Barcelona Vs Madrid: The Spanish City Throwdown

Barcelona Gaudi
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This is the one we’ve all been waiting for the ultimate showdown… Barcelona or Madrid! They’re two of Spain’s most beloved cities and tourists flock to them year after year (with good reason!). If you’re looking for rich history, authentic Spanish culture, and a whole lotta fun, then these two cities will NOT disappoint. 

We get it though, maybe you’re on a time crunch, or your budget can’t quite swing both places. So, you’ve got to make the nail-biting decision of where to go. Of course, though they are both great, one city just has to come out on top. 

We’ve run all the numbers, done all the research, and we’re happy to tell you that we have an answer as to which city is best. But… you’ll have to keep reading to find out!.

Barcelona Vs Madrid – The climate

Madrid gardens
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We all know that the weather plays a big part in whether our vacation is baller or “eh”. That’s why it’s important to know from the get-go what to expect AND if a particular season is better. There are some key differences when it comes to the climate in these cities, so much so that it could make your decision on going to Barcelona or Madrid an easy one! 

Madrid has a moderately continental climate, what does this mean? This means the winters are quite cold and relatively rainy, but the summers are hot and sunny (thank GOD). As you’d expect, January is the coldest month in Madrid, with temperatures that are around 43.4°F on average. The hottest time of the year is in July and August, with average temperatures of  78.6°F. The good news is it doesn’t rain buckets, the bad news is, it rains quite frequently. From October to April the rains are most frequent, and in May, thunderstorms can break out in the afternoon. 

In contrast, if we look at the weather in Barcelona, it’s more of what we’d expect from a Spanish city. The climate is Mediterranean, with mild winters that are relatively rainy, and hot, sunny summers. Since the city is on the east coast, rainfall isn’t a big problem, although it is more frequent in fall and spring. The hottest month of the year is in August with average daily temperatures of around 77.3°F. January is the coldest month, and temperatures are around 49.6°F on average. 

Although Madrid has marginally hotter summers than Barcelona, the temperatures are a lot more variable due to its central location. For example, in July, the average minimum is 65°F and the maximum 92°F!

Winner: Barcelona – we’d pick a Mediterranean any day of the week, mild winters and not a lot of rainfall? Bring it on! 

Barcelona Vs Madrid – The vibe

Barcelona beach
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When it comes to their vibe, these cities are worlds apart. That’s not to say one is better than the other, oh no. They’re just different, and, depending on what YOU are looking for, you may prefer one over the other! 

Barcelona definitely feels more modern with its 19th-century Spanish architecture (that can be a little quirky at times). It houses incredible works by Gaudi like the Casa Vicens, Casa Mila, and the iconic La Sagrada Familia. Thanks to Gaudi, alongside many others, it’s safe to say that architecturally Barcelona is more stunning than Madrid. It’s also a lot more touristy, so you’ll find it easier to get around, see the sights, and find somewhere tourist-friendly to eat. Then there’s the beaches, which give Barcelona more of a laid-back beachy vibe, unlike Madrid, which at times can feel more business orientated at times. 

Madrid does feel more cultural though. It has more historical sites and museums, making it feel a lot more traditional than Barcelona. It is also less popular than Barcelona, so there are fewer crowds, which is always a plus. However, since Madrid is less touristy, vacations there are less about sightseeing and more about hanging out in local taverns and hanging with the locals. It definitely feels more authentic. 

Winner: Draw – it’s a draw because who are we to decide if you’d rather kick back a couple of beers with your new Spanish friend or spend an amazing day taking in Barcelona’s awe-inspiring sights? You decide!

Barcelona Vs Madrid – The food 

Croquette
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There’s no getting around the fact that Catalan cuisine is simply fabulous. All throughout Spain, it is highly revered and unsurprisingly, since Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, there’s plenty of tasty Catalan dishes around! Some must-tries when you’re in Barcelona are Bomba Catalana, a potato croquette with a ground beef filling, Arròs Negre, a rice dish similar to Paella made with squid ink, and Mandonguilles Amb Sípia, Catalan’s answer to a surf and turf – meatballs and cuttlefish cooked in a thick gravy! 

Possibly the only downside to the food in Barcelona is actually managing to find the good stuff. Barcelona is touristy as hell, and that means like in most touristy places, the restaurants and places to eat around its main attractions aren’t always top-notch, let alone authentic. If you venture further away from the city’s top sight, you’ll be able to find some really amazing places, but these still come with jacked-up tourist prices.  

On the other hand, in Madrid, it is a lot easier to find some authentic, reasonably-priced, and delicious Spanish food! Madrid’s star dishes are Cocido Madrileno, a meaty chickpea stew, and Callos Madrilenos, a hearty dish with pig snout, tripe, chorizo, and tomatoes. Although these don’t really hold a candle to Catalan dishes, they are still must-tries if you find yourself in Madrid! 

Winner: Barcelona – we can’t stop thinking about croquettes stuffed with beef, and we definitely don’t mind going on a mission to find some! 

Barcelona Vs Madrid – The nightlife

Madrid at night
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Barcelona has a bit of a reputation for being a huge party place, but Madrid, as the country’s capital, can certainly give it a run for its money! Madrid was the birthplace of La Movida, a countercultural movement that began after the post-Franco era. This Movida mindset can still be found in Malasana where you can party til the sun rises in some of the trendiest bars in the city. 

