Last updated on August 13, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to must-see European cities, Rome and Barcelona often feature near the top of the list. They’re both so beautiful, with long lists of awe-inspiring landmarks and plenty of fun, fascinating things to see and do.
It’s no wonder that both of these cities attract millions of visitors of all ages and nationalities, each and every year. And ideally, everyone should try to see each of these cities at least once, witnessing the majestic beauty of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and feeling the rich history of Rome’s Colosseum.
However, you might not have the time or budget to visit both. So, if you can only see one, which should it be?
The coastal Catalan city with its Gaudi architecture and vibrant tapas bars, or the Italian capital, with its extraordinary historic landmarks and spectacular galleries?
Well, it won’t be an easy choice for most people, but this guide is here to help out! Below, we’ll put Rome and Barcelona side-by-side, comparing all of their key aspects, from attractions and activities to cuisine and shopping.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Has The Best Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Rome vs Barcelona
Rome: A Quick Overview
Rome (Roma in Italian) is Italy’s capital city, as well as being the country’s biggest city. It has a huge population of 2.7 million, with more than 4.3 million people in the full metropolitan area.
This makes Rome the third-biggest city in the entire European Union. It’s located in the Lazio region in the central part of Italy.
The Italian capital is well-known around the world for its extraordinary history. It was the beating heart of the powerful Roman Empire, which ruled over large parts of the globe for many centuries.
Rome has also been described as the “cradle of Western civilization,” well-known for its contributions to Western culture, art, philosophy, religion, and more.
These days, Rome doesn’t have the same immense power and far-reaching influence it once had, but it’s still a prosperous and vibrant city, full of life. It’s also filled with echoes of its fascinating past, with many famous landmarks still standing, like the iconic Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon.
Fittingly, Rome is one of the most popular cities in the world for tourism. Countless people head here each year to admire the city’s ancient monuments and feel its rich stories around them.
Visitors to Rome can also enjoy the sights, sounds, and treasures of Vatican City, home of the Catholic Church and all of its most wonderful artworks and prized possessions.
Barcelona: A Quick Overview
Barcelona is the second-biggest city in Spain. Over 1.6 million people live in the main city, with more than 5.4 million in the full metropolitan area. It’s a very busy, bustling place, feeling just as lively and vibrant as Rome.
It’s located in the Catalonia region in the northeast section of Spain, and it’s the capital of that region, as well as being the main hub for Catalan culture in general.
Interestingly, Barcelona was actually founded during the heyday of Ancient Rome, way back in the 1st century.
It was originally known as Barcino, beginning life as a small, simple settlement and rapidly developing into a key cultural, economic, and political center, not just for Spain, but for the entire Mediterranean region.
Barcelona is still a very powerful, wealthy, and exciting city in the modern era, with a diverse economy and thriving population.
Since it’s the capital of Catalonia, it has a unique mixture of culture and cuisine, with many locals speaking Catalan in addition to Spanish. It’s also well-known for its impressive architecture, with many iconic and beautiful buildings.
With laid-back locals, friendly vibes, lovely weather, and lots to explore, Barcelona is a terrific vacation destination for people of all ages.
It’s got it all, from family attractions and grand, green spaces to world-class museums, sandy beaches, and thrilling live entertainment, making it by far one of the best cities to visit in Spain.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Barcelona and Rome are more than 500 miles apart, but their weather conditions are very similar.
They both warm and pleasant summers, comfortable shoulder seasons and cooler winters. They also have similar amounts of sunshine and rain, although Rome tends to be a little wetter during winter and fall.
So, is there any real difference? Well, in terms of average temperatures, Rome tends to be a couple of degrees warmer than Barcelona in the summer months, and just a little bit cooler during the winter.
So, if you’re planning a summer trip and want the warmest weather, Rome might be more appealing to you, but Barcelona is very sunny and comfortable, too.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Barcelona and Rome are both fabulous cities to visit, but they certainly have some key differences, especially in regard to their attractions and activities.
Rome is much more oriented around historic sites and museums, while Barcelona has a wider range of outdoor activities, like parks, gardens, and beaches, along with inspiring architectural sights.
