Milan and Barcelona are two of Europe’s most famous cities. While they have their similarities, as Southern European cities overflowing with culture and history, there is a lot that separates these Italian and Spanish destinations.
Located inland of northern Italy near the iconic lake region, Milan is the second most populous city in the country. It is known for being the entertainment capital of Italy and an art and fashion hotspot, home to some of the country’s finest art collections.
Five hundred and forty miles southeast of Milan, Barcelona sits on the Mediterranean coastline of Spain. This bustling city is known for its art, gastronomy, and sports teams, which have all contributed to making it a world-famous travel destination.
If you’re trying to decide between visiting Milan or Barcelona, this article will indicate which city is the better option for your specific vacation.
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Milan vs Barcelona
Both cities outdo themselves when it comes to gorgeous art and architecture, yet they offer entirely unique atmospheres suitable for different types of vacations. Continue reading if you’re interested in finding out which city is the best for you!
- Inland of northern Italy, just below the Swiss border, Milan stretches across 70 square miles.
- Famous for being a world capital of fashion, design, and finance. Known for its incredible art and culture scene and for being Italy’s vibrant entertainment capital.
- Most easily accessed via the Milan Malpensa International Airport (MXP), which handles domestic and international flights. If you’re visiting from within Italy or Europe, the Milan Centrale Railway Station services trains arriving from across the continent.
- The best way to get around is using public transport, known as ATM. The service includes a subway system, buses, and trams and is cheap, reliable, and safe to use. Metered taxis are another excellent option, although much more expensive.
- High-end hotels, resorts, and boutique hotels dominate Milan’s accommodation scene. Visitors can rent an Airbnb or self-catering vacation rental, and hostels and backpackers are available for budget travelers.
- Thirty-nine square miles along the Mediterranean coastline of Spain’s Catalonia province.
- Famous for its Gaudi architecture, over 30 Michelin Star restaurants, beaches, nightlife, and the Barcelona Football Club.
- The easiest way to access the city from abroad is to fly into Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN), just outside the city. This is the main international airport in the city and the second in the country. Barcelona Sants is the central train station, servicing trains from across the country and continent.
- Barcelona has an efficient public transport network that operates a metro, tram, and FGC (overground train line). Walking within the central city is possible, and cycling is another convenient and sustainable way to get around. Ubers and rideshare apps are also available.
- Airbnbs and self-catering vacation rentals are common in the city. Barcelona also has its fair share of high-end hotels, boutique hotels, and bed and breakfasts. Like most European cities, hostels and backpackers are available for budget travelers.
Is Milan or Barcelona Better
Depending on whether you’re craving a beach-meets-city vacation or a high-fashion experience, continue reading to find out whether Milan or Barcelona is the better option for your holiday.
For Things to Do
Milan and Barcelona are vibrant cities jam-packed with activities and things to see and do. Barcelona is more suited to those with a passion for the outdoors, balancing a beach and city atmosphere. On the other hand, Milan is a slick-city ideal for lovers of culture and fashion.
If you’re into impressive architecture and gorgeous buildings, Barcelona is home to some of the best works of Antoni Gaudi, an iconic architect of the 19th century. His most famous works of art include the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila, and the Casa Batllo, all of which remain icons of the city of Barcelona today.
For culture vultures who enjoy strolling through art museums, there are plenty of exhibitions and galleries in both cities to keep you happy. However, Milan is home to some incredible art museums, many of which are free to enter. In fact, the city is known to be one of the leading art cities in Italy, packed with temporary and rotating exhibitions. The city is also painted with street art and features Art Nouveau architecture.
For a night out on the town, Milan is Italy’s entertainment capital and has thousands of clubs, bars, and discos offering music for all tastes and styles. Of course, Barcelona also has its fair share of bars and nightlife options, usually targeting a more informal, younger crowd.
When it comes to outdoor adventure, Barcelona has a lot more to offer compared with Milan. Since the city borders the Mediterranean coastline, there are plenty of beaches to explore in Barcelona. Depending on the time of year, visitors can surf, go on boat trips, SUP, and kayak.
