Comparing Madrid and Barcelona

Just coming back from a weekend trip to Barcelona, I’ve decided to compare the 2 big Spanish cities.

Barcelona is a city that everyone from the US talks about. It’s a huge tourist spot on the coast, perfect for vacation. Originally when I thought about studying abroad in Spain, I wanted to go to Barcelona 100%. However, there was a lack of business programs that offered the classes I need in that location. Thus, I applied to the business exchange program in Madrid, not really knowing what I was getting myself into because this city wasn’t talked about as much among my friends.

I knew I had to visit Barcelona at some point, so I called my friends studying abroad there and booked a flight. When I got there, it wasn’t as crowded as I pictured it would be. I got very laid back vibes, even though it’s a pretty large city, and the whole weekend was laid back too. We explored the Sagrada Familia, a historic church designed by Gaudi, walked through the Park Guell, also influenced by Gaudi, visited the beaches, and ate tapas and drank sangria. I tried using my Spanish to communicate with locals, and I found that more people spoke English than back in Madrid or sometimes they spoke Catalan. We actually ran into a lot of Americans we knew while we were out in the city.

While I often eat tapas and drink sangria in Madrid, the general vibe seems different. While city life in Spain is definitely more laid back than the city life I’ve experienced in America (like NYC), I feel like there’s more of a hustle in Madrid. The vibe in Barcelona felt more “hipster” to me. While there is no beach in Madrid, Retiro Park is a great way to escape the city for a bit and immerse yourself in nature. The city of Madrid seems larger, and there seems to be less tourists roaming around. I rarely run into Americans I know while I’m out. People mainly speak Spanish, but there are definitely those who speak English as well as signs in English. Shopping is definitely more prominent in Madrid, especially in Gran Via, which is like Times Square.

In general, I feel like I prefer life abroad in Madrid. I am very jealous of the beach in Barcelona, but other than that I am glad I picked Madrid. I really enjoy immersing myself in Spanish culture, which I feel is more present in Madrid. The music, the language, the people, everything. Madrid is located in the center of the country, so it’s easy to travel just about anywhere in Spain. While I could never picture myself living in a big city like New York, I actually really enjoy city life in Madrid. I feel like I’ll never run out of things to do, and I love how I can easily walk to places.

I have been pleasantly surprised by Madrid so far, and I am grateful I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time here. I loved visiting Barcelona and highly recommend it to anyone interested in traveling to Spain. I think in the end this teaches me and may let others know that sometimes it can be better to study abroad in places that are less talked about or may not be as much of a tourist destination as other areas.

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