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Madrid or Barcelona

If you've never been to Spain, which would you choose to visit (foodwise, that is)?

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  1. That really depends on your preferences. I've lived in and loved eating in both cities. I would say that Madrid has a stronger tapas culture and better marisquerias and informal neighborhood spots. Madrid has a bit of everything from all over Spain. Barcelona and the surroundings may be more interesting and experimental at the upper echelon--but it also has a very solid (and delicious) local traditional gastronomy.

    Barcelona tends to be more accessible and accomodating to tourists, with more a more European schedule, English menus, etc., Madrid is a bit of harder nut to crack.

    Can you do both? There are insanely cheap and quick flights between the two cities now (check vueling.com--I've flown for as little and 15 Euros one way).

    1. I love both cities and have returned many times. Barcelona is more showy with it's Modernista architecture, the newly chic El Born and the wide streets of the Eixample. Some of the food relects that with the numerous experiemental modern Catalan restaurants such as Abac, Alkimia, Cinc Sentits, Comerc 24 etc,. It also have great pintxos and tapas bars but more scattered about the city. There is definitely more of a tourist feel to Barcelona, especially around Las Ramblas and Barri Gotic.
      Madrid is earthier with the wonderful neighborhoods around Puerto del Sol, each having it's own distinct personality. There is more of a tapas hopping atmosphere as each neighborhood has clusters of great tapa restaurants. Madrid also has some great seafood restaurants such as Combarro and O'Pazo that I haven't found in Barcelona.

      1 Reply
      1. re: PBSF

        You've described each quite well after spending 4 days in each in October.

      2. I have a bias towards Madrid as it is my favourite city anywhere. But, I can really understand the appeals of Barcelona which is undoubtedly more attractive and a good city to eat in

        What it does not have is the bewildering variety of Madrid which was predicated on getting the best of the best from all over Spain. So, in Barcelona, along side the local food you may find one or two Gallego bars etc, in Madrid you will find bars and restaurants that represent the very best Spain has to offer from every region

        As someone said, Madrid is earthier and each area has something different to offer. The people too are different and I have found they just exude life and there is an energy that you cannot find anywhere else in the world let alone anywhere else in Spain.

        Although Madrid is definitely on the tourist trail, it is vast enough that you can, by avoiding certain areas ( like Sol, Plaza mayor and Santa Ana ) find amazing things at every turn.

        Barcelona is almost easy access. Spain with training wheels, as it is more predicated on tourism. Madrid is as Butterfly excellently puts it, a harder nut to crack. But, once you do, it is almost impossible to resist and you will find yourself coming back time and again

        S

        1. Hi Gargle,

          I live in Barcelona for part of the year so I am biased towards this city although Madrid, as others have pointed out, is also wonderful.

          Being the political and financial capital of Spain, Madrid is more representative of "classical" Spain, which is reflected in its architecture and in its cuisine. As others have mentioned, you can probably get a better overall sample of “Spainish” cuisine in Madrid (e.g. Andalusia, Basque, Galicia, Castillian, etc.). There is also no better place to do tapas hopping than in Madrid given the high concentration of tapas bars in each neighborhood. In Barcelona, you really can’t to tapas crawls because tapas bars are not as common and are spread out across the city.

          Barcelona is in Catalunya which worlds apart from Castilla (and the rest of Spain for that matter) both in terms of politics, language and cuisine. Centuries of political oppression from within Spain has made it more welcoming of and open to influences from abroad. In this sense, I think Barcelona is a more modern and progressive city with respect to its architecture (e.g. Modernism), cuisine (e.g. Ferran Adriá-esque experimentation), industrial base (e.g. Barcelona is the center of design, bio-medical research and hi-tech industries in Spain) and politics (e.g. much more left leaning than Madrid).

          Strictly regarding food, traditional Catalan cuisine is, in my opinion, is more complex and varied than Castillan cuisine. Castillan cuisine is very hearty. Traditional Catalan cuisine, on the other hand, has more to offer. Infinite varieties of simple, fresh grilled seafood. Seafood stews. More complex sauces that utilize interesting ingredients like nuts, chocolate, and saffron. Offers more varied preparations of vegetables. I think of Castillan cuisine as originating from the hot and rugged landscapes of Cervantes whereas Catalan cuisine comes from a more fertile and forgiving Mediterranean soil. But this is just a general statement about traditional cuisine. Both are modern cities so you can find whatever type of food that suits your tastes.

          It is a tough choice. Maybe you can do both?

          1. Both cities are great. I think there is much more of a "party" vibe in Madrid however. Madrid is also a little less expensive. Although I didn't think it was bad, it seemed that many Spaniards feel that crime etc. is getting out of hand in Barcelona (and yes, I sort of felt that myself although next to Detroit and Washington DC it looks pretty damn good).