Comparing outdoor adventures in Milan vs Barcelona, you could also venture into the surrounding mountains to hike, rock climb, and even parasail in Barcelona. Hot air balloon trips and bungee jumping is also popular near Barcelona. This outdoor scene also makes this city a more family-friendly destination.
That being said, Milan is just a short train ride or drive from the Italian lakes and Swiss Alps. So, if you’re visiting on route to these gorgeous mountains, you could get the best of both worlds – a buzzing modern city and a natural mountain paradise.
For Budget Travelers
Barcelona tends to be 7% cheaper to live in than Milan. There are many more options for affordable dining and accommodation in Barcelona, making it more affordable for budget travelers.
You should expect to spend around $145 per day in Milan or $130 per day in Barcelona.
Most accommodation in both cities is urban or semi-urban. A room in an average hotel for two guests sharing is $165 in Milan or $160 in Barcelona. The average price for one guest in Milan is $80, while a similar room in Barcelona might cost around $70. You could book a bed in a shared dorm in a hostel for as little as $25 in Barcelona or $30 in Milan.
Both cities have excellent public transport with metros, buses, and trains. In Milan, expect to spend around $30 on public transport and taxis daily. Barcelona is slightly cheaper, averaging approximately $20 on public transport and private taxi transfers per person per day.
A meal at an average restaurant in Milan costs around $15 per person or $13 per person in Barcelona. Street food is significantly cheaper and is more common in Barcelona during tapas hours. Expect to spend around $35 on food per person in Milan or $30 in Barcelona.
A domestic beer costs around $7 in Milan, while imported beers are slightly cheaper. The same would cost about $6 in Barcelona if purchased at a restaurant or bar. If you buy beer in bulk at a grocery store, you could pay around $3 per bottle/can.
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Where to Stay in Barcelona: Hostel One Paralelo
Hostel One Paralelo is easily the best hostel in Barcelona. Set just a two-minute walk from the metro in a central location; the accommodation offers shared dorm rooms with a social atmosphere. Free walking tours, bicycles, and skateboard rentals are also available.
If we have to compare Milan vs Barcelona for couples, I recommend Milan as the better option. Milan is undoubtedly one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Filled with incredible architecture, highly-rated restaurants, and incredible historic sites, there are plenty of great activities for couples in this gorgeous city.
That being said, Barcelona is also a top destination for a romantic vacation. Couples with an interest in architecture will go crazy for the exquisite Gaudi architecture found across the city. Milan has more options when it comes to art galleries and museums and is a top destination for couples with a passion for art and culture.
Those who prefer to spend their time outdoors in nature might choose Barcelona, which is surrounded by beaches, forests, and hills, creating the perfect backdrop for an adventurous holiday.
If you’re after a pampering experience, both cities are home to incredible five–star hotels with spa and recreation centers to match. However, as one of Europe’s most classy cities, Milan has some of the most luxurious spas in the area.
Where to Stay in Milan: Hotel Principe Di Savoia – Dorchester Collection
Hotel Principe Di Savoia – Dorchester Collection is one of Milan’s most classical luxury hotels for those after an elegant and romantic stay. Set in the heart of the city, the hotel offers a top-floor spa and spacious rooms with a classic Italian design.
For Getting Around
Like most European cities, Milan or Barcelona are equally as easy to navigate using public transport. If you have a place to stay in the inner city centers, both cities are super compact and easy to get around on foot. Walking is the best way to get to see the ins and outs of the city, as you’ll pass by places and attractions you would otherwise miss if using transport.
After walking, the best way to get around Milan is to use the public transport system known as ATM. It’s efficient, on time, inexpensive, and conveniently connects the inner city with the surrounding neighborhoods. The system uses buses, a subway, and trams and is the most affordable way to get from A to B in Milan.
Public transport in Barcelona includes a metro, tram, and FGC (train), which connects just about every neighborhood you might want to visit on vacation. Since the city is small and compact, attractions and sites are typically close to one another and easy to access by foot or bike.
Both cities also have plenty of cabs that are easy to hail. However, traveling by taxi is much more expensive. Uber and other ride-share apps are also available in Milan and Barcelona.
