I am planning to visit friends in Zurich in September and wanted to add a stop in Spain either before or after Zurich. My question is, would you spend an entire week in Barcelona or split time between Barcelona and Madrid?
You’d have no trouble finding things to see in Barcelona to fill a week, especially if you took a couple day trips, e.g., Monserrat or Figures to see the Dali museum.
I think I'd spend part of the time in Madrid only if a big art fan--not that Barcelona doesn't have worthwhile art museums itself, but the triumvirate of Prado-Thyssen-Reina Sofia is tough to beat. Barcelona can indeed keep you busy. For day-trips I'd add Girona with it's large, walled, medieval center; however, Girona is a lovely place to spend a couple of nights. In fact, if you're also interested in the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, that's all the more reason to spend a couple of nights in Girona; the train to Figueres goes though Girona. I wouldn't want to cram Girona and the Dali Museum into a single day-trip from Barcelona, though I know people have done it. The Dali Museum was larger than I expected, and I also spent 30 minutes or so in the nearby jewelry gallery that's covered by the same ticket.
Beyond Figueres (via bus) is the lovely though now quite touristy former fishing village of Cadaques--all white-cube architecture dripping with bougainvillea. There's a second Dali-related site not far from Cadaques. The latter part of the bus ride from Figueres to Cadaques is very scenic.
One of our other posters has recommended the medieval Catalunya bus tour originating in Barcelona that goes to Besalu (fortified bridge) among other (and more-difficult-to-reach) small towns. I regret missing that opportunity; it's on my list for a future trip to Catalunya. One can get to Besalu by public bus; I did it from Girona, which is faster, but I think it can be done from Barcelona as well. As you can see, Girona is a good base for side-trips. It is a popular destination in its own right, so it's not a back-door sort of experience, but it's much smaller and less hectic than Barcelona.
Will you be flying home from Spain? Are there better flights from one city or the other, that might make a difference? Madrid and surrounds would certainly make for a nice visit, even for 2 or 3 days. If you spent that whole week in Barcelona, is another trip that includes Madrid on the horizon?
Yes we would be flying home from Spain. Both cities have direct flights to Boston, but if I was going to see both I may change the order if there is a better flight option from one or the other. I'm leaning towards all Barcelona. I've wanted to visit for quite some time and it seems there are a great deal of side trips to be taken from one base.
If you're leaning toward Barcelona and side trips then do it. FYI - 10 years ago we spent 2 nights each in Barcelona and Madrid and wish we would've had more time in each. We had more fun in Madrid but Barcelona is more unique. Have fun!
A few years ago we spent 4 nights in both Madrid & Barcelona. This was following a tour of Portugal. We enjoyed a day trip to Toledo from Madrid. We took the train to Barcelona. If we were to go back to Barcelona we would add time to visit Girona. It takes about 38 min. by train. It would make a great day trip to see the highlights.
Edited to add: https://www.earthtrekkers.com/3-days-in-barcelona-itinerary/
Add me to the list of people recommending both Madrid and Barcelona. There is MUCH more to Madrid than just museums, it's a great city and you could easily spend a week there with maybe a couple of side trips. Barcelona is wonderful too, but I think Madrid gets short changed by many on this forum...glad to see a few people in this thread that appreciate Madrid too!
I would say Barcelona has better nature-themed day trips (mountains, forests, coastline) while Madrid has better cultural day trips (Toledo, Cuenca, Segovia).
Madrid also has Salamanca and Alcala de Henares. Really, it's a pretty unbeatable menu of side-trips. For me, though, those are places I could spend more than a day.
September 24th is the celebration of La Mercè, the patron saint of the city. While it's sure to be subdued this year, it's usually a week-long, city-wide festival, and would make an incredible time to visit!
Hi JP, yes you can spend time in both Barcelona and Madrid within a week’s time. You may not have time to take day trips but that’s alright. However, if you do take one day trip, make it Toledo from Madrid that’s a 45-minute direct train ride away. You can then hop on a bus that will drop you off in Toledo’s old town. I would buy Rick Steve’s Barcelona and Madrid & Toledo Snapshot guidebooks. You can download electronic versions from his app.
I’d split between the two. I liked the day trips I made from Madrid to Toledo and Segovia.
If available, try to eat at (or get food from) Tickets in Barcelona or Bodega 1900. Tickets is one of the top restaurants in the world, and is quite affordable, considering. I crave the liquid olives. In the past, one had to make reservations as soon as they were available, I think 60 days in advance. Seats opened up at midnight or something, and were snapped up quickly. Also, I had a wonderful time at a neighborhood vermut bar, where the locals came in with jugs and filled them from the casks in the wall (we stayed in the Sagrada Familia area). I also enjoyed Formatgeria La Seu, a cheese shop that offers tastings and a glass of wine or vermut for a few euros.