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Barcelona Vs. Madrid: comparing cities

Old Jan 6th, 2005, 01:21 PM
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Barcelona Vs. Madrid: comparing cities


Before I turn 26 in March, I intend to travel to Spain for as long as possible. Currently, I am an American graphic designer in New York City (, and live in Brooklyn. Freelancing in either city would be a dream. I am familiar with Spanish, but need to learn the language (Catalan or Castillian), once I arrive. I'm doing all of my research on Madrid and Barcelona, but I find it hard to draw concrete lines and decide on which city to commit myself to. I would love to hear your impressions, opinions, and advice on both cities. From what I have learned so far, Barcelona is a very tourist-based city, small, but quite beautiful. It may become stale after a long stay. Madrid seems to be more like New York, but not nearly as cultural and open-minded as the former. Thanks to all, any information you could supply is deeply appreciated.
coreydesign is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2005, 01:44 PM
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Bar-the-lona is no small city but a megalopolis that won't go stale any quicker than Madrid. Barcelona's old quarter is one of the finest in europe and Gaudi's edifices spice up the city. madrid is one of Europe's less beautiful cities, a boisterous smog-filled huge conurbation, with some great museums and a few nice squares but generally not as romantic as Barcelona. barcelona has the reputation as one of Europe's most cultural cities, whatever that means. Plus it's a port and the sea adds to its beauty. Madrid has better day trips - Toledo, Avila, Segovia and Salamanca are all wonderfully goregous old looking cities not far away from rail or road. Barcelona has some too, especially Montserrat, the famous crag-top pilgrimmage mecca. You can't go wrong; i would chose Barcelona hands down but that's just one opinion.
PalQ is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2005, 03:04 PM
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I loved both cities when I visited last year, but really fell in love with Madrid. I think, maybe, my expectations for Barcelona were too hi. The Gaudi architecture really was amazing, but I did find the city to be very much a "tourist town" and I thought the waterfront, although beautiful for an urban setting, really wasn't that inviting a place to hang out. Madrid does have more of a New York/London feel, but I thought the museums and architecture there was stunning and beautiful. As for the language, I found I needed more spanish in Madrid, where most of the tourists were spanish, than in Barcelona, where the tourists were more international and there wasn't much of an expectation that you could speak Castillian. That probably doesn't help much, but consider it a vote for Madrid.
WriteThisWay is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2005, 03:58 PM
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Barcelona and Madrid are completely different cities, right down to the lifestyle prevalent in each, so, drawing logical comparisons is a bit difficult. Each has it's beauty and drawbacks, but you learn to take the good with the not so good. And as already pointed out, Barcelona is not a small city by any measurement, but Madrid remains the heart of Spain.

You may want to do a little further research before deciding where to spend the time. Besides reading Maribel's Guides to Madrid and Barcelona (, you may want to check out the following web sites to gather some more information:
Robert2533 is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2005, 06:54 PM
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We spent a week each in Madrid and Barcelona in November. I suggest that you try both and see which you like best. The museums in Madrid, especially the Prado, are extraordinary and worth a trip in themselves. However, I liked the feel of Barcelona. If you go to Madrid, I would encourage you to try for the penthouse at the Hotel Plaza Major. We were able to get it for E100, but it's a great bargain at the rack of E120.
Joe_in_Silver_Spring is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2005, 11:07 PM
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Why not do both? You don't say how long you are staying, but I infer that you intend on stay for weeks or months. For me, Barcelona wins by a comfortable margin. The Old Quarter, The Ramblas, the culture, the architecture, the people, the Mediteranean; I just prefer it to Madrid. I agree with PalQ about day trips; Madrid is much better for that. Good luck.
fishskis is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2005, 02:52 AM
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I agree with most of what has been said already. I too favor Barcelona as more vibrant and exciting and I have to believe it would surely be preferrable for a 26 year old. It has a much more youthful vibe. Suggest you commit to Barcelona and travel to Madrid to see if you made the right choice and got the right advice. Both are, however, quite wonderful so that even if your choice is not perfect, it won't be flat out wrong.
JulieVikmanis is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2005, 08:56 AM
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This is more advice than I could have hoped for, thank you all so much. I think for a LONG term trip, the best to do is settle in Barcelona and then plan for a week out in Madrid, just in case. Again, you guys are the best! Thanks!
coreydesign is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2005, 09:16 AM
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Think you have definitely made the right choice, and am I envious!

Best of luck with your trip, career, and all.
Old Jan 7th, 2005, 09:30 AM
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I've taken language courses in both Barcelona and Madrid, and visited Madrid several more times. Although I like Madrid, I love Barcelona. I'm taking my fiancee there for our honeymoon. I love Barcelona for its architecture and overall sense of style. They both have great nightlife. Madrid, however, may have Barcelona beaten for fine arts museums - as you're a graphic designer, that might interest you.

