Barcelona Or Madrid? Which City You Should Visit And The Main Differences Between Them

There are so many amazing places to visit in Spain, but if you are planning a city trip then you are probably choosing between Barcelona and Madrid.

Barcelona Or Madrid? Which City You Should Visit And The Main Differences Between Them

If you are considering relocating to Spain then these two cities are great options when it comes to a home city. They are two of the largest cities in Spain, but they are very different from each other. 

Madrid is the capital city of Spain and has a higher population. Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region and is a very popular tourist destination. Both cities have a lot to offer, but which one is best for you? 

We have put together this guide to help you choose whether to visit Barcelona or Madrid – or which one to visit first!

We have listed the main differences between the two cities to help you reach your decision and provided some background information on each city. Keep reading to find out more. 

Barcelona At A Glance

Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region of Spain in the Northeast. It has a population of around 1.62 million, the second most populated city in Spain.

The province of Barcelona (which includes the neighboring municipalities) is the fifth most populous urban area in the European Union. 

Barcelona is known for its ties to art and the fantastic architecture which draws hoards of tourists every year.

It was founded in the Middle Ages as a Roman city, and there are several Roman archaeological sites across the city with lots of history to take in.

Barcelona is a coastal city, with plenty of beaches and a very fun atmosphere. It is also home to the University of Barcelona which was established in 1450.

The main language in Barcelona is Catalan Spanish. Barcelona is quite an expensive city to live in or to visit, with food and drink prices being quite high.

There is an extensive public transport system in Barcelona which makes it very easy to get around and explore. The night life is fun and quite loud, with a good party atmosphere. 

Madrid At A Glance 

Madrid is the capital city of Spain and it has a population of over 3 million people. The main language is Castilian Spanish.

It is home to the Royal family of Spain and is the center of the Spanish government. It is a city rich with culture, with museums, historic buildings like the royal palace, traditional markets, and an exciting nightlife.

Madrid is a landlocked city in the central region of Spain. The Manzanares river runs through the city, and played an important role in the Spanish civil war. 

There is evidence that Madrid has been occupied since Prehistoric times, and there are examples of Celtic, Roman and Visigoth architecture and remains across the city.

Madrid is also home to the Complutense University Of Madrid which is the second largest university in Spain and one of the oldest Universities in the world.

It was founded in 1293 and notable alumni include nobel prize winners, prime ministers and royalty. 

Madrid is a great place to stay if you want to visit other areas in Spain, as the railway links are very efficient. Madrid is a popular city but it tends to attract fewer tourists than Barcelona, especially during the off-peak months.

It’s not as expensive as Barcelona either, which gives you more opportunities to try authentic delicacies and amazing restaurants without breaking the bank.

It has a very relaxed atmosphere considering that it is a capital city, which is why many of the locals enjoy living there. 

What Are The Main Differences Between Barcelona And Madrid? 

Whether you want to visit or you are choosing a place to relocate to, here are the main differences between the two cities that you need to be aware of. 


Both cities have amazing food, which is to be expected in Spain. 

Madrid has an excellent array of restaurants, with plenty of choices for authentic Spanish food at a reasonable price. Madrid is the capital city, which means it embraces the different cultures of all regions of Spain.

You can sample this in the food choices that are on offer. Some of the most popular tapas dishes in Madrid are grilled pig’s ear, snails, fried eggs and potatoes.

Even though Madrid is landlocked there is still a great selection of seafood restaurants. You can also try food from other cuisines – Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Steakhouses, fine dining – whatever you are in the mood for. 

Barcelona Or Madrid? Which City You Should Visit And The Main Differences Between Them

Barcelona also has some amazing restaurants, but they are a little harder to find. There are lots of lower quality restaurants overcharging for food to try and lure in the tourists, so it takes more effort to find the real gems.

However, being on the coast means that the seafood is fresh and second to none. If you love seafood then you will not be disappointed.

You will be able to find the classic tapas dishes like Paella, tortilla, patatas bravas, jamon iberico and calamari. There is also a greater number of Michelin star restaurants in Barcelona compared to Madrid.

You may need to do some research and book your table in advance. 


Madrid is known for being a city that never sleeps. There is always something going on and it’s not uncommon for the locals to be out all night and only have an hour or so of sleep before work the next morning.

Barcelona also has an active nightlife, but it is mainly dominated by tourists. This isn’t a bad thing, but it certainly has a different atmosphere. 

Madrid is a very homely place, with a relaxed yet exciting atmosphere. Barcelona is a bit more chaotic and perhaps less personable, more mainstream.

