Madrid or Barcelona: Where Should You Vacation in Spain?

Which city has the better weather? What spot should you visit for the food? We answer these questions and more.

A couple dancing on a balcony that overlooks the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

4min read

Published 6 June 2024

Flight Centre Author



Which city has the better weather? What spot should you visit for the food? We answer these questions and more.

In sports, there’s a very intense rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid — but that’s a discussion for another time. Today, we’re going to take team loyalties out of the equation and focus instead on how Barcelona and Madrid (two of the biggest cities in Spain) compare in terms of travel.

It can be really difficult to choose which spot to visit, so we’ve gone ahead and done the hard work for you. Keep on reading to discover the similarities and differences between the two cities, what you can experience in each destination and why you might want to pick one over the other. 

Park Güell in Barcelona
Park Güell in Barcelona
Park Güell in Barcelona

Geography and climate

Madrid and Barcelona are less than 650km from each other and therefore have a pretty similar climate. But even so, there are some things to be aware of while planning your trip.

Barcelona, for example, is more of a beach town. Nestled on the northeast coast of Spain between the Pyrenees Mountains and Mediterranean Sea, temperatures rise to around 30°C in the summer and only drop to around 10°C in the winter. Madrid has a more extreme climate. It can get as chilly as 4°C in the winter and soar to 40°C or higher in the summer months — and it doesn’t have any beaches to offer a respite from the heat!

Both cities can be enjoyed in every season, but if you prefer to travel like Goldilocks and feel “just right” throughout the duration of your vacation, set your sights on Barcelona or visit the Spanish capital, Madrid, during the spring (March/April) or fall (September/October).

A couple buying produce from a market in Spain
A couple buying produce from a market in Spain
A couple buying produce from a market in Spain


No matter where you travel, it helps to use the local language. In this case, that means you should try to speak Spanish as much as possible. But that’s not the only language you’ll hear in this part of the world. In Barcelona, for instance, you’ll hear people speaking Catalan. This Western Romance language is similar to Spanish and is spoken in several areas throughout the country — including Catalonia (the region Barcelona is in), Valencia and the Balearic Islands.

Since Barcelona and Madrid are both popular tourist destinations, however, you can likely get away with speaking English in both cities.

A woman exiting a metro station in Spain
A woman exiting a metro station in Spain
A woman exiting a metro station in Spain


Getting to Barcelona and Madrid is simple. Each boasts a large international airport — Barcelona El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport (BCN) and Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD), respectively — that welcomes flights from more than 60 countries. Not only that, but direct flights are available from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montréal and several other Canadian cities.

And once you arrive, getting around is easy! Both Barcelona and Madrid have fantastic metro and public transit systems with mostly accessible stations, and are great to explore on foot. The two destinations really only differ from each other when it comes to venturing outside the city walls and making day trips. 

While Barcelona’s proximity to the Balearic Islands (including Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza) and France is certainly nice, it’s more difficult to travel to other parts of Spain from here. Madrid, on the other hand, is a major hub and is well-connected to many Spanish cities. You can get to Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Seville and more in less than three hours on the high-speed AVE train.

A room at the Meliá Madrid Princesa hotel
A room at the Meliá Madrid Princesa hotel
A room at the Meliá Madrid Princesa hotel


Don’t let your decision about where to travel in Spain hinge on the type of accommodation available. Whether you choose Barcelona or Madrid, you’ll have options that range from budget-friendly hostels to boutique hotels and luxurious 5-star properties. Just keep in mind that prices tend to be higher in Barcelona (more on this later).  

Here are a few of our top picks in both Barcelona and Madrid:


  • Citadine Ramblas Barcelona: Located on Barcelona’s famous La Rambla boulevard (also known as Las Ramblas), this aparthotel in the city centre features comfortable rooms with fully equipped kitchens, plus a gorgeous shared patio space. 
  • Iberostar Selection Paseo de Gracia: Love art and design? Then this is the hotel for you! Every single space — from the Ca’s Menestral restaurant and rooftop pool to the colourfully painted courtyard — is just begging for a spot on your Instagram feed.
  • Meliá Barcelona Sky: Meliá Barcelona Sky is a standout in the trendy El Poblenou neighbourhood. Designed by French architect Dominique Perrault, it boasts elegant suites, a relaxing spa, an outdoor pool and a sky-high terrace that offers breathtaking views of the city.


