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24 hour Layover - Madrid, Barcelona, or Lisbon?

My wife and I are traveling to Europe this fall to visit friends in Germany. Our travels will keep us in Austria and Germany, but we would like to make a brief stop on the Iberian peninsula on our way back to the US. We are booking our flights with airline miles and we can book a dedicated 24 hour layover in a city for free. We are trying to decide between Madrid, Barcelona, and Lisbon. Thoughts? Which one is best for a quick taste?

Also I feel I should note that ideally we would spend much more than 1 day in any of these cities but that won’t be possible on this trip. The 24 hours will have to do. It’ll give us a teaser for our next trip when we can spend more time.

Posted by Jane
Sapulpa, OK, USA
2216 posts

I love Madrid, but I think with only one day, I'd opt for Barcelona. It's more - if you'll pardon the expression - "exotic."

Sagrada Familia is mind blowing; Parc Güell is delightful. If you are fortunate enough to witness to sardana in from of the cathedral, you'll never forget it. A lovely beach, great museums, wonderful walks... Oh, and great food and wine.

Posted by ntpolanco
21 posts

Hi there!

Did all three of those cities last spring and they're just all so different and loved them all.
I guess it depends on what your interests are...
Lisbon is more of a walking around city, there aren't as many "sights" as say Barcelona but it's still gorgeous and definitely doable in a short amount of time without venturing to day trips outside of Lisbon; most of my time here was spent trying sangrias/small plates at different neighborhoods/with rooftops/expanding views of Lisbon if that is something you are interested in
Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe, with one day there it will definitely leave you with the urge to come back; as previously stated Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas, the list goes on; the city is not walkable in the sense of you can't get a glimpse of it all in one day
Madrid I was pleasantly surprised by, I had heard mixed reviews before I went and had a fantastic time; for the most part walkable and not overwhelming with sights like Barcelona

Out of the three I say do Barcelona to get a small taste of the city as it is incredible, and that way you can decide if you love it enough to come back and explore more/can easily add in Madrid to the mix for the next time

Posted by Mira
Midwest
1563 posts

I haven't spent enough time in Lisbon to speak to it, but I can give some thoughts on Madrid and Barcelona

Madrid is a good choice if you love art museums. The Prado is one of the best in the world, and the Thyssen and Reina Sofia are also excellent. If you don't love art museums you will find plenty of other things to do. You can see a good selection of the main "sights" in a day, which is a plus.

Barcelona has a lot more "sights" that appear on top lists than Madrid. It is a great city for walking around, the architecture is exciting, and it's a good mix of newer and older buildings and sights.

My suggestion - if you want to go to art museums then Madrid, if you want to wander and see other types of sights - Barcelona. Both cities stay up late - many sights are open later than they are in northern Europe, people eat dinner at 10 or later, everyone is out walking late. This is helpful on a short visit because you can pack more in to your time.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8971 posts

I'd be madly frustrated by just one day in Barcelona (and if you actually want to go inside major sights there, you'll need to pre-purchase tickets for many of them to avoid potentially very long lines). If you want to overdose on the fine art museums, Madrid would be a good idea, but I enjoy just being in Lisbon more. For 24 hours I'd choose Lisbon.

But:

  • Is it actually quite a bit less than 24 hours by the time you get into town from the airport and allow 3 hours for check-in at the airport the next day?
  • How many hours will you have during which sights you want to see will be open?
  • If you're late-night people for whom tapas-hopping on the final evening would be delightful, Barcelona or Madrid would probably be livelier (though I haven't been to Lisbon recently).
Posted by Chris OP
Kenner, LA, USA
65 posts

Thanks everyone for the feedback. Sounds like a lot of support for Barcelona. We were leaning that way before and the recommendations may just seal the deal. We probably won’t land in Barcelona until 10 or 11 so it’s not really a full day but should still give us some time to take in a few sites I think.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
9399 posts

If you are interested in seeing sights in Barcelona that relate to Gaudi or Picasso, you need reservations. Luckily you won't be jetlagged (since this is at the end of your trip), so you can plan for one or two sights requiring reservations. Or, you can just plan on walking around and seeing things from the outside, or going in sights that don't require reservations.

To make the most of your time, there, however, you should start to figure out what interests you, so you can have a plan when you arrive.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
7017 posts

Barcelona is definitely the best choice with regards to logistics. The airport is closer to the city centre than the other two, and taxi transfers are not expensive. Book a hotel in close proximity to Placa Catalunya, perhaps on Passeig de Gracia.