Madrid vs. Barcelona Study Abroad: Which is Better for You?

Programs for this blog post

Summer in Madrid

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College Study Abroad

You’ve decided to study abroad in Spain. Great! Step one is done.  

Step two: Madrid or Barcelona?  

It’s a big decision. Which city in Spain is best to study abroad in? Both are must-see destinations. One is landlocked. The other is coastal. But the differences run deeper.  

To point your feet in the right direction, we’ve laid out a few distinguishing details you should know about the two destinations and the programs we offer at each. But rest assured, whether you select historic Madrid or sun-drenched Barcelona, you win either way! 

Quick Overview: Madrid vs. Barcelona Study Abroad

City Population Location Currency Avg. Student Monthly Cost
Madrid 3.3 million Center of the Iberian Peninsula Euro 800 - 1,500 euros
Barcelona 1.6 million NE Coast of the Iberian Peninsula  Euro 750 - 1,500 euros

Madrid, Spain’s capital and largest city, is located in the heart of the country. Being Spain’s political and cultural center, Madrid plays key roles on both the domestic and international stages.  

Whether you’re in it for language development, business acumen, the cultural scene, or simply for the fun of it, here’s what you need to know about why Madrid is a good place to study abroad. 

Fast Facts About Madrid 

  • Population: 3.3 million (though the population of the Madrid metropolitan area features more than 6.7 million people) 
  • Climate: Short, hot, dry summers (up to 99 degrees Fahrenheit or above from June to September) and crisp, cold winters (usually not below 23 degrees Fahrenheit from November to March) 
  • Location: Madrid sits in the geographical heart of the Iberian Peninsula at 2,120 feet above sea level, making it one of the highest capitals in Europe 
  • Currency: Euro 
  • Language: Spanish, English 
  • Airport: Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) 
  • Local Attraction: The Prado, a Spanish national art museum with one of the world’s finest collections of European art 
  • Bonus Fact: Madrid is home to the world’s oldest restaurant – Restaurante Botin – which was founded in 1725 and has been serving Madrid’s traditional food ever since 

Madrid Language & Culture 101 

Castilian Spanish is Spain’s official language and is what most locals speak. It’s likely what you’re working on, too, which makes Madrid a great spot for advancing your Spanish-language skills 

As far as culture goes, the city itself is wildly vibrant with a reputation for fun fiestas and fabulous food. The people are also very welcoming and highly sociable. Madrid is a great place if you’re interested in getting out and interacting with people.  

And, of course, Madrid is home to the government and royal family and boasts a strong arts scene. As a student here, you will definitely want to take in the city’s grand palaces, parks, and world-renowned museums.  

madrid historic building on sunny day

Cost of Living for a College Student in Madrid  

The average cost of living for an international student in Madrid is estimated to run between 800-1,500 euros per month, give or take. This includes costs for housing, groceries, transportation, etc. But for you, it may be less.  

Key expenses like housing, excursions, study tours, and travel protection are all included in your CIEE tuition. You also get on-site staff support, airport meet-and-greet, and 24/7 emergency support.  

To further help offset costs, we offer scholarships and grants for study abroad programs in Madrid based on demonstrated financial need, proven academic merit, and specific CIEE programs.  

5 Best Study Abroad Programs in Madrid 

Now for the good stuff – your program! We offer five fabulous programs in Madrid: 

  1. Summer in Madrid 
  2. January in Madrid 
  3. Liberal Arts 
  4. Engineering + Society 
  5. Open Campus Block 

Summer in Madrid 

Take a six-week summertime spin through Spain’s vibrant, multicultural capital city. This program is designed for students from all academic backgrounds. 

  • Timeframe: 6 weeks 
  • Credit: 6-7 per block semester hours / 9-10.5 per block quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English and Spanish 
  • Institution: CIEE Madrid 

study abroad students in madrid summer

January in Madrid 

Go on a quick J-term trip to Madrid and join students from all academic backgrounds in exploring world-famous artwork displayed in the city’s many museums. This three-week program is taught at CIEE Madrid in the heart of downtown. 

  • Timeframe: 3+ weeks 
  • Credit: 3 semester hours / 4.5 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English 
  • Institution: CIEE Madrid 

Liberal Arts 

Our Liberal Arts program in Madrid is perfect for academically motivated students with proficient Spanish-language skills. All courses are taught in Spanish and are geared toward humanities, social sciences, journalism, economics, business, or communications majors.  

