Moon Barcelona & Madrid
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- Flexible itineraries for up to a week in Barcelona or Madrid that can be combined into a 2-week trip, including day trips to Montserrat, the Penedès wine region, Toledo, and more
- Strategic advice for foodies, art lovers, history buffs, and more
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Marvel at Gaudi’s architectural masterpiece Sagrada Familia, stroll through the baroque Royal Palace, or contemplate Picasso’s Guernica and Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Cheer for the home team at a fútbol match, people-watch from a sunny café terrace, or climb to the top of Mount Tibidabo and explore the lush surrounding park
- Savor the flavors of Barcelona and Madrid: Sample mouthwatering jamon or zumo at a sprawling market or snag a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Post up with the locals at a no-frills tapas joint, sip authentic vermouth, or snack on the catch of the day at a beach-front bar
- Honest suggestions from Madrid local Jessica Jones
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on the landscape, history, and cultural customs of each city
- Handy tools such as visa information, Spanish and Catalan phrasebooks, and local insight for solo travelers, visitors with disabilities, seniors, LGBTQ travelers, travelers of color, and families with children
For more of Europe’s best cities, try Moon Rome, Florence & Venice.
DISCOVER Barcelona & Madrid
15 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Time
Best of Barcelona & Madrid
THE TAPAS EXPERIENCE
LA HORA DEL VERMUT (A.K.A. VERMOUTH O’CLOCK)
Spain’s two biggest cities could not be more different, and each provides a unique slice of Spanish life.
Cosmopolitan, glamorous, and architecturally stunning, Barcelona is bestowed with a laid-back ambiance, thanks to its location on the Mediterranean. Its infectious energy, seaside location, and fairytale-like Modernisme design have made it one of the world’s top destinations. It abounds with famous sights, not least of which is Gaudí’s unfinished Sagrada Familia, a mammoth splendor that must be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Away from the big sights, the city is brimming with more off-the-beaten-track experiences, from a tour through a bomb shelter made by locals during the Spanish Civil War to a day cycling or walking in the Collserola hills. Head to up-and-coming neighborhoods for a taste of local life and don’t miss a visit to a cava bar to try Catalonia’s most famous tipple.
Madrid, meanwhile, as the seat of Spain’s government, is seen by some as more serious—but wander around, and you will be surprised at what you find. The main attraction is the life coursing through the veins of the city itself: the buzz of its tapas bars and outdoor terraces, shops that have been selling the same lovingly made products for over a hundred years, and the neighborhoods themselves, each one of which feels like its own little village, where neighbors know each other and meet in their local bars. Madrid is also rich in history and art, home to the “Golden Triangle” of art galleries that house some of the world’s great masters, from Goya’s “Black Paintings” to Picasso’s “Guernica.” In the 1970s and 80s, the countercultural movement known as La Movida Madrileña gave the city an indie, rebellious vibe that continues to this day.
While Madrid is Spain’s political and business center, Barcelona’s rich history is strongly tied to its Catalan identity; locals here are quick to tell you that you are in Catalonia, not Spain. The debate over independence—which has been going on for decades—continues, making Barcelona a fascinating place to discover Catalan history, culture, and traditions as well as the city’s independent spirit.
Although there is a rivalry between the two cities—so much so that the ongoing competition between the cities’ football teams has a name, “El Clásico”—the good news is that you don’t have to pick a favorite. Digging into the world-class art, fascinating food culture, and quirky hidden gems in both of Spain’s two biggest cities will give you incredible insight into the country as a whole.
15 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Stepping inside the color-soaked interior of the Sagrada Familia cathedral, Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece.
2 Enjoying Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s historic main square, the local way: grab a bocadillo de calamares, snag a bench seat, and watch the world go by.
3 Crowding into a tiny tapas bar for some of Spain’s tastiest bites.
4 Perusing the rich collection of European art, including Velázquez’s Las Meninas, at the Prado Museum.
5 Relaxing on one of Barcelona’s pristine white beaches, followed by a catch-of-the-day dinner in a chiringuito (beach hut).
6 Admiring whimsical Catalan Modernist architecture in Barcelona. La Pedrera and the Sagrada Familia are among the most famous examples, while Gaudí’s Casa Vicens just opened to the public in 2017.
7 Standing in front of Guernica and seeing up close Pablo Picasso’s haunting depiction of the bombing of the Basque town during the Spanish Civil War.
