Postcards from Abroad: Barcelona VS Madrid

Hola everyone! So Madrid or Barcelona? Barcelona or Madrid? Their rivalry is legendary and it doesn’t just stop at football, especially at the moment with the Catalan independence movement in full swing.They’re the two biggest cities in Spain, as you probably well know and, consequently, the most popular for tourists and Spanish students alike. I got to visit both on two consecutive long weekends, which perhaps was a slightly misguided idea for my sleeping pattern but yolo. I live about smack bang between the two, being only an hour’s drive from Zaragoza and needed a proper city break after a long week of work in Calamocha.



So; one girl, two of Europe’s most famous cities and two weekends, who came out as the ultimate winner? I will judge on accommodation, food, shopping and activities. Let the battle commence!

For my weekend in Barcelona I stayed with friend and fellow Leeds uni Spanish student Megan in her awesome apartment with a fab roof terrace. We also met up with fellow Gryphon blogger Josh during my 3 days and 3 nights there. I was there for Halloween weekend so obviously the city was buzzing with excitement. All weekend there were people on the metro dressed up in all kinds of costumes (I myself was Death, Megan an alien and Josh a scary old lady)with tourists flocking in from left, right and centre. It wasn’t my first time in Barcelona, but it was my first time as a student of legal drinking age without her family so let’s just say we didn’t just do sight-seeing.

While I was in Madrid I stayed in the fanciest hostel ever called The Hat with my twin sister Anna and fellow British Council Language Assistant Emily. This hostel was on another level, it boasted a fantastic roof terrace with hipstery lights and drinks and, as if it couldn’t get any better, the ensuite bathroom had a rain shower. I know; this is like no hostel I’d ever stayed in before either! If anyone is planning on a trip to Madrid then you haveto stay there, or at least have a drink on the terrace. I’d recommend the vermouth, you know, when in Madrid, do as the Madrileños do!

So accommodation is a tie. You can’t beat the combination of good friends, booze and a roof terrace.

As any of my friends will tell you I am a huge foodie so obviously local delicacies were a must on both of my visits. I visited loads of bars, cafés and restaurants, spending far too much money in the process but having major foodgasms to make up for it.

Anyway, Barcelona had a lot to offer on the traditional and international side of things. On my first night I had crema catalana and every day of the weekend we went out for some spectacular brunches. As Josh said, it was definitely “instagrammable” as well as delicious. I didn’t actually have any traditional Spanish consumables while I was there, which is more the pity, but definitely did not go hungry. Only thing is, late-night food, an absolute must for me I’m sorry to say, was a huge issue which puts Barcelona a tiny bit behind.

In Madrid I went a bit more traditional visiting tapas bars, restaurants offering “raciones” (bigger tapas essentially) and cervecerías offering bocaditos de calamares along with ice-cold Cruzcampo beer and finally the two oldest churrerías in Spain, San Ginés and 1902. These were all sensational if you love Spanish cuisine, and available at all hours so Madrid just wins on the food front I think!


Shopping-wise both cities have so much to offer. Food, vintage, book and antiques markets, big brands and independent boutiques- you name it!

My particular favourites in Barcelona were in the El Raval and theGrácia areas. Only there could you find an organic food shop, yoga shop and Japanese restaurant in one! Also their El Central bookshop is absolutely fantastic; I could spend hours there. The food market is world-famous and great to wander around.

Madrid has the fantastic flea market called El Rastro, the biggest El Corte Ingles in Spain and the shopping district calledFuencarral. Lots of money was spent on “essential” items!

I did prefer the Barcelona shopping scene just because it had lots more independent and quirky shops.

So now on to activities, two huge cities obviously have a wide variety of things to do, places to be and people to see.

In Barcelona I went a bit more off the beaten track activity-wise. Megan and Josh have been living there for 3 months or thereabouts and showed me their Barcelona. Which is what I love about cities, you can personalise it and uncover new hidden places or things that change the city for you. Megan took me to some old civil war bunkers, the bunkers del Carmel as the locals call them, which are right up in the hills and give you a great panoramic view of the city. We also walked through the studenty areas of El Raval and Grácia, popping in to various unique vintage clothes shops, hippy yoga/organic food/antique shops or book stalls on the way which was utter heaven for me! We did do the scenic walk along the Barcelonetaseafrontand the port on a very windy Sunday after stuffing our faces with brunch, which was touristy but lovely all the same. Barcelona seemed to have an atmosphere which was simultaneously very chilled and also very excited, I don’t know how else to explain it.


As for Madrid we stuck more to the mainstream tourist route by going to the world-famous Reina Sofía art gallery and making a fool of ourselvestrying out rowing in Retiro Park. We also wandered around the city’s various plazas and ambled around different districts like the Latina quarter which was an incredible experience. On the Saturday we managed to go and see Spectre with only Spanish subtitles instead of full-on dubbing which I consider a huge success of research.

If Madrid were a person, I’d say it was sophisticated señor with an intellectual air and a glass of red wine or vermouth in one hand. Kind of like Antonio Banderas crossed with George Clooney. If Barcelona were a person, I’d say they were a vibrant and sun-loving hipster (perhaps just straying in to the edgy arena!) with a twinkle in their eye and an ice-cold beer in their hand. Maybe Javier Bardem meets Johnny Depp.

Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for, and this article is certainly not definitive. But for me, Barcelona just floats my boat. I can’t wait to go back!

Ella Sagar

Leave a Reply