  • Timeframe: 17 weeks (fall or spring) 
  • Credit: 15-18 semester hours / 22.5-27 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: Spanish 
  • Institution: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)  

Engineering + Society 

Engineering + Society is an exciting chance for students from all academic backgrounds to attend CIEE’s award-winning research partner school Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M). In this program, you can enroll in aerospace, energy, or biomedical engineering courses – all delivered in English. Amazing! 

  • Timeframe: 17 weeks (fall or spring) 
  • Credit: 15-18 semester hours / 22.5-27 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction:  English 
  • Institution: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)  

ciee open campus block students in madrid

Open Campus Block in Madrid 

Our Open Campus Block program is perfect for all students who want to have a customizable study abroad experience. This program in Madrid allows students to customize their study abroad experience by choosing to spend one, two, or three consecutive six-week blocks in a city of their choice – or in up to three different cities! 

Note too that courses are taught from a wide variety of disciplines, so any student can apply.  

  • Timeframe: 6 weeks per block 
  • Credit: 6-7 semester hours per block / 9-10.5 quarter hours per block  
  • Language of instruction: English or Spanish 
  • Institution: CIEE Madrid  

VIEW MADRID PROGRAMS

Barcelona Study Abroad 

Now on to Barcelona, one of Europe’s trendiest and most-visited cities. This top-rated destination is also the capital of Catalonia, a fiercely independent province with its own language, cultural identity, and drive for independence.  

Whether you choose to study here or just pass through, Barcelona is one destination you won’t want to miss while living and learning in Spain. Here are a few interesting facts that will tell you why Barcelona is a good place to study abroad. 

Fast Facts About Barcelona 

  • Population: 1.6 million (though the population of Barcelona’s metropolitan area features more than 5.6 million residents) 
  • Climate: Warm and temperate with an average annual temperature of 62 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Location: A seaport city on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula 
  • Currency: Euro 
  • Language: Catalan, Spanish, English 
  • Airport: Barcelona-El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport (BCN) 
  • Local Attraction: La Rambla, a 0.75-mile tree-lined pedestrian boulevard filled with culture, theaters, shops, restaurants, and interesting architecture 
  • Bonus Fact: A Frank Gehry-designed goldfish sculpture has dominated the shoreline since its construction for the 1992 Summer Olympics 

la familia sagrada barcelona

Barcelona Language & Culture 101 

From its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its nine fantastic beaches and the gobs of street life in between, Barcelona is a true hotspot for the global adventurer – and international student!   

In regards to language, you won’t be surprised to learn that as the Catalonian capital, most locals speak Catalan but can use Castilian Spanish as well. It’s important to note that Catalan is recognized as a distinctly different language from Spanish, though there are some similarities. That said, if you are working on your Spanish-language skills, you will find it easy to do that here. 

As for the locals, the people of Barcelona are known to be quite friendly and generous with their time as they prioritize relationships and social life. This is something both Barcelona and Madrid have in common! 

Cost of Living for a College Student in Barcelona   

The average cost of living for an international student in Barcelona is estimated to run between 750-1,500 euros per month. This includes costs for housing, groceries, transportation, etc. But as we alluded to earlier, if you study in Barcelona with CIEE, your out-of-pocket expenses may be less. 

Key expenses like housing, excursions, study tours, and travel protection are all included in your CIEE tuition. You also get on-site staff support, airport meet-and-greet, and 24/7 emergency support.  

To further help offset costs, we offer scholarships and grants for study abroad programs in Barcelona based on demonstrated financial need, proven academic merit, and specific CIEE programs.  

11 Best Study Abroad Programs in Barcelona 

Now, about our programs. We offer 11 different ways to study abroad in Barcelona (it’s that popular). Check them all out: 

  1. Advanced Liberal Arts 
  2. Summer Language +Culture 
  3. Summer Business + Culture 
  4. Global Architecture + Design 
  5. Business + Culture 
  6. Economics + Culture 
  7. Liberal Arts 
  8. Language + Culture 
  9. January in Barcelona 
  10. Summer Global Internship 
  11. Summer Global Internship Language Immersion 

Phew! That’s a lot of ways to experience Barcelona! Here are the high-level details for each: 

Advanced Liberal Arts 

Great for students from all areas of study. This Advanced Liberal Arts program immerses you in the Spanish education system, where you'll have opportunities to practice your Spanish with local university students. Your courses will be delivered at CIEE's partner school, Universitat de Barcelona (UB), where you'll find a wide range of courses to enroll in across UB's 16 different colleges.  

