Madrid or Barcelona?

Which is better out of Spain's two biggest cities?

As Spain's two premier cities, you can't go wrong whichever you choose. But if you had to elect one, which should it be, Madrid or Barcelona?

Visiting Barcelona and Madrid on the Same Trip

Of course, really you should visit both. And with the high-speed AVE train now serving the route between Madrid and Barcelona, the journey is quicker and easier than ever. Read more: Madrid to Barcelona or check out my Madrid and Barcelona Suggested Itineraries. .

But if you do have to choose, here's my breakdown of the pros and cons of each city.

  • 01 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Value for Money

    Barcelona is a much more touristy city than Madrid. And tourists bring prices up. It's not that Barcelona doesn't have cheap things to do, it's just that there are much more of them in Madrid.

    In Madrid, you can get cod tapas thirty seconds from Sol (Madrid's main square) at Casa Labra for a euro or a great meal for 10 euros just off Gran Via (Madrid's main street) at Con Dos Fogones. The equivalent restaurants in Barcelona are too busy doing paella and sangria 'deals' to offer real value for money.

    Meanwhile, Madrid's two best museums (the Reina Sofia and the Prado) have a free entry every night of the week, something you'd never see in Barcelona.

    Winner: Madrid

    See also: Things to Do in Madrid on a Budget

  • 02 of 13

    Which has Better Access to the Rest of Spain?

    The Alhambra in Granada at sunset.
    ••• The Alhambra in Granada at sunset. Pretty difficult to visit from Barcelona. (c) Damian Corrigan

    Heard of Toledo and Segovia? They're both near Madrid. The satellite cities around Madrid are some of Spain's most interesting and diverse. Barcelona also has some good day trips, including Figueres (for the Dali museum) and Sitges (for the beach), but Madrid's day trips are unbeatable.

    When it comes to exploring the rest of Spain, Madrid's central location makes it far superior to the north-western Barcelona. The AVE train can get you to many Spanish cities incredibly quickly, while normal trains and buses will get you everywhere else.

    Winner: Madrid

    See also:

  • 03 of 13

    Which has Better Architecture: Madrid or Barcelona?

    Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
    ••• Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. (c) Damian Corrigan

    Architecture is the main reason tourists visit Barcelona. Most of Gaudi's madcap modernist buildings are in Barcelona and it is in these designs that the city's reputation is hinged. Madrid has some attractive buildings, especially along Gran Via, but it can't complete with Barcelona.

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also:

  • 04 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Food

    Crabs at Pescador in Madrid
    ••• Crabs at Pescador in Madrid. (c) Damian Corrigan

    Catalan cuisine is well respected throughout Spain. Not far from the touristy areas of Barcelona you'll find some great food, but it takes more effort than in Madrid, and you'll always end up paying more. I'd recommend a good tour company, such as Food Lovers Company, to ensure you're not disappointed.

    Eating out in Madrid is less difficult. The restaurant scene in the capital takes in all the regions of Spain and countries of the world and it isn't spoiled by the kind of tourist-focussed eateries that plague Barcelona.

    Winner: Madrid

    See also: Madrid's Best Restaurants

    Continue to 5 of 13 below.
  • 05 of 13

    Where Should You Learn Spanish? Madrid or Barcelona?

    Studying Spanish in Madrid
    ••• Studying Spanish is better in Madrid than in Barcelona. FaceMePLS/Creative Commons

    Though both cities have an abundance of language schools, language exchange evenings and people looking to meet and practice their language skills, the important thing to remember is that the main language in Barcelona is Catalan, not (Castilian) Spanish.

    For this reason, alone, Madrid wins.

    Winner: Madrid 

    See also: Learning Spanish in Madrid

  • 06 of 13

    Which is Better for Art: Madrid or Barcelona?

    madrid or barcelona
    ••• Madrid or Barcelona for art? Though there is a Picasso museum in Barcelona, his most famous work (the Guernica) is in Madrid. Image: Rogiro (Creative Commons)

    Madrid has three of Spain's most famous art museums: the Prado (which ranks up there with the Louvre for pre-20th century art), the modern art of the Reina Sofia (featuring Picasso's masterpiece, the Guernica), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, said to be one of the best private art collections in the world.

    Barcelona is not short of art museums, with the Picasso museum being its most famous, Madrid is a clear winner here.

