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Both Milan and Barcelona are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Mention the name Milan, and it instantly conjures up visions of fashion, refinement and exclusive shopping. This is a city where looking your finest is an obsession, and even the main tourist attraction, the Galleria, is shopping arcade. Luxury brands and designer boutiques may fill the historic centre but out on the outskirts are edgy districts where this creativity originated from.
As a visitor, you should realise that Milan does not have the breadth of monuments and standout tourist attractions as of other Italian cities. This is primarily a business focused city, which reveres in sophistication and looking good.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Barcelona can be fully seen with two intense days of sightseeing, but if you include the beaches, the mountain viewpoints and a more leisurely pace, this leads to the conventional four-day visit.
A trip could be extended by visiting the picturesque Montserrat Monastery and mountains or the attractive coastal town of Sitges. Barcelona is much more suited for a short city break than a longer holiday, and does lack the diversity of day trips as with other destinations.
The main sights of Milan can be easily seen in a single day of sightseeing. A second day allows time to explore the more atmospheric districts (Navigli, Zona Tortona) or provides extra time for shopping. To capture the essence of the city, you need to experience the early evening drinks culture and the evening strolls where everyone wears their finest clothes.
Milan may lack many tourist sights, but there surrounding region certain compensates with many enjoyable day trips. This includes the historic towns of Bergamo, Brescia and Pavia, the beautiful lakes of Garda, Maggiore and Como, plus the Italian Alps. It is even possible to visit Verona as a day trip.
For the real Milan experience, you want to visit during the summer or winter fashion weeks (Sep/Oct or Feb/Mar), to mingle with models, stylish and Aficionados. For a city break, Milan is almost year-round, but it is cool and possibly wet in the winter, while in hot August most residents head to the beach for the whole month.
One of the quirks of Milan is at the weekends, most of its affluent or mobile residents leave the city for the coast (summer), the Alps (winter) or lakes (Spring/Autumn), leaving the city to tourists and foreign shoppers.
Barcelona is almost a year-round destination, and the best time of year to visit is either early spring or later autumn as this is outside of the peak season, but the weather is still pleasant.
The peak tourist season is July and August, and we suggest Barcelona is best avoided, as it is just too hectic and crowded. The weather is suitable for spending time on the beaches from May until October. The winter months are cooler and possibly wet but there is a less hectic pace around the city.
Barcelona is flashy, energetic and modern. The city has vibrant tourist attractions and is without the stuffy atmosphere of many other historic destinations. It generally appeals more to the younger visitor with its heady mix of nightlife, beaches and Instagram ready tourist attractions.
It should be noted that Barcelona is not a cheap city, being the most expensive city in Spain. Barcelona great for a short stay or a one-day visit, such as from a cruise ship.
If you adore fashion, embrace style, and willing to spend a little extra, then Milan is calling you. The city excels in designer shopping, trend-setting, and simply looking good.
Many visitors leave Milan slightly disappointed; it is without the flare of Rome, the culture of Florence, or the photo opportunities of Venice. Milan is a business city, where the reward for the industrious attitude of its residents, is cutting edge fashion and sophisticated nightlife.
Insight: There are few historic buildings in Milan, as many were destroyed by the extensive bombing of the second world war.
Barcelona is a tremendous destination for a 48-hours, and excels as a short-stay destination. Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Barcelona; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
The first morning would start on the La Rambla the authentic shopping street, which is so popular with tourists and locals alike. For the middle of the day explore the Gothic Quarter, which contains the cathedral and Picasso museum.
For the final part of the head towards the harbour and the lively Barceloneta district, that lies the beaches. For the evening both Gothic Quarter or Barceloneta boasts restaurants, atmosphere and entertainment.
The cable car up to Montjuïc Castle provides wonderful views over Barcelona
For the second day begin by visiting the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia basilica, with is whimsical towers, intricate carvings and masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. The theme of Gaudí continues with the next sight, the Parc Guell, which was designed by him and includes delightful mosaic-covered buildings and wonderful views of the city.
The final area to discover is Montjuï, where you can ride the cable car to a stunning or visit the MNAC museum housed in the grand Palau Nacional.
The finale for your time in Barcelona is the inspiring Magic Fountain light show, held at the fountain near the MNAC museum (Wed-Sun peak season).
48 hours in Milan.
Begin the first day at the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of Milan. On this plaza is the gothic Duomo di Milano cathedral (head to the roof for amazing views) and the beautiful Galleria shopping complex, filled with boutiques and exclusive retailers. On the opposite side is the Palazzo Marino, and the elegant Teatro alla Scala.
For afternoon explore the sights around the Sforzinda castle and Parco Sempione. Do include the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, where the famed “The Last Supper” fresco is housed. For the latter part of the explore the chic Brera district, with its mix of high-end stores and fashionable people.
The early evening is when Milan excels, as the offices close and workers head to the bars for Apericena (happy hour with light buffet food) to drink exquisite cocktails and flaunt the latest fashions; Navigli is a great area to experience this modern cultural tradition.
The Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, the location of one of the most controversial religious paints….
For the second day, wander down from the Duomo along the bustling Via Torino and then the Corso di Porta Ticinese, passing the Basilica San Lorenzo Maggiore, and enter the atmospheric Navigli district. This canal district is filled with artisan shops, fashionable bars, and where young Milanese frequent.
The canal and train lines separate Navigli from Zona Tortona, the once-gritty but now design and creative hub of Milan. Here designers create the latest fashions in the former warehouses. Understatedly cool, but the place to experience the drive and passion of the Milanese.
If you are a football fan, you probably want to include the tour of the San Siro stadium, in the second day.
Once in Barcelona all of the main sights are close and can be easily walked. The standard of food and service at restaurants in the tourist areas varies dramatically, it’s always advisable to check reviews first.