After countless of hours of planning and thinking, you finally decided Spain is the place you want live at, but now you’re faced with a bigger dilemma – which city should you choose? Barcelona or Madrid?
They are the two biggest and most popular cities in Spain and it is completely understandable if you can’t choose between the two, in fact, there is no right answer to this question. It all depends on your preferences, your objectives, your life goals, your personality and much more – both cities are incredible and both cities offer different yet initially similar experiences in the end, and it will all come down to what you want.
The Touristy Feeling
Even though Madrid is much bigger than Barcelona, it does not receive as many tourists as Barcelona does. In Barcelona, it is very easy to blend in, since no matter the time of the year, the streets will always be packed with tourists. It’s not easy to blend in with locals and a lot of your relationships and friendships with people might be short-lived.
Living in Barcelona is like being on a long-term vacation, while Madrid has more of a general serious vibe while retaining some of the quintessential Spanish way of life. Madrid also has more of the traditional Spanish life that you might want to explore and experience, while Barcelona has more of an expat vibe (even though Madrid has numerous expat communities) but it’s just easier to blend in and adapt faster in Barcelona with the people than it is in Madrid.
If you’re going to Spain for the sole purpose of learning Spanish, then Madrid is definitely the place to be. Firstly, even though everyone in Barcelona speaks Spanish, it is not their first language and you’ll barely hear it on the streets, it will either be Catalan, English or one of the many languages of the tourists there. All the signs in Barcelona are also in Catalan, so immersion would not be the easiest thing to do. In Madrid, it would be much easier to learn Spanish, since not only do you get to deal with locals more (who speak Spanish), you’ll be hearing it everywhere, and seeing it everywhere.
Both Madrid and Barcelona are beautiful cities with gorgeous neighborhoods, cathedrals, museums and much more, but Madrid has more of a contemporary vibe than Barcelona. If you prefer “contemporary” “skyscrapers” and “modern” over Barcelona’s Gaudi-inspired architecture, then Madrid is for you. In Barcelona, however, the streets look much more “European” and “Spanish” where you get to walk through Gaudi Buildings, pass the Sagrada Familia, explore the Gothic Quarter, pend your time at Las Ramblas and finally shop at Plaza Catalunya. In the end, Barcelona is more “picture-worthy” and eye-pleasing than Madrid, but, again, if you’re more into “hustling cities” then Madrid is for you!
Even though Madrid does have mountains surrounding it where you can go for a hike on the weekends, Barcelona has gorgeous landscapes everywhere you go. The blue skies, colorful streets and the ocean add a touch to it that is incomparable to any other city.
Even though Barcelona is culturally richer than Madrid when it comes to architecture, there is no competition when it comes to museums. There are a few important museums scattered around Barcelona, but nothing comes close to some of the most important in all of Europe: El Prado, Reina Sofia or Thyssen-Bornemisza with works of art from all centuries.
If you are freelancing, or will be teaching English as an expat in any of these two cities, then it really wouldn’t matter where you go, but if you do not speak English and are looking for a job, Madrid is your best bet. Madrid has, in general, better job opportunities, higher salaries and a more “multinational vibe” than Barcelona, where it can be easier to find a job if you only speak English.
The summer months in both Barcelona and Madrid are scorching hot, however, the only difference is that Madrid is much colder in the winter with more frequent rain than Barcelona.
The nightlife in both Barcelona and Madrid is overwhelming, as people start going out to bars at 11 pm then to clubs at 2 am, and in both places you’ll find hundreds of people in the streets at 4 am on weekends, still singing and dancing to the echo of the music from the clubs. However, Madrid has far more options than Barcelona since it’s a much bigger city.
As you can see, the differences between both of them are minor and both cities will end up giving you a great life experience that you won’t forget. In the end, it will all depend on what atmosphere, vibe and culture you want to be mostly surrounded with. Do you want authenticity or touristy? Cultural or modern? Mountains or beaches? Cold or warm? Museums or beautiful neighborhoods?
So which will it be? Barcelona or Madrid?
P.S. Looking to learn Spanish?
Then check out the Rocket Spanish language course. It’s the most effective course we’ve found to take you from no Spanish to having conversations with natives. They have a free-trial, so no worries if you don’t want to commit right away.