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Barcelona or Madrid?

Hello all. My boyfriend and I would like to do a trip to Spain in 2011... depending on our work schedules, and of course, on prices, we are considering going either in April, or in September. My question is, for anyone who has spent time in the country, if you had to pick between Barcelona and Madrid, which one would you choose? We'll probably choose one and spend 6 nights there, making a day trip or two. (I know there are plenty of packages/ways to see BOTH cities, but we'd like to 'take it easy' on this trip and just stay in one hotel) My boyfriend likes the idea of the beaches in Barcelona, while I enjoy going to historical sites. Any thoughts are appreciated!

Posted by
8 posts

Both are interesting and worthwhile to see, but I'd agree with the others that if you have to pick one, Madrid might be the way to go. As the others have noted, there are quite few options for day trips from Madrid, and in the city itself, there is plenty to see and do. Either/or choices like this can be stressful sometimes, so it's also good to remember that, either way, you can't go wrong! Have fun.

Posted by
5741 posts

Yep, the above advice is spot-on. To me, it's a no brainer: for a trip such as you describe, skip Barcelona and head for Madrid. One more bit of info to pass along to your boyfriend: when most Americans dream of a nice beach, they're thinking of Hawaii, Mexico, maybe Florida or SoCal: broad stretches of sugary, white sand, with lots of room. Beaches in Europe are generally not like that. While one could "go to the beach" in Barcelona (and many places along the Mediterranean), if you're thinking of a "dream beach vacation" you will probably be quite disappointed. It's not necessarily a bad experience, but it's not the beach you dream of. If you want a great beach experience, go someplace that's famous for it's beach. Barcelona ain't. If you want to go to Spain, go see what makes it special (and that's not the beach at Barcelona). Madrid and surrounding environs is your best target.

Posted by
9110 posts

Random thoughts: Six days won't do justice to either if you try to combine the two into one trip. Barcelona is a far hike to go to the beach. There's no Spanish history in Barcelona and if you want to understand the history of Catalonia, you're going to have to study your tail off before you go. Day trips out of Barcelona are mostly one-shot affairs without much variety once you get there (e. g. Montserrat). You can cover most of the sights in Barcelona in two days. Madrid is part of Spain, Barcelona really isn't. You can't appreciate all of Madrid in a week if you pull out the time for a couple of day trips. Day trips from Madrid offer more variety once you get to the destination (Segovia, Avila, and especially Toledo). Grub is better in Madrid. My understanding is that the night life is excellent in both cities, but I don't stay up very late and so can only pass on rumors.

Posted by
629 posts

Madrid is our favourite. On our last trip in April 2010, we spent a few days in Barcelona and 10 days in Madrid. The city itself and the day trips from there are unlimited. Barcelona is great but we love Madrid! Your boyfriend might find the beaches of Barcelona in April to be fairly chilly - it's jacket weather. For a 'beach' holiday the south of Spain would be a better choice at this time of year.

Posted by
552 posts

"The grub is better in Madrid." I can't say that I agree with that statement. Just compare dining blogs for each city to decide which cuisine makes people wax more poetically. Also,... there are several other fairly recent discussions on this exact topic. Try the search engine.

Posted by
1178 posts

Each is entirely different in its offerings. Barcleona, while is Spain is not "Spanish" in the way Madrid is. I have been to both. Once to Barcelona (loved it) an 7 or 8 times to Madrid (love it more!!!) The Prado, The Gran Via, The Palace, and everything in between definitely speaks of, actually yells, "Spain" -- Toledo, Sevilla, and Avila are good trips outside....Toledo and Sevilla two days minimum each, Avila, one day total. Fast AVE train service to Toledo (25 minutes) and Sevilla (2 1/2 hour), and abou 45 or so to Avila on the local train. More history in Madrid for sure. Check out www.madridman.com for more info.

Posted by
75 posts

I'm surprised everyone overwhelmingly recommends Madrid! I think I can use some of these arguments to get my travel partner on the same page... I'm seeing airfare that would be about 600 roundtrip each in early May, which is available to either city at the identical price, and I'd like to jump on that soon!

