So it’s your first time in Barcelona and you have 3 days to soak up the best of what the city has to offer. Some might say this is an impossible feat however I have come up with an itinerary that is chock-full of the top sights and activities that won´t leave you exhausted yet eager to plan your second trip back to this wonderful city by sea.
Day 1 - The Northside
Morning - Getting to Know Gaudi: To make the most of your trip rising at a reasonable hour is going to be a necessity as well as having a hearty breakfast. Your first day out and about will begin in the heart of the city at Plaça Catalunya, which is the largest and most popular square in Barcelona.
From here you’ll make your way to the luxurious Paseo de Gracia, a grand tree-lined boulevard that is home to a number of designer boutiques as well as two impressive works by Antoni Gaudi: Casa Batllò and La Pedrera. The later of the two is said to be one of the most emblematic works of art by Gaudi and definitely is worth a visit as every detail from door knobs to light fittings to the undulating terrace encapsulates Gaudi’s genius.
However get ready to be awestruck by the next Gaudi architectural site. After touring La Pedrera hop on the blue line metro L5 taking it to Sagrada Familia, the undisputed masterpiece of Gaudi. Still a work in progress after 80 years nothing will prepare you for the impact of this fantastical cathedral. The lines can be long to enter and many people are satisfied with viewing the cathedral from the outside however touring the inner workings of this masterpiece is unforgettable.
Your last stop on the Gaudi route is Park Güell, a UNESCO Heritage site where you can relax and have a picnic lunch. You’ll want to take blue line metro L5 once again and transfer to the green line L3 to Vallcarca. The walk to Park Güell is a steep uphill one but you will be rewarded with your efforts, as the entrance of the park is something out of a Gaudi fairytale.
Afternoon – Shopping Along Diagonal: After a little r&r at Park Guell take an easy stroll down to Plaza Lesseps and continuing straight down Diagonal, one of the main thoroughfares through the city. Turn right and zigzag your way down the street stopping in many of the boutiques that line the posh avenue such as Loewe, Gonzallo Comella, Pilma, Hackett and of course El Corte Ingles, the famous Spanish department store. This will take you directly to the busy Plaza Francesc Macia.
Evening – Hanging out in Grácia: For an evening of good local fun there is one barrio (neighbourhood) that is known for its lively atmosphere and should be a stop on your 3-day whirlwind tour. Grácia can be reached by taking the green line L3 metro to Fontana or the yellow line L4 metro to Joanic. Once you are there simply wander through its network of narrow streets and plazas (squares) to uncover great restaurants and quaint wateringholes.
In Grácia there is something for everyone as there are numerous places to dine on different types of cuisines as well as plenty of fashionable bars for a nightcap.
Day 2 – The Southside
For the second day of your visit we are going to head down south to explore Barcelona’s beaches and other unique gems you won´t want to miss.
Morning – Ambling down Las Ramblas: There is no doubt that you have heard of the famous Las Ramblas and this is where your day’s adventure will begin. Once again, head straight to the Plaça Catalunya, which is the northern starting point of Las Ramblas and from here you will descend the famous pedestrian street to the seaport.
As you amble down Las Ramblas you’ll pass by the lively chirping of the Bird Market and then the colorful Flower Market as well wacky street performers that at first glance look like metal statues until low and behold, they begin to sing, dance and playfully taunt people passing by.
The live entertainment is especially enjoyable for youngsters. Up next, La Boqueria Market which will be on the right side of Las Ramblas. It’s not hard to miss, as there is always a steady stream of people entering and exiting the mammoth structure. While inside take your time weaving through a maze of vendor stalls selling a cornucopia of the most gorgeous vegetables and exotic fruits, fresh fish, cured meats and fine canned goods. It’s a mouthwatering excursion for sure.
Afterwards cross the Ramblas to the left side and have a coffee break at the glorious Plaza Reial with its regal fountain and tropical palm trees.
Once at the end of Las Ramblas you’ll be greeted by the Column of Columbus monument. Here you’ll want to turn left and walk down Paseo de Colom and enter Port Vell for a seaside lunch of paella or fresh fish cooked the Catalan way at one of the many restaurants in the area. Most have lovely terraces that face the sea giving you a view of beautiful boats docked in the port.
Afternoon – Barceloneta and The Beach: After lunch in Port Vell, which is technically located in the Barceloneta neighborhood a good walk to help settle your afternoon meal is in order. Cruise down Paseo de Joan Borbo which will lead you directly to Barceloneta beach however if you so desire take a detour and enter one of the tiny side streets to get a feel of the Barceloneta neighborhood, which historically was the area where the local fisherman resided.
