There are several top cities in Europe which you simply have to see when you are traveling in Europe: Berlin, Paris, London, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Venice, Prague, Vienna… and definitely Rome, Barcelona and Madrid.
Madrid, Barcelona or Rome? Why choose one if you can do all three?
And it’s easier than you think. I’ve visited all three in one trip.
All three cities are a bit similar and still so different.
There is nothing like Rome. This city is full of amazing ancient history at every corner and if you choose well, delicious Italian cuisine. There are so many sights, that you have to spend at least 3-4 days to scratch at the surface and visit highlights like the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, its many baroque fountains and the Vatican City.
Read our guide on where to stay in Rome.
Barcelona is hip, stylish, a little crazy (positive) and got many little alleys with full of atmosphere with its tiny cafes, restaurants and shops. Not to forget its life on the streets, like you see it on the little squares. Barcelona is also Gaudi with its La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Casa Batllo.
Read our guide on where to stay in Barcelona.
Madrid is elegant, chic, a bit posh with its bigger boulevard, parks, palaces and museums like the Prado, Royal Palace, Buen Retiro Park and Placa Espana. It’s also full of quality living, enjoying life (for example with good food), meeting friends in cafes, strolling through the pedestrian streets and relaxing in one of the parks.
To combine Rome, Barcelona and Madrid is very easy. All you need is a flight to Rome, one more to Barcelona and a return flight from Madrid. The journey from Barcelona to Madrid is nicely and easily done with the AVE high speed train. It takes around 2-3 hours, which will take you through the Spanish countryside.
As I have already mentioned, I did my trip with Independence by Globus, who see themselves as an Un-tour operator, which describes it nicely. They take care of the simple, necessary and sometimes also so annoying things. They took care of the flights and then welcomed me at the airport and took me to the hotel.
I travel quite often, also to new destinations, actually right now while writing this article. I will land in a few minutes and I have no idea how to get into the city. Sure, I could simply take a taxi, which is definitely not the wisest option quite often. It’s expensive and get you stuck in traffic. The same can happen with the bus. It’s cheaper, but has to drive through the same traffic. That leaves us with the train, which ends at the train station and then you still have to see how you get from there to your hotel.
The transfer with ‘Independence’ was included in the price and if I would have paid it myself separate, it would have been cheaper than the taxi ride. OK, it might also get stuck in traffic, but at least it takes me straight to the hotel and I know that I won’t get ripped off, which can sadly happen so easily with taxi drivers. Seriously… why are there still so many taxi drivers who still try to trick their passengers?
On day of arrival ‘Independence’ offers you to explore the city on yourself and their local expert gives you the right tips on where to go and what to see. That tip is important, as they know the city really well, but on the following day you will also explore the city with a guide and you don’t want to see the same stuff twice. The tour gives you a good and easy way to get to know the city. You’ll see the must-see sights and usually there is one, two where you spend a little more time. And if there is one which is more of interest for you, you can explore it more on the third day.
When I’m traveling, I love to explore the city by my own. I walk like crazy until my feet can’t take me any longer. Then I’ll choose a bar for a break. After recovering I keep on exploring again. In all three cities, this is a great way to do. That way you find many little squares and alleys full of atmosphere, tiny bars, cafes and unique boutique shops.
I found that ‘Independence’ provided a really good mix of exploring the city by my own and having a guided tour with more in depth info and where it’s more organized, which also included skipping lines at popular sights.
I’ve done my own walking tour on this trip, as usual, but I’ve also done different organized tours and there were a few I was glad that I did.
Tours to do in Rome:
Unforgettable Highlights of Rome; That’s really a must if you haven’t been to Rome before. There is so much ancient history to discover, that I highly recommend you to get an overview of this fascinating city. This tour gets you to the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain, plus many other little gems on the way.
Vatican City; OK, if you take it very strict, it’s not Rome, as it’s an own state. 😉 But as it’s in Rome, you should not miss it, no matter which believe you have. The Sistine Chapel is a masterpiece of art and St Peter’s Basilica is simply massive and full of sculptures and reliefs. And it was nice to skip the long lines with ‘Independence’. 🙂
Bicycle Tour; You do know that “All roads lead to Rome”, right? Then you should explore those and best by bicycle. Take a standard or ebike bicycle tour to the Ancient Appian Way. It takes only a few minutes and you are in a different world, away from all the noise and traffic of the city.
Here you’ll find a complete guide for things to do in Rome.
