If you’re trying to decide between Paris and Barcelona for a European city break, let me help with this Paris vs Barcelona comparison.
I personally love both cities and know them both well. But, seeing as we’re all different and value different things, you don’t just want to know which I think is better: it’s about how they compare on a number of dimensions.
In this post, I compare the two cities on various factors including the type of attractions they have and what they offer for different travel styles. Obviously, this is my subjective opinion, but it’s based on multiple visits to both cities, so I like to think I can offer a well-informed perspective.
I’ve also included some general travel information, so you know what you’re getting into with each city.
So, let’s discover whether Paris or Barcelona is better!
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Table of Contents
Paris vs Barcelona: By Type Of Attraction
Food plays a big part in the appeal of travel for many of us, so I do consider it a travel attraction!
I love French cuisine and Paris has the second-highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world (after Tokyo), but I’m giving this particular Paris vs Barcelona battle to Barcelona.
I know people occasionally struggle with Spanish cuisine, so this might not be a popular opinion, but I’ve had almost exclusively great food in Barcelona over the years.
There are so many amazing tapas bars and restaurants and I love the simplicity and freshness of the food there. Some favourite dishes include just-made warm omelettes, tender calamari, light and crispy croquetas and ‘pissed off’ eggs.
And for those that Spanish food is too ‘beige’ and lacks vegetables, I’ve enjoyed deliciously green & fresh dishes, like zucchini carpaccio and melon gazpacho. Also, crispy fried artichoke was a recent revelation!
At the top of my list of favourite Barcelona tapas places are Vinitus, Elsa y Fred and Cal Pep.
Best for Food: BARCELONA
I have to give this to Paris. It is the most visited city in the world, so no wonder it has the most famous attractions. The Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Notre-Dame, the Louvre and Sacre-Coeur are at the top of the list for most visitors on their first visit to Paris (and second, third, fourth etc.). And in my opinion, whilst they can be crowded, these landmarks are worth the fuss. They are all impressive and beautiful.
Beyond that top tier, there are many other wonderful attractions to see in Paris, including the village-like Montmartre, aristocratic Place des Vosges, sensational Sainte-Chapelle, pretty Petit Palais, boat trips on the Seine – and so much more. By the way, if you want to know how to see all the major sights of Paris, plus get a little off the beaten path in just a few days, my 4-day Paris itinerary will show you how.
However, even though I think Paris wins on this criterion, that’s not to say Barcelona doesn’t have some amazing attractions. It does!
Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral is possibly the most imaginative and unique building in Europe. And of course, there are other great things to see including other Gaudí masterpieces, Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral, Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, Roman ruins in the Ciutat Vella (Old City) and Barcelona’s own triumphant arch, Arc de Triomfe.
So if you end up choosing Barcelona, don’t worry, there are plenty of things to do in Barcelona.
Best for Sight-seeing: PARIS
Museums & Galleries
I’m going to give this to Paris, too, because Paris has been a place of inspiration to artists for centuries and there are so many museums and galleries in Paris to choose from.
Obviously, there are the famous ones, like the extensive Musée du Louvre, where you can join the crowds to see the famed Mona Lisa and the art gallery Musée d’Orsay, which has an extensive collection housed in a spectacular building.
But there are also many relatively lesser-known ones, like Musée de l’Orangerie which exhibits some of Monet’s waterlilies; the history museum Musée Carnavalet; Musée de Montmartre, which tells the story of this bohemian neighbourhood; Musée Gustave Moreau, which has a rich collection of ostentatious, mystical paintings – and many more (I have details of several in my post on Paris off the beaten path, if you’re interested).
Saying that, Barcelona also has a strong association with art, though and it does have some good museums. There are art galleries including the Picasso Museum, the National Art Museum of Catalonia, the Museum of Modern Art and the Joan Miro Foundation. Plus, you’ll find many smaller galleries in the El Born district. And there’s the MACBA (the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona), with its modernist building that is also a famous skateboarding spot.
The interiors of the Gaudí buildings are open to visit, showing that his inventiveness didn’t end with the outward-facing facades: Casa Batlló is the famous colourful building and Casa Mila is the creamy-coloured one that has been said to resemble a quarry.
Best for Museums & Galleries: PARIS
Nightlife & Bars
Paris has many places to drink in the evening, including its famous cafe terraces. I love the happy hour custom, where you can get a glass of wine for a good price early in the evening. I love the convivial atmosphere in busy bistros/brasseries in the evening.
But for me, Barcelona has more of the kinds of bars I like, which are cocktail bars.
There are some I’ve enjoyed in Paris, but I feel spoiled for choice in Barcelona. It has an innovative, vibrant, youthful bar scene with several featuring high on the list of ‘World’s Best Bars’ (which is of course a subjective list, but I’ve personally liked quite a few that they champion).