            As to the food, both are good but I think it is easier to try many more different tapas in Madrid than in Barcelona. I guess it depends on whether you are the type who wants to be out LATE all the time, but I would pick Madrid if I could not do both. Barcelona is more architecturally stunning, but I definitely think Madrid is more fun.

            4 Replies
            1. re: jcmods

              There's definitely visible crime, even against tourists, in Barcelona; anyone who's lived in any American city of any size will have no problem (not flashing your wealth, not keeping your wallet sticking out of your back pocket, carrying your purse across your chest, etc.).

              If you want tapas, Madrid's where to go. In Barcelona it's mostly Catalan and Basque food. That said, it's less oppressively hot in summer in Barcelona, and they actually have a beach now.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                These posts express the differences between these cities well, and neither one should be missed. If you are especially into seafood, that would tip the scale toward Barcelona (and don't miss Cal Pep).

                Tapas crawling is definitely more varied in Madrid, with hundreds of places concentrated in the city center. The narrow streets keep traffic from dominating and the eating and drinking goes on literally all night long in Madrid (except on Sunday).

                Even though Barcelona is generally more spread out, tapas crawling is possible in the Ribera/El Born section with enough places within pleasant walking distance. But beware: food really stops being served most places at midnight in Barcelona! Everyone eats dinner from exactly 10pm to midnight. Of course the clubs open up at 2am...

                1. re: kenito799

                  dont necessarily agree about barcelona having better seafood. Madrid is well known in spain for having the best seafood in spain, being flown in the same day into the markets from Galicia, Mediterranean Coast and Canary Islands. If you're looking for great seafood in Madrid you have to check out "El Cantabrico" (I know butterfly agrees with me on this one), very traditional fresh and some of the best seafood i've ever had. It's pretty expensive, when I went we had lunch for 2:
                  - 200grams of Gambas blancas de Huelva
                  - 4 Carabineros
                  - 1 order of Caracoles de mar
                  - 2 Cigalas
                  - 100 grams of Langostinos
                  - Abadejo (fish) for 2
                  - 2 bottles of white wine it was a Rene Barbier (Blanc de blancs)
                  - 2 Arroz con Leche for desert

                  = 180 Euros

                  Expensive but as you can see we definately overate and overdrank ourselves. I will never forget this place, a true chowhound gem, not touristy and very, very madrileno.

            2. Chiming in a bit late here, in addition to all the other great advice and comments
              ("spain with training wheels" !!! :)) I'll add that in Madrid's favor is its proximity
              to other great food. Easy access to Segovia and Toledo, along with dozens of
              smaller villages each with something tasty to recommend them. San Sebastian
              and Santender are a bit of a hike but doable, especially if it's eel season. And only
              a couple of hours up to the Picos de Europa to stuff yourself silly with Fabada.

              But if it's a quick vacation or if your Spanish isn't quite up to snuff, Barcelona
              is going to be a much easier, and no less fullfilling, experience.

              1. are there any adria offshoots in madrid...looking for something a little different

                1 Reply
                1. re: pscurfield

                  Other than a few of his Fast Good burger places, he's executive chef of the Terraza del Casino (Alcalá 15), the head chef of which trained at El Bulli. Sergi Arola, another of his Bulli crew appears to be building a little empire in Madrid too, with his Michelin starred La Broche (Miguel Angel 29) a chain of upmarket sandwich places and his Arola at the Reina Sofia museum. His new place at Zurbano 31 is pretty missable as it's both overpriced and just somehow doesn't have its wits about it yet. His D'E sandwich place on Juan Bravo - located right opposite Madrid's flagship Fast Good - also has Paco Torreblanca pastries, and so is worth visiting for that reason alone. Though in no way affiliated to Adria, Juan Pablo Felipe is doing wonderful things at El Chaflán (Av. Pío XII 34) which you might like to check out.

                  As for where I stand on the Madrid - Barcelona debate, for tapas and sheer variety it's Madrid. You can find practically anything you want in season in Madrid and as someone else mentioned, the best produce invariably tends to end up in Madrid - often at slightly scary costs, but well worth it - and there are lots of up and coming small restaurants popping up all over the place as well as tabernas with amazing pinchos and increasingly varied and exciting wine lists - there's life beyond Rioja and Ribera del Duero, who'd have known.

                  That said, I've always eaten very well in Barcelona, it's just a very different way of dining. The city's eateries are spread out so it's much more difficult to grab a drink and a nibble in one place then move on somewhere else. El Barcelones is all about sitting down to dinner rather than standing around over tapas and bar hopping like their castilian cousins. La Boqueria is, however, in my opinion the best market in Europe so if you're staying in an apartment and are a keen cook Barcelona might just be your place. The pastries are also excellent in that neck of the woods. Madrid never did quite get the hang of how to make a good croissant.