There are a number of language skills that give you the option of taking courses in 2 or more cities, so that you only get tested for language level once, are able to continue in the same textbook series, don't have to pay double administrative fees, etc. I took courses with in Barcelona and Madrid, and took a course with Academia Mester ( in Salamanca. I would strongly recommend both schools - Mester also has programs in Madrid and Barcelona.

You might also think about the time of year that you plan to visit. Madrid gets extremely hot in the summer.
Kate_W is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2005, 06:21 AM
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Hi Kate, I'm not sure how to email you directly, so I hope you get this… Your reply that mentions a language school that allows travel between barcelona and madrid sounds PERFECT for my situation. Do you have more info on this? Which of the two schools that you mentioned offer this? I want to make a very very long trip, and need to be happy with my decision between the cities. I intend to continue my freelance work and will soon need an apartment.
coreydesign is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2005, 04:50 PM
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Hi Corey:

I believe that both Don Quijote and Mester allow you to switch cities. The website addresses are in my last message, and you should be able to find information about how to switch cities, either in the prices section or the course descriptions. The one thing I noticed, though, is that Mester's Barcelona school is an "affiliate", not a Mester school.

I studied with Mester in Salamanca, and with Don Quijote in Barcelona and Madrid. I was pleased with both schools. I particularly liked the Barcelona branch of don Quijote (location, teachers, etc.) It's located just on the border of the Eixample district and the Barri Gottic. It has an attached residence. I didn't stay there, but the person I know who did thought it was fine for a short-term stay (she was about 35; she said it was full of 20-year olds). I didn't like the apartment that Mester arranged for me in Salamanca. I ended up checking out and moving into a hotel (I was at the end of a year-long trip away from home and was homesick, so I splurged). Don Quijote's Madrid school was very central, comfortable, functional and newly renovated, but not particularly atmospheric.

I find Don Quijote's website to be quite useful. Overall, I'd probably book with them again.
Kate_W is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2005, 05:59 PM
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I agree with Kate. Madrid is likable, but Barcelona is to be loved. It's more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated, more beautiful and more worldly. It's vibrant and festive, and the architecture is the best big city architecture south of the Seine.
Madrid has the great museums, killer all-night nightlife and more quintessential Spanish-ness, but Barcelona is the city I want to return to.
martytravels is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2005, 11:51 PM
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I love them both but after spending a couple of very long and wild nights in Madrid clubs I disagree that Barcelona is "more wordly."
Intrepid1 is offline  
Old Jan 26th, 2005, 06:12 AM
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It's not even close. Madrid is a very boring place. It's a relatively new city with little of historical interest or natural beauty. If you like really dull musueum's however, Madrid is just the ticket.
metellus is offline  
Old Feb 17th, 2005, 11:24 PM
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^Yeah.You're absolutely correct about it not being a close contest.Except that it's Madrid that blows Barcelona away.I was lucky enough to have lived in both for about a year.And to say that Madrid is dull.How come it's considered to have the best nightlife in the world?Madrid has left Barcelona for dead in economic and intellectual impetus in the last couple of decades.I found that the longer i stayed in Barcelona,the less i liked it.With Madrid it's the other way around.Madrid is quite simply the Capital in virtually anything you wish to mention.You would be making a big mistake if you chose Barcelona over Madrid.
Nago is offline  
Old Feb 18th, 2005, 01:06 AM
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Barcelona is more of a festive, artsy city. Madrid is more complex - political, historical, artsy, fast nightlife, etc. I think long term Madrid is a better choice. You can always visit Barcelona.
rv224 is offline  
Old Feb 18th, 2005, 02:32 AM
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Barcelona is boring, bland, and utterly pretentious. Gaudi's as an architect should've had his hands chopped off, appalling designs from both aesthetic and practical viewpoints. There's nothing to recommend Barcelona.

Now Madrid is a real city with history, culture, and none of the pretensions of Barcelona, far more charming, and a place one can actually warm to.
m_kingdom2 is offline  
Old Feb 18th, 2005, 05:45 AM
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Hey hey hey, let's agree that it's a matter of taste, style of living, preferences -- no absolutes! My preference is Barcelona but I sure would love a week or month or season in Madrid, too. I happen to think the museums are great, would probably not partake of the nightlife, but there's plenty else I would enjoy, including gardens, older residential sections, etc.

If I had to choose between Madrid and Barcelona, however, I'd probably choose Barcelona because of the mixture of cultures, styles, cuisines, etc.

And unlike m_kingdom-- who is entitled to an opinion but could dial down the attitude -- I enjoy Gaudi tremendously for the silliness and joy, but prefer the Parc Guell to, say, the cathedral -- and some of the other modernista stuff could be judged "better" than Gaudi.

But the great thing about Barcelona is that Gaudi isn't all there is -- there's everything from ancient Roman to medieval to Renaissance to modernista to very contemporary -- and beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean!

There's a lot to be positive about both cities -- not worth the energy of being negative about either one.
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