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1st time to Spain...Madrid or Barcelona?

Ok, Im planning to go to Spain for my birthday in Aprill 2011...and yes its my 1st time going there or ever travelling to Europe. From what I've searched * seen online, both places are very beautiful & theres alot to do BUT I still dont know where to visit for my 1st trip to Spain. So, where should I go? What are the TOP places that I HAVE to go see? Where can I get some great food/drinks w/o breaking my wallet? (Where do the locals go?), whats the best way to see the town? (by foot or local trans.?), hows the weather like during spring?...and how are the people over there..whats the night life like? Anything else I forgot to mention just let me know in your comments. I do know how to speak fluent spanish so Im not worried about that! =) Oh, and lastly..what are some events that happen in the spring time?? anything specific? Thanks!

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  1. Hi, I love Spain, I lived there for two years and my heart still lives there. Just a note though, I lived there 30 years ago and I'm sure its not as quaint as I remember, but many things are just the same. I lived in Barcelona, so I'm biased. It's close to the coast and to seafood. April will be ok but not as nice as May. It will be temperate. Spain is an incubator for top chefs in the world. The top restaurant in the world for several years, El Bulli ,( which incidentally has closed because of overpopularity) was in Catalonia and spawned and influenced many of Europes top chefs. By the way, the language in Barcelona is Catalan, not Spanish. Spanish will work though.
    All signs and are in Catalan. But Barcelona is bi-lingual.
    As for where and what to eat. Names have changed since I was there, but walk down the main promenade (Ramblas in old Barcelona) until you almost get to the port. Ask if Los Caracoles is still there in the Barrio Gothico. It probably the oldest restaurant still (maybe) in operation in existence. It opened I believe in the 1800's. Maybe its touristy but worth saying you were there.
    Find little restaurants in those old areas for old time flavour. Eat and taste everything. Let your intuition guide you. The fancy restaurants will break your budget. Nightlife as I remember it, was incomprable. Eat until 11pm, as the locals do and go to the clubs after 12am. Check out the pastry shops and the smell of caramel on the streets in the morning. I can still smell them as I write.
    I could write a book. Have a lot of fun. I would pick Barcelona over Madrid. Then go by train to Sitges. Wonderful. I'm told its now in the style of KeyWest if you know what I mean.

    Visit the church Gaudi designed (Sagrada Familia) and has been in construction for almost 300 years. Its one of the wonders of the world. Visit Gaudi's park.(Parc Guell)

    2 Replies
    1. re: gabor fischer

      Thanks for the inside tip on Sitges! Now that I'm hearing about it I'm going to most definitely take taking a little side trip there into much consideration! And what is Catalan exactly? (is it like an old world language?? I don't mean to offend anyone, I just am not familiar with many things from Spain)...and yes I do plan to visit Sagrada Familia by Gaudi..I LOVE his architectural & artistic sense thats apart of Barcelona's history.

      1. re: MiMi_De_La

        Catalan is a romance language like Spanish (castellano), Portuguese, Italian, French, Galician, Romanian, etc. You'll see signs and menus in both Catalan and Castilian Spanish in places where it's spoken (all of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, etc.). In most ways, it's closer to the mother language, Latin (or older proto-romance languages), than Spanish or Portuguese are.

    2. Below is a link to an earlier discussion on the same topic. Not much have changed.
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3260...
      If one is into the very high end, Michelin 3 stars, restaurants, three of them are just outside of Barcelona and easily reached by train. Since this is a food related sight, topics such as transport, weather, events, the characteristics of locals, etc. are off limits and get deleted by CH web police. Most good guidebooks such as Time Out will cover all of these and much more.

      1. Can't you do both? It only takes about 4 hours now on the train from Madrid to Barca. Madrid still has the best vibe and nightlife, although it isn't as beautiful as Barca. Catalans are more serious, and unimpressed by you speaking Spanish! You can visit Toledo, El Escorial and or Segovia easily from Madrid too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: arobmadrid

          Yes I can do both~! Sorry I forgot to mention that Im planning to go for 2 wks....I want to spend 1 wk in Madrid & the other in Barcelona!! =) ...Im gearing towards April 27th-May 11th or so..Im very excited about trying all the different tapas & other foods known to Spain!!

        2. I'd say, land in Madrid, spend 4 days, and take 2, 3 days in Barcelona; and go back home from there (ask your travel agent, this is not usually available online).

          Food-wise, I love both cities; I think Madrid is a bit mode International and classic in its restaurant choices; mostly because it's the Capital; you can find a little bit of everything at all price ranges.
          Barcelona is smaller, but a lot more "younger" in body and spirit, and it shows in the restaurants styles (IMO)

          It's hard to make a list; both have nice restaurants in all price ranges; for traditional tapas, I'd give an edge to Madrid, especially going to the smaller neighborhood cervecerias or bar that serve Vermouth...

          Since this is a food/resto site, i will keep my tourist comment to a minimum : both cities are highliy walkable; and need to be visited by food; use public transport to go to a far destination and walk back (for example).

          M.

          1. If you have about a week, you are right to want to concentrate in one city. Either one of those cities has a wealth of stuff and deserves a longish visit. "Doing" a couple of days here and 3, 4 days there is selling yourself short. Twice.
            My vote wouldd go to Barcelona for a 1st visit.
            (For a second visit? ... San Sebastian - Bilbao !)

            In both cities, the food scene and public transport are both very user-friendly.
            In the old town of Barcelona, - just like the old town of any old European cities, - it is best to visit on foot, because the streets are too small for buses.
            Madrid is much more sprawling.

            There are many threads on both cities. Good food is everywhere. -- I don't say this lightly.
            This means that it makes more sense for you to determine a sightseeing itinerary first, then find eateries according to your itinerary, instead of determining a list of eateries, then zigzagging back and forth from one neighborhood to another spending a huge amount of time 10 feet under in the metro seeing nothing, experiencing nothing.
            Bon voyage.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Parigi

              If you are going to be coming toward the end of the month (April 17-24), you would coincide with Easter holy week. If you are interested in big crazy processions and an unforgettable mix of the sacred and the profane, then I would opt for Madrid with a 1-2 day trip to Sevilla (2.5 hours on the train) on one of the holy days. Córdoba is even closer and can also be visited easily as a day trip from Madrid if you get an early start.

              Note, the train between Madrid and Barcelona can take as little as 2 hours and 45 minutes, so it's easy to do a weekend in one or the other, too--though taking in two big cities with so much to do and see in such a short time might be pushing it stamina-wise.

            2. Chowhound has a very narrow mission--where to find deliciousness. General travel planning questions, like where to stay or what else to do while visiting a town, are off topic for our boards. Please keep your replies focused on helping the poster find great chow, as off topic replies will be removed.