Barcelona is a magnificent city, one filled with awe-inspiring architecture, culture and history. And the food’s pretty amazing too. If you’ve decided to add a long weekend in Barcelona to your travel itinerary you’ll be glad you did! Read on to see what we recommend you see while you’re there. But before we get into the sights of the Barcelona, lets spend a minute to get our bearings and tell you a little about this amazing city.
When to go
Barcelona is beautiful anytime of the year but we’d recommend late spring or early fall. Barcelona is one of the top 10 visited cities in Europe so avoiding the busy season of June thru September will cut the number of people vying for the same view down a little. Additionally, Barcelona can be hot and humid in the peak of Summer and while this won’t detract from it’s beauty, traveling on the shoulder season will keep you refreshed and comfortable walking from sight to sight.
How to get there
The two most common ways to get to Barcelona are plane and train. Nonstop flights from the major cities in Spain to Barcelona are common all throughout the day. Fares are generally less than $100 for a one-way ticket. Keep an eye out on Kayak or Google Flights for good fares. Look for Barcelona with the airport code BCN. The airport itself is located outside the city so you’ll have to take either a taxi or the commuter train (our recommendation) to get into the main city. Once you’ve picked up your baggage, look for the RENFE train terminal and book your ticket. The trip is around 25-40 minutes depending on what part of the city you are looking to start in. The other option to get to Barcelona from Madrid is via high speed train. You’ll again be using the RENFE train system, and the nonstop trip takes around 2.5 hours one way. While the flight itself is faster, you’ll be navigating some of Europe's busiest airports and the overall time may be similar. Plus, when you take the train you’ll get to enjoy the views of the Spanish countryside rolling by which is never a bad thing.
Getting around Barcelona
Once in Barcelona, getting around is best done via bus or metro. The city has a fleet of over 1,000 buses so there is never one far away. Barcelona has an integrated travel system which allows you to use the same pass for bus or metro use. A single use is 2.2 euros or a 10 use pass will set you back about 10 euros. Buses run between 4:30am to 11pm. Check your routes with the city bus map found here. The other option is to use Barcelona’s terrific metro system. There are 8 metro lines differentiated by color and name. Metro line directions are listed by the name of the last stop for each line in each direction. Once you know what line and stop you need, look for the final stop in that direction and grab that train. Ticket prices are the same as above and the map for the metro can be found here.
Barcelona, like all of Spain, uses the Euro. Many restaurants and stores accept credit cards as well. Make sure to check with your credit card to let the know you’ll be traveling abroad. We recommend avoid the money transfer shops at the airport and withdraw cash at the numerous ATMs around town. Exchange rates are generally better in our experience.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and thus has two official languages: Spanish and Catalan. Catalan has some similar roots to Spanish but is a different language all together. Locals speak Catalan in their daily lives and children learn the language at school however most everyone speaks Spanish as well.
Barcelona is divided into several neighborhoods. Going from one to next can take your from the beach, to the historic gothic quarter to the Modernista sights of Gaudi and La Rambla. Be sure to watch your purses and pockets as Barcelona, particularly La Rambla, is infamous for pickpockets. Be prepared to eat at times you’re not accustomed to as lunch is often served around 2-3pm and dinner after 9pm. Finally, whenever possible, book in advance. Many popular sites will let you book your entry tickets far in advance allowing you to skip the long cues common in Barcelona. You may also want to consider the Barcelona City Pass which is an all-in-one ticket into over 20 attractions, museums and monuments tours in Barcelona – and offers the option of a travelcard to get around the city with ease. More information of the City Pass here.
Day 1: While Barcelona is popular for many reasons, our favorite is definitely Antonio Gaudi. His style and passion is evident throughout the city seemingly bringing the city to life. Gaudi was influenced by his passions of nature and religion. He believed our world should be filled with joy and colors and this often whimsical style is uniquely Barcelona.
