WHAT'S BETTER, BARCELONA OR AMSTERDAM TO VISIT?
Barcelona and Amsterdam are two prominent European tourism destinations. Each of them offers wonderful sightseeing opportunities, and separated by a short 2-hr flight, they can be easily combined in the same trip to Europe. Or some might want to do a 3-city trip by either train or plane and include Paris in their itinerary.
But if you need to stick to just one city, there’s many points to take into account. Amsterdam city is twice as large as Barcelona: 219,3 km² (84 sqm) vs 101,9 km² (39 sqm). However, Barcelona is much more densely populated: twice as many people live in half the space. The population of Barcelona is around 1.6 million people, versus the 872,000 of Amsterdam.
Both cities are very walkable, though. In both of them you’ll be walking no more than 30 minutes to cross the city center, where most of the tourist sites are located. But Barcelona has a larger subway system. That’s mostly due to the difficulty of building tunnels under the canals. In Amsterdam, you’ll be using tramway more often (in Barcelona there’s only a handful of lines connecting with the subburbs). But what else does a traveller need to know?
Amsterdam vs Barcelona. Here is how they compare:
Water bodies. Fresh or salt water? That’s the question! Amsterdam is located by the Markermeer, an artificial fresh water lake built to control the water levels in the area. Amsterdam is also known as the Venice of the North, due to the over 100km (62 miles) of canals. The Grachtengordelaround is a canal ring formed by 3 main canals: the Herengracht, the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht.
Instead, Barcelona is located by the Mediterranean Sea. It features 4km (almost 2.5 miles) of urban beach, plus several sport marinas, the largest cruise port in Europe. The international container port extends several miles almost all the way to the airport, but its mostly located in the outskirts.
Antoni Gaudi vs Vincent Van Gogh
Two forward-thinking characters are linked to the cities. Van Gogh was only one year younger than Gaudi – they were born in 1852 and 1853 respectively. Unfortunately Van Gogh had a short life. When he died in 1890, Gaudi was only in his early years as an architect and still had many years to go until he passed away in 1926.
Art museum lovers need to visit the Van Gogh Museum. And they’ll be also fascinated by the Rijksmuseum with works by Vermeer and Rembrandt among others. But museum goers will be pleased to know that Barcelona has Picasso and Miro instead. In the other hand, Barcelona is the place for architecture lovers. Instead, there’s no Dutch architect that has marked Amsterdam the way Gaudi transformed Barcelona.
What would Amsterdam be without tulips? National Tulip Day in January, the Tulip Festival in April, the Garden of Europe Keukenhof from March to May, the 20km (12.5 miles) of Bollenstreek Flower strip… Unfortunately, Barcelona is not that colorful. But… it does hide some lovely surprises for flower lovers!
The Mossen Cinto Verdaguer gardens are a theme garden specialising in tulips and other bulbs: 80.000 of them are planted there every year! The best time to visit is March and April, then July through September. Then there’s the Cervantes park, a rose garden featuring around 10,000 rose bushes. That means over 150,000 roses during the best months of blooming (May through July)! But there’s flowers all year around, since some of the species in their rose collection bloom during the cold months as well.
World War II and Spanish Civil War
20th century wars. During World War II the Netherlands were soon occupied by the nazis. Between 1940 and 1945 at least an 80% of its Jewish population was deported to concentration camps. The terror made many try to hide – but only a small portion was successful. The most famous exemple is the story of Anne Frank, whose house is nowadays a must visit site in Amsterdam.
Spain didn’t enter WW2: we had just ended a terrible civil war that lasted between 1936 and 1939. The civilian population suffered inhuman bombings, and locals built underground shelters to get protected from them. Some of them are open for visits (opening hours are often reduced – check before heading there. You’ll find them in Gracia (Plaça del Diamant, Plaça de la Revolucio), Poble Sec (Nou de la Rambla), Horta (Les Heures), Sant Adrià del Besós…
Also, a very popular vantage point overlooking the city is also linked to the Civil War: the so-called “bunkers” of Carmel. They weren’t really bunkers but the base of republican anti-aircraft batteries. In the other side of the city, the castle over the Hill of Montjuic was controlled by the fascists and they bombed the city from there as well. In the castle moat was executed the President of the Generalitat Catalan Government, Lluis Companys. BTW, in the district of Gracia you’ll find a square dedicated to Anna Frank, with a statue of her reading her diary.
Would you like another reason to choose between Barcelona and Amsterdam?
Wine or Beer?
In the middle ages monks and nuns in Dutch monasteries and convents were already fermenting hops to make beer. Since then, this drink has always been a local favorite. You can’t leave Amsterdam without visiting a brewery. The options are many, from the modern Heineken to the old De Gooyer windmill and anything in between.
In Spain beer is very popular too, and each region has their own local brands. For Barcelona that would be Estrella, San Miguel and Moritz. But craft beer is getting momentum and you’ll often find interesting options at the bars. There are even some open to the public as well. However… Spain is known for its wine.
The countryside around Barcelona is mostly into sparkling. Of course, the French don’t let us call it Champagne, even if we use the methode champanoise to make it. So we call “cava” instead – cellar in Catalan. To visit the cellars you’ll have to take the train, drive for at least 45 minutes out of town or… join a tour.
NOTE: I won’t give you Barcelona alternatives to the Red District. You’ll sadly find many ideas online for that. As for pot, in Spain it’s illegal to smoke it in public or deal with it. But again, people who want to find it will surely find a way to cross dealers under the table. Growing the plant is surprisingly legal as long as it’s only for “private consumption” (I know, WTF?), so you may cross a grow shop at some point. And some Dutch entrepreneurs opened a Museum of Cannabis in a beautiful modernist mansion of the Gothic Quarter. For the sake of culture, of course. There you go.
So what is your favorite, Barcelona or Amsterdam?
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