Ok, I lied. I’ve been to Barcelona a few more times than just one weekend, but once you visit, you too will be back. Barcelona has been in the news recently for being the epicenter of the Catalonian movement for independence from the rest of Spain. When you visit, you will get a sense of the independence the residents feel from the rest of Spain. Many Catalans feel that they are, historically, a separate people with their own distinct language, Catalan, and culture that must be protected through the restoration of their own nation. Regardless of the headlines in the news, and the desire of the Catalonian people to separate from Spain, I still believe that Barcelona is one of the best places you can visit in Spain. I have had some of the best times of my life exploring Barcelona and met some of the nicest and most generous people here.
Barcelona has such a youthful vibe and being on the coast, I like to equate the feel of the city to a California-vibe. There is a beautiful beach, plentiful palm trees, new-concept restaurants and edgy, up and coming stores to explore all over the city. La Rambla is the major thoroughfare in Barcelona that runs from Plaza de Catalunya all the way along the El Born neighborhood, ending at the Mirador de Colom statue near the beach area known as Barceloneta. The major areas of Barcelona where you will probably spend most of your time are El Born, Barrio Gotico (the Gothic Quarter), Barceloneta and El Eixample.
Our top Barcelona tips:
- Everyone eats late in Barcelona – make dinner reservations for 9PM to get the best restaurant atmosphere, but go earlier if the restaurant is small or doesn’t take reservations.
- Most shops and restaurants you find right off of La Rambla will be very touristy and you must watch your purse and pockets carefully when walking around here. It is just a reality of traveling in Southern European countries, petty theft is high, so be alert.
- The Metro system is very easy to use in Barcelona, but it does not run 24 hours. You can always take a taxi if you find the metro has closed for the night.
This is the absolute best way to spend 72 hours in Barcelona!
Day 1: El Born
Today we explore the El Born neighborhood. One of my absolute favorite places to find unique bars, restaurants, and trendy new shops. This area is our favorite place to stay when we go to Barcelona because its where some of our favorite restaurants are and we love getting lost in the alleys and stumbling into pop-up shops.
9AM: Palau de la Música Catalana
Come here for a concert, or do a self guided tour like we did just to admire the beauty of the interior architecture (and patio) that makes up the Palau de la Música Catalana. The tour can be done pretty quickly in about 30 minutes, but we suggest getting here early as it was pretty crowded when we left and any type of concert later in the afternoon or evening will impede your ability to tour. If you enjoy architecture it is worth a trip at least once!
11AM: Santa Caterina Market
This market is a less touristy option to the famous Boqueria off La Rambla street. This market is truly a place where you can come to shop for produce for making dinner yourself if you have a kitchen at your hotel or airbnb without the suffocating crowds at La Boqueria.
12PM: Lunch at the Santa Caterina Market
Attached to the Santa Caterina market you will find a tapas restaurant with bar seating that boasts a great tapas menu and reasonably priced drinks. The dishes are made with fresh produce obtained from the market daily. I still have dreams about the ahi tuna tapa!
3PM: Museu Picasso de Barcelona
Escape some of the afternoon heat at one of Barcelona’s many museums. The Picasso Museum is located in the Born neighborhood and houses some of his most famous works. If art isn’t really your thing, you can also find the Museu de la Xocolata or the Chocolate Museum in the Born neighborhood.
5PM: Born to Cook Cooking Class
This is seriously one of the best and most authentic cooking classes I have ever done. You will start out touring the Santa Caterina Market in the El Born neighborhood with Chef Alex, as he purchases ingredients that you will use for cooking later. Alex will explain to you as you make your way through the market how certain ingredients are native to this area – you will even get to try a few fruits and meats! Back at the cooking school you will get hands-on making appetizers, seafood paella for the main course and of course, dessert. At the end you will come together and enjoy dinner that you created. Also, did I mention unlimited wine all night? If you have a trip to Barcelona in the future, don’t wait to sign up here.