Rome: The Activities
Many travelers head to Rome for its history. With centuries of stories to tell and so many ancient landmarks still standing, this city is a true haven for those who want to delve into the past, feeling the incredible power and influence of the Roman Empire around them.
A great place to start off is at the iconic Colosseum, which is open for guided tours or independent wanders.
Other historic sites in Rome include the Pantheon and the Forum. Again, guided tours are available for both of these locations, with experienced, educated guides leading the way and teaching you all about the history of each building. Or, if you prefer to explore at your own pace, that’s perfectly fine, too.
Rome also has a myriad of museums and galleries, with awe-inspiring artworks and amazing artifacts galore.
Some of the best treasures can be found in Vatican City, a small city-state within the borders of Rome. This is where the Pope lives, and it’s also home to the magical Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums, with a truly mind-blowing array of art from Renaissance masters.
Beyond its museums, galleries, and historic sites, Rome has plenty more landmarks to discover, like the stunning Trevi Fountain or famous Spanish Steps.
It’s also a super spot for shopping and has multiple family theme parks and other attractions to keep kids of all ages entertained. In short, there’s something for everyone in this spectacular city.
Barcelona: The Activities
Over in Barcelona, there’s less focus on history, and more focus on beauty. Many travelers will want to start off by visiting the key Antoni Gaudi landmarks dotted across the city’s center.
The Sagrada Familia church is easily the most iconic and impressive, with its incredibly intricate facade and jaw-dropping interiors guaranteed to impress.
Other Gaudi buildings in Barcelona include the likes of the Casa Mila, Park Guell, and Casa Batllo. They’re all beautiful and unique, bearing the hallmarks of the city’s most famous architect, with curved walls, decorative elements, and wonderful use of color.
The Catalan capital also has many other buildings that are worth seeing, like its Gothic cathedral.
Like Rome, Barcelona has a multitude of museums and galleries for visitors to enjoy. The Picasso Museum is the perfect place to learn more about one of Spain’s greatest painters and admire his art, while the MNAC and the Fundacio Vila Casas are super spots to experience Catalan art and culture.
There’s more of a focus on outdoor activities in Barcelona than in Rome too. Since the city is on the coast, it has several beautiful sandy beaches for sunbathing and watersports.
It also has some good hiking spots, like Tibidabo and the surrounding mountains, as well as lots of parks, gardens, a fantastic family theme park, and much more.
Overall, there’s lots to do in both cities. They’re very diverse, with amazing attractions for families, history buffs, couples, culture vultures, and more.
The main difference is that Rome is more historical, while Barcelona leans more towards outdoor fun in the sun.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
There’s more than enough in both Rome and Barcelona to keep you busy and happy for a full week or more. However, if you want to see something a little different during your stay in either city, you could choose to set off on an exciting day trip to another Italian or Spanish destination nearby.
From Rome, there are some fabulous day trips to consider, like a visit to the lively city of Naples, or the wonderful historic town of Tivoli, which is easily one of the most romantic spots to see before heading back home.
Given Rome’s central location and strong train links, it’s also possible to reach various other cities with ease, like Florence and Pescara.
Meanwhile, those who head to Barcelona can consider day trips across the Catalonia region, visiting some of the area’s prettiest and liveliest cities, like Girona or Tarragona.
There are also some international day trip possibilities, like a visit to the tiny principality of Andorra or a trip to the elegant French coastal city of Perpignan.
Overall, both of these cities have terrific day trip destinations to choose from, and it’s impossible to say that one is simply better than the other.
Rome is great for seeing a good mixture of cities with cultural and historic sites, while Barcelona is super for embracing Catalan culture, visiting the beach, or seeing another country.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
There are clearly lots of ways to fill up your days in both Barcelona and Rome. But what about the nights? When the sun sets and the streetlights turn on, which of these two cities is the liveliest and most exciting place to be for the likes of bars, clubs, and live entertainment?
Well, as a capital city with a massive population, Rome naturally has a solid nightlife scene. There are plenty of places to chill out, have fun, and mingle with locals in the evenings, with lively dance clubs, student bars, luxury rooftop lounges, and more.