8 Sipping vermouth, an old-fashioned tipple that is now the aperitif of the moment. The trend is to enjoy it just before lunch, during La Hora del Vermut, a.k.a. “vermouth o’clock”.
9 Perusing local markets for fresh produce, followed by a caña (small beer) at a countertop seat in the market.
10 Taking a whistle-stop tour through a millennium of Catalan art at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
11 Staying up late in Madrid. The entire city is known for its legendary nightlife, but the indie neighborhood of Malasaña really sizzles.
12 Visiting Retiro Park, Madrid’s green lung and a beloved local retreat. Bring a picnic, stroll the manicured gardens, or rent a rowboat on the lake for an iconic Madrid experience.
13 Watching the sun set over the city of Barcelona—and the Mediterranean beyond—from the Bunkers del Carmel.
14 Appreciating the street art in Madrid. Two neighborhoods stand out: multicultural Lavapiés and trendy Malasaña.
15 Cheering for the home team at a football match. The cities’ teams, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, have a fierce rivalry—it’s your pick who you support!
Planning Your Time
Where to Go
Barcelona is Spain’s cosmopolitan, glamorous, and independent second city and a real highlight of any trip to Spain. With its own language, culture, and identity, Barcelona feels distinct from Spain, a fact that many locals will emphasize. Sitting on Spain’s Mediterranean coastline, the city has it all: beaches, one-of-a-kind Catalan modernist architecture, art, sports, and gastronomy. From the Sagrada Familia and Gaudí’s other striking masterpieces to the cathedral of soccer, FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou, in Barcelona everything is big, bold, and beautiful.
Day Trips from Barcelona
Whether you want to explore the rolling vineyards of the Penedès wine region and learn all about the Cava-making process or visit the surreal homage to Salvador Dalí at his famous museum in Figueres, there are a great range of places to discover within easy reach of Barcelona. Soak up medieval history in Girona and see the otherworldly landscapes of Montserrat, or just head to the beach and party the night away in Sitges.
Spain’s capital city is known for its legendary social life; the city’s streets will enchant you with their sunny open-air terraces, beautiful architecture, and century-old shops. Art lovers shouldn’t miss the city’s Prado and Reina Sofía museums, while history buffs can delve into centuries of intrigue by visiting the city’s Arab Walls, Royal Palace, and historic plazas. For a thriving European capital, Madrid retains a small-town feel.
Day Trips From Madrid
From Madrid, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to day trips, whether it is history, gastronomy, or action on the agenda. Explore Segovia, with its Roman aqueduct and the fairytale castle that is said to have inspired Walt Disney (not to mention its famous roast suckling pig). In Toledo, see how three cultures—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—coexisted and left a unique legacy on the city. And fill your lungs with fresh mountain air on a hike through the Sierra de Guadarrama.
When to Go
Barcelona and Madrid are both great year-round destinations; there is always something going on and all the “big sights” are open year-round.
Summer, especially July and August, is high season for tourists. Barcelona in particular experiences some of the biggest tourist crowds of any city in Europe, and summer is peak time. Meanwhile, many Spaniards take their yearly allowance of holiday in August, leading to an exodus from the cities to the coast and mountains. If you visit at this time, you’ll encounter a higher percentage of tourists and a low percentage of locals, and many smaller bars, restaurants, and shops close for the entire month.
In terms of weather, Madrid is hit with an intense, dry heat, and summer temperatures can regularly reach the mid-to-high 30s Celsius (95°+ Fahrenheit). In Barcelona, the temperatures may be cooler (28-32°C/82-90°F), but the city is more humid.
Spring and Fall
The best time to visit both cities is spring and fall, with May and September-October being particularly lovely months—still warm, but cool enough to do plenty of walking around comfortably. Crowds tend to be less intense than during the summer months, but this is still a popular time to visit.
Madrid in winter is cold, crisp, and sunny, meaning it is still perfectly common to see people sitting out on terraces enjoying the sunshine, but with a warm coat on. Barcelona, too, while more prone to rain, still has its terraces out during the winter months. Tourism tends to slow in November, January, and February, which makes these months good for travel deals. Christmas markets, lights, and decorations make December an exciting—and busy—month to visit both cities. The average low temperature is 4°C (39°F) in Madrid, and 7°C (45°F) in Barcelona.