Our recommendation of where to start your weekend in Barcelona would the place where you can see it it all, Park Guell. While there is a fee to enter the monumental area, the rest of the part is free to enter. Park Guell sits on an elevated hill on the Northern part of the city. It takes a metro trip and a 15 minute walk to get there but this vantage point is the perfect place to see all of what Barcelona has to offer. Park Guell is a unique space created by Gaudi inaugurated in 1926 and it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Here you will find several open spaces covered with tiles and mosaics, grand staircases with welcoming mosaic lizards, hidden pathways and several cute gingerbread-style homes. Nearly 4 million visitors find their way here each year so we recommend getting here early to beat the crowds. On your walk up to the park, grab some chocolate croissants from a local bakery to enjoy from the park. If you’re interested in visiting the monument area, tickets can be purchased in advance here.
Once you’ve taken in the beautiful vistas, make your way to toward the Passeig de Gracia and two of Gaudi’s popular attractions, Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. Both designed and built by Gaudi, these uniquely different homes are very popular for good reason. Consider buying your tickets in advance, tickets for Casa Mila can be purchased here and Casa Batllo here. Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera or the stone quarry, is a modernista home built between 1906 and 1912 by Gaudi for Pere Mila. Appearing like a massive stone rising from the earth, casa Mila from the outside is a curving, undulating structure complete with gnarled railings and chimneys galore. The facade of the building is solely for looks providing no load bearing function. The 9 level structure includes two courtyards in a figure-8 plan. Head inside and see several floors with original furniture decorated as it was when the original owners lived here. Make your way to the attic and wander the 270 arched vaults of the ceiling which give the impression of walking thru the skeleton of a giant beast. Finally, be sure to not miss the roof where 28 dancing chimneys dot the skyline. Each different with whimsical twirls and bends, many even feel like masks or faces watching over you. The views from here are sensational including views of La Sagrada Familia in the distance.
From here walk a few blocks along the Gaudi designed tiles of the Passeig de Gracia to another Gaudi gem, la Casa Batllo. Strikingly different than Casa Mila, Casa Batllo is a mosaic of colors and tilework. In 1904, Gaudi remodeled this existing structure in his famous style. The exterior, full of Art Nouveau blues and greens, gives the appearance of a colorful dragon swimming thru a beautiful sea complete with a ribbed tile spine on the roof. Find your way into the main level and wander thru the rooms, all full of large windows and blue colored glass. The ceilings themselves are twisted into a vortex around it sunlike lamps. It’s uniquely Gaudi and something you won’t soon forget.
Start winding you day down by making your way down La Rambla, one of the main thoroughfares of Barcelona. Complete with a center section for pedestrians, La Rambla is full of shops, carts, great food and people watching. There are numerous spots to grab a quick bite on La Rambla or some of the side streets and courtyards. We’d recommend finishing the day with some sweet gelato or, even better, chocolate and churros.
Day 2: While day one of our weekend was dominated by the works of Antoni Gaudi, we’re starting day two with him as well because we have yet to visit his crowning achievement, La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi would work on the cathedral for the final 40 years of his life until his untimely death in a streetcar accident in 1926. The work continues today under his vision with a hopeful completion date in 2026.
From the outside, La Sagrada Familia is unmistakable with its numerous towers reaching toward heaven. With a total of 18 planned, they represent in ascending order of height the 12 Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the 4 Evangelists and Jesus Christ. The main entrance is under the nativity facade which took 36 years to complete and was finished in 1930. Ordained with countless statues and figures, the nativity facade tells the story of Jesus’s birth. Keep an eye out for a few strong turtles holding up the columns of the main doors.
Once inside, Gaudi’s use of light and color will take your breath away. Gaudi had a vision that the light inside La Sagrada Familia would be in harmony with of the nave and be conducive to introspection. And he succeed. Immediately upon entering your eyes will be drawn to the ceiling, which itself is held up with numerous branching tree-shaped columns. Stained glass windows and skylights shine a rainbow of colors on everything simply taking your breath away. Our advice? Find your way to a chair, look up and take in Gaudi’s visionary design; you won’t see anything like in Europe. Be sure to make the climb up the towers to get an elevated view of Barcelona. You’ll notice, even hundreds of feet in the air, the detail of the nativity facade continues with birds, fruit and small carvings wherever one turns.
