Fierce rivals on the pitch, but which city comes out on top for that city break? Barcelona’s popularity suggests this match is a foregone conclusion, but can the Madrilenos pull off a famous win?
It’s not just Gaudi’s celebrated masterpieces that give Barcelona the edge. When it comes to stylish, contemporary design, be it buildings, furniture or even shoes, few cities do it better than Barcelona - a city where the town planners seemingly don’t approve ‘normal’ buildings. This is exemplified by the Torre Agbar, a colourful mini gherkin, and the Torre de Gas Natural HQ - a futuristic glass plated amalgamation of shapes co-designed by local architect Enric Miralles. Cutting edge design and artistic flourishes can also be found in the designer hotels that have emerged in the last decade. The Silken Diagonal Hotel stands out with its striking shiny synthetic black and white panelled exterior and Hotel Omm has been described as an advent calendar with its peeled open windows.
Madrid’s architecture is more classically beautiful. Highlights include the Royal Palace, Art Deco skyscrapers on the Gran Via, such as the Telefonica Building, Plaza Major square and the Palacio de Communicaciones - the world’s most impressive post office.
1- Nil to Barca
With Madrid landlocked it's an open goal.
2 - Nil
The Barcelona food universe doesn’t end at El Bulli and the Bocqueria. Don’t miss out on the two recently redeveloped markets, Mercat de la Barceloneta (Placa Poeta Bosca) and the Mercat de Santa Caterina (Avda Francesc Cambo) with its distinctive multi-coloured roof. Designed again by Miralles, the latter's wooden endoskeleton exterior has many similarities with his controversial Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Both markets have highly rated restaurants.
Seafood lovers should head for lively Cal Pep, (Barcelona, Plaza Olles, 8; TEL: 93 3107961) where orders are cooked in front of you at the bar by adrenaline fuelled chefs - dishes start at €9. The trifasco, a very salty whitebait style dish, and the lemon grilled tuna stood out. But get there before 7.30pm to get the prized bar seats.
Pintxos, mini tapas served on tooth picks, €1.50 - €2.50 each, are very popular in Barcelona and feature in many bars especially around trendy El Born. You simply help yourself and the bar tender counts the picks at the end. Try Cafe Bilbao (Placa Nova, 3) opposite Barcelona Cathedral which has a good variety of savoury and dessert pintxos.
Rustic dishes and tapas dominate the Madrid food scene. Pork is very popular, so for a ham sandwich with the locals try Museo del Jamon (Carrera San Jeronimo, 6) a fantastic bar and deli with its typical hanging trotters. For roast suckling pig try Botin (Calle de la Cuchilleros; TEL: 91 3664217) which opened in 1725 and according to the Guinness Book of Records is the world’s oldest restaurant. For tapas (€4 - €10) there are dozens of bars around the Plaza Santa Ana - Cerveceria Alemana with its traditional Castilian fare was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemmingway. Worth checking out for delicious salmon croquettes and Spanish wines is nearby Vinotecca (Calle del Principe, 27).
Remains Barcelona 2 Madrid 0
Another fifty fifty tussle. Barcelona's Articket (€22) covers 7 impressive museums and galleries (Centre de Cultura Contemporània, Antoni Tàpies, La Pedrera, Joan Miró, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Museu d'Art Contemporani and Museu Picasso).
Madrid, though, is home to three world class museums, nicknamed the Golden Triangle. Don’t be tempted to skip the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Paseo del Prado, €7). The least famous of the three, it's less crowded than the Prado and more accessible then the Reina Sofia. The museum features an impressive array of paintings from Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Degas, Hopper, Monet and Renoir. The collection belonged to a wealthy Swiss industrialist but was purchased by the state for a knockdown $350 million - about a quarter of its estimated value.
Madrid pull one back.
2 - 1
In Barcelona head for style conscious El Born particularly the bars along Calle De Argentina. For wine try La Vinya del Senyor (Placa Santa Maria, 5) opposite the ornate Basilica de Santa Maria. In summertime try Carpe Diem (Paseo Maritimo 32) for cocktails by the beach.
Madrid is one of Europe’s party capitals where the nightlife doesn't kick off till late. Dinner starts at 9.30pm and most clubs are empty before midnight. Recommended bars are Viva Madrid (Calle de Manuel Fernández y González, 7), a vibrant bar decorated inside and outside with yellow and blue azulejo tiles and Los Gabrieles, a former brothel! Another favourite is the cosy Espana Cani (Calle Huertas, 14) with its atmospheric candles and dusty wine bottles. In many bars if you order a drink you’ll often get a small tapas, in El Buson (Calle de la Victoria, 14) little dishes of oil-drenched chorizo were put on the table to nibble.
Both excel, but for its sheer density of bars Madrid equalise.
Half-Time: Barcelona 2 Madrid 2
Madrid's Retiro Park (former Royal grounds) is a clean, family-friendly, vibrant place to relax, grab a coffee and listen to local musicians. You can burn off some of the previous night's beer and tapas by hiring a boat on the impressive lake (€5). Barcelona’s Parc Catalyuna has a smaller boating lake and is home to Barcelona Zoo and Snowflake an albino Gorilla!
With Madrid poised to take the lead Barcelona hit a spectacular goal with Gaudi’s epic, surreal, fantasy Parc Guell. With its bold architecture, Hansel and Gretel entrance, emblematic dragon and amazing views this park is worth the airfare alone.
Barcelona 3 Madrid 2
For designer labels head to the Salamanca district of Madrid and Passaig de Garcia in Barcelona. For Spanish brands Zara and Mango both cities cater well. But for something different try Madrid's Rastro market - a lively mile long strip where you can find anything from the ubiquitous Che Guerva t-shirts, to dog leads and computer accessories.
In Barcelona trendy, independent designer stores abound. Fashion victims should head to the stores along Calle Avinyo, try Tribu for trainers. Foodies should check out La Botifarreria de Santa Maria (Carrer de Santa Maria, 4) for quality meats and hams and Bubo (Carrer Caputxes,10) for local chocolates. But if you fancy taking a slice of Barcelona home, check out Vincon (Passeig de Gracia, 96) for the latest in Catalan interior design.
On the stroke of full-time Barcelona score.
Barcelona 4 Madrid 2
FULL TIME - summary
With its beaches, markets and spectacular architecture Barcelona triumph. But the match was much closer than the score suggests, so before booking that weekend in Barcelona you should consider the world-class museums, great nightlife and tapas of Madrid.
Where to stay
Silken Diagonal (Avenida Diagonal 205, Barcelona)
Next to the Torre Agbar, this stylish four-star hotel ticks all the designer boxes with its unique exterior, copper plated reception, illuminated lifts and modern rooms. Breakfast is in the Michelin recommended restaurant and there is a small rooftop pool with panoramic city views. The hotel is a few miles from the city centre but there’s a Metro outside and a tram that goes to Porto Olimpico.
Catalonia Moratin (Calle Atocha 23, Madrid)
A marvellous four-star hotel with a rugged, exposed brick interior and clean wooden floored, minimalist bedrooms. The hotel is in an excellent location, just a 5 minute walk to Puerto de Sol, Plaza Major and Plaza Santa Ana and 10 minutes to the museums.