Which is better, Barcelona or London?
It’s time for another episode of our blog series Barcelona vs the World! And today it’s David vs Goliath: because how can Barcelona compete against London? Let’s explore that!
The capital of the UK is easy to reach from most large cities in the world by plane. Actually, many travelers coming to Barcelona will take a take a connecting flight in London. It’s not too long: around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
You can also get to Barcelona from London by train: 2.5 hr Eurostar to Paris, then TGV to Barcelona (6.5 hours). Unfortunately the connections aren’t usually great and you might end up taking as long as if you were driving: 16 hours! So train is only a good option if you plan to do London, Paris and Barcelona in one single trip. And did you know that there’s even cruises that take you to Barcelona from London? That can be a cool plan too!
The time difference between both cities is only one hour: Barcelona is ahead, being on GTM +2. The weather is sunnier in Barcelona (but that’s pretty obvious)
As for size, London is 6 times bigger than Barcelona 1,569 km2 (606 sq mi) vs 101 km2 (39 sq mi) vs 101km. However, the actual City of London district is smaller than the Barcelona city center: both cities are very walkable. There are almost 9 million Londoners, compared to the 1.6M Barcelona inhabitants. Lord, even the region of Catalonia is only 7.5 millions!
One last point to take into account is that in the UK they speak English (and if you are reading this post, this is probably a language you feel comfortable with). In Barcelona we speak Spanish AND Catalan, the local tongue. Locals grow up learning both and are fluent in both. So while it can be a bit confusing at first if you were expecting to practice your Spanish, it’ll still be easy to get around. And if you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll love to know that after the 1992 Olympics locals have been learning. Most people can communicate in English well enough: so you’ll be fine.
Barcelona vs London travel guide:
High points to see the views
London is a quite flat city, while Barcelona is limited by two prominent hills. And that gives Barcelona the chance to beat London at least once! The Hill of Montjuic rises 173 meters above sea level, offering great vantage points. The MNAC museum, the Montjuic Castle and its many “miradors” are some of them. Plus it features the TWO cable cars in the city (aeri del port and teleferic de montjuic). London only has one: the Emirates Air Line.
The other hill is the Tibidabo Mountain, with its 512m / 1680f height. At the top you’ll find the Basilica del Sagrat Cor, where an elevator takes you higher up: 575m / 1887f. That’s more than twice the London Shard (310m / 1018f). In the Tibidabo mountain you can also see the views from the vantage point of the Torre de Collserola. This antenna by the British Norman Foster reaches 713m / 2339f, but the vantage point is only at 540m / 1772f.
The London Eye is the second largest observation wheel in the world with its 135m / 443f. The only permanent Ferris wheel in Barcelona is only 20m /66f but… it’s located at the top of the Tibidabo Mountain too. So sorry London, we beat you at this one!
Now it’s only fair to let London be the winner this time. And Barcelona honestly can’t compete with London when talking about museums. But the museum offer in Barcelona is great for those looking for small museums with no crowds and interesting little known pieces.
In London you visit the British Museum to see archaeology treasures. In Barcelona there’s the small gems included in one single card: the Museu d’Arqueologia, the roman excavations of the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat and the Museu Egipci. The masterpieces at the Tate Britain or the National Gallery don’t even pale in front of the MNAC. But the Museum of National Art of Catalonia is a huge surprise for art lovers and connoisseurs. And the contemporary art world of the Tate Modern translates in smaller scale in a variety of small Barcelona art galleries. But one thing is sure: Picasso, Miro and Dali fans will have a blast in Barcelona!
What about a theme where both cities tie? Churches, this is it! You’ll find great equivalents to Westminster Abbey highlights in the Cathedral of Barcelona. The Choir of the Barcelona Cathedral features the coat of arms of Henry the VIII of England! And we have a beautiful cloister as well (where 13 geese live – a match for the London Tower crows?).
Royals were buried in Westminster. Count Ramon Berenguer and his wife Almodis, plus Saint Eulalia and other saints and bishops, in the Barcelona cathedral. TIP: To see Royal Tombs you must drive 1.5 hours to the medieval Monestir of Santes Creus.
And the beautiful stained glasses of Westminster Lady Chapel and the Chapter House are no rival to those of Santa Maria del Mar. And let me compare the Sagrada Familia Basilica with the Cathedral of Saint Paul. So different in style, but both equally move your soul as you step in.
If there’s a food market I always visit when I’m in London, that’s the Borough Market. And the one in Barcelona that matches it is definitely the Boqueria Market. Have heard it’s getting too touristy? Nah, that’s because they don’t know where to find its soul! Both are counted among the best markets in the world.
Prefer a more hipster feel like Broadway Market? Head to Mercat de Sant Antoni, then! Els Encants in Barcelona may not be as great as a walk through Old Spitalfields or Greenwich Market. But in Barcelona you’ll find a variety of smaller specialty markets for every taste. Even the lovers of quirky Camden stalls will find a small haven in the Barcelona Galeries Malda, in the Old Town.
Travelling with Children
Many kids atractions are similar in London vs Barcelona. Both cities have a great Aquarium and a nice Zoo. Both cities have a Wax museum (although Mme. Tussauds is definitely bigger). You can take your kids to a child-friendly afternoon tea in London, or have some hot chocolate and churros in Barcelona. You can row a boat in Hyde Park or in the Ciutadella Park.
And if you are thinking that there’s no Harry Potter studio in Barcelona… We have a Harry Potter store, a café and a 3 scape rooms inspired in the movies!
So how to decide if you should travel to Barcelona or London?
History vs Architecture
History vs architecture. To me a key difference between both cities (that isn’t Tames river vs Mediterrean sea) is… Antoni Gaudi. He is the architect who in the early 1900’s transformed the Barcelona landscape with his colorful crazy designs. And because of that, the top Barcelona sites revolve around architecture. Art nouveau, to be more precise.
That’s not to say the architecture in London isn’t interesting. After all, both cities have a “gherkin”. But the architecture in London is just not as unique. Instead, many London sites are about history.
So even if Barcelona is a city with 2000 years of history, history geeks need to go to London and see Buckingham Palace, visit the Tower of London, enter the Churchill War Rooms. And don’t miss the churches we discussed before. Architecture or history – choose your destination depending on your favorite type of sites.
Did it help you chose between going to Barcelona or London?
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