                  If you have a little time to spend and access to a car, I suggest you give both cities the heave ho and take yourself on a gastronomic tour of Catalonia or the Basque country. No one does pinxos like the Basques and the godfather of Spain's new wave cuisine, Arzak, is still in charge of the kitchen at his place in San Sebastian (home of more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world).

                  Long story short, you have to try very hard to eat badly in Spain so you'll have a gastronomic blast wherever you go.

                2. I will be heading to Spain this September and I was thinking of exploring one region only as I will probably only be there ~1.5 weeks. I like to take my time when I travel so I'm planning to fly into Barecelona and rent a car so that I can explore the Catalonia region of Spain. I'm all about food, art, architecture and scenery when I travel so I'm not too big on Madrid since everyone keeps mentioning what a great party city it is. Any suggestions to more NON-tourist trappy cheap eats in and around Barcelona?

                  1. Dismissing Madrid as a "party city" is wrong

                    It certainly has the best nightlife in Spain ( and day life for that matter ) but it is a huge city and, if you want to keep away from the hordes you can still do it while eating better than anywhere else in Spain. If you really are " all about the food and the art" then Madrid is the first choice IMHO.

                    The galleries are truly world class and the food is the best of the best from the whole of Spain while Barcelona is more limited

                    It's pretty hard to have a bad time whereever you are in Spain, but don't give up on Madrid. I may be biased but there is no competition between the two. It has to be Madrid every time

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Simon Majumdar

                      OK OK I'll consider it. I haven't booked or made too many plans yet. =P But which city do you think is better to base yourself in so that the "one to three day" excursions to outside towns and villages would be easier to make? I saw something about staying in monasteries in the region which seems like would be a cool idea. Are you living in Madrid, BTW?

                      1. re: mstinawu

                        I live in Madrid, but I have also lived in Barcelona. You can do those kinds of trips from either city... It just depends on what you are interested in. From Barcelona you have Girona, Figueres, the Costa Brava, Empuries, Montserrat, Tarragona... all within easy striking distance. From Madrid: Toledo, Ávila, Segovia, Cordoba (just two hours on the train), Cuenca, Chinchón, Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez.... Both Catalunya and Castilla are fascinating from a historical and cultural perspective.

                    2. I wish I was. I wish I was. Offically my favourite city anywhere.

                      I am just there very regularly and back soon again. It is just a city I feel amazingly comfortable in and love discovering new bits of

                      There are some great towns to the West of Madrid. The more well known places like Salamanca and Toledo and the World Heritage site of Avila, a beautiful walled city.

                      But, wherever you end up, you'll have fun

                      S

                      1. Listen to Simon. This is the good Simon not the bad TV Simon. You can't go wrong.

                        1. MADRID!!!!!HAnds down...
                          i have lived in both cities, and though, like most people agree, barcelona is the prettiest of the two and way more "Euroopean" madrid´s beauty is in its spanishness and its people, the friendliest in the world. it is the BEST city anywhere for sure. You can do cultural things all day, eat the best food anywhere, go out for tapas (the best tapas place being EL SUR) have dinner, go out to bars and discos until the am, or just take it easy, for there are lots of calmer areas in the city. But for me, there is no competition: MADRID!!!!

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: lizardo9

                            Barcelona... Sorry, I have to stick up for it. I am an american (place gag here) and have travelled all around Europe and although I loved Madrid and Barcelona both as a tourist first time visit in Spain I would say Barcelona is better. It wets your appetite for the rest of Spain there are so many different types of attractions beach, architecture, great aquarium (if you have kids), wonderful art and a more welcoming feel for a first time visitor. There are great day trips and food from both areas and I am not saying not to go back and see Madrid, but I think Barcelona is a better first time visit. Madrid is probably a better place to live, but I think Barcelona is great to visit. The city is condensed and easily walkable. Yes there is crime, but just be smart and avoid certain areas at night. The people are friendly and used to tourists so it isn't as overwelming. The architecture I think is much more impressive.

                            Of course I am taking my bf next month to Barcelona (he hasn't been to Spain before gasp gasp sigh), I posted my itinerary on another thread, but some of the restuarants on it are somewhat touristy. Some areas though even though they may be considered touristy have such great food that really you must go like la mercat de boqueria, cal pep (or passis del pep), can ros. If I can find my list of restuarants from where I ate last time I was there I will do another post because I know I had more non-touristy ones on that list. Anyway if you are still reading this thread although your mind has probably been made by now... Barcelona. And post back if you are going to Barcelona and I will add more restuarants.

                            1. re: ktmoomau

                              Well, I'M going to Barcelona and would LOVE to have your list! Please!? Especially with price points indicated...we only have one blow-out meal, the rest have to be budgeted for....

                              1. re: saticoy

                                Ok so I don't remember price points for each of these, but they might have websites a lot of places do. I actually don't remember a lot about them except that I ate there and wrote them down to remember they were good ones to go back to.