In my opinion, some of the best cocktail bars in Barcelona include Dr Stravinksy and Paradiso. But there are more I’ve read about that I’d like to try on my next visit. For example, Sips looks tempting, and there’s a rooftop bar in the Sercotel Hotel Rosellón with a view of La Sagrada Familia, which looks amazing.
I haven’t been clubbing in either city, so I’ve limited this assessment to the bar scene.
Best for Bars: BARCELONA
Argh, it’s hard to decide whether to give this one to Barcelona or Paris!
Both cities have some sensational architectural landmarks. The many Gaudí buildings in Barcelona are all so unique and playful, especially the colourful Casa Batlló. And there are also many other Art Nouveau buildings around the city, including those on Manzana de la Discordia (Block of Discord) and, one of my modernist favourites, the Palau de la Música Catalana.
And then, there’s the ‘general’ architecture, which I find pleasing in both cities.
I love the Haussmann buildings of central Paris. When I get off the Eurostar in Paris, those handsome multi-storey mansions with their wrought iron balconies and grey rooftops and fancy cornices always give me a little kick. And the sprinkling of Art Nouveau buildings around the city is also wonderful, with 29 Avenue Rapp a good example of that.
And in Barcelona, I love both the wide avenues and smart blocks of Eixample as well as the balconies, archways and romantic, twisting alleys of Barcelona’s Old City.
I can’t choose! Both cities have great architecture, as different as they are from each other. I have to call it a tie.
Best for Architecture: TIE
If we’re talking food shopping, both cities have great places to browse local produce: Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona and many, many local street markets in Paris.
If we’re talking clothes & homewares, I’m not much of a shopper myself, but I feel like this has to go to Paris, seeing as it has such a strong association with fashion and luxury. And I’ve seen many more opportunities to shop in Paris.
Paris has those amazing department stores, les grand magasins, all full of stylish clothes, and homewares. Take your pick from La Samaritaine, Galeries Lafayatte, Printemps, Bon Marché and BVH Le Marais. For a more independent experience, there are lots of boutiques around Le Marais and in some of the covered passages, like Le Village Royal – Cité Berryer.
Even though Paris wins on this aspect, if you want to shop in Barcelona, fear not. There are places to shop in Barcelona, including the smart central boulevard, Passeig de Gràcia, and Plaza Catalunya.
And for lower-cost items, I’ve heard Barcelonians sometimes make the short trip to the micronation of Andorra for tax-free shopping. I visited Andorra on a day trip from Barcelona once and I did see plenty of tax-free luxury goods on sale in the capital, Andorra La Vella.
Best for Shopping: PARIS
Parks & Nature
This is another tough one…
Paris has more parks and gardens than Barcelona – and many of them are extremely beautiful, especially in spring when Paris’s cherry blossoms bloom. Some of my personal favourites include Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Plantes (both on the left bank), Promenade Plantée, which is a raised garden walkway, and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. And of course, the Seine itself is very attractive – a Seine River cruise is worth doing.
But Barcelona has some good parks, too: Parc de la Ciutadella is jam-packed full of attractions, including a zoo, a pond and ornate fountains. Northwards, Parc Güell has views over the city. Barcelona is a beach city: it is on the Mediterranean, with several beaches for sunbathing, swimming and stand-up paddle-boarding. Plus, of course, you can take boat and catamaran cruises out on the ocean.
It’s another tie!
Best for Parks & Nature: TIE
Paris vs Barcelona: General
If you’re wondering whether Paris or Barcelona is bigger, the answer is Paris.
An estimated 2.1 million people are living within the City of Paris, which is the area within the Boulevard Periphique plus the two wooded areas, Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne. However, there are more than 12 million living in the wider Paris region, so it really is a big city.
And I think that’s one of the reasons some people feel disappointed by Paris or even develop Paris Syndrome. Movies and TV can paint a picture of a charming, walkable place with cobbled lanes. And that does exist in Paris, but it is a proper metropolis.
By comparison, Barcelona has 1.6 million living within the city limits and 4.8 million in the province of Barcelona.
So, if you prefer the idea of a big bustling city, Paris might be the best choice between Paris and Barcelona. If you prefer the idea of a more manageable, smaller city, Barcelona might be best.
Biggest City: PARIS
Some people ask, which city is more expensive: Paris or Barcelona?
I haven’t been able to find like-for-like hotel price comparisons, but one way to answer this question is to look at a cost-of-living index. For 2023, Numbeo puts Paris at number 60 in its rankings for cost of living, and Barcelona at number 271. By their reckoning, restaurant prices are 15% higher in Paris vs Barcelona.