  • Atocha Hotel Madrid, Tapestry Collection by Hilton: Stand-alone tubs, in-room fitness equipment, separate living areas and kitchenettes — the accommodations at this hotel have been designed to suit every type of traveller, from young couples to large families. 
  • H10 Tribeca, Madrid: Named after New York’s Tribeca neighbourhood, this hotel in Madrid’s bustling financial district has a modern, industrial style.
  • Meliá Madrid Princesa: It doesn’t get much more central than this. Meliá Madrid Princesa is situated near two public squares, Plaza de España and Puerta del Sol. In other words, it’s an avant-garde property in the heart of the capital city.
Two women walking near that Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Two women walking near that Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Two women walking near that Arc de Triomf in Barcelona

Attractions and nightlife

When it comes to tourist sights, attractions, activities and experiences, Madrid and Barcelona are actually pretty similar. They both have a lively atmosphere, historic districts with cobblestone streets, and world-class museums. Each of these things varies depending on which city you’re in though.

Let’s take a closer look at how:

Art and architecture

If you prefer to gaze at contemporary art and jaw-dropping architecture, you’ll love Barcelona. It’s home to the Picasso Museum as well as Antoni Gaudí’s famous structures: La Sagrada Família, Casa Batlló, Casa Milà and Casa Vicens. And then there’s the incredible Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. There truly is something to marvel at around every corner.

In Madrid, there’s more of a focus on European art (at both the Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum). However, the buildings in Madrid are less impressive. Don’t get us wrong! The Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor are still worth seeing… it’s just that Barcelona’s Modernisme architecture is almost impossible to beat.

Beaches and parks

As previously mentioned, you can find some amazing beaches in Barcelona. It is, after all, situated on the sea. Given that Madrid is located in central Spain, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any shores there — but the capital city does have some great outdoor spaces, including the sculpture- and fountain-filled El Retiro Park.


Love dancing into the wee hours of the morning? Pick Madrid over Barcelona! While the latter does have a lively nightlife scene, it just doesn’t compare to the diverse and eclectic bars in Madrid, particularly those in the Malasaña and Chueca neighbourhood.

As you can see, there’s a lot of rich history and Spanish culture to soak up in both Madrid and Barcelona. Your choice really needs to come down to what you like to do on vacation. Do you prefer to bask in the sun, wander through modern art museums or party until dawn?

A plate of Spanish tapas
A plate of Spanish tapas
A plate of Spanish tapas


The culinary scene is alive and well in both Madrid and Barcelona — each city is peppered (pun intended) with traditional tapas bars, typical taverns and Michelin-starred restaurants. 

That said, you’ll get slightly different experiences in each city as Spanish food varies greatly across regions. Since Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean, you can expect seafood-forward menus. Think paella loaded with shrimp, mussels and squid; lobster croquettes; and chipirones, Spain’s version of calamari. In Madrid, traditional dishes tend to be more hearty and humble. Cocido madrileño (a chickpea-based stew) is a must-try.

Both cities are also home to outstanding food markets. La Boqueria in Barcelona and Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid are a true feast for the senses. From fresh fruit and produce to cheese, cured meats, coffee and pastries, their stalls and counters are filled to the brim with delicious local fare.

When it comes to food, it really doesn’t matter if you visit Barcelona or Madrid. Both destinations will leave you feeling fully satisfied.

A group of five friends posing for a selfie in Spain
A group of five friends posing for a selfie in Spain
A group of five friends posing for a selfie in Spain

Currency and affordability

Since Barcelona and Madrid are both in Spain, there’s no difference when it comes to currency — they both use the euro. But of course, prices vary across the two cities. Just like you expect to pay more for a coffee in Toronto than you would in Regina, you should be prepared to spend more for a plate of patatas bravas in one Spanish city than you would in another.

Generally speaking, Barcelona sees more tourists and is therefore more expensive. You’ll likely pay more for accommodations, attractions and food in this seaside location than you would in the capital city. For instance, did you know that many of the trendy bars in Madrid serve free tapas alongside your drinks? Restaurants in Barcelona aren’t as likely to do this. 

Regardless of which city you’ve set your sights on, Flight Centre’s travel consultants are prepared to work with your budget to plan an unforgettable vacation. Our experts have a ton of personal travel experience under their belts and are keen to share their money-saving tips and tricks. 


As you can tell, there’s no easy way to determine whether you should visit Madrid or if you would prefer Barcelona. Each is special in its own way and both are worthy of being on your travel bucket list. Need a little more help deciding? Check out our current Spain travel deals or chat with a consultant today.

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