For the best action, visitors should check out the Testaccio and Trastevere areas.
While Rome certainly has vibrant nightlife options, Barcelona’s scene is even better!
From late in the afternoon, the city starts to liven up, with locals heading to their favorite tapas bars and grabbing some snacks before continuing on to clubs, pubs, and even beach parties, lasting long into the night. There’s so much to do here after-dark, and the city never seems to sleep.
Overall, if you enjoy staying out late and checking out local bars and clubs in the cities you visit, you’ll have a great time in either Rome or Barcelona.
However, for the true party addicts and widest range of nightlife fun, Barcelona is definitely the place to be.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
Shopping is definitely one of the best activities in most big European cities, and Barcelona and Rome are no exception.
Both of these cities have everything a shopaholic could dream of, from massive malls to long streets lined with boutiques. They also have plenty of smaller stores with hidden treasures, antique emporiums, and lively markets, too.
One of the fun things about shopping in Rome is how this city has streets that are filled up with one particular kind of store.
The Via Dei Coronari, for example, has lots of antique shops, while the Via Del Boschetto has craft stores, the Via dei Giubbonari has lots of leather stores, and the Via Del Corso has many fashion boutiques. There are also great department stores in Rome.
Over in Barcelona, there are just as many super places to shop. The Portal de L’Angel is a fine spot to start with, with plenty of stores and all the big high street brands on display.
For luxury, high-end goods, travelers can stroll along the Rambla de Catalunya, or for fresh, delicious produce, you might like to check out the stalls of the famed Boqueria market.
Overall, both cities are equally impressive for shopping. Barcelona is arguably better for markets and open-air shopping, while Rome has a wider range of independent and craft stores for visitors to enjoy.
Which Is Better For Food?
Next, we need to talk about food. Naturally, food is a big part of the experience when visiting cities like Barcelona and Rome.
Spanish and Italian cuisine are some of the best in all of Europe, with rich flavors and a great range of traditional tastes. In short, no matter which city you visit, your taste buds are guaranteed to have a terrific time.
Let’s start off with Rome. As the capital of Italy, this city is home to some of the greatest Italian restaurants on Earth, serving up some of the finest pizza, pasta, and other dishes one can imagine.
There are also some amazing street food vendors here, along with fabulous bakeries cooking up the tastiest Italian pastries and cakes for those with a sweet tooth.
Then, there’s Barcelona, the perfect city to taste both Spanish and Catalan cuisine. There are lots of highly-rated restaurants here, but the real stars of the show are Barcelona’s tapas bars.
There are lots of these vibrant, trendy bars across the city where you can sample a series of little snacks and small plates alongside fine Spanish wines, craft beers, and more.
Overall, there’s no clear winner here, as it all depends on which style of cuisine you like the most.
Those who prefer the Italian classics, like carbonara and pizza, will definitely favor Rome, while those who like the distinct flavors of Spain, like jamon iberico and paella, will adore Barcelona.
Which Is Best For Families?
If you’re setting off on a family vacation, you can have a magical time in either Rome or Barcelona. Both cities offer lots of fun family attractions to keep kids of all ages entertained.
The right choice for your family will mostly depend on which of the key landmarks and activities you want to see and do the most.
In Rome, families can have a fascinating time digging into the past at sites like the Pantheon and Colosseum.
There are also several water and theme parks around the city and its surrounding areas, with rides and rollercoasters galore, along with multiple museums to appeal to kids, like the VIGAMUS video game museum, for instance.
Barcelona also has a fabulous theme park called Tibidabo Amusement Park, which is one of the oldest active theme parks on the planet.
There are great parks, gardens, and hiking trails for active families, as well as easy access to the beach for sand and sea fun. Other family attractions in the Catalan capital include the aquarium, zoo, and science museum.
Overall, both cities can work equally well for families, although Barcelona does have the big benefit of the beach, which might just be enough to give it the edge.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Those seeking romance, wonder, and happy times with their partner will also find lots to love about Rome and Barcelona.