The advantage of Madrid’s size is that there are distinct areas to go to depending on what kind of nightlife you’re after! For a buzzing LGBTQ+ scene, head to Checa, and for an eclectic vibe, then Lavapies is the place to go. Madrid also has a MEGA club scene (many say it even rivals that of Ibiza), some of the best clubs to check out are Kapital, Joy Eslava, and Gabana 1800. 

Barcelona is well-known for its electronic music scene, and you can find several nightclubs in the city that are open every night of the week!  For a Mediterranean party vibe, the clubs Pacha and Opium are located close to the city’s beachfront, or if you want something a little more edgy and up-market, then go to Sala Apolo or Moog. If you’re looking to dance the night away with fellow tourists, then hit up the Gothic Quarter where you’ll find hole-in-the-wall cocktail bars and some fun British and Irish pubs! 

Winner: Madrid – Maybe this is controversial, but it’s got to be Madrid, hand’s down. This city was part of a major cultural movement that can still be felt today. It’s edgy. It’s cool, we love it!

Barcelona Vs Madrid – The Hotels

Sunset over Madrid
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There are a lot of places to choose from when it comes to Barcelona or Madrid! Both of these cities have hotels, apartments, and guesthouses that are perfect for basing yourself in during your stay. On Booking.com Madrid has an impressive 3,103 properties listed, whereas Barcelona has 2,453. We think it’s safe to say you won’t struggle to find somewhere to stay in either city! 

Madrid has some incredible hotels that are in buildings with a lot of history. The Only You Boutique Hotel and the Oriente Palace Apartments are prime examples, both have tasteful decor that matches the feel of the building, and are central to all of the city’s attractions. One drawback of accommodation in Madrid is the lack of glamor. Sure, there are some nice properties, but in a city that’s not centered around tourism, a lot of the properties lack some… pzazz. 

Now, where Barcelona really shines is in its rooftop properties. There are more than a few to choose from, and, if basking in the Mediterranean sun while taking in the city’s skyline wasn’t enough, many of them even have pools! We are obsessed with H10 Casa Mimosa and recommend it for those looking for a romantic stay. 

Of course, when we’re talking about Barcelona, we couldn’t forget those beachfront properties. There are around 60 available on Booking.com, but we have to say, the city center properties are much nicer. We’d rather save our beachfront hotels for when we’re living it up in Malaga or Mallorca! 

Winner: Barcelona – What can we say, we love a cute-looking property and Barcelona has more than its fair share! 

Barcelona Vs Madrid – Prices

Barcelona aerial view
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When it comes to Barcelona or Madrid, price will undoubtedly play a role. There’s no getting around the fact that Barcelona is pricey… If you’re on a tight budget, then Madrid may be your best bet. 

According to Budgetyourtrip.com, a one-week trip to Barcelona for two people will cost around 1,724 EUR (1,944 USD), yikes! Madrid on the other hand is around 300 USD cheaper a week (for couples), with a one-week vacation costing 1,496 EUR (1,655 USD).

Of course, how much you ended up cashing out is based on your own spending habits, but when it comes down to food, drinks, and accommodation, Madrid is undeniably cheaper! What’s more, in Madrid, tapas is free with your drinks, but in Barcelona, you’ll need to pay for each plate!

Winner: Madrid – The numbers don’t lie, Madrid is way more friendly on your wallet. 

Barcelona Vs Madrid – Things to do 

Gaudi in Barcelona
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You’ll find plenty to do in both Barcelona and Madrid, but since Madrid has more of a working city vibe, the activities don’t scream “tourist” as much as Barcelona. A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without checking out the awesome architecture. As we mentioned earlier there are some incredible works by Gaudi that are not to be missed, so head out early to (try) to avoid the crowds, and don’t forget your camera! For one-of-a-kind shopping, we recommend the Encants market, one of the oldest second-hand (A.K.A pre-loved) markets in Europe. Of course, you have to take advantage of the city’s gorgeous beach where you can sunbathe, do water sports, or chill by the many beach bars. There are also several water parks close to the city if you want to keep the kids happy. 

Madrid is wonderful for museums. You can see work’s from Spain’s top artists in the Prado Museum, see Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia, or have a fun afternoon out at the Museum of Illusions (which is as cool as it sounds). For fresh air, sadly, there’s no idyllic Spanish beach, but a trip to El Retiro Park should recharge your batteries just as well! The park is wonderful with manicured gardens, wide-open lawns, and beautiful rose gardens. If you want to shop til you drop, then Calle Gran Via is great for well-known brands, otherwise spend a fun day at El Rastro, the city’s most popular flea market!

Winner: Barcelona – As cool as the Museum of Illusions sounds, Madrid can’t compete with Barcelona’s beach. 

Barcelona Vs Madrid: The final verdict

We’ve got to the end and it’s time for our final verdict… and our winner is… Barcelona! Deciding between Barcelona and Madrid was a tough choice, but ultimately, the city’s amazing attractions, cool vibe, and killer cuisine tipped the scales. We love that you can get a city and a beach break all rolled into one, and that just about justifies the higher prices in Barcelona (in our eyes). 

We’re also all for that warm, Mediterranean climate that makes Barcelona a great choice for a winter break, but if you don’t mind the cold, then Madrid in December is pretty great too! Whether you decide to visit Barcelona or Madrid, we’re confident you’ll have an amazing time! 

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Alex is a marine biologist-turned-freelancer who spent parts of her childhood and adult life living on a small island in the Philippines. She is an enthusiastic (but super uncoordinated) surfer who also loves scuba diving. She's travelled throughout Southeast Asia and Europe, but her heart is in the Philippines. As a massive foodie, you'll always find her chowing down on some of the tastiest street food around.