    Winner: Madrid

    See also: Madrid's Best Art Museums

  • 07 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Beach

    madrid or barcelona
    ••• Barcelona has a beach, Madrid doesn't. Image: Damian Corrigan

    Barcelona has a beach, Madrid doesn't. Or at least not a real one. But in 2011, Madrid council unveiled Madrid Rio, a new complex by the Manzanares river publicized as having its own beach, but it doesn't really - just a place to sunbathe (the Retiro park as just as good for this). But if you want a real beach, you need a coast, something Barcelona has. However, Barcelona's beach is horrible and should be avoided. Luckily, there are plenty of beaches nearby (such as in Sitges) to make Barcelona a good destination for catching some rays.

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also: Best Beaches in Barcelona

  • 08 of 13

    Which City has Better Weather?

    June in Barcelona
    ••• June in Barcelona. Image: Free-ers (Creative Commons/Some Rights Reserved)

    It would be difficult to argue anything other than Barcelona for this one. Barcelona's proximity to the Mediterranean gives it slightly cooler summers than Madrid, but milder winters. Madrid has great springs and falls, but winter and summer can be a little on the extreme side.

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also: Weather in Spain

    Continue to 9 of 13 below.
  • 09 of 13

    Madrid Events v Barcelona Events

    Primavera Sound festival, one of the best music festivals in the world
    ••• Primavera Sound festival, one of the best music festivals in the world. (c) Damian Corrigan

     Both cities have a packed events calendar (check out the links below for the full list. 

    Barcelona has both the Primavera Sound and Sonar music festivals, as well as the neighborhood celebrations of Gracia and Merce. Meanwhile, Madrid's gay district, Chueca, gives Spain one of its most flamboyant carnival seasons (not to mention Gay Pride).

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also: 

  • 10 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Kids

    ••• Madrid or Barcelona for the kids? Barcelona's modernist architecture makes it the winner here.

    Kids are well looked after in both Madrid and Barcelona. There are some good science museums in both cities. Kids will appreciate the modern art of Picasso and Dali (perhaps more than most adults), and there's plenty of them in both cities. But it is Barcelona's modernist art that, like with their parents, will capture the children's imagination the most.

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also:

  • 11 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Nightlife

    Behind the bar at Bodega Ardosa, Madrid
    ••• Behind the bar at Bodega Ardosa, Madrid. (c) Damian Corrigan

    Two of my favorite nightclubs are in Barcelona (Sidecar and Razzmatazz). However, while Barcelona has some great individual bars and clubs, Madrid has whole streets of cool nightspots. Whatever your age or taste in music, Madrid will have somewhere for you.

    Winner: Madrid

    See also: Madrid Nightlife

  • 12 of 13

    Which is Better, Madrid or Barcelona?: Wow Factor

    madrid or barcelona
    ••• Madrid or Barcelona? The wow factor is definitely stronger in Barcelona. Image: Damian Corrigan

    When I last visited Barcelona (after two months in China and Siberia), I couldn't help but go 'wow'. Madrid's appeal is a little more subtle; it takes much longer to get a real feel for the capital than for Barcelona. You could find several reasons for this - the architecture of Barcelona is an obvious point in its favor, as is its setting between the mountains of Montjuic and Tibidabo and its more obvious 'center'. If you only had a weekend in Spain, you'd feel like you 'got' Barcelona much faster than you would Madrid.

    On the other hand, the longer you stay in Madrid, the more you'll appreciate it (I don't think you could say the same for Barcelona).

    Winner: Barcelona

    See also: Things to Do in Barcelona

    Continue to 13 of 13 below.
  • 13 of 13

    Final Score: Madrid 6 - 6 Barcelona

    ••• Roberto Diaz Robles/EyeEm/Getty Images

    I didn't deliberately rig this! The results are a genuine tie.

    Gaudi has a lot to answer for. Through his weird and wacky architecture, Barcelona has become the city that captures the imagination of most visitors to Spain. If you have only a brief time in the city, you cannot fail to be impressed by Barcelona.

    But take a little more time and Madrid's charms become apparent. Cheaper, with more variety, better food and generally more to do than Barcelona, Madrid gets the top prize for a longer trip.

    If you're in the south of France and want a quick weekend in Spain and to experience Gaudi's architecture, Barcelona is the one for you. But if you have a week to spare to explore a bit more and you like art, go to Madrid.