Indeed, Rome is often cited as one of the most romantic cities in the world, and even though Barcelona isn’t always thought-of as one of the top couples’ destinations, it’s still a super spot for boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, and husbands to go.
Many areas of Rome are very beautiful and romantic, especially around the historic center, with its ancient landmarks and stunning buildings. This city also has some world-class restaurants for romantic evening meals, and it’s the ideal location for couples who are interested in art and history.
Barcelona, meanwhile, is also a very scenic and spectacular city in its own right, with beautiful buildings and awe-inspiring architecture to admire. Like Rome, it has pleasant restaurants for evening meals, along with some super shopping and nightlife spots for couples who are into that sort of thing.
Plus, if you and your partner love lazing on the beach, Barcelona is the place to be.
Overall, both cities have clear advantages and key features to make them wonderful destinations for lovers of all ages.
Couples who are more into history and gourmet meals should probably head for Rome, while those looking for a livelier cultural scene, beaches, and funky tapas bars should pick Barcelona instead.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
Backpackers might also hesitate between Rome and Barcelona, and it’s easy to see why. Both of these cities are havens for backpacking adventurers, with lots of cheap hostels and fun things to do.
But one city might be a little better-suited to fulfil your backpacking dreams than the other.
Rome is a gem for backpacking. It’s got so many hostels, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a cheap place to stay.
It’s also got amazing street food and terrific public transport for getting around, along with great train and bus links elsewhere around the nation. And with so many iconic landmarks to visit, backpackers definitely won’t get bored here.
Then, there’s Barcelona, another prime backpacking location in Europe. Like Rome, Barcelona has a good number of hostels for low-cost trips. It’s also got the advantage of countless tapas bars for cheap eats, any day of the week. The locals are super friendly here, too, but the transport links aren’t quite as good as they are in Rome.
Overall, it’s another very close call, and both cities can work well for backpacking.
However, Rome might just have a slight edge, especially for those who plan to hop around to other cities or include a day trip or two as part of their travel plans.
Which Is Cheaper?
Cost is another big factor to take into account when picking between two travel destinations.
However, when it comes to average prices, there isn’t a huge difference between Rome and Barcelona, and it’s perfectly possible to have a budget-friendly stay in either city.
Certain things are cheaper in Barcelona, like the average price of food, while others are cheaper in Rome, like the typical nightly hotel rate.
All in all, the average cost of a trip to Rome will be slightly less than one to Barcelona, but it all depends on what you do, where you stay, and so on.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: SuiteaBCN has gorgeous self-contained apartments in the center of Barcelona for a fraction of the price of similar accommodation. From the unbeatable location to the stained-glass windows (!), this place is a unique stay on a budget. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The five-star Ohla Eixample is a luxury hotel set in the heart of Barcelona that is cheaper (and in our opinion better) than similar hotels in the area. On top of that they even have a gorgeous rooftop swimming pool. See photos and rates!
Budget: Residenza Maritti Decò Style is a gorgeous three-star guest house set in the heart of Rome. Not only is the location perfect, but so is the roof terrace with exceptional city views. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Located in one of Rome’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, Hotel Eden – Dorchester Collection is a five-star hotel that oozes luxury. It’ll come as no surprise then that their in-house restaurant is Michelin starred. See photos and rates!
Rome vs Barcelona: Which Is The Better Choice?
After looking in-depth at Rome and Barcelona, it’s clear to see that these cities are both very special places.
In fact, it’s very hard to tell them apart or say that one is better than the other, as they both excel in so many areas, from their many activities to their lively nightlife scenes, fabulous food, and super family attractions.
But, since we have to pick a winner, first-time travelers might like to start off with Rome. It’s a little cheaper in most cases, and it has some of the most legendary landmarks on Earth.
There’s nothing quite like the Colosseum, and Rome’s many museums and galleries are sure to amaze and astound the vast majority of visitors. Not to mention, the culinary scene in Rome is sublime.
With that said, Barcelona still ranks as one of the best cities to visit in Europe and is absolutely worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.
It’s got some magical landmarks of its own, like the Sagrada Familia, and it’s an ideal place to go if you want all the fun and excitement of the big city, combined with the R&R potential of beaches and sea.