Last updated on May 15, 2023 by Wandering our World
Spanish cities are famed for their beauty, vibrancy, and flair, with Valencia and Barcelona standing as two of the very best examples. Both of these cities boast amazing architecture and an array of touristic attractions to entertain their millions of annual visitors.
However, they also have some key differences. Barcelona, for example, is a much more tourist-orientated location. It has more things to do and some truly iconic sights, like the Sagrada Familia, but it’s also much more crowded, with long lines for many of the main attractions.
Valencia, in contrast, is a little calmer. It’s smaller, too, with slightly fewer things to see, but many people appreciate the more laid-back nature of this city, and it’s famous for being one of the very best beach cities in the whole of Spain.
Trying to choose between them? It’s not easy! But this guide is here to help.
Below, we’ll show you how Valencia and Barcelona compare in a range of key areas, from affordability, nightlife, families friendliness activities and more. All so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Has The Best Beaches?
- 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 Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Valencia vs Barcelona
Valencia: A Quick Overview
Valencia is a large Spanish city on the country’s eastern coast. It’s the third most populous city in the whole of Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona, with almost 800,000 people in the city and around 2.5 million in the full metropolitan area.
Despite being a very large city, it’s far less densely populated than Barcelona, with fewer crowds and a less hectic atmosphere.
The founding of Valencia took place way back in the year 138 BC. It was the Ancient Romans who first created this city, and it later fell under Islamic rule – even to this day, Valencia has an eclectic blend of Roman and Arab architecture.
In the centuries that followed, the city grew, becoming particularly prosperous in the Late Middle Ages.
In modern times, Valencia stands out for having one of the busiest container ports in all of Europe. It’s a key trade center for the Mediterranean region, as well as being a cultural hub, with many festivals and exciting events taking place in the streets and venues of Valencia each year, like the famous ‘Fallas’, which takes places every March, involving parades and pyrotechnics.
As well as boasting an array of events and festivities, Valencia is also notable for its dynamic nightlife scene and excellent cuisine, along with an array of magical golden beaches for sunbathing, swimming, and more.
It also happens to have one of the biggest historic centers in all of Spain, appealing to families, couples, backpackers, and more.
Barcelona: A Quick Overview
Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain and the biggest by far in the Catalonia region, in the northeast part of the country.
Like Valencia, it sits on Spain’s eastern coast, looking out across the Mediterranean Sea. More than 1.6 million people live in the city of Barcelona, with a whopping 5.4 million in the full metropolitan area.
Like Valencia, Barcelona was founded during the days of the Roman Empire, in the 1st century. It was originally called ‘Barcino’ and began life as a small and simple settlement, evolving over the years into a much larger, wealthier, and more influential city, particularly during the Late Middle Ages, when it was one of the leading economic centers in the Mediterranean.
Barcelona is still a very famous and powerful city to this day.
As the biggest city in Catalonia, the city is strongly linked with Catalan culture, art, history, festivals, and lifestyles, and the vast majority of locals understand and speak the Catalan language, in addition to Spanish.
It’s easy to see why so many people come from around the world to Barcelona, as there are some truly breathtaking landmarks here, like the iconic Sagrada Familia, with its remarkably decorative facades, and other pieces of amazing Antoni Gaudi architecture, like the Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, and Park Guell, coupled with family attractions, parks, shops, and nightlife.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Next, let’s take a look at the main activities and attractions you can hope to enjoy during your stay in either Valencia or Barcelona.
The general range of activities in these cities is pretty similar, with lots of beaches, museums, and pretty buildings to admire, but there are some notable differences.
Barcelona, for instance, tends to be regarded as the better destination for history lovers, with grand structures and huge churches aplenty.
Meanwhile Valencia can boast of one of the most amazing entertainment complexes on Earth and some of the best-maintained beaches in Spain.
Valencia: The Activities
Despite not being as big or touristic as Barcelona, Valencia has a fabulous array of fascinating landmarks to check out, and many visitors will want to start their journey in the city’s historic center – the largest in Spain.
