Sun-bathed beaches, rich cuisine, booming nightlife and a vast culture: Spain is home to almost 50.000 international students as of 2018. Drawn by the country’s unique reputation, many students have a hard time choosing between Madrid or Barcelona, the country’s largest cities and longtime competitors for the international spotlight. Here are a few reasons why you should skip the Catalan shores for the capital’s avenues.
1. It’s better to travel around Spain
Due to its central location in mainland Spain, Madrid is perfect if you want to explore the different regions that compose the country. From day trips to Toledo and Alcalá de Henares to weekend getaways to Valencia and Salamanca, the madrileños have more (and cheaper) options when it comes to travelling around compared to their Catalan counterparts. In addition to that, if you are under 26 you are also eligible for the Abono Card, which enables you to use public transport around all the Comunidad Autonoma (and even Toledo) for only 20€ per month.
2. The language is easier
Catalan is a beautiful language and a cultural symbol for the region, but a foreigner (or even a Spaniard from a different region) might have a hard time shifting from Spanish to Catalan and vice versa with the same ease as the locals do. On the other hand, Spanish is the second most spoken native language in the world, behind only Mandarin due to China’s massive population. Therefore, going to Madrid will definitely help in your spanish skills and you’ll go back home with a Perfecto Español.
3. It’s a global city
Between 2010 and 2015, the immigrant population living in Madrid went from around 100.000 to 500.000 people, making it a melting pot for different cultures and ethnicities from all over the world. This becomes especially clear when we look at the city’s diverse cuisine (with neighbourhoods creating authentic enclaves, like Lavapies for the Bangladeshi) and the countless languages you’ll encounter just by walking in the streets.
With a population just over 3 million people, Madrid is also the destination of many international plays, concerts and expositions, like Billy Elliot or West Side Story.
4. The food is better
Bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich), patatas bravas (squared fries with a pepper-based and aioli – olive oil and garlic – sauce), cochinillo (an entire fried suckling pig) and many others. The food in central Spain is a product of the interaction of the country’s 17 autonomous regions and greatly influenced by the many influxes of immigrants it received throughout time, like Indians, Arabs, Colombians, Mexicans and so on. In addition to that, due to its economic and demographic relevance in Europe, Madrid is often the chosen destination of international chefs and global chain restaurants, giving the city an even more prestigious place in the continent’s cuisine.
5. It’s less touristy
Because of its year round warm mediterranean temperatures, Barcelona is a common destination for Europeans trying to escape the cold weather. Consequently, the prices tend to skyrocket during summer and holidays, which makes the city less affordable for those who actually live there. Besides having a somewhat constant tourist influx, Madrid is home to numerous low-cost entertainment options: the Retiro Park and the city’s main museums all have (even if just for a couple of hours a day) free of charge entrances, unlike Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia or Park Güell.
6. More culture-y
Having been the capital for more than 400 years, Madrid boasts some of the most relevant and comprehensive cultural resources in Spain. Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums contain masterpieces spamming from classical to modern art, including artists like El Greco, Velázquez, Picasso and Rubens.
The city was home to numerous Spanish writers and artists in the 20th century and they left a remarkable legacy engraved in the urban landscape: the cafes, like the Cafe Gijón or the Chocolateria San Ignés, where the artists gathered to discuss ideas, and the Círculo de Bellas Artes (where you can even catch the beautiful sunset over the Gran Via) are just a few of the examples.
Competition aside, we can all say that Madrid has an unique appeal. Even if you do make the less obvious choice of going to Barcelona, don’t worry…you can always escape for a day-trip in the capital! ?
Thanks for reading this post!
Maybe you had your mind already set on Madrid, but if you didn’t we hope these 6 reasons helped out.
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João is here to facilitate your experience abroad with any and every insider tip that might be useful to you: from renting advice to travel counselling, he tackles this topics in a light and instructive way. By day a tireless traveler, by night a compulsive eater, he's specially passionate about History and culture and will share his insights as he himself uncovers the expat life.