Deciding on the best place to visit in Europe can be one of the hardest decisions you'll make. In a continent steeped in culture, architecture, and history, every country has something fantastic and very unique to offer. If you have enough time (and money) to do multiple visits, lucky you! But most of the time, travelers want to spend time in one place and get to really know the environment. Among the top picks are Paris or Barcelona, two of the most famous cities in Europe, but also very different in experience.
So which one would be best for you? Here's a quick guide to help you decide.
Paris is France's capital and is considered a global center for art, fashion, gastronomy and culture. Its 19th-century cityscape is characterized by wide boulevards that criss-cross throughout the city. The iconic River Seine is a popular landmark, which is 777 kilometers long and functions as an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north.
Beyond popular landmarks and picturesque architecture, Paris is home to some of the world's most famous and exclusive designer boutiques, galleries, and shows. It is a favorite backdrop for movies and novels, and you're about to find out why.
Travel To Paris
Local Attractions In Paris
Paris has always been called "the City of Love" for its romantic atmosphere and decor. But Paris has a lot more to offer to every kind of traveler, including kids.
Of course, one of the first things you are going to have to do is figure out where to stay in Paris, taking into account things like views of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, or just price, if you are on a budget.
The most iconic buildings and monuments
Most countries will have a handful of world-renowned landmarks, buildings, and monuments, but none more than Paris. A stroll that starts at the all-famous Champs Elysees towards the Arc de Triomphe will take you to the ever-so-romantic Eiffel Tower along Avenue Marceau, passing through the Ponte de l'Alma.
The list is long for must-see attractions in Paris, and not one will disappoint. Troves of tourists flock to these structures just to revel in their grandeur and exquisite carvings. If you're not willing to splurge on entrance fees or tours, a simple stroll around the city will fill your day with instagram-worthy sights.
And of course, the most popular season is summer in Paris!
The Louvre and a dozen more you've never heard of
Yet another global icon that evokes romance and splendor is the Louvre, marked by the famous glass pyramid at the center. It is home to the Mona Lisa and hundreds other iconic and very important pieces of art. The Louvre is open all year round and also offers night tours for a different experience with illuminated grounds and hallways.
However, there are other great galleries that also deserve much attention. The Musee Marmottan-Claude Monet is house in a Second Empire villa. It is adorned with exquisite Empire furniture and the largest collection of works by Claude Monet. It also exhibits works from famous impressionist artists like Berthe Morisot, Pissarro, Renoir, Manet, Degas and Caillebotte. Another museum for you to visit is Musee Bourdelle, which is built around Antoine Bourdelle's studio and apartment. While not one of the popular artists, Bourdelle is significant as he was an assistant of Rodin and teacher of Giacometti. His best works were shown in monumental sculptures, including the frieze for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and an equestrian monument to Argentine general Alvear.
A gastronomic experience starting with the oldest restaurant in France
Built in 1686, Le Procope on Rue de l’Ancienne Comédie has witnessed the history of the city unfold. This is the restaurant where Voltaire drank many of his 40 cups of coffee per day and where a hat left by Napoleon as an IOU is still on display. Throughout the years, the menu at Procope has remained good and hearty with reasonable prices.
But stroll through any street in Paris and you'll be met with the best of everything - many delicious cheeses, bread, patisserie, pates, not to mention delicious French wine and and gourmet restaurants. In fact, Paris is home to 70 Michelin-star restaurants, ten of which hold three stars.
The Culture of Music, Film, and Theater
The complex French culture won't be complete without its just as complex developments in theater, film and music. Most of the places of interest in this area double as must-see sights as well, such as the Palais Garnier. Here is where grand performances of ballet, symphony, and opera are held, adorned by the world-famous Chagall painting on the Opera Room ceiling.
Cinema aficionados cannot miss the Cinematheque Francaise or the Museum of French Cinema, holding one of the largest film archives in the world. This is where one can explore the films and art that shaped French culture, as well as view collections and memorabilia from all film-producing countries of the world.
Parisian life seems to have its own soundtrack, and music produced from this city is very distinct and often romantic. Festivals and street performers constantly populate the city streets. A visit to Cite de la Musique give visitors deep insights into music's historical and current significance for the country and its culture.
Fancy some shopping
Shopping in Paris is any girl's dream. Malls in this city are as grand as opera houses, and shopping is as much a sensory treat as it is an emotional one. There are many streets and areas where visitors can shop. Contrary to popular belief, shopping in Paris doesn't always mean dropping some serious cash. Bi-annual sales happen in August for off-season collections, while sales in January are for what is called "Le Blanc" or anything linen and for the home. The very last items from winter sales also drop prices significantly in January.
