Madrid vs Barcelona: How to Pick One


When one thinks of Spain, it’s Madrid and Barcelona that come to mind before anything else.

Madrid is the Spanish capital, and is a hub for tourism in the same way cities like Rome or Paris are. Barcelona, however, is arguably more well known than Madrid, and is often confused as the capital city because of this factor.

Despite sharing a homeland, Barcelona and Madrid are vastly different travel destinations. Choosing just one for a trip can be a journey in itself. Here is everything you need to know when making your selection.

Barcelona – by Toa Heftiba – Unsplash

Traveling in Spain

If Spain were a sphere, you’d find Madrid directly in the center of it. Barcelona, on the other hand, lies directly east and slightly north of Madrid, on the easternmost coast of the country; not far from where Spain boarders with France.

There are 621km between the two cities; a six and a half journey by car. This gives you perspective as to why few people choose to do both cities during a single trip to Spain, opting rather to explore one in its entirety instead.

Traveling to Spain is interesting because both of the major cities have highly evolved air transportation hubs that facilitate travel across Europe. Usually travelers have to fly into a capital city before venturing to smaller towns from there, but in Spain you have easy access by air into both Madrid and Barcelona from anywhere outside of the land.

I suppose this doesn’t help at all with narrowing down your city selection. Let’s delve a little deeper…


Madrid is a beautiful city, aesthetically. It’s the more pristine, architecturally uniform of the two cities, with buildings and streets that remind me a lot of the Haussmann-styles found in Paris.

Essentially, Madrid is your typical European landscape offering functional infrastructure and up market facilities.

Madrid is where most of Spain’s government sectors are housed. As you walk through the streets you’ll pass by all of the impressive ministry buildings. In this sense, one could say that Madrid is noticeably more “serious” of a city compared to the quirky nature of Barcelona.

Madrid – by Florian Wehde – Unsplash

Madrid is also a hub for art. You’ll find some of the best museums in the world here, including the Reina Sofia Museum which is my favorite one on the European continent.

Madrid is also a fantastic shopping hub. This is where big fashion brands from all over the world set up shop in order to distribute around greater Spain. There are also eclectic weekly markets that pop up in this city and they give Madrid an alternative edge. 

The Spanish capital is nowhere near as green as Barcelona, but Madrid does offer the lush el Retiro Park to visitors. This public green space is open to all and gives one the opportunity to lay on some grass, or paddle in a boat, right in the city center.

Madrid – by Alex Vasey – Unsplash

In my subjective opinion, Madrid is not somewhere you want to spend more than five days exploring. Even three days in this city would be sufficient in conveying the essence of the place. More than this would invoke repetitive excursions and you’d have to start day tripping to places like Toledo or Chinchon.


Barcelona, our city on the coast, is a vibrant Mecca of art, culture and hospitality. It’s the most well known beach getaway in the country, in spite of the fact that Spain has a plethora of far more beautiful beaches (a story for another day).

The experience of Barcelona changed drastically just under 20 years ago when the city built their first beaches. Up until 1992, Barcelona had no beaches and was merely a port-side city.

The beaches have transformed this place into a relaxing vacation spot where one can experience the best of the city and the coast simultaneously.

Barcelona – Daniel Corneschi – Unsplash

Barcelona is incredibly vibrant and expressive in nature. The architecture here is nothing like what you’ll see in Madrid; Gaudi was famously responsible for his contributions to the weird and wonderful buildings we enjoy to this day. The city is also deeply rooted in the gothic era that influenced a lot of infrastructure during earlier centuries. No two neighborhoods look the same in Barcelona.

Often, Barcelona feels like a magical escapist land in which there are infinite possibilities at any given time. Everything is a form of radical self expression, even the food.

Since Barcelona is the Catalan capital, the cuisine is absolutely phenomenal. Spain’s cuisines differ depending on where you find yourself in the country, and Catalonia is know for having some of the best dishes overall.

Barcelona – by Enes – Unsplash

In Barcelona you’ll eat yourself silly; gorging on tapas, paella and fresh seafood until you pop. Once you’re done, the city nightlife awaits and areas like el Raval and Poblesec will carry you through to the early hours of the following morning.

If you weren’t already sold, Barcelona also offers some fantastic museums including the renowned Joan Miro Foundation and the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter.

Moving Between Both: A Realistic Venture?

If you’re considering doing both Madrid and Barcelona over a single trip, then read on!

This is entirely doable, and depends largely on how much time you have while traveling.

There is a daily train service between Madrid and Barcelona that operates at high speed. You can move between the two cities in just under three hours one way.

Barcelona – by Federico Giampieri – Unsplash

As mentioned, making the trip by car will cost you six and a half hours of travel time. While a bus will come in at over eight hours.

The direct flight between Barcelona and Madrid is just an hour and twenty minutes. This is also a viably effect option if you want to fit both cities into a single getaway.

For more information on the best way to travel between Barcelona and Madrid, click here!

Plannig a trip to Barcelona ? Get ready !

These are Amazon’s best-selling travel products that you may need for coming to Barcelona.

  1. The best travel book : Rick Steves – Pocket Barcelona – Learn more here
  2. Shvigel Leather Passport Cover – Learn more here
  3. Venture Pal Lightweight Backpack – Learn more here
  4. Etekcity Digital Hanging Luggage Scale – Learn more here
  5. Swig Savvy’s Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle – Learn more here
  6. Samsonite Winfield 2 28″ Luggage – Learn more here

Check Amazon’s best-seller list for the most popular travel accessories. We sometimes read this list just to find out what new travel products people are buying.