By now you are ready to wiggle your toes in the sand and take a dip in the cool Mediterranean Sea and by gosh, you deserve it. Once at the Barceloneta beach you can chose to find a plot of sand and make it your own or continue along the paved promenade to Puerto Olímpico with its famed Frank Gehry Goldfish sculpture and further down to other beaches like Bogatell or Mar Bella to catch some rays. Each beach has its own character as well as a little ‘’chiringuito’’ (small bar) where you can purchase cool drinks, small bites and usually a dj is spinning hip beats.
Evening – Make it a Gothic Night: After sundown travel back in time to the neighborhood that is a reminder of Barcelona’s medieval heyday- the Gothic Quarter. It’s a beautifully reserved neighborhood of Gothic buildings and, narrow, winding alleyways that lead to ancient medieval plazas.
The gem of the neighborhood and the religious heart and soul is the Gothic Cathedral dating back to the 13th century. Spend some time marveling at the gothic structure as well as stroll down Bisbe street, which is just to the right of the Cathedral whereupon you can view a suspended Neo-Gothic style bridge.
This street will lead you directly to the Plaza Sant Jaume, an immense cobblestone plaza (square) that is home to two of Barcelona’s most important government buildings: Palau de la Generalitat (seat of the Barcelona government) and the Ajuntament (Barcelona City Hall). Afterwards you can once again wander off down one of the cobblestone streets like Calle de la Ciutat, to discover a dining destination to end your day.
Day 3 – Parks and Art
It’s hard to believe but your time is almost up. So to make the most of your third and last day you’ll visit the last major remaining spots that highlight Barcelona’s creative core and great outdoor spaces.
Morning – Picasso and the Palau de la Musica Catalana: Starting off the day near where you left off last night, take the yellow line L4 metro to Urquinaona which will leave you on Via Laietana (an ancient thoroughfare through the city built by the Romans) the dividing line between the Gothic Quarter and La Ribera/The Born neighborhood, which is where you are headed to now.
Walking towards the sea on Via Laietana, you’ll make a left onto Sant Pere Mes Alt leading you to your first stop of the day– the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a modernist jewel built by the renowned architect Lluis Domenech I.
The decadent façade is jaw dropping however is only a hint at what artistry awaits you inside like the exquisite stained glass ceiling. After touring the concert hall continue seaward on Via Laietana making your way to Princessa street and then right onto Montcada to visit the famed Picasso Museum, the world’s largest collection of the artist’s early works.
After paying homage to one of the 20th-century’s most esteemed artist, you can then take a coffee break at the outdoor café at the Museu de Textil that faces the Picasso Museum. Moving onwards down Montcada you’ll run into Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral in the Plaza del Born.
Pop inside this breathtaking 14th century cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of sailors. You’ll see an ancient model ship hanging near one of the Virgin Mary statues proving its patronage. FYI- this is also the most popular church to get married in so you might stumble upon a wedding ceremony
Next walk down the Paseo de Born around the antique Mercat del Born and directly to Ciutadella Park where you can have a picnic lunch by the lake or on the sprawling lawns. Frequented by locals, Ciutadella Park is an entertaining place to pass the time, as you will see a cross section of the city’s inhabitants as well as local performers playing the guitar or dancers practicing capoeira for example.
An Afternoon in Montjuic: Leave Ciutadella walking the length of the park crossing Calle Pujades to the ominous Arc de Triomph, built for the World Fair of 1888. From here take the red line L1 metro in the direction of Hospital Bellvitge to Plaza España to view its fountain and grand fairgrounds, which hosts numerous conventions year around. From here begin your climb up Montjuic stopping along the way at Poble Espanol, a scaled down version of famous buildings and streets from around Spain recreating a tiny little village in the middle of the city.
Up further you will come upon The National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC), which is home to an expansive collection of Catalonian art that highlights the region’s rich Romanesque and Gothic heritages.
Moving on from the MNAC you will cross the recognizable Olympic Stadium built for the 1992 games and nearby is the Joan Miro Foundation, where you can view over 400 pieces of work by the popular Catalan artist. Afterwards take some time to relax in one of the splendid gardens of Montjuic before reaching the castle. You’ll want to have some energy left over to tour the Baroque-style castle and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city from this vantage point.
A Spectacular Evening: After spending the day high up in the clouds, descend Montjuic returning to Plaza España in time for a fantastical show. From 7pm-9pm the fountain comes to life as cascades of water are choreographed to a mesmerizing medley of colorful lights and music.
Adults and children will love this. Afterwards, the night is yours to do as you please– a nice, traditional meal or how about a flamenco dinner-dance show to top off the weekend in a truly Spanish way.