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Madrid vs Barcelona: The Big Debate

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

The Capitol building and fountain in Madrid, Spain.

The Best of Spain- Barcelona vs. Madrid

Spanish cities are rich in culture and tradition, and it is evident on every street. The people, the food, the beaches, and everything in between make Spain stand out. The two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, are widely loved around the world. But the jury is still deciding which city is “the best in Spain.” Many Spaniards, as well as tourists, have argued about it for years and have never come to a unison agreement. Here are some of the two city’s key differences so you can decide for yourself which you prefer.


Seaside or City?

Barcelona and Madrid both are bustling cities, but with entirely different vibes. Barcelona, located right on the Mediterranean, allows locals to separate from the hustle and bustle of city life. It has a relaxed feel and vibrancy that is ideal for people who enjoy urban environments, but can find them suffocating.

Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona, Spain.

However, what Madrid lacks in waterfront, it makes up for in rich culture. For urban environment lovers, Madrid takes the cake! The museums, the tradition, and the Madrileño character are platforms on which this city stands. The capital city provides visitors a place to fall in love with Spain, as well as Madrid itself. It is rich in Spanish culture, where as Barcelona is rich in Catalan (even general European) culture.

Gran Via in Madrid, Spain.


Barcelona is particularly known for exceptional food. Ranging from its Michelin starred restaurants, to its small hole in the wall bodegas and wine bars, you are almost guaranteed good eats. Catalan cuisine, along with modern trends of the Barcelona restaurant scene, have attracted an army of international culinary talent. Madrid, in general, is slightly more traditional when it comes to food. You will find terrific Spanish fare and tapas bars galore, covering the unique styles of the various regions of Spain. The tapas bar scene in itself is a real highlight of Madrid, and is somewhat lacking in Barcelona. In Madrid, you will get more of a sense of pure Spanish cuisine, but don't have the same cutting edge tasting menus as readily found in Barcelona. Having said all that, both cities have a terrific food scene and you will not be disappointed!

Spanish style small plates, Tapas, in Madrid

Museums or Architecture?

Madrid houses some the country's best museums. Visit the Prado for its amazing collection of European masterpieces. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which has a has an impressive selection of impressionists and contemporary pieces. And last but not at all least, the Reina Sofía, with it's extensive contemporary collection and impressive temporary exhibitions. Beyond these three, there are many more interesting museums around town and great galleries. If you are a lover of art, Madrid is the place to go.

The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

On the other hand, Barcelona has the works of Antoni Gaudí and the other masters of modernism. The city's numerous architectural masterpieces can be seen throughout town and are not to be missed. The Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudí most famous that is still unfinished to this day. Visit Park Güell for a panoramic view of the city and an arrangement of mosaic tiles that make for a great photo-opp, or the Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau for a stunning collection of buildings all done in the local Modernisme style.

Gaudí's Park Güell in Barcelona, Spain.

Fútbol Teams?

Arguably the greatest rivalry in the world of soccer, you can't argue that any rivalry in the world, in any sport, has more eyes on it than this one. Dubbed El Clásico, soccer games between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have a profound depth, even greater than their two star players (Ronaldo and Messi) impressive skills.

To truly grasp the implication of the conflict between Madrid and Barcelona, you must approach the subject from a political stand point. During the iron-fist regime of General Francisco Franco's from 1936 to 1975, the Catalan government was stripped of its power and the Catalan language was made illegal. The demoralized Catalan people turned to their star soccer team to express their repressed patriotism. Hence their team slogan, "more than a club". Over the years, Real Madrid, the soccer team from the capital, became Franco's favorite team and a symbol for his government and the country's strength.

Today, Barcelona and Real Madrid boast ridiculous amount of wealth and prestige to their names and, as a result of this they are regularly butting heads as the country's two top teams. This has only served to continue the rivalry, never allowing it to simmer down.

FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid


So which one is best for you?

Madrid is perfect if you are looking for an enriching cultural experience and a look into historical and traditional Spain. Choose Barcelona if you prefer a more laid back holiday filled with days spent on the beach and relaxing. Both cities have great food, nightlife and shopping, so no matter your decision you will not be disappointed.

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