Here, you can discover beautiful landmarks that have stood for centuries, like the magical Valencia Cathedral and UNESCO-listed Londa de la Seda.
For something much more modern, head to the City of Arts and Sciences – this cultural hub is one of the ’12 Treasures of Spain’, and you can easily spend a whole day or even longer here exploring it all it!
There’s a cinema, a planetarium, an interactive science museum in a building that looks like a whale’s skeleton, a futuristic opera house, gardens, and plenty more.
Animal lovers can head to L’Oceanogràfic – also situated in the City of Arts and Sciences, this is the biggest oceanographic aquarium in all of Europe, with over 500 species.
Or pay a visit to the Valencia Bioparc, a 25-acre zoo that aims to provide the most authentic and ideal living conditions for its animals, with a particularly large collection of African creatures.
Valencia also has many public squares for people-watching and selfie-snapping, as well as flawless gardens and green spaces.
And when it comes to museums, this city is no slouch, with institutions dedicated to science, history, art, and even bullfighting. The beaches in Valencia are also sublime, too (we’ll take a closer look at them in the next section).
Barcelona: The Activities
In Barcelona, travelers will be blown away by some of the architecture on display, and no visit to this city can be complete without a trip to the one-of-a-kind Sagrada Familia.
Europe has no shortage of gorgeous churches, but this one is truly special, with some of the most intricate detail both inside and out. It’s a true masterpiece, straight from the mind of Antoni Gaudi.
The Catalan architect also designed many of Barcelona’s other big landmarks, like the otherworldly Park Guell, along with the beautiful Casa Mila and the curvy, colorful Casa Batllo.
Gaudi’s style dominates the cityscape, but there are many other architectural gems here, like the modernist Palau de la Musica Catalana concert hall and former Hospital de Sant Pau.
Barcelona also has many museums. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia is one of the most popular with tourists, while the Picasso Museum houses some of the Spanish master’s finest work, and there are museums about Catalan history and culture, along with a Maritime Museum, Music Museum, and even a museum for the city’s famous soccer team: FC Barcelona.
Like Valencia, Barcelona also has a zoo and an aquarium, along with a plethora of other family attractions, including its own amusement park, Tibidabo, situated on a high hill looking out over the city.
There are also several miles of beaches within the city limits, along with surrounding mountains and nature areas for hiking and other outdoor activities.
Overall, there are some wonderful experiences to be had and magical memories to be made in both of these cities.
Valencia’s highlight has to be the outstanding City of Arts and Sciences, while Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and rich museums easily rank among Spain’s greatest attractions.
Which Is Best For Beaches?
Both Valencia and Barcelona sit on Spain’s east coast, looking out across the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean, and both cities have long, sandy expanses where locals and tourists love to sunbathe, stroll, and swim.
Barcelona has more than two miles of coastline within its city limits, and Barcelonata Beach is easily the most famous seaside spot to visit, with plenty of amenities and lots of space to cater to the crowds.
Llevant Beach is a little quieter and more laid-back, while Sant Sebastia enjoys some of the finest views, as well as being one of the longest Barcelona beaches, at over 1km.
Over in Valencia, the Playa de Las Arenas is simply exquisite and super easy to get to, with great swimming and paddleboarding conditions and lively parties in the evenings.
Meanwhile Playa de la Malvarrosa is super long and relaxed, ideal for romantic afternoon strolls. Playa de Pinedo is a fun picnic spot, and Playa de Patacona has some of the cleanest and clearest waters.
Overall, Valencia’s beaches tend to be longer and larger, with more space for walking or claiming your own private spot of sand.
They’re also more diverse, with everything from party hotspots to watersports havens and quiet, cozy spots to watch the sunrise.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
Even though Barcelona and Valencia both have a long list of attractions to enjoy, many travelers to these cities plan to spend at least a day away from the city, exploring some other part of Spain, and there are some fun day trip destinations within easy reach.