Before You Go
Passport and Visas
Travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand do not need a visa to enter the country for tourist visits of under 90 days. All that is required is a passport valid for at least three months after your intended departure.
EU citizens and residents need a passport or national identity card to enter Spain; no visa is required.
A visa is required for travelers from South Africa.
There are some reservations that are worth making before you even get on the plane.
Tickets for the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell can sell out if you wait until the last minute. Football at Barcelona’s Camp Nou are best booked in advance; tickets tend to be released around two weeks ahead of matches. Check online at www.fcbarcelona.com for upcoming matches.
High-end restaurants, including Michelin-starred ones, should be booked well ahead of time (it’s worth looking as far ahead as possible to guarantee availability). Hotspots like Tickets are known to book up months in advance.
As in Barcelona, it’s smart to book tickets for football matches in advance.
Girona’s El Celler de Can Roca has been hailed as the best restaurant in the world. If you’d like to splurge on this Michelin-starred experience, book ahead—reservations are accepted as far as 11 months in advance!
Barcelona and Madrid both have excellent public transport networks, and within each city, a combination of walking and using the metro is the best way to get around.
There are several options for traveling between Barcelona and Madrid, including domestic budget airlines, train, or bus, depending on your budget and time available. Flying is the quickest option and is often cheaper than the train, but it is worth bearing in mind that taking the train has a much lower carbon footprint than flying. The bus is the cheapest option and takes around eight hours.
In general, renting a car is not necessary, especially if you are staying within the cities of Madrid or Barcelona—public transport is both easier and cheaper. You might want to consider renting a car if you are planning a few day trips; while most destinations are easily accessible by train and bus, the Valley of the Fallen and El Escorial, outside Madrid, are two locations that are much easier accessed by car (bus tours starting from Madrid are available if you’d prefer to go this way).
What to Take
If traveling during the summer months, make sure to take cool, loose clothing as well as sun protection.
Pack a European plug adapter to make sure you can charge up your phone and camera. They are usually more expensive at airports, so consider buying one before your trip.
To lessen the risk of pickpocketing, consider a money belt that can be worn under your clothing and can carry your cards and cash. A cross-body bag with a zip and a flap closure is better than a backpack, because you can keep your eyes and hands on it at all times. Also consider making copies of your passport and travel documents and sending them to yourself in an email, just in case you lose them or they are stolen.
A refillable water bottle is a good alternative to buying plastic bottles throughout your trip. It is important to stay hydrated throughout the long, hot summer months, and carrying a bottle of water around during the day is a good idea.
Most hotels supply basic toiletries, so packing shampoo and conditioner is not always necessary.
Best of Barcelona & Madrid
U.S. travelers will most likely book a round trip and therefore will fly both in and out of Madrid or Barcelona, although flying into one and out of the other is possible. For short-haul travelers from Europe, decent one-way deals on budget airlines mean it can be just as reasonable to fly into one city and leave from the other.
Experience the wide boulevard of Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s most famous sights, then a late-afternoon visit to the light-soaked interior of La Sagrada Familia (book tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in line), followed by a stroll past other Catalan Modernist masterpieces.
See the Picasso Museum, then spend the afternoon and evening exploring El Raval, a once-gritty neighborhood that’s been given a new lease on life with a buzzing food and nightlife scene and an engaging contemporary art museum.
DAY 3: DAY TRIP TO SITGES
Hop on the local Rodalies train from Passeig de Gràcia for a 30-minute journey to the beautiful seaside town of Sitges. This charming town of whitewashed villas has long been the playground of artists and locals seeking a relaxing seaside break, and is also one of Spain’s most famous LGBT destinations. Spend a day on the beach or walk the town’s pretty promenade, see some Modernista masterpieces in the Museu Cau Ferrat, and learn how to make a mouthwatering mojito at Casa Bacardi, then visit Spain’s first chiringuito beach bar, El Chiringuito. Take an evening Rodalies train back to Barcelona.
Explore a thousand years of Catalan art at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, then chill on the beach next to Mediterranean waters, popping into a chiringuito (beach bar) or paella restaurant when hunger strikes. Catch the sunset over Barcelona before a meal at award-winning tapas bar Tickets (book well in advance).
- On Sale
- Apr 30, 2019
- Page Count
- 394 pages
- Moon Travel