Tours to do in Barcelona:
- Gaudi Tour; Barcelona is Gaudi and there is no way of missing it, as you see his influence all over the city. And there is of course also enough of his own art which you can see. The Gaudi Tour takes you to the stunning Casa Batllo and to the world famous La Sagrada Familia. Both are a must-see and especially also from the inside. They will surprise you completely & in an indescribable way. Also here it was so nice to skip the long lines with ‘Independence’. 🙂
Montserrat; It’s about an hours drive to the Benedictine abbey, which lies on a 721 meter high mountain. It’s a spectacular place with great views. In the church you can see the (black) Virgin of Montserrat, a little statue. People stand in line to touch or kiss the ball she holds in her hands. Don’t ask me why. Hopefully it brings them luck and not an eczema. 😉 I recommend to climb up the hill to the look out with the cross. The view is amazing! It takes around 15-20 minutes to get up. Try to beat my time with 8 minutes. 😉
Park Guell; This park is designed by Gaudi and it’s not part of the Gaudi Tour. So go here on your own. It’s worth it! Important, you have to organize the Park Guell ticket upfront, best online. You are only allowed to enter it at a specific time, which you can choose yourself, and then you can stay as long as you like. I recommend to come around 1.5 hour before sunset. The sun sets behind the mountain, so that the park is quickly in the shade, which is not good for photos. So you should come before that happens. But it’s also nice to see the park at night with its lights on. So if you come 1-1.5 hour before sunset, you got it both. 😉
Photographic Tour; Barcelona is full of really good photo opportunities. That starts with all its sights, but also the people, the architecture, the food and the atmosphere in general provide you with many chances to capture those moments. Why not use the chance and improve your photo skills while exploring the city and its gems? If you have a DSLR camera, you can dive more into its manual settings, which the guide will explain to you in more detail. But I would even do this tour with a point & shoot camera or my smartphone. The tour route is very flexible and I’ve discovered that way the Biblioteca de Catalunya, formerly a hospital (where Gaudi died). It got a beautiful inner courtyard. Also the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) is a cool photo spot with its modern design and the many skateboarders who uses the square in front of it for their tricks. Then there were so many more fab places to take photos off at the Gothic Quarter.
Here you’ll find more things to do in Barcelona.
Tours to do in Madrid
- Bike Tour; I love doing bicycle tours. It’s a fab way to explore the city, as you see a lot in a relatively short time and it’s a good way to feel the town. You can hear, smell and hear the city much better than on other tours, unless you walk. With the bike tour I have the feeling that I have seen it all or at least most of it. That includes sights like the Royal Palace of Madrid, Plaza Mayor, El Retiro Park, but especially all the little sights in between and the little alleys you would have missed with a bus tour and which were out of reach when walking.
Arab Bath & Relaxing Massage; I have to admit, that’s what I have started with on my arrival in Madrid. What a good choice that was! The bath is in an old cellar with arches and the light is dimmed. It’s relatively small, so that you should book in advance. You feel like in another world. There are three pools with different temperatures, all inviting to hang loose… OK, not the pool with the cold water. For that one you can recover with hot mint tea. And you should also include a massage. There are different ones to choose from and at least one should be in your spa session. You’ll come out totally unstressed and laid-back… ready to explore more of Madrid.
Here you’ll find more travel tips for Madrid.
Food and restaurant tips
I’ve asked our local ‘Independence’ experts for different restaurant tips and I’m happy that I did. I’m usually a bit skeptical with the tips I get recommended. The tips I got in all three cities were really good and I would recommend them also to you:
Where to eat in Rome
- Alessio Restaurant; It’s usually very busy. So expect to wait a little to get a table or better reserve one upfront.
Casa Bleve; It’s a bit upper class, but not too crazy and still with good prices and good wines.
Where to eat in Barcelona
- Ciudad Condal; This one is actually a very popular tapas bar, well known and visited by tourists and locals. That makes it also very busy, but for good reasons. The food is really good and you should definitely go here.
Fabrica Moritz; Do you like beer & good food? Then this is the place for you. Moritz is actually a brewery and you can choose between having a drink & tapas at the Brewery Bar or to have it at the El Velodromo.
Where to eat in Madrid
- Platea Madrid; This one is actually an old theater, where you can now find over a dozen different restaurants and bars. You choose your favorite one, take your order and find a seat in the old theater, which is now a cool place to hangout. Sometimes there is also some live music.
Mercado de San Miguel; Do you like a good choice of quality food? Then you are right here. It’s an old market hall, where you now find many different food stalls inside. You choose your favorite tapas and drinks from each stall and enjoy them.
If I would have to choose one of those three cities, I seriously have no idea which one to choose. That’s why I would recommend to visit all three. Hahaha They are “Same same, but so different”.
I’m sure that YOU would be able to choose a favorite, depending on your personal taste, but I’m also sure that you will like them all. And the only way to find your favorite is by visiting all three.
Let me know which one you like most and why, Madrid, Barcelona or Rome?
If you prefer somewhere a bit quieter, check out these hidden gems in Europe.
Travel tip shared by Melvin for Travel Dudes.