As part of my journey across the pond to visit my family during Christmas, I made Barcelona the first pit stop. My super cheap flight to Iceland (100 euros) flew out of there, so I went a few days early to check out Christmastime in Barcelona. (Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous Spanish region called Catalonia. You may have heard about their fight for independence in the news lately, but not to worry. It’s perfectly safe!)
The last time I truly discovered Barcelona was during my studies abroad in France, when I came for Festes de la Merce, a crazy festival featuring human stacking, firework parades, and firefighters drenching crowds in water. This city’s undying energy, friendly people, inspiring art, and crowded streets are some of the reasons that made me want to live in Spain.
Now that I’ve lived in Madrid for the last 8 months, I wasn’t expecting to have my breath taken away like the first time I visited seven years ago.
And I was right. For the most part, I felt like I was right at home in Madrid. The people, the food, the language, the culture, and the architecture. But if I dig deeper, I can pinpoint some pretty significant differences.
Barcelona vs Madrid… (personal opinions)
Barcelona vs Madrid: Tourism
Barcelona is much more touristic. That’s a known fact. But what this translates to is: many more people speak English. This goes hand in hand with getting treated more like a tourist, even if you speak Spanish (even if it’s poorly, like me.) People have that mindset that you’re only here for a few days and may treat you like a person just passing through. Not much effort is put into treating people like long-time customers, because they know you won’t be. In Madrid, the feeling is a little different, especially if you avoid the super-tourist areas.
Barcelona vs Madrid: Nightlife
Barcelona’s nightlife…? Did I miss something here? Most of the places we visited were winding down at midnight (this was on Friday.) I’m not talking nightclubs, I’m talking more about the bars with music that usually stay open until 3am in Madrid. Didn’t see that in Barcelona. Saturday night definitely felt more lively. Perhaps I just know more about where to go in Madrid vs relying on people’s advice on places to visit in Barcelona.
Barcelona vs Madrid: Food
Top notch in both places. There seem to be more healthy options in Barcelona. You would think that Barcelona’s seafood would top Madrid’s, considering the proximity of the sea, but don’t forget that Madrid is the capital of Spain, therefore the imports are top quality in terms of food. My opinion.
Barcelona vs Madrid: Language
You’ll find Spanish in both places. In Barcelona, as I mentioned, English is more widespread. But don’t let that hold you back from visiting Madrid. Most people speak English in Madrid, although it may be difficult to understand at times.
The difference about Barcelona is that their official language is Catalonian. Therefore you will most likely see everything written out in Catalonian, Spanish and English.
Barcelona vs Madrid: Architecture
This one is tricky for me to compare. The buildings are very similar in terms of physical appearance. However, with Gaudi having such a prominent presence in Barcelona, the entire city absorbs his influence. His signature style is using broken tiles to make unsymmetrical designs. That’s become so popular that you will see imitations of his work throughout bars, restaurants, stores, and more. It makes for a more colorful city.
Barcelona vs Madrid: In Summary
Barcelona has it’s own charm, but still feels very much like Madrid. There was a bit of an “ocean” vibe, which I don’t know how else to put in words.
Madrid feels like a more authentic Spain, thanks to fewer tourists and less English, among other things.
You just have to experience both for yourself!
Saving the best for last…. Comparing religious & Christmas traditions…
This one deserved it’s own blog post. Read that here >