Shopping in Paris is more about streets and areas than specific malls. Generally, there are eight shopping meccas for any kind of shopper. The area around Boulevard Saint Germain, Bon Marche, and Ru du Bac is the quintessential Parisian shopping experience. It starts from the River Seine with streets lined with trees and Parisian buildings. Boulevard Haussmann, Rue Tronchet, and La Madeleine is home to Grand Magasins, or those huge shopping plazas. In this area you'll find La Maroquinerie Parisienne where items are usually 15-20% cheaper than its neighboring stores. Ru du Commerce is a collection of large brands and small shops, less crowded as it's less known to tourists
Triangle D'Or is every woman's dream when it comes to shopping in Paris. This shopping mecca is formed by Avenue Montaigne, Avenue George V and Rue Francois just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. This is the heart of Paris’ Haute Couture shops and the finest fashion houses in the world, including Dior, Chanel, Ferragamo, Dolce e Gabbana, Prada, Valentino, Bulgari, Gucci and many more. The Grand Couturiers of Paris are mostly found on Avenue Montiagne.
Those are just some essential Parisienne experiences, but there's an endless list of things to do or places to see when you visit this city. If you have more time on your hands, consider including these in your itinerary:
- History - Paris is full of it, 2,000 years worth, in fact. France has had many rulers, and each one has made an impression of it. You'll see these influences in the architecture, art, and hints of culture in different areas of the city. Some distinct historical landmarks include the Notre Dame, La Conciergerie, and the Palace of Versailles.
- Despite the busy streets and the many buildings, Paris has some unique greenery for a breath of fresh air. Take a stroll in the romantic Butts Chaumont Park, the ever-changing Tuileries, or the botanical gardens of Jardin des Plantes which also has a mini zoo.
- Cafe culture with the best baguettes and tasty chocolates. Paris is lined with these quaint cafes where locals and tourists just sit back with a cup of hot chocolate and buttery pastries. Another quintessential Parisienne experience, there are endless cafes you can try, some even with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower.
Barcelona is Europe's biggest city in the Mediterranean, and with that comes a lot of perks. Travelers get to enjoy the best of both worlds - the trademark European charm with almost tropical weather. Of course, it is also one of the main things Spain is famous for, but that goes without saying!
The allure of the city lies in its vibrant culture. The city is simply humming with energy and seduction. From distinct Spanish tastes in food and drink to elaborate art and architecture, Barcelona is an electric city for the curious and adventurous.
Travel To Barcelona
Train/Bus Travel Times To Barcelona
Munich, Germany to Barcelona: 19 hours (approx)
Frankfurt, Germany to Barcelona: 16 hours (approx)
Zurich, Switzerland to Barcelona: 14 hours (approx)
Geneva, Switzerland to Barcelona: 10 hours 20 mins (approx)
Brussels, Belgium to Barcelona: 13 hours (approx)
Amsterdam, Netherlands to Barcelona: 15 hours (approx)
Paris, France to Barcelona: 8-10 hours (approx)
Note: Find out travel times, departures, and transport operators on Google Maps
Car Travel Times To Barcelona
Munich, Germany to Barcelona: 15 hours (approx)
Frankfurt, Germany to Barcelona: 13 hours 15 mins (approx)
Zurich, Switzerland to Barcelona: 10 hours 30 mins (approx)
Geneva, Switzerland to Barcelona: 7 hours 30 mins (approx)
Brussels, Belgium to Barcelona: 13 hours (approx)
Amsterdam, Netherlands to Barcelona: 15 hours (approx)
Paris, France to Barcelona: 9 hours 45 mins (approx)
Note: Find out exact travel times on Google Maps
Local Attractions In Barcelona
Generally, Barcelona is a cheaper city than Paris. There are much more options for affordable food, accommodations, and shopping in Barcelona. This doesn't mean, however, that you should expect less from this coastal city. In fact, there might be more to discover if you care to look.
Some of the best beaches in Europe
What's a Mediterranean city without the beach? Barcelona is known for its beaches that run for miles along the north coast. It is divided into several smaller beaches, each with their own local beach lovers.
Fun fact about Spain: did you know there are over 8000km of beaches in Spain?
Summer months run from May to September where the waters are calm and the temperatures are comfortable for swimming. All of Barcelona's beaches have the European Blue Flag of excellence given for the water quality and services.
Barcelona beaches are best for relaxation, but you'll also find many resorts and hotels for great food and drinks. Some beaches turn into party places at night. The most popular area is Barceloneta Beach. It's the most touristy and most-visited, which means it can be very crowded. However, it makes up for it with excellent seafood eateries and endless entertainment. What's considered to be the most peaceful beach is Nova Icaria - 400 kilometers of sandy beach with great bars and restaurants along the shore. A half-hour train ride out of the city brings you to Ocata beach. It's pristine, flat, and tranquil, and boasts of golden white sand. Since it's farther from the city center, it is much less busy and less of an entertainment area.