For a Weekend Trip
So, you only have a short weekend to spare in either Milan or Barcelona? If I were you, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend a weekend in Milan. While the city is large enough to spend weeks exploring, it also set out in a compact circular-grid format, making it easy to navigate during a short stay.
As a tourist, you’ll likely begin your travels in the centrale neighborhood, which packs hoards of attractions, incredible museums, and parks into a small area. Begin your weekend in Milan at the Piazza Duomo, arguably the city’s most iconic center. From here, you’ll be able to marvel at the Duomo and head to the nearby Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II mall with its incredible glass ceiling and luxury boutique stores.
Piazza dei Mercanti is another popular place to explore since this was the original center of the city in the Middle Ages. Don’t miss out on the Teatro All Scala and Quadrilatero d’Oro, which is one of the world’s most famous shopping districts.
Porto Venexia is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city and is well worth a visit during your quick vacation. It’s the vibrant center of the LGBTQI+ community and home to some of the most delicious restaurants in Milan.
For a Week-Long Trip
If you’re lucky enough to have a whole week to explore either Milan or Barcelona, there is much more to do to keep you busy in Barcelona. Although the city is technically smaller than Milan, it is surrounded by beaches, two stunning mountains (Sierra de Collserola and Montjuic), and the unmissable Turo de la Rovira, which overlooks the city.
Since the city is surrounded by nature, you could (and should) split your Barcelona itinerary into cultural attractions and outdoor activities. Start your week off by touring the inner city center, which is easy to get around on foot.
Old Town (Ciutat Vella) is one of the most popular tourist areas, with winding narrow streets and historic buildings. Visit the Gothic Quarter and El Born Neighborhood to see the incredible Santa Maria del Mar Basilica.
On a separate day, venture into the modernist part of the city, where you can visit iconic Gaudi’s modernist architecture at the Casa Batllo and La Pedrera buildings.
Once you’ve enjoyed a decent fix of culture and history, spend a day in one of the city’s incredible parks or on the beach. Nova Icaria is a gorgeous beach great for families and sporty visitors, and Ciutadella Park is a trendy local park that is sure to give you the breath of fresh air you crave after a few days of exploring the city.
Spend another day visiting some of Barcelona’s top museums. The Picasso Museum, Miro Foundation dedicated to Joan Miro, and the MACBA (contemporary art museum) are some of the best-rated art museums in the country.
Visiting Milan and Barcelona
If you can travel to both Milan and Barcelona within your budget, you won’t regret checking out both cities. Other than being in entirely different countries with unique cultures, religions, and languages, the cities are equally as impressive.
The cities are around 450 miles away from each other, and entirely possible to travel between. However, although Milan and Barcelona are connected by road, rail, and sky, traveling between the cities can take a full day of your vacation. So, make the most of your time by arriving in one city and departing from the other so you can get away with a one-way ticket between the cities.
The best way to travel between cities is by plane. Flights are super affordable with budget airlines like RyanAir, Easyjet, and Vueling, and they take an hour and forty minutes non-stop. Flights within Europe can be cheap; if you book in good time, you could pay as little as $20 for a one-way flight (with only hand luggage).
Renting a car is another good option; the drive takes around 10 hours along the A9 international highway. The highway hugs the coast through the South of France and Spain and is a worthwhile journey to turn into a road trip.
While there are no direct trains from Milan to Barcelona, traveling by rail is a common and exciting way to visit both cities. The fastest service takes around 13 hours, while the average train journey lasts 19 hours. Just enough time to get comfortable and admire the Southern European countryside, if you ask me!
FAQs About Milan vs Barcelona
Milan and Barcelona are ranked as two of Europe’s prime city vacation destinations. They’re conveniently located in Southern Europe in two of the most desirable countries on the continent. While both are known for their food and art scene, many factors separate Milan from Barcelona.
Milan is perfect for those with an aptitude for style and a passion for fashion. With an art scene like no other, incredible boutique shops and exhibits, this city calls out to those with an interest in the ‘high life’.
On the other hand, Barcelona is popular with tourists, young and old, with high and low budgets. The city is oozing with color and personality, from streetside tapas markets to incredible architectural landmarks and gorgeous beaches.
Whichever you decide is best for your vacation, either Milan or Barcelona are sure to have you wishing you could extend your trip!
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