Day 2: Half Day Trip to Montserrat
Montserrat is a spectacularly beautiful Benedictine monk mountain about one hour from Barcelona by train. There are beautiful walking trails to explore, extraordinary views of the Catalonian country side and multiple religious sites to visit.
You can get to Montserrat by train from the Espanya rail station. The Espanya rail station is on the green and red metro lines making it accessible from any part of Barcelona city centre that has a metro stop. Once at Espanya look for Line R5 headed towards Manresa. A full return fare is 22 EUR per adult. Once in Montserrat, you can either take the cable car ride up to the monastery (Get off at train stop Montserrat Aeri) or the Track Train ride up to Montserrat Cremallera funicular (Get off at train stop Monistrol). We took the cable car, and were afforded some amazing views!
4PM: Sangria Break!
I think that it is acceptable to incorporate a sangria break into every day you spend in Spain. If you’ve never tried sangria in Spain, you are in for a treat. Some places that are said to have the best Sangria in Barcelona are Los Caracoles and Oviso in Barri Gothic (Gothic Quarter) and Arcano and Bar Celoneta Sangria Bar in the El Born and Barceloneta areas, respectively. It is your duty to try them all and decide for yourself who has the best sangria!
6PM: Walk along the Marina and Relax at the Beach
After your trip to Montserrat you’ll be ready for some relaxing. Walk over to the Barceloneta area and grab a spot on the beach. There are also plenty of restaurants along the beach to grab a drink and people watch. Enjoy a walk around the Marina around sunset before dinner.
9PM: Dinner at the restaurant 7 Portes
Since you are already in the Barceloneta area, tonight for dinner try the restaurant 7 Portes for the best paella in Barcelona recommended to us by a local. Do make a reservation ahead of time in order to reduce your waiting time and request the table by the Pablo Picasso artwork so you can say you have dined with Picasso in Barcelona!
Day 3: Everything Gaudí and more
Gaudí was known for his one of a kind creations under the style of Catalan Modernism. La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, and Casa Batlló are some of Gaudí’s most famous works around Barcelona, however there are many more less known pieces to visit around the city. I only take you to the top sites, but if you have more time in Barcelona and a passion for Gaudí architecture just know these are only scratching the surface.
9AM: Breakfast at Brunch and Cake
Have you ever tried eggs benedict on waffles? Or loaded pancakes with fruits, honey, chocolate, cream and jams? Brunch and Cake’s main location is located in the El Exiample neighborhood right around the corner from the first stop on our long Gaudí tour, so do yourself a favor and fill up on some breakfast this morning so you won’t get hungry!
930AM: Casa Batlló
Originally owned by the prominent Batlló family in Barcelona, Gaudí was hired to renovate the house with complete architectural freedom. The result is the stunningly unique, exceptionally modern, family home that you see today. You will also notice that multiple houses on the same street are similarly modern. During the same time, many architects in Barcelona were commissioned to reform other houses owned by prominent families that were competing for the urban awards convened by the Barcelona City Council. The Casa Batlló is now open to the public to tour and to even host special events.
If you have time also visit the Casa Milà (La Pedrera) or the less well known Casa Vicens for more example of Gaudí commissioned works around Barcelona.
10AM: La Sagrada Família
One of the most iconic Gaudi pieces of work, the Sagrada Familia cannot be missed on your trip. The church has been under construction constantly since 1880 and when you see it up close you understand why. All the facades of the church are extremely intricate and symbolize something unique. Either buy a ticket early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the busiest times. You can buy a ticket or just entry, or also access to one or both of the towers. If you have the extra time, climbing one of the towers provides and interesting vantage point and is worth the extra money. Buy your tickets in advance here. There is also a small pond across the street where you can view the church with some greenery in the background. Get here early to avoid people in your pictures, and the reflection off the pond of the church is better in the morning light!
