In 2016, my friends and I agreed that Spain would be our next big trip together. So when a deal for flights from IAD to BCN appeared, we immediately booked for March 2017. Originally, we just focused on Barcelona due to the positive things we heard about the city. As the trip was approaching, my friend Christian and I decided that we’d branch out to different cities in Spain while everyone else pondered the idea of flying out to Paris instead. We had a total of 6 nights in Spain, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to see three different Spanish cities. Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia were my selections.
Sure enough, a few months before we were scheduled to embark on this next adventure, the majority of the group agreed it’d be best to stay within Spain for the duration of the trip. Luckily they did because Madrid and Valencia were favored over Barcelona!
Now, I’ll dedicate a separate post for Valencia because that city was by far my favorite of the three. Here I will focus only on Barcelona and Madrid and the things we did there.
Let me just say that I’m willing to give Barcelona another shot, but I wasn’t blown away with my first visit. While the attractions were absolutely beautiful and there was plenty to do, the city appeared to lose some of its authenticity. This is probably due to the large masses of tourists (including myself) that overran each area. Also, being in a such a large group it was difficult and at times frustrating to coordinate with each other in such an eventful city.
Don’t get me wrong…Barcelona is stunning and just like every place, you should check it out for yourself. We all have different opinions on things we enjoy and while I may not have fallen in love with the city on my first visit, that doesn’t mean you won’t. Just in comparison with Madrid and Valencia, it fell pretty short. I had the best memories in the other two cities.
I was in Barcelona for two days and was able to check out the following sights:
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous works from Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. The amazing detail put into the design of this building, both exterior and interior, is simply breathtaking. This well known structure and huge attraction has been in the works for over 100 years and has a projected completion date of 2026. Purchase your tickets in advance to enter the church at the following website.
Another major work and must visit sight in Barcelona designed by Gaudí. The colorful designs and views are stunning. However, I will admit that I thought the park would be a little larger. It’s a popular attraction, so be prepared for lots of tourists and purchase your tickets in advance.
The popular Spanish market with various vendor stands. We stopped here for lunch and ate at one of the stalls that was extremely busy (suppose to be a good sign, right?). I ordered some tapas and honestly just thought it was decent. After my trip to Spain, I think I came to the realization that I’m just not that crazy about tapas. So, that’s just my personal opinion. While la boqueria was nice to check out, I thought it was mostly more of the same type of stands. Jamon, fruit, candy, seafood, and tapas.
The gothic quarter was probably my favorite area in Barcelona. I could have walked around aimlessly for hours just admiring all of the buildings and shops.
I really enjoyed my time in Madrid from start to finish. I just loved the feel of this city. I was able to walk around endlessly and enjoy the views, the abundance of restaurants and bars, and encounter the kindness from the locals. It was a place where I could picture myself living and getting sunk into the hustle and bustle of everything going on in the city.
I didn’t visit many attractions during my visit, but I didn’t think it was even necessary to do so. We explored gorgeous rooftops, the nightlife, the various brunch spots, and I was even able to catch a Real Madrid match. Getting around the area was simple with just short uber rides all around. We had great conversations with locals and never once felt out of place. We stayed there for two nights and were pretty sad to leave. And to think our original plan was to just visit Madrid for one night – luckily our Airbnb accomodation required us to stay a minimum of two!
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Probably the best view you can get of Madrid. It also doesn’t hurt that the vibe on the rooftop was great! Everyone was so relaxed and enjoying beers while taking in the incredible view. If my friend and I weren’t in a rush to head out to the Real Madrid match, I could’ve probably spent hours up there.
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
I can’t emphasize enough how great it was to get to experience a match at this stadium. Definitely worth it even if you aren’t a futbol (soccer) fan! The intense energy that overcame the stadium was so great and sucked you in. I’m an American football fan and know next to nothing about soccer, but absolutely loved being there to witness a match. (Seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in person didn’t hurt either.) We purchased our tickets about a month in advance on a resale website and chose a sale that offered print at home tickets.
So, there’s my take on Barcelona vs. Madrid. In my heart, Madrid is the winner when comparing the two. However, each destination has it’s own uniqueness and is definitely worth the visit! I think my perception is also a little altered because of all the marvelous things I would hear about Barcelona whereas Madrid is sometimes talked down on. So, I was expecting more from Barcelona and less from Madrid.