Visitors to Barcelona can consider heading to the nearby city of Girona – this city is known for its gorgeous old architecture and picturesque gardens – or check out some quieter coastal towns and cities, like Tarragona.
Explorers might also like to head inland to the mountain range of Montserrat, home of a scenic monastery with close to 1,000 years of history.
From Valencia, day trip opportunities include the city of Sagunto, which has a range of fascinating archeological sites and a huge castle, as well as Castellón de la Plana, which is renowned for its La Magdalena pre-Easter celebrations and charming old town district.
There are also some nice beach towns nearby, like Pensicola.
Overall, both of these locations work well for day trips. Barcelona’s nearby locations are a little more diverse, and the city has strong transport links with the surrounding area.
But Valencia also has some very pleasant and romantic areas not too far away.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Barcelona is a nightlife paradise. As the sun starts to set, locals can be spotted gathering around the city’s many tapas bars, enjoying snacks and drinks with friends and colleagues, before proceeding on to the many clubs and live entertainment venues all over the city.
When in Barcelona, head to Port Olimpic for wild beach parties or Las Ramblas for tapas, cocktails, and pubs.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is also a nightlife haven, with all kinds of stylish clubs and hangouts, while the El Born and El Raval areas are also worth seeing once the sun has set – you’ll find an astonishing array of venues here, from 80s-themed taverns to Irish-style pubs and colorful flamenco shows.
Not to be outdone, Valencia also has a terrific nightlife scene – one of the best of any Spanish city.
Most of the action happens in the Barrio del Carmen, where you can barely walk five steps without seeing another new bar, restaurant, or nightclub.
However the nightlife scene in Valenica is not quite as diverse, deep, or raucous as Barcelona, although it’s still a super place to party, drink, and mingle.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
For shopping, it’s pretty hard to beat Barcelona. The Catalan capital has so many great places to shop, ranging from fancy streets with elite boutiques to local produce markets and grand department stores.
The Portal de L’Angel is a great place for shopaholics to start the day, with dozens of popular brand stores to choose from, while the Carrer d’Avinyo is a super spot for buying more eclectic and unusual gifts or souvenirs to take back home.
The Diagonal Mar mall has many more stores to explore, while the Boqueria market is a must-do for sampling some of the finest local foods.
Given that Valencia is one of Spain’s biggest cities, it also has a terrific shopping scene.
The Calle Colon is the primary shopping street, with all the big brands that you expect to find in any European city, while the Central Market is a lively, bustling place to snag some local goods at low prices. Valencia also has three main malls, including the Centre Comercial Saler.
Overall, it’s another close call in this category, and the average shopper will have a fabulous time in either location. However, with a slightly bigger and broader array of stores, Barcelona just about takes the win.
Which Has The Best Food?
Spanish cuisine is some of the best in Europe, and people all over the world are familiar with classic Spanish tapas and delicious traditional dishes and snacks, like paella and patatas bravas.
Therefore, no matter which city you visit between Barcelona and Valencia, you’re guaranteed to find great food.
The menus are pretty similar in both cities, with a few little differences. For example, Valencia is the home of paella, so it’s arguably the best place on the planet to sample this famous rice dish.
Even though seafood paella is pretty common nowadays, the classic ‘Paella Valenciana’ typically contains meat like chicken, duck, or rabbit, and it’s simply out-of-this-world.
Valencia also offers a few twists on the classic paella formula, such as fideua, which replaces the rice with noodles, and it’s also the birthplace of orxata (or horchata), a sweet milky drink made with tiger nuts.
Other local specialties include bunyols, which are similar to donuts, along with sweet fartons, and world-class Spanish tortillas.
Over in Barcelona, you can also find top-notch paella, super seafood, and a seemingly endless array of tapas bars, serving up Spain’s favorite snacks, like strips of jamon serrano, fried calamari rings, anchovies marinated in vinegar, meatballs soaked in salsa, fried croquetas, and toasted bread with tomatoes and garlic.