Posted by
83 posts

You can't go wrong with either. During our recent trip, we stayed three nights in Barc and four in Madrid. We loved both cities, but we both preferred Barcelona. We loved Gaudi's list of attractions, strolling the Ramblas, Montjuic, the Sagrada. A highlight for us was aimlessly wandering the Gothic Quarter. Random lefts and rights would open up into small plazas with a few restaurants and local musicians playing. Madrid is certainly the museum center. A few avid museum goers who I know claim the Prado is the finest museum they've visited. The Retiro park, Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace were all fantastic. Madrid is ideally located for great day trips to Avilla, Segovia and Toledo. Barc is also in proximity to smaller towns ideal for day trips (detailed in RS's book), but we didn't take any. We spent the three days/nights in Barc and felt like we could've stayed longer. We loved both cities, but we give the nod to Barcelona. Enjoy and let us know which you choose.

Posted by
4535 posts

This is a common choice and really has no right answer. The tough part is that the two of you have some different interests so there is no obvious choice from what you've described. Barcelona has a beach and it is popular. Is it the best beach in Europe - probably not but it certainly is suitable. I prefer Barcelona as a city and find its food and architecture amazing. The old town area is also fantastic.
But Barcelona has less of an art/museum scene and not as many interesting day trips. I think 6 nights would be a bit much. Madrid as a city is far less interesting to me but has a lot to offer with art and museums. It's more Spanish too. And lots of day trip possibilities. So 6 nights is a very good amount if you take several day trips or even consider a couple nights in Toledo or Sevilla.

Posted by
1589 posts

Madrid never got us too excited, but Barcelona is an exciting place, especially for those young (or at least young at heart).

Posted by
269 posts

While I did love Madrid, Barcelona definitely came out on top as our favorite. We just returned from our second visit and spent five nights in the city ... could have spent several more without blinking. There are lots of smaller museums and galleries, plus the architecture of Gaudi, the charming Gothic Quarter, the beaches, the markets and the nightlife ... and that's just right off the top of my head. I definitely felt more at home in Barcelona; to me, Madrid was so big and bustling that it was just overwhelming. But as many others have pointed out, there's really no wrong decision.

Posted by
75 posts

Sounds like we may have to just flip a coin! Both cities sound interesting and exciting from everyone's descriptions.

Posted by
147 posts

I will echo those that say you can't go wrong with either. I wish we had spent more than 3 nights in Barcelona, there was so much more I wanted to see and do! but I have to opt for Madrid as the one to choose. I may be biased here because I spent my junior year in college in Madrid and have fond memories of that. To me, it's so charming still. and, you can't beat Madrid's art museums. also wandering around the old city is cool. and the food is excellent! ah Madrid.... good luck with your choice but again, you can't go wrong with either. you'll have plenty to do whichever city you choose. enjoy!!!

Posted by
110 posts

I'm gonna disagree with your premise...and most of the advice here I think splitting the trip between the two (esp now that the AVE connects them) is def doable. Plus you'll have the benefit of experiencing "European" Spain (Barcelona) and "Spanish" Spain (Madrid) Is 3 days enough to experience either one of them? No. But neither is 6 or 7 days. But it'll certainly give you a sense of which way you want to go next time you come back to Spain. Because you will be back.

Posted by
74 posts

I'm agreeing with Larson. Take the AVE to the other city for 2 days. Enjoy experiencing a new place. There are no rules for travel. Cracked me up to see a previous poster say 6 days wasn't long enough for either city. Oh please! While the independent hotels listed by Rick or Lonely Planet are charming, there are also some tremendous deals on traditional hotels right now in Spain. Grab a room in the other city off of Hotwire and do 2 in the original place, 2 in the other place, and see where you want to spend the final two (I'm assuming your flight goes back out of the original?) Or spend the other days exploring some cool place you didn't hear about until you got there. Point is, in the age of the internet, you can move on the fly. There's no need to plan out the trip before you go like you're doing the 7 day Disney Death March. Just enjoy it!

Posted by
75 posts

Larsen and Nancy, you've definitely given me some food for thought! I am starting to think that if I pack lightly and just do some research on where to find vegan/vegetarian food for my boyfriend, I'd enjoy one or both cities, no matter how much time I spend in either... I won't be booking until at least January or February, so I still have some time to decide. I had been leaning towards Madrid, because I thought we could spend 3 days there, and take 3 day trips to Toledo, El Escorial, Segovia, etc.

Posted by
81 posts

I would pick Madrid for sure.
There is not enough to do in Barcelona we were easily able to cover it and a day trip to montserrat in 3 days. If you are a fan of Gaudi then Barcelona would be a good pick. Madrid will keep you busy. 3 must see museums. Day trips to Toledo, Segovia. And yes the food is better !!!