All the fresh seafood and exquisite Spanish dishes
The Catalan cuisine is based on a diet of vegetables, bread, cereals, and olive oil. But what gives everything that memorable punch is the fresh seafood that you will find in every corner of the city. Every menu dish will most likely have seafood ingredients in them. If you're one of the unlucky few who are allergic to seafood, it's not a complete loss. Their meat and chorizo dishes are no less lip-smacking.
Many of the best seafood restaurants are found lining the boardwalk, but there are still plenty of options around the city. You have to remember that Mondays don’t usually have a wide variety of fresh options. Sunday is a quieter day on the sea, which means there will be less catch available in the markets. Many restaurants don’t even open on Monday and from the ones that do, many seafood options won't be available on the menu.
If you're ready for some mussels, gambas (with or without head), and succulent fish, head to the top seafood restaurants such as Mariscco in the Gothic Quarter, Barraca in Barceloneta, or the beachside restaurant Can Majo.
Nightlife that can be all out crazy or quietly enjoyed with tapas
A night out in Barcelona can get pretty out of hand very quickly. This is a city where people are not shy and everyone out to party knows how to have fun. There will be something for everyone, from Ibiza-style beach clubs to underground gems. With an unending list of some of the best cocktails and hard liquor, Barcelona night clubs and bars are some of the best places for some crazy fun adventure. Head to BeCool where locals party, Macarena Club for an underground scene, or the international favorite Moog.
If you wish to enjoy the nightlife without having to crawl back to your hotel, then tapas bars are the best places for you to enjoy a good drink with even more delicious Spanish food. Tapas are Spanish snacks or appetizers that go extremely well with wine or your drink of choice. Enjoying a night with tapas and alcohol won't give you the worst hangover the following day, but it still lets you take in exotic Spanish culture. Choose from an extensive list of wines at Quimet i Quimet, line up at the popular La Esquinica, or sip on some fruity cocktails at Balius.
Everything you will find on Las Ramblas
Spain's most popular street is Las Ramblas where five boulevards converge. This easy-to-navigate destination will overwhelm you with restaurants, galleries, shops, and street artists. It's the best place for a quick intro to Barcelona. Las Ramblas is constantly bustling, but even more at night. When the street lights turn on and the buildings that line the street are lit up, Las Ramblas exude a magical glow that locals and tourists flock to.
More museums than you can handle
As one of the oldest cities in the world dating back to 2,000 years, Barcelona is rife with history and stories of the old world. This rich and interesting history is immortalized in museums and art centers. They range from world and natural history to those dedicated to some of Barcelona's most prominent figures and artists.
Learn more about one of the world's most popular artists and his formative years in Museo Picasso, travel through thousands of years at Museo Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, or visit Spain's largest cultural center, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona.
There's a long list of must-sees and must-dos in Barcelona. Here are more reasons for you to visit this city if you have more time on your hands:
- Fashion is not lost in this vibrant city. You will find many famous brands and designers like Zara, Ailanthus, El Delgado Buil, Custo, but you will also find small shops and boutiques featuring local designers. Local fashion is a big thing in the city, and you are sure to find items that you will want in your wardrobe.
- If you're the more active type, Barcelona is a relaxing walking or cycling city for you to explore. There are also streets that are closed to cars either all the time or at certain parts of the day. Since it's close to the ocean, water sports are also easy to do in the city.
- Architecture is impressive in Barcelona as the capital of Modernism. Many monuments and buildings were designed by Antoni Gaudi, and the city is more or less a tribute to his great works. His works are also some of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, including Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Casa Batllo, and Park Guell. It is also home to very impressive cathedrals such like Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
Paris or Barcelona - A Short Summary
Paris and Barcelona are vibrant cities with rich culture, stunning architecture, and world-class cuisine. While both cities are famous for similar reasons, experiences in each city are completely different, almost opposite.
Visit Paris for:
- Flair, fashion, and luxury
- A romantic escapade in lush and lavish surroundings, elegant decor, and musical accents
- An introspective trip, relishing your time for yourself or your companions.
Visit Barcelona for:
- Vibrant scenery, energetic locations, and highly-sociable people
- All kinds of parties paired with the best cocktails and tapas you can find
- Living history immortalized in historic monuments, buildings, and museums.
While Barcelona and Paris differ in many ways, a trip to either city will never be a loss. There are several cities in Europe where most people dream of going, and Barcelona and Paris are definitely top of the list. The good thing about these cities is the culture is so diverse, and, no matter what you're looking for, you will definitely find it wherever you choose to go.