The tapas scene is unreal in Barcelona, and the Catalan capital also has a wealth of wonderful restaurants, with some of Spain’s top chefs basing themselves in this famous city.
There are lots of classic and modern Spanish options to choose from, along with restaurants and eateries serving dishes from other parts of the world, like Italy, France, and various Asian nations.
Overall, it’s tough to say which city truly has the best food scene, as they’re both so great!
In Barcelona, you’ll find a little more diversity, with culinary styles from all over the globe, but in Valencia, you can taste some of the finest and most authentic Spanish dishes in the country.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
Heading to Spain with kids? If so, you simply can’t go wrong with either Valencia or Barcelona. Both of these cities are filled with family attractions, and kids of all ages can have the time in their lives in either location.
In Valencia, for example, there’s the zoo, as well as the enormous aquarium, filled with fascinating creatures of the deep.
The Principe Felipe Science Museum also has fun interactive exhibits and kid-friendly areas where little ones can learn, while Gulliver Park is a genuine fantasy land, inspired by Gulliver’s Travels and filled with fun slides and things to climb.
Over in Barcelona, the list of family attractions simply goes on and on. There’s the historic Tibidabo Amusement Park, filled with amusements for all ages, as well as the zoo and aquarium.
There’s also a Chocolate Museum in this city, as well as an interactive Science Museum, just like Valencia, and even an Automaton Museum, with moving mechanical toys.
Overall, the family experiences are pretty similar in both locations, and the right choice for you may depend on your kids’ tastes.
If your little ones love animals, for example, the zoo and aquarium of Valencia are more impressive than those of Barcelona.
But if you’re looking for rollercoasters and more diverse activities, Barcelona is the better city to choose.
Which Is Better For Couples?
For couples, there’s also no wrong answer when it comes to Valencia vs Barcelona – both cities are beautiful, romantic, and exciting places to be with a partner, with many activities and attractions to fill your days.
Of the two, Barcelona is arguably more scenic and romantic, with such a spectacular range of historic buildings that will simply leave you breathless, like the Sagrada Familia.
It also has a wider range of luxury restaurants for couples who love to indulge and enjoy romantic evening meals together.
It’s also a fine choice for beach-loving couples, with better beaches in the city and surrounding area.
Overall, it’s tough to call a winner here. For romance and more things to do, head to Barcelona. For relaxation and beaches, try Valencia.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
Barcelona often features on lists of the best backpacking destinations of Europe, and it’s easy to see why.
This city has a number of safe and pleasant hostels where you can sleep cheaply and mingle with other travelers, as well as a very warm and welcoming nature, with so many bars and hangout spots to meet locals and embrace Catalan culture.
There are also decent hiking and outdoor adventure opportunities in and around Barcelona for backpackers who like to be outside as much as possible, and the city’s famous landmarks are simply unmissable.
In Valencia, there are also plenty of hostels to choose from, and the city is slightly cheaper overall for most things, so you can plan a backpacking expedition here without spending quite as much cash.
There’s a decent nightlife scene, too, and great cultural locations to check out, like the City of Arts and Sciences.
Both cities are good for backpackers, but Valencia is a little more laid-back and can be seen in just a few days, while Barcelona has livelier vibes and may take a full week to fully appreciate, so could appeal to those who want to see and do as much as possible.
Which Is Cheaper?
Finally, let’s talk cash. Which is the cheapest city between Barcelona and Valencia?
Well, first of all, it’s important to remember that travel costs can vary greatly from person to person and mostly depend on multiple factors like what kind of hotel you choose to stay in, where you’re flying from, how much public transport you use, and what kind of restaurants you dine at.
With the right approach, it’s possible to have a budget-friendly stay in either of these stunning Spanish cities.
However, on average, Valencia is cheaper. It has much lower costs for accommodation, since it’s not quite as tourist-orientated as Barcelona, and the general entertainment and public transit costs are lower, too.
