If you want to learn Spanish in Spain, you are probably trying to decide between the two biggest cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
By reaching this point, you have come a long way. You will have probably seen the merits of taking a Spanish course at a Spanish language school, but you will no doubt be aware that immersion is considered the best way to learn the Spanish language.
You will also be aware that you can undertake Spanish immersion in many different countries around the world, due to the fact that Spanish is an official language in 20 different nations. In fact, there are some great destinations to learn Spanish, each with its own attractions and advantages. Spanish is spoken across Latin America, in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ecuador, but to name a few.
But to get this far, you will have been attracted by the language and culture of Spain, as well as having dismissed some great locations such as Valencia, Alicante, Malaga, and Granada. You are left with two powerhouses of the of Spanish speaking world; Madrid and Barcelona.
Long term rivals, both on and off the football pitch, these two cities can both offer a great environment to learn Spanish.
Learning Spanish while travelling is a great way to study, and it is even better if you can find accommodation with a host family. But when it comes to choosing where to do this, should you choose the Spanish capital, or the Catalan capital?
To see more clearly, let’s take a closer look at your goals, because for work, holidays, and the warm welcome, the answer may not be the same!
If you want to study Spanish at one of the many Spanish schools in Spain, then try to do it outside of the peak holiday season. Both cities get very busy during the summer months as people flock to soak up the sun and the cultural heritage that each one has to offer.
In Barcelona in the spring, you can walk along the sea and enjoy the scenery, but be careful, think about bringing a scarf because the hot and dry winds blow strongly at that time of year.
It is recommended to visit Madrid in spring or autumn. The locals have a fairly clear proverb about the temperatures of the Spanish capital: “nueve meses de invierno, tres meses de infierno” which means “9 months of winter, 3 months of hell”.
If the winter can be frosty with minus temperatures, summer turns Madrid into a furnace with temperatures regularly exceeding 3o°C. You have been warned!
The difference here is more personal preference. Madrid is a larger city, but Barcelona has the beach. Both cities offer all of the benefits of learning Spanish abroad, so decide which city would suit you better personally.
If the hot weather does appeal to you as a way to immerse yourself in the Spanish way of life, then a summer holiday to Madrid or Barcelona could be for you. You can find a course in intensive Spanish easily in both cities, and with the two being such large cities with a number of foreigners, there won’t struggle to find a good Spanish teacher if you are looking for private classes.
Getting involved in cultural activities with Spanish speakers (perhaps through the many host families that offer the chance to stay with them) during the holidays that schools in Spain have will allow you to fully engage in how families in Spain like to spend their time together.
If you like to have a dip in the sea during the hot weather and in between Spanish classes, then Barcelona is the city for you. You can walk from the ramblas to the harbour, and then discover the marina with its luxury boats, where you can bask in the sun on the beach.
Barceloneta is the closest beach to the city centre (20 minutes on the subway). For the sports enthusiasts amongst you, surfers, kite surfers, and windsurfers, can be found on the beach of Mar Bella.
All the beaches of Barcelona are supervised and accessible to people with reduced mobility.
In Madrid, you might miss out on water, but you can rest assured that the swimming pools of sports centers (Canal Isabel II and Casa de Campo) are readily available.
Most of Madrid has swimming pools on the rooftops of the buildings, like the one of the Emperador hotel, or the natural pool of the Manzanares.
Get out the swimsuit in Barcelona!
In short, the perfect place to progress in Spanish during the holidays!
Please note, this is unlikely to be an option for complete beginners. You will not be able to get a contract if you do not speak a little bit of Spanish.
Catalans have the reputation of being fairly protectionist so finding a job in Barcelona will prove itself to be difficult. However, speaking English is a skill that can be sought in this highly touristic city.
Madrid is more welcoming, but you will need a competitive CV as the financial crisis of 10 years ago led to the loss of many expats’ jobs.
If you only speak Spanish (Castilian), you will be able to more easily integrate in Madrid. Indeed, if Barcelona has opted for bilingualism, locals adapt to foreigners by automatically speaking Castilian.
But it is clear that if you do not master the first language of Catalonia, you will have more trouble.
You can discover the differences between Spanish and Catalan in your Spanish lessons, but be warned that they are very different languages!
You will obviously improve your proficiency in Spanish whilst you are working, but it is definitely worth learning Spanish before you travel to give yourself the best chance of being successful and finding the job that you really want.
There are some great student cities in Spain, and amongst them are these two giants. You will find large populations of international students in both Madrid and Barcelona.
If you do decide to go for an international exchange program, Madrid has a great selection of universities to discover the Spanish culture, while Barcelona stands out for belonging to Catalonia.
If you wish to study law or economics, the Universidad Pontificia Comillas de Madrid is considered one of the best on Spanish soil. For students wishing to opt for a private school, business schools are located in both cities and have no less than 80 different nationalities:
No matter which city you choose for your studies, you will experience all the pleasures of co-habitation such as what you see in the film Pot Luck. You could spend your evenings talking and discussing tapas with your roommates, and you could spend your weekends delicately balancing homework and going out.
The sun is closely associated with Spanish life
Barcelona is best known for being the temple of the architect Gaudi. It is true that he left the city several treasures:
However, other great things will be a part of your stay in Barcelona like visiting the historical center (Barrio Gótico), the botanical garden of the Montjuïc Hill, the Picasso Museum or the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC).
To plan your stay, find help with a LoneyPlanet guide!
Madrid, on the other hand, offers more classical architecture, but one that is just as beautiful to see. Here are some examples of monuments not to be missed:
The two cities are very festive, first of all because they are in Spain, and because they are full of life and they have an international influence.
In practice, Barcelona is a city that lives as much by day as it does by night. It is packed with Flamenco clubs, nightclubs with techno sounds, and lively and bursting tapas bars. In the evening, allow yourself to be tempted by a tasting of tapas (tortillas with calamari). The best neighborhoods are Raval, Born, Sants and Gràcia.
Las Ramblas are always a meeting place, packed full of people, a must-do walk before joining a bar in the center like the Margarita Blue or La Fianna.
In Barcelona, you just have to walk to get flyers giving access to almost free nightclubs. On the other hand, it is necessary to leave relatively late because at midnight, the dance floors are all empty!
Why not try these three highly recommended options:
To fit in well with the local population in the evening, do not hesitate to perfect your Spanish before the holidays!
To hit the city’s trendy clubs, you’ll have to head for Gran Vía and Puerta del Sol. The city really comes to life at night between Thursday and Saturday, but not before midnight, you’d just be on your own with your drink.
Madrid is also a capital of choice for lovers of gastronomy, indeed, it hosts several gourmet markets to fall for! On the agenda, you will find local products, tapas and wine glasses. A great way to get in shape for an evening on the town! Here are 3 gourmet markets in Madrid to test:
As for tapas bars, there is food for all palettes, from the chic (Baco and Beto), to the good old-style french cuisine (Jurucha). Will you be able to tour the 10 best tapas bars in Madrid?
Madrid is full of cultural attractions and events
So now you have all of the information that you need to make the decision between learning Spanish in Madrid, and learning Spanish in Barcelona. But which one will you choose?