Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid

Exploring Spain’s Great Cities: Barcelona and Madrid

Located in the Iberian Peninsula, Spain is a country known for beaches and culture. This country of flamenco, the fiestas, the siestas and tapas is a great place to visit anytime of year.

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Barcelona and Madrid are the main hubs, large cities that are as unlike as they can be. Both are known for their architecture, their gastronomy and their nightlife. Spending a couple of days in one of these two cities and then moving to other regions offers visitors to see both the new and old Spain.

Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid
Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid © Felipe Gabaldón

The AVE trains are fast speed trains that connect Madrid to Barcelona, Málaga, Seville and Valencia, and several smaller cities in the middle. Faster than buses and more comfortable than planes, in less than two hours these trains can take travellers from the center of one capital to another.


Barcelona is a city known for the presence of Gaudi’s architectural style. The Sagrada Familia is the city’s symbol, an unfinished Cathedral near the sea. Visitors can climb up the many stairs that lead to an observation platform in one of the spires. A short walk away visitors will find Casa Batlló and the Pedrera, two of the architect’s buildings which can be visited.

La Rambla is one of the city’s main streets, which stretches from the centric Plaza de Cataluña to the Christopher Columbus statue on the coast. The street is lined with traditional cafeterías where visitors can enjoy a café con leche y churros and visit the many shops. There are many flower vendors and street performers on this central boulevard.

Those who enjoy a stay in this city will be able to walk around the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter. The Cathedral is located in this neighbourhood, which is known for its Gothic architecture. The narrow streets and arched buildings are filled with boutiques, chic coffee shops and vintage shops.

The Palace of Montjuic is one of the city’s main landmarks. This centric palace is known for its dancing fountains, a show that is lit up at night and that attracts many visitors.

The Poble Espanyol is an artisan village where visitors will be able to see the traditional villages typical of various of Spain’s provinces. Visitors who visit the Mount Tibidabo, a large hill located near the city, will be able to enjoy views towards the city and visit the theme park.


Madrid is the city of museums, where the Golden Triangle of Museums formed by the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen Bornemisza, is located. Near the museums is the Retiro Park, a large park with a pond where visitors can rent boats. On the other side of the park is Serrano street, a fashionable street filled with boutique shops, chic cafés and restaurants.

Madrid is known for its nightlife, which starts late after dinner. Locals meet around the Huertas and Malasaña districts to enjoy a caña with a tapa before heading out to the capital’s many clubs, many of which are located next to the historic center.

The city center is the historic district. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour around the Royal Palace and then take a walk in the palace gardens, the Jardines de Sabatini. A stroll through the Madrid de los Austrias, several ancient streets built during the Hapsburg rule, will transport visitors back to when the many churches and palaces lining the narrow stone streets were built. A short distance away is the touristy Plaza Mayor which is known for its Christmas market. Next to this plaza is the Plaza de Sol, where visitors will find the Oso and the Madroño statue, a statue of a bear reaching a madroño tree that is the city’s symbol. The streets leading away from this plaza are filled with shops.

Near the city there are many small historical towns. Aranjuez, located in the arid plains south of the city, and Chinchon, nearby, are two traditional towns where visitors will be able to walk the cobbled streets and, in the case of the former, see the Royal Palace. El Escorial, located in the northern sierra, is a town where the El Escorial Monastery is located, a grand palace which used to be a Royal residence.

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