You can easily find a bar or a club in Barcelona that is packed with people having a good time.

It might take a little longer to find the best spots in Madrid, but once you find them you will be amazed at the atmosphere and the vibrance that the city has to offer. 


Both cities are in the same country, but they are over 300 miles apart and the weather can vary across that distance. Barcelona is further North, so the temperature in Madrid will be a little warmer.

It tends to get more sun, though the temperatures drop slightly lower than Barcelona in the Winter months. Barcelona is more humid than Madrid, but you can dip in the sea to cool off on a warm day. 

If you are not accustomed to warm weather then avoid visiting either city in the height of summer. Madrid can get especially hot, so visiting in the Spring or the Fall is recommended.

Barcelona will be very busy in peak travel season and in the summer due to the high number of tourists. 


Both Madird and Barcelona have a rich culture. But which one is best suited to you? 

Barcelona is known for incredible architecture, most notably the designs of Antonio Gaudi. His work is unique and captivating and can be found dotted around the city.

The architecture in Madrid is a mixture of modern and historic, with grand buildings like the Royal Palace. Barcelona has a few very eye-catching spots, but a lot of the other areas of the city look very similar.

Madrid has more variety and color, with something new to catch your attention at every turn. 

Barcelona Or Madrid? Which City You Should Visit And The Main Differences Between Them

Both cities have some great museums, but Madrid has a better choice of art museums. The history of Madrid dates back to the stone age and the history of Barcelona can be traced back to Neolithic times.

Barcelona also benefits from several Roman archaeological sites. 

If you love sightseeing then there is plenty to look at in both cities. Barcelona has the benefit of the beaches which is great if you have children with you or a family, as a day at the beach will never get boring.

Some of the locals get frustrated with the number of tourists that pile in and out of the city every day, so you may not find Barcelona to feel as welcoming as Madrid.

It is also a popular destination for cruises, which means you will see countless giant cruise ships pulling up in the port. 

Madrid is more pedestrian friendly. Most things are walking distance and the layout is more compact. It feels safer to walk late at night as most places are well populated and busy.

Barcelona is more spread out. You will need to use public transport to get between the different tourist attractions and sights. Some areas in between are not very safe to walk around at night, and pick-pocketing is rife. 

The traditional music and dance of Barcelona is the Catalan Rumba, along with traditional folk dances like the Sardana.

You can see lots of live music events in Barcelona, with many major artists including a Barcelona venue on their world tours. Flamenco is popular in Madrid, but the native music is chotis music.

You can also watch a range of live music in Madrid.  Both cities have a range of theaters and opera houses where you can take in a show. 

Madrid is home to one of the biggest Pride events in the world, which is another great cultural aspect of the city. You also can’t ignore the fashion scene in Madrid, and its status as a major financial center of Europe. 

Cost Of Living 

When it comes to visiting, Madrid is cheaper than Barcelona. Barcelona is very geared towards tourists which means a lot of food and drink is quite overpriced.

However, the accommodation is more reasonably priced to entice more visitors. If you do your research and try to find the less tourist focused areas, then you can still make your visit quite cheap. 

Madrid is a more expensive city to live in than Barcelona, but only slightly. The rent tends to be higher  because it is a capital city.

However, as other items are less expensive it would probably balance out. The average wages in Madrid are also higher. Overall, there isn’t a huge difference in the cost of living. 

So, Barcelona Or Madrid? 

Both cities are amazing and well worth a visit. Madrid offers more of an authentic Spanish experience, it is a capital city, and it has an amazing atmosphere.

Barcelona is fun with plenty to see and do and more obvious attractions, but it can feel like a bit of a tourist production line sometimes.

It is so overrun with tourists that it can be overwhelming, and getting around can be stressful due to the crowds. 

If you are looking for a city to relocate to, we would also recommend Madrid. It is a welcoming city with a good quality of life, excellent employment opportunities and good wages.

A lot of the best places to go in Madrid take a bit of time to find, but once you have explored the city you will have an endless wonderland of adventure at your disposal.

Madrid has a very relaxing atmosphere for a capital city. Barcelona is set up to be enjoyed by tourists, whereas Madrid is a haven for local people who want to relax and soak up their city and culture at a slower pace. 


If you are looking for a fun, action packed holiday with plenty of sightseeing and some time at the beach then head to Barcelona.

If you want to take things a little slower, soak in the history and look round the art museums then visit Madrid. A lot of people say that Barcelona is a great city to visit but Madrid is a great city to live in.

Whichever city you go to, you will have an amazing time and can experience Spain in all its glory. 

Mylene Mace