  • Timeframe: 16 weeks (spring or fall) 
  • Credit: 15-18 semester hours /22.5-27 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: Spanish 
  • Institution: Universitat de Barcelona 

hiking excursion in barcelona during study abroad

Summer Language + Culture 

Designed for students from various academic backgrounds, this Language + Culture program provides the perfect opportunity to live and learn in Spain's vibrant coastal city. 

  • Timeframe: 4 weeks  
  • Credit: 3-4 per session semester hours / 4.5-6 per session quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: Spanish 
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona and Universitat Pompeu Fabra   

Summer Business + Culture 

Spend your summer studying business, discovering a new culture, and gaining crucial global perspectives during this rigorous and exciting summer study abroad program. 

  • Timeframe: 4 weeks  
  • Credit: 3-4 per session semester hours / 4.5-6 per session quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English 
  • Institution: CIEE Barcelona  

Global Architecture + Design 

In this program designed for students interested in architecture, design, and sustainability, you will create model cities that address climate change by reducing the environmental footprint of buildings. Experts from Barcelona's architecture and design community will deliver all seminars, hands-on workshops, and courses in English and provide students with access to today's cutting-edge technology.  

  • Timeframe: 15 weeks (spring or fall)  
  • Credit: 15 semester hours / 22.5 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English and Spanish 
  • Institution: Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia  

barcelona biking excursion

Business + Culture 

This program, designed for students with a background in business, is an incredible way to discover all Barcelona has to offer – from its architecture, world-class cuisine, and cultural heritage, to its dynamic startup scene. 

  • Timeframe: 16 weeks (spring or fall) 
  • Credit: 14-17 semester hours / 21-25.5 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English and Spanish 
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona, Universitat Pompeu Fabra’s Escola Superior de Comerç Internacional (School of International Studies, or ESCI), or Universitat de Vic – Universitat Central de Catalunya (UVic)  

Economics + Culture 

For students with a background in economics, our Economics + Culture program offers you the unique opportunity to explore Barcelona's countless cultural wonders while earning college credits in one of Spain's most important economic centers. 

  • Timeframe: 15 weeks (spring or fall)  
  • Credit: 15 semester hours / 24 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English and Spanish 
  • Institution: Universitat Pompeu Fabra  

Liberal Arts 

This Liberal Arts program serves advanced Spanish-language students from multiple areas of study who are ready to take their language skills to the next level. Choose from a range of courses, including history, politics, literature, and culture. 

  • Timeframe: 16 weeks (spring or fall) 
  • Credit: 15-18 semester hours / 22.5-27 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: Spanish 
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona and Universitat Pompeu Fabra  

two study abroad students in barcelona during the summer

Language + Culture 

Our Language + Culture program is great for students from all academic backgrounds who want to study abroad in Spain’s most popular and cultural city. A variety of courses are available – all delivered in English – across a wide range of topics, including history, religion, literature, linguistics, marketing, journalism, and more! 

  • Timeframe: 16 weeks (spring or fall) 
  • Credit: 15 semester hours / 22.5 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English and Spanish 
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona and Universitat Pompeu Fabra  

January in Barcelona 

Spend J-term in lively Barcelona and expand your knowledge of international marketing and art history. Dive into Barcelona’s booming business industry. And discover the Catalan culture; a fast-paced way to start your year! 

  • Timeframe: 3+ weeks 
  • Credit: 3 semester hours / 4.5 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English 
  • Institution: CIEE Barcelona  

Summer Global Internship 

If you want a challenging yet rewarding international internship in Barcelona, this is it. This program gives you the chance to gain practical, real-world work experience in a dynamic startup scene teeming with opportunity.   

  • Timeframe: 8 weeks 
  • Credit: 6 semester hours / 9 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English   
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona  

study abroad internship barcelona

Summer Global Internship Language Immersion 

Spend your summer gaining practical, real-world work experience in Barcelona's dynamic business culture while also taking your Spanish-language skills to the next level in an Advanced Spanish language course. CIEE will complement your internship with academic work and weekly seminars on relevant professional topics like public speaking and leadership. 

  • Timeframe: 8 weeks 
  • Credit: 6 semester hours / 9 quarter hours 
  • Language of instruction: English   
  • Institutions: CIEE Barcelona  

VIEW BARCELONA PROGRAMS

Madrid vs. Barcelona Study Abroad 

So, is Madrid or Barcelona better for study abroad? Clearly, we think both cities are worthy destinations.  

Our advice to you in the Madrid vs. Barcelona for study abroad debate: find the program that fits your interests, schedule, budget, and goals. Because trust us, either city will provide you with an unforgettable life experience!