported out of the city and into nature, much like Central Park did for me when I lived in NYC.
When I’m not exercising in the park, Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) and the lake are my favorite spots. In summer, everyone brings a picnic to the park and just hangs out for the day. Going to Retiro Park never gets old in Madrid.
Score: Barcelona: 1 – Madrid: 2
It’s plain and simple: Barcelona has a beach, Madrid does not. Madrid will never be able to compete with the beachside concerts and other fun events that are held at Barceloneta or Bogatell Beach in Barcelona.
Score: Barcelona: 2 – Madrid: 2
Living in Madrid, I don’t jump at the opportunity to check out five-story clubs like Kapital – it’s just not my style. Since I’m not a Madrid tourist anymore, I don’t feel the obligation to go out every night on weekends and stay out until 6AM. I do, however, love checking out low-key bars and restaurants in the city. Although I feel like I’m never actually in Madrid on weekends lately, if I am, you can probably find me at a café, craft beer bar, or restaurant in Malasaña or La Latina, two of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.
In Barcelona, I had the opportunity to partake in a Hipster Bar Crawl, a fun event created by the same people as the award-winning Steel Donkey Bike Tours. We hopped around to different bars in Barcelona’s Raval district, even making a stop for some absinthe along the way! It was a cool, insider’s guide to Barcelona’s nightlife. I had a lot of fun to meeting the small group of like-minded tapas and beer lovers excited to explore a new city. I just want to go back an do it again!
Goal: It’s a tie! I can’t deny that I enjoy the nightlife that both cities have to offer!
Score: Barcelona: 2 – Madrid: 2
And the winner is…
I admit that I haven’t been to every tourist sight, market, park, beach, or bar in Barcelona or Madrid. I might be a little bit biased because I live in Madrid, but I wanted to come to conclusion for myself and decide which city is “better”. I love living in Madrid and I never wish I lived somewhere else in Spain, but Barcelona opened me up to a quirky and cool part of this country I had never been exposed to before. I loved it and I absolutely want to return and spend more time there in the future.
The truth is, you can’t go wrong with Madrid or Barcelona. Both are culturally vibrant cities with a lot to offer locals and tourists alike.
Are you still going to make me choose?! As a woman who can never make a final decision, I don’t want to have to choose between Madrid and Barcelona! My final score (however biased it may be) is tied. In my heart, Madrid is my home and my winner, but I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live in Barcelona…