In terms of food costs, these two cities are actually quite similar, with Barcelona even being a little cheaper, but for overall prices, Valencia definitely has the more affordable edge.
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: The 3-star Soho Valencia is a classy hotel in a fantastic central location. Considering the price, location and modern set-up, this hotel easily has one of the best price-quality ratios in the city. See photos and rates!
Luxury: For a taste of luxury in a quirky hotel full of character, then the five-star MYR Palacio Vallier is a must. The location of this boutique hotel is excellent, the service is superb, and the food is excellent. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
Both Valencia and Barcelona have international airports, and getting to either one of these cities shouldn’t be much of a problem for most travelers.
Barcelona Airport is nicely located about half an hour from the city center via public transport, while Valencia’s airport is even closer, with average metro journeys to the city taking just 15 minutes.
But how well-connected are these airports? Well, Barcelona Airport is definitely the bigger and easier to access of the two. It has direct flights not just around most of Europe, but also to many other parts of the world, including east and west coast cities in the US, and parts of Canada, as well as major airports in Africa, South America, and Asia.
In contrast, Valencia’s connections are a little more limited, and it’s primarily a European airport, with direct flights to and from countries like the UK, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Greece, as long as some links with North African nations, like Egypt and Morocco.
So, when it comes to accessibility, Barcelona takes the win.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Next, let’s look at how easy these cities are to get around, beginning with Barcelona.
For such a massive, sprawling metropolis, the Catalan capital is surprisingly simple to explore. You can get around the center on foot, and lots of the main attractions are closely situated in the main central area.
However, there are some interesting attractions a little further away. If you’re planning a visit to the iconic Camp Nou football stadium, for example, or Tibidabo Amusement Park, you’ll likely need to make use of public transport, like the metro and buses.
Fortunately, these services are easy to use and both accept the same tickets and passes, which helps avoid any confusion.
In Valencia, it’s a pretty similar story. The center is quite compact and highly walkable, but if you want to get out to the best beaches and certain other attractions, you’ll have to hop on a bus, tram, or metro line.
Again, these services are reliable and easy to use, so you shouldn’t have any problems.
Overall, both cities have superb public transit services and walkable centers, with no obvious winner in this category.
Which Has The Best Weather?
What about the weather? Well, Spain is synonymous with sunshine and warm temperatures, so you can expect to enjoy lovely conditions no matter which city you choose.
However, with Valencia being a little further south than Barcelona, it tends to have slightly warmer temperatures all-year long.
This means that the summer months can get exceptionally hot in Valencia, and might even be too much for some travelers, with average highs of around 86°F (30°C).
In comparison, Barcelona is a little cooler, but still hot, with average temperatures around 83°F (28°C) during July and August. Rainfall levels are pretty similar, with Barcelona being just a little wetter.
Since it’s so hot in both of these cities in summer, you may prefer to visit during the shoulder months of May or September, rather than June, July, or August.
However, if you’re hoping to spend lots of time at the beach or swim in the sea, the warmer temperatures of summer could be perfect for you, and Valencia is best for people who really love the heat.
Valencia vs Barcelona: Which Is The Better Choice?
Spain is such a beautiful part of the world, with a rich culture, fabulous weather, and outstanding cuisine. For all of those reasons, and many more, you’re sure to have a super time no matter which of these cities you decide to visit.
They’re both full of life and activities, with inspiring architecture, awesome shopping, and top-tier beach experiences, too.
It’s a close race, but in the end, when we look back through the categories listed in our comparison, Barcelona takes the top prize.
It has the best shopping, nightlife, museums, and cultural activities of the two cities, along with a stunning food scene and easier accessibility. It’s simply one of those cities that everyone should try to see at least once in their lives.
At the same time, travelers shouldn’t simply ignore or overlook Valencia.
Not only is Valencia one of the finest and prettiest beach cities in Spain, but the City of Arts and Sciences is a truly magnificent feat of architecture and design, with some of the most awesome attractions and structures you could ever hope to see.