Is it better to live in Madrid or Barcelona? That is the eternal dilemma. Both cities are great places to live, but there are certainly some differences. Madrid is the administrative and financial capital of Spain. Although Barcelona has a longer history and is an older city, its older neighborhoods, such as the Gothic Quarter, have a special charm.
Both cities have airports that are well connected to other European cities, but Madrid has more intercontinental flights. Madrid is logistically better for those who need to travel a lot throughout Spain due to its central location and road and rail hub.
While public transport in Madrid is good, it honestly takes a long time to get around due to the distances to be traveled and the amount of traffic. Barcelona is smaller, more compact and with worse roads. But getting around the city is still much faster.
Just because Madrid has been the Spanish capital for centuries, it seems to have more cultural offerings (museums, monuments, etc.) than Barcelona.
The nightlife in Madrid is also bigger, mainly because there are many people who work in the entertainment industry or business people who do not need to get up early. But in general you go out much more often than in Barcelona.
Both cities have a choice of top quality universities and good public and private schools. Barcelona has many Erasmus students, while Madrid has many more Spanish students.
The main difference stems from Barcelona’s bilingual education system. Catalan is compulsory at all school levels. Both cities have international schools, but Madrid has more school options. The cost of private schools is almost the same in both cities.
In general, the climate in Barcelona is better than in Madrid due to the influence of the Mediterranean Sea. Madrid is known for very hot and dry summers and winters that can be very cold (9 months of winter and 3 hells as the locals say). Barcelona has a much milder and more temperate climate.
Madrid has a continental climate with temperatures that can drop below 5°C in winter and exceed 40°C in summer. Barcelona is wetter and has milder temperatures, rarely dropping below 10°C or rising above 30°C.
The only advantage of Madrid in this sense is that it is at least a very dry city and that its 5/6 annual weeks in spring and as many in autumn are fantastic
Cost of living
The main costs to be faced in both cities are those related to rent. Rents are practically the same in both cities, but in Madrid it is easier to find available accommodation. At the moment, it is very difficult to find anything in Barcelona and prices are constantly going up. Expect to pay at least €450 for a room or €1,200 for an apartment.
The shortage of accommodation is mainly due to the fact that many owners prefer to rent to tourists through airbnb. Madrid, for its part, has implemented several measures to control tourist rentals, which seem, in a way, to work.
After that, everything else (food, transport, public services, etc.) is pretty cheap and the costs are more or less the same in both cities.
When you are in Barcelona, you know that you are in the capital of Catalonia. Although the city may appear more cosmopolitan than Madrid at first glance, many of the foreigners present are actually just visitors or passing through. However, if you are in Madrid you will be aware of the former Spanish colonial power; with the presence of quarters full of people from all its former colonies.
Castilians are generally friendlier and typically Spanish (bullfighting and flamenco). Catalans are often anti-Spanish and very fixated on their identity. The elite choose to speak only Catalan and many avoid speaking Spanish when they can.
Madrileños are more open and it’s easy to make friends right away. In Barcelona, it’s more difficult to penetrate the intimacy of a person or a group, but that intimacy, when it opens up, is very deep. Madrid is more religious and politically conservative, while Barcelona is more progressive and anticlerical. However, both cities are very socially liberal.
In Madrid, working is more relaxed than in Barcelona. Because many are employed in the public sector and the work pressure is limited. There is a saying in Spain that says: “Do not call anyone in Madrid between 10am and 12pm because they are resting, or between 1:30am and 3:30am because they are having lunch, and make sure you call him first at 18:00 because after that they leave.
To find work as a foreigner, Madrid could perhaps offer more opportunities with more multinational companies, while in the tourism sector the biggest opportunities are undoubtedly to be found in Barcelona .
Both are undoubtedly very beautiful cities with a fantastic atmosphere. On the one hand, living in Barcelona means being close to the sea and less congested; while living in Madrid means more cultural offerings and friendlier people.
Barcelona has a much better climate, it is also a more beautiful and older city than Madrid, with several places from which to admire the whole city and the sea.
On the other hand, it must be recognized that Barcelona loses a large part of its essence due to excessive tourism, while Madrid is better able to preserve its authenticity.
The people of Madrid are more conservative than Barcelona, which is a cooler city, but in Madrid there are no separatists and there is one less language to learn. your choice.