And this, broadly, reflects my experience. It can be expensive in both cities – for hotels, tours (especially in Barcelona, I think) and eating out – because they’re both in demand. But overall, Paris is slightly more geared towards higher-priced options compared to Barcelona.
Best For Costs: BARCELONA (But it’s still not cheap)
The weather can affect your experience on a trip, so let’s look at the weather for Paris vs Barcelona.
Being further south, overall Barcelona’s weather is warmer and drier, with hot summers (average highs of 29°C / 84°F in August) and mild winters (average highs of 14°C / 57°F). That said, you can get heavy showers of rain in Barcelona – I have been drenched there more than once!
By comparison, Paris’s overall climate is cooler and wetter, with average highs of 25°C / 77°F in August and 7°C / 44°F in January.
Despite the differences, the best seasons are the same for both cities, in my opinion. I avoid the summer months because these are the hottest and most crowded. Spring in Paris and Barcelona can be lovely, as can Autumn (Fall). And while I haven’t been to Barcelona in winter yet, I have been to Paris in winter many times – and this is also a great time to visit, especially if you prefer to avoid big crowds.
Best For Weather: BARCELONA if you like it hot; PARIS if not.
Both cities have an underground train network and a good bus system, with taxis easy enough to find if you prefer and hire bikes available around the city centre.
I haven’t had any major problems navigating either Paris or Barcelona. One thing that helps me in both cities is the CityMapper app, which helps you plot routes via public transport (GoogleMaps also has a similar public transport planner now, too).
Overall, I think Barcelona is slightly easier to get around, purely for the fact that the city is smaller, so there’s less need to use public transport at all. It’s that little bit more walkable, overall.
Best For Getting Around: BARCELONA
Full disclosure: It is not possible to guarantee 100% safety in either Paris or Barcelona.
Based on my experience and what I know from other travellers, I would have said Barcelona has a worse reputation for crime because so many complain of super-fast pickpockets operating in the touristy areas, including Las Ramblas.
However, according to Numbeo’s crime index, Paris actually has a greater risk of crime.
And that does make sense: it’s a bigger city that attracts more tourists; and where there are tourists, people are trying to scam them.
There are several well-known scams that tourists could fall foul of in Paris. These include distraction techniques, like causing you to knock over a cup of change or asking you to sign a petition; and deceptions like pretending to give you a gift or a friendship bracelet, or taxis avoiding using the meter.
For more information on the common scams in Paris, read my post on tips for travelling to Paris for the first time.
Best For Safety: TIE
For total visitors, Paris claims to be the most-visited city in the world, with 44 million visitors in 2022, according to the Paris Ile-de-France tourism committee. If you plan to visit any of the well-known Paris spots, expect there to be plenty of other people – and queues for entry.
Despite that, we need to consider that Barcelona is smaller, and has made headlines for problems with over-tourism for years, suffering with crowds of cruise ship visitors in peak season, particularly.
The worst example for me was Casa Batlló, which I found to be very overcrowded when I visited. It was beautiful, but shuffling around the interior and up the stairs elbow-to-elbow with so many other people was unpleasant.
So considering the data and reflecting on my own experience, I feel like there’s not much in it: both can be very crowded, especially in the peak summer months. Even more reason to go in winter or the shoulder seasons…
Best For Avoiding Crowds: TIE
Paris Vs Barcelona: By Travel Style
If you’re a luxury traveller, I think Paris would be the more indulgent choice.
There are fancy hotels and restaurants in both cities, but I think Paris has more choices and more of a luxurious, sophisticated heritage. Some of those Paris hotel brands are world-famous: think Le Meurice, the Hôtel Plaza Athénée and the Shangri-La…
And of course, there’s the Michelin-starred restaurants and the nearby Champagne Wine Region, which is easy enough to experience on a day trip to Reims.
My own Parisian luxury experiences have included a couple of extravagant lunches, including at La Tour D’Argent and L’Oiseau Blanc, in the intensely luxurious Peninsula Hotel. Both of these restaurants had exquisite food, wonderful views and impeccable service (and high prices, to match, naturally).
Some nice hotels that I’ve visited in Barcelona (as a bar patron, not a guest) include the Barcelona EDITION, which has a great rooftop bar, the Grand Hotel Central and the Mandarin Oriental, a very fancy hotel where I sought shelter in a massive downpour once!
Best For Luxury: PARIS
Romance / Couples’ Trips
Paris is the obvious choice here because, after all, we call Paris the City of Love. It’s so easy to imagine romance in Paris.
For example, imagine taking a walk in Montmartre, stealing a kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower, looking into each other’s eyes over an intimate French dinner; picnicking in pretty Luxembourg Gardens etc, etc.
I’ve had several romantic visits to Paris with my boyfriend, now husband – if you know where to go and what to avoid, you can find some very romantic things to do in Paris.