12AM: Park Güell
A little bit of a trek outside of the city you can find Park Güell (take the L4 line on the metro), a beautiful park with pops of color from both the flowers and the multiple mosaic tiles that line the benches of the park. There is also a spectacular view of the Sagrada Familia from miles away, giving an entirely different view point than you saw earlier. The park used to be free, however recently they have implemented a ticketing system, so buy your tickets in advance here.
3PM: Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter)
The Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city of Barcelona and got its name because it used to be a Roman village and a few of the architectural features from that era remain today in this neighborhood. However most of the architecture here got an update in the 19th and 20th centuries. Here you can find some of the most aesthetically pleasing structures as the Pont del Bisbe and the Caterdal de Barcelona. Just wander the streets of the Gothic Quarter and happen upon cafes and restaurants as they peak your interest. This neighborhood is best for getting lost down labyrinthine streets and discovering new treasures in the form of quaint courtyards.
5PM: Walk La Rambla and visit the Boqueria
Walking along La Rambla will take a toll on your senses. There are street performers, restaurants shouting a “deal” at you, and crowds upon crowds. La Rambla is an experience that is not to be missed during your time in Barcelona, but we do advise going elsewhere to find an authentic meal. One of the most famous markets, St Joseph Boqueria, is conveniently located off of La Rambla. It will be quite crowded at 5PM with tourists, so if you want to go to actually shop I suggest stopping by earlier in the day.
9PM: Dinner at Ziryab Fusion Tapas Bar
This is a cozy two story restaurant back in the El Born neighborhood with a Mediterranean flare to the traditional tapas selections. We always make a stop here when we are in Barcelona, even if that means having some tapas at 6pm before dinner at 9pm. You should make a reservation here for prime dinner times, or you can drop by early or late in the night to grab a table.
Other Restaurant Suggestions:
- La Central Hamburgeseria – great for a lunch stop when you’re hungry. We suggest sharing a burger – they are large!
- La Fabrica – great for a quick lunch stop. Grab 2 – 3 empanadas.
- Quimet & Quimet – standing room only tapas bar
- Bar Mut – another tapas bar with a secret invitation only speakeasy bar on top called Bar Mutis
- El Vaso De Oro – small tapas bar in the Barceloneta area which is worth a stop as it is said to have the BEST tapas in Barcelona, you can be the judge of that
- Els Quarte Gats – a beautifully decorated bar and restaurant that has been frequented many times by Pablo Picasso and other artists
Places to grab a drink in Barcelona:
- El Xampanyet – a cava (sparkling wine) bar with a select tapas menu in El Born neighborhood. Get here early to find a seat
- Palau Dalmases – located in the El Born Neighborhood near to the Picasso Museum this bar also features Flamenco shows daily at 19:30 and 21:30 and opera performances every Thursday at 23:00
- Casa Almirall – located in the up and coming El Raval district, this bar opened well over 150 years ago but is impeccably kept up with its original wood accents and new marble details. They are famous for their traditional vermouth
- Mirablau – perched atop Mount Tibidabo this is the best place for a drink with a view over greater Barcelona
- Boadas – Supposedly the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona, located in the Plaza de Catalunya, have a very extensive cocktail list
- La Terrassa Del Duquesa – in Barceloneta, come here to watch the luxury yachts come in and out of the marina
- Tandem Cocktail Bar – for a classy old school cocktail
- Espit Chupitos – a shot bar in the Barceloneta area where everything is 2 EUR and 50% of the shots are lit on fire
- Razzmatazz – for live music and a young crowd
Other things to do in Barcelona
- Montjuïc – Come for the magic fountain that puts on a show around 8 or 9 or 930PM based on the time of year, the grand Castell de Montjuïc, and an Olympic village from the 1992 Olympics
- Mount Tibidabo – Catch the T2A bus from Plaza Catalunya for about 3 EUR up to the mountain where you will find an amusement park as well as the Temple of the Sacred Heart church
- The Carmel Bunkers – another viewpoint over the city, but a less known and significantly less visited spot by many tourists
- Montasery de Pedralbes – an example of Catalan Gothic architecture just outside of the city. Come here for the quite garden courtyard!