The reason we chose to visit La Sagrada Familia in the morning is two fold. First, arriving early affords you the opportunity to see the sunrise paint the exterior in a golden orange, and as an added bonus, beat the crowds too. Buy your tickets in advance here.
After you’ve had your fill of Gaudi, it’s time to do a 180 and head to the Gothic Quarter to experience a Barcelona from a time long ago. The quarter encompasses the oldest parts of the city including several Roman ruins. As you stroll the maze of small alleyways, most of which are closed to motor vehicles, make your way to the Roman and Medieval walls and the remains of a Roman temple.
The Gothic Quarter is home to two impressive cathedrals. The first is the Cathedral of Barcelona, built mostly in the 14th century. Also known by its official name of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, it is quite different than Gaudi’s work. Open to a great plaza, the immense facade is full of delicate carvings and several large bell towers. Enter and find three large naives rising high into sky. Ribbed ceilings tower above you in this dimly lit space. Be sure to find time to take the rooftop tour to see the intricate towers in close detail.
Not far away lies the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar. Built between 1329 and 1383, this is a great example of Catalan Gothic architecture. Nestled among narrow streets, this massive structure dominates the block. Enter and feel its immense size. The space feels vast in part due to the slender columns which are themselves spaced wide apart. The interior is vast but simple. The rose window is terrific as is the other stained glasswork. This simple yet beautiful church almost has a calming, reflective nature about it. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have time.
As we started our day with Gaudi, we’ll finish it with Picasso. Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, was born in the Spanish city of Malaga and spent parts of his life in Spain painting the masterpieces we’re all familiar with. The Picasso Museum itself is a sight to behold consisting of five interconnected medieval palaces. While many are familiar with Picasso’s later work, many will be surprise to see the style of his early life. The museum houses over 4,000 pieces by Picasso and is one of the finest museums in the city. More information can be found here about the museum, ticket prices and hours.
If you’re looking for a memorable way to end your day, consider making your way back to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar. Like many churches and cathedrals in Europe, musical performances are held in the evening throughout the week. Performance information can be found here.
Day 3: We would suggest spending your final day in Barcelona at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. Often abbreviated MNAC, this spectacular museum sits atop Montjuic hill providing terrific views of the city. The museum itself is located in the Palau Nacional. The MNAC is famous for its Romanesque and Gothic collections, which are among the finest in the world. More than just paintings, you will see everything from sculpture, to photography, coins and many other art forms. Information about the museum can be found on their website here.
After you’ve had your fill of art, head to one of Barcelona’s famous markets. A few that we’d recommend are as follows. First, the most famous market in Barcelona is la Mercat de la boqueria. Notable for its perfect location off La Rambla, la Mercat de la boqueria is bustling with stalls offering everything from nuts to fruit, meat, fish or our favorite, crepes. For a cool market with some architectural flair, head over to la Mercat de Santa Caterina. With a nod to Gaudi, la Mercat de Santa Caterina is housed in an amazing building with a colorful, undulating roof seen from blocks around. Finally, if you’re looking for a fresh bouquet of flowers, head over to la Mercat de la Concepcio where they are famous for their flower market stalls.
If you have the time and energy, consider making your way to the beach. Barcelona has nearly 2 miles of beachfront all within a short walk from the downtown areas. One of the most popular beaches is Barceloneta beach. Although crowded in the summer, Barceloneta beach is known for its collection of funky architecture including Frank Gehry's fish and the leaning monument called "Homenatge a la Barceloneta". The beach scene is lined with a terrific boardwalk and plenty of restaurants to grab some great food and an evening drink while you watch the sunset.
Barcelona is a city with so much to offer which is why we keep going back. Have you been to Barcelona? Tell us what you think we missed and what you were in awe of during your visit. Happy travels.