However, Barcelona is also a very romantic place for me. Those narrow lanes of the Gothic Quarter are just as romantic as Montmartre; you can steal a kiss overlooking the city from a rooftop bar; enjoy an intimate kiss at one of the many cute places in El Born and picnic in Ciutadella Park.
My first visit to Barcelona was with my husband on our anniversary – and it felt suitably romantic to me. Plus, aren’t the Gaudí designs just inherently romantic, with those fluid lines and soft colours?
And if you visit Barcelona on St George’s Day, the city will be filled with roses, because it’s tradition for lovers to buy each other gifts of roses and books on that day. How gorgeous is that?
Best For Romance: TIE
I’ve done solo travel in Paris and also in Barcelona more than once and felt comfortable in both cities.
There’s not much I wouldn’t do as a solo female traveller in each; as we said earlier, the crime risk is similar in both, so I’m as careful in both when I travel.
Maybe there’s a marginal benefit as a solo diner in Barcelona because more of the restaurants are casual tapas places, so it’s no biggie if you’re on your own. There’s normally a seat at the bar you can take.
In Paris, most of the time, solo dining is fine. However, in smaller restaurants, they don’t always want to give you a table for two, and they might not have a decent bar seat, so sometimes they offer you a cramped or awkward seat.
But that only happens rarely, so it’s a very small issue in my opinion. Not enough to sway it in Paris’s favour – so it’s another tie!
Best For Solo Travel: TIE
My first visits to both cities were on a low budget, but these days I’m more of a mid-range traveller most of the time (with those occasional splurges of luxury). So I did some research into the hostel situation to try to get an evidence-based perspective for this comparison of Paris vs Barcelona.
I did some searches for low-cost accommodation in both cities and it seemed that not only were there more hostel choices in Barcelona, but the prices were lower on average. I guess this also reflects the generally lower costs in Barcelona that we covered earlier.
If you want to know the hostel situation for your dates, check prices and availability on Hostelworld.
Best For Budget Travel: BARCELONA
Full disclosure: I don’t have kids, so this is the criterion on which I am least qualified to assess Paris vs Barcelona!
Therefore, I will keep it simple and assume that because Paris has Disneyland, that gives it the edge over Barcelona. Let me know if you disagree!
Best For Family: PARIS
In Summary: Paris vs Barcelona
Here’s a summary of which city wins on each criterion, in my assessment.
Paris vs Barcelona: By Type Of Attraction
|Paris or Barcelona?|
|Museums & Galleries||PARIS|
|Nightlife & Bars||BARCELONA|
|Parks & Nature||=|
Paris vs Barcelona: General
|Paris or Barcelona?|
|Lowest-cost||BARCELONA (but it’s still not cheap!)|
|Weather||BARCELONA if you like it hot; PARIS if not|
Paris vs Barcelona: By Travel Style
|Paris or Barcelona?|
|Romance / Couples’ Trips||=|
My Overall Opinion On Paris Vs Barcelona
I truly love both cities and would happily return to both of them over and over.
But I’m slightly more obsessed with Paris – and this probably explains why I’ve been there more often than any other place I’ve travelled to (more than a dozen times, so far). I really like big, bustling cities with rich history and a lot going on, and Paris is definitely that.
Overall, I think Paris is a good destination if you want an exciting city break, with world-famous sights and a confident cultural experience. There are plenty of gorgeous spots to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. But despite this, I tend to find my days are busy in Paris, because there’s a lot to tempt me, so much to see.
On the other hand,d Barcelona might be the best choice if you want a more laid-back trip. Barcelona has a more languid, chilled vibe. There’s a lot to interest a traveller, but it doesn’t feel like there’s quite as much going on all of the time. Those charming alleys and warm temperatures invite you to explore at a slower pace.
FAQs About Barcelona And Paris
Paris And Barcelona: How Long Do You Need In Each City?
In both cities, even a short amount of time can be well-spent, so I don’t think there’s a minimum.
In Barcelona, my trips have varied between one and three days and I think a long weekend of two to three days is a good amount of time.
On the other hand, I haven’t run out of things to do in either city yet, so more time is simply a great opportunity to get to know each city better.
Are Barcelona And Paris In The Same Time Zone?
Yes, France and mainland Spain are in the same time zone: Central European Time.
In fact, Paris and Barcelona are located at very longitudes – Paris is just further north than Barcelona.
Is There A Direct Train From Paris To Barcelona?
Yes, there’s a high-speed train between Paris and Barcelona. I did this train journey once, and I wrote a London, Paris & Barcelona itinerary based on my experience, so check that out.
The Last Word
I hope this article has helped you decide whether to visit Paris or Barcelona. My final thought is that I think both are wonderful, which means either choice is a good one!
Enjoy your exciting European city break!