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Big city showdown: London or Barcelona?

by Rajul on February 22, 2010

Barcelona certainly has its attractions, but are they as compelling as London's?

This is the latest in our “city showdown” series where we pit the advantages of London against a heavyweight European competitor.

And having declared an honourable draw with Paris, let’s move further south to the capital of art, culture and superb food: Barcelona.

Both London and Barcelona are cosmopolitan European capitals with more than enough to lure visitors, so how do we judge this?

It’s simple; shine the spotlight where it counts – on their attractions, weather, nightlife, architecture and food.

Attractions

London has something for every possible visitor.

World-renowned galleries and museums like the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum, the Tate Modern and the Science Museum; tourist hotspots like the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and Shakespeare’s Globe, world-class parks and gardens, plus countless other quirky little attractions including a wealth of secret churches and historic pubs.

London offers much more than showpiece attractions like the Globe Theatre

Barcelona also has plenty to keep visitors entertained, though arguably not as much as London.  Highlights of the city include: Parc de la Ciutadella, which offers countless pleasant walks along with two museums and a zoo; Museu Picasso, with its extensive collection of the great man’s early works; Parc Güell and the world-class Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

In my view, London is the winner here but only by a short head.

Weather

Well, this one doesn’t need much investigation; London’s annual average temperature is 11°C, whilst Barcelona’s is 17°C.  I think that’s enough said!  Let’s not even mention the rain…

Nightlife

London is famous for its party vibe and non-stop nightlife.  When the sun goes down the capital comes alive with bars, theatres, clubs and more, catering to all tastes.  Each area of the city has its own vibe, whether you want a chilled chat or to dance the night away, you’ll find it in London.

Barcelona’s nightlife is as varied as you’d expect of any major city and offers some of the trendiest nightspots in Spain.  Bars, clubs, cafes, clubs all rave away late into the night, with the liveliest areas being La Rambla, Port Olympic, the Barri Gotic, Maremagnum and the Gracia district.

As in much of Europe, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are the most active in Barcelona; whereas in London you’ll find something to do seven days a week…a narrow but controversial win for London perhaps.

The Barri Gòtic: one of Barcelona's most evocative areas, day or night

Architecture

London’s rich history is apparent in its architecture: from eclectic Victorian homes and pretty Georgian squares, to sights like Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, industrial icons like Battersea Power Station to shining examples of modern design like City Hall and The Gherkin.

Barcelona also has something for most tastes; from the revamped port area to the modernist buildings of the Eixample and the medieval Barri Gòtic, not to mention Gaudi’s legacy, which is obvious throughout the city in masterpieces like the Sagrada Familia to La Pedrera.

Despite being a Londoner, Barcelona wins this for me but perhaps only because I’m a fan of contemporary design.

Food

London’s multicultural mix is nowhere more evident than in its restaurants.

You just can't beat London for culinary diversity

With residents from all around the globe, nationalities often congregate in certain areas and those in the know, know where to head for authentic international cuisines.  Brick Lane for Indian, Hoxton for Vietnamese, Brixton for Caribbean, Edgware Road for Arabic… the list could go on and on.

In coastal Barcelona you can get some of the most delicious tapas and fresh seafood around, especially in quaint restaurants hidden down alleys in the Barri Gòtic, Port Vell and beachside Port Olympic.  But, delicious as it is, it’s no challenge for London’s varied offerings.

Barcelona’s culinary quality is superb but it loses to London on diversity.

So overall then maybe London “wins” – but it’s a very close-run thing!  Feel free to comment below, whether you agree with our verdict or not.

Planning a trip to London?  There are hundreds of hotels for every taste and budget.  Just browse this blog to choose one that’s currently on top form.  Use our meta-search to make sure you get the best deal.

Do you want to combine a trip to Barcelona with your stay in London?

If you’re jetting off from Gatwick airport, your best choice currently from TripAdvisor is Langshott Manor Hotel.  It’s been described by recent guest reviewers as a “superb hotel” and “luxury at an affordable price”.

Check the best rate for the Langshott Manor from 30+ hotel booking sites

Langshott Manor is a great base for a Barcelona getaway if you're flying from Gatwick airport

Langshott Manor’s lovely rooms are just a few minutes from Gatwick.

If you’re flying from Heathrow, you may want to try the Sofitel Heathrow (recently given the award of “best airport hotel in the world” by the USA Business Traveler Magazine Hotel Awards for 2009).

Check the best rate for the Sofitel Heathrow from 30+ hotel booking sites

Guest reviews on TripAdvisor are positively gushing and appreciate the luxurious, soundproofed rooms and comfy beds, as well as the helpful staff.

Sofitel Heathrow gets consistently excellent guest reviews

They echo some comments we’ve heard about its sister property, the immaculate Sofitel St James – repeatedly featured on this blog and currently in London’s top 5 TripAdvisor hotels.

Both the Sofitel at Heathrow and the Langshott Manor are excellent but expensive, so if you’re on a budget but still want a decent experience we’d recommend one of the YOTELs at Heathrow or Gatwick.

But do check out our YOTEL video and guest reviews first.

Check the best rate for YOTEL Heathrow from 30+ hotel booking sites

Check the best rate for YOTEL Gatwick from 30+ hotel booking sites

Get the best-value London hotel deal from 30+ booking sites in 1 click

Photo credits: Langshott Manor Hotel, Sofitel Heathrow.

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