                                Amaya- basque cuisine located ont he lower Ramblas can be a little touristy since it on Ramblas but very good.

                                Botafumeiro- seafood from Galicia region- expensive but good.

                                Can Pescador in old Barcelonta- quality food, been there forever.

                                Finisterre- maybe a little pricey but has a chef from El Bulli.

                                El Asador- for meats and seafood in el Tibidabo.

                                Jaume de Provenca- between Provenca and Rocafort St.

                                La Provenca- between balmes and Enrique Granados St.

                                La Camarga- Aribau St.

                                Silvestre- Santalo/Rector Ubach and Via Augusta St.

                                Saint Remy- Iradier St.

                                Bar Ra- behind the market boqueria

                                Los Caracoles- very touristy and can be good or bad. I love snails and had very good ones there, they have roasted chicken in the windows and has gotten mixed reviews on here. Again it is touristy, but I had a good lunch/snack.

                                Can Ros- very good

                                Caseta del Migdia- grill out bar on Montjuc.

                                Again you can look these up online for reviews or their own websites which might give you price points. My other thread has some more expensive restaurants recommended by many on here. I hope this helps between the two it is a fair list.

                                1. re: ktmoomau

                                  Just got back last week from Barcelona. Defnitely would go back. Great city with lots fo do. Great food, shopping and night life.

                                  Better for younger people looking for fun than Madrid which is a little sleepier.

                                  Best Meals

                                  Cinc Sentits (amazing food, unique, great service - best meal by far)

                                  Comerc 24 (great food and atmosphere, different- essentially upscale tapas, but tasty. lamb was scumptious and french toast dessert is a must try)

                                  If you're budgeting, then quick, reliable food you can go to any Origens 99.9.

                                  1. re: wongjym

                                    I sure would not call Madrid "sleepy". Granted, I like both cities.

                                    1. re: jcmods

                                      I just returned from a marvelous trip to Northern Spain where the food was divine- check out all the details on my blog.

                                      http://www.morethanspaghetti.com/More...

                                      1. re: MoreThanSpaghetti

                                        Having lived in the Madrid Capital (close to centre) since the 1990s, I definitely prefer Madrid as far as a tapas & wine bar city. The shellfish from Galicia and Andalusia is amazing, as it is the Capital. One can have pretty good Italian finally too, in addition to Moroccan, Japanese and regional Spanish. I highly recommend Cava Alta, Cava Baja, and the Gastro Bars owned by many well known Chefs, including Paco Roncero, Gaston Acurio, Kiko Zeballos, Fernado del Cerro, Rodrigo de La Calle, Mario Sandoval & Adolfo Muñoz to name a few.

                                        Barcelona is far more expensive for a typical luncheon menu; Madrid: one can eat quite well for 10 Euros - 15 Euros which includes a 3 course lunch. In Barcelona, this is a rare find.

                                        Barcelona has a nice Mediterranean Sea Front and Beach, modernist and vanguard architecture and some unique museums; The Chocolate Museum and the Picasso ... La Boqueria Market is marvelous.

                                        None the less, Madrid has a far better public transport system, newly renovated and fab art exhibitions and museums, Caixa Forum which is free and numerous others as well.

                                        The shopping in Madrid is awesome.

                                        Recommendations:

                                        Coque - Mario Sandoval - youngest chef to earn a Michelin star
                                        Casa José - Fernando del Cerro and see the Palace of Aranjuez & the gardens
                                        Paco Roncero - Estado Puro Gastro Bar
                                        Caffé Poetti - Regional and Sardinian Italian owned by Ignazio Deia
                                        Hotel Derby - Europa Deco and Chef Joaquin Felipe
                                        Peruvian: Gaston y Astrid or Virú with Kiko Zeballas
                                        Japanese: Ric Sanz - Wellington Hotel - Kabuki
                                        Some may like Sergi Arola´s Gastro Tapas Bar
                                        Brazilian: Rubaiyat - Have their Feijoada Served Buffet Style
                                        Galician: there are several wonderful shellfish and seafood houses
                                        Basque: In the Santiago Bernabeu neighborhood there are 2 wonderful Basque traditional restaurants
                                        Alcala de Henares: The Spanish Government Owned Hotel Network, called the Paradors; www.parador.es ( there are 93 throughout the nation ).

                                        1. re: foodeditormargaux

                                          It's really not the case that a lunch menus in the 10-15 euro range are a rare find in Barcelona. I can think of several good lunches over the last few years that cost less than 30 euros for two. Here's a discussion with some good suggestions: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/858361
                                          ...and I'll throw in Allium near Pl. Sant Jaume and Patxoca (better for lunch than dinner, but good vermut and beer from Cervesera Montseny plus Pilsner Urquel on tap)