Exploring Barcelona: 24 Hours in the Catalan Capital
With its beautiful beaches, one-of-a-kind architecture, and legendary nightlife, Barcelona is at the top of most travelers' wish-lists. When I lived in Spain, I often took advantage of cheap outgoing flights from BCN and would end up in Barcelona for a day or two. This helped me hone my itinerary for my ideal day in Barcelona — here's what I learned:
Start your day by dipping your toes in the Mediterranean. Barcelona's city beaches are rather stunning, and a great place to meditate. Wake yourself up with a dip in the water or a run in the sand.
Walk along the water back to the harbor and the Passeig de Colon, which is a great place to grab a map and check out tourist information. It's also the start of La Rambla, Barcelona's busy pedestrian avenue filled with street artists and vendors. To the right of La Rambla is Plaça Reial, a bustling plaza with a beautiful fountain and lanterns designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The plaza, which is part of the Barri Gòtic (Gothic barrio), is a bit of a party spot at night, but it's a great place to sip an espresso and people-watch in the morning.
(Spain isn't big on breakfast, but if you're feeling peckish this would be a good time to grab a pastry or tortilla Española to tide you over. If you're a big breakfast eater, there are some cute options in the Barri Gòtic)
Exit Plaça Reial back onto La Rambla and continue forward, enjoying the art and souvenirs lining the walkway. After a few blocks, you'll come across the entrance to Mercat la Boqueria on the left side of the street.
Photo from KQED.org
This expansive market dates back to 1200 AD and is a foodie's dream. Its stalls carry seafood, olives, nuts, dates, cheese, cured meat, candy, tapas, oils and spreads, fresh produce and pretty much anything you would hope a Catalan market might have. I always stop in to buy one (or three) of the fresh juices. There are a bunch of flavors to choose from, and they'll cure what ails ya if you went out drinking the night before.
Pro-tip: The juice stalls at the back of the market are a full Euro cheaper than the stalls right up front. I also recommend stocking up on picnic supplies here. You'll need them later.
Continue meandering down La Ramba until its end at Plaça de Catalunya (a large, beautiful plaza generally considered the city- center, and a great place to shop, if that's your thing), or head straight to the Barcelona's crown jewel, the Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.
Nativity Facade of the Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia was designed by Gaudí, but was 15-25% completed when he died in 1926. Work continues today on Gaudí's masterpiece, with an estimated completion date of 2026-2028. Although construction is ongoing, it is possible to go inside, which is definitely worth doing.
Photo from Flickr user SBA73
The branching columns were designed to simulate a wood that invites prayer.
Photo by RVCH.net
Light and color play a large part in Gaudi's interior designs. The way the light shines through the stained glass colors the floor in shimmering rainbows. It will make even the most devout atheist feel closer to god. It's seriously worth the price of admission. Book your tickets here to avoid lines.
A close-up of the Passion Facade from trekearth.com
After you're finished staring in awe at the Sagrada Familia, make your way to another one of Gaudí's impressive works in Barcelona: Park Güell. Park Güell is probably my favorite place in the city. It's filled with lush greenery, eccentric architecture, and dazzling mosaics. It's also the perfect place for a picnic – this is where your treasures from the Mercat la Boqueria come into play. If you prefer to keep it simple, grab a bocadilla para llevar (sandwich to go) at the nearest cafe. Explore the park until you find somewhere worthy of your picnic, and settle in to rest your feet and enjoy a meal al fresco.
Photo from Tourismspot.com Originally designed to be a neighborhood for the ultra-rich, today Park Güell functions as a museum and public park. Parts of the park are free to access, and part of it costs a small entrance fee (7 euros online, 8 at the gate). It's definitely worth the fee, especially if you plan on hanging out for a while - but it's still worth a visit just for the free parts.
This mosaic serpentine bench is one of the most beautiful works in the park. This view of the bench is free, but to go inside you need a ticket.
Plan on 2-3 hours here if you want to visit the whole park and stop for a picnic (closer to three hours if your picnic involves a bottle of wine, which is common in Spain). Park Güell is also a great place to get a view over the city. I have a thing for jumping pictures, if you can't tell.
This time of day you could go a few different routes: -Continue exploring for a while and investigate anything that seems interesting - Barcelona is filled with public art, and it takes aimlessly wandering to find some of it. -You could treat the picnic as an amuse-bouche and go out for a filling paella lunch afterwards. -Go for a nap and shower back at your accommodation, re-energizing for the rest of the evening. -Or head to one of Barcelona's world-class museums. I recommend the Picasso Museum.
Happily sipping sangria in a tranquil plaza during my first visit to Barcelona.
After your exploration/lunch/nap/museum, head to Montjuïc. Take the funicular (included in your metro ticket) or a cable car up to the top where you can enjoy another lovely view of the city. There's a variety of things to see in Montjuïc, including a castle and gardens. The highlight, however, is definitely the magic fountain.
Photo from Barcelonaconnect.com
The water is lit an array of colors, and it dances to music. I've seen the renowned fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas many times, and I think Montjuïc is more beautiful. Make sure you check the schedule online, as its hours vary and it is occasionally closed for maintenance, especially during winter. It's time for some dinner, so head back to the Barri Gòtic to sample some tapas and enjoy the atmosphere of the streets at night.
I try to pick my restaurant based on the amount of locals eating there and the general vibe.
The beautiful thing about tapas is you don't need to commit to one place for dinner - hop around to a few, and stay put if somewhere impresses you.
The Barri Gòtic has plenty of places with drink specials around this time as well, so it's a good area to have some pre-drinks if you plan on going out later. The party doesn't truly start until about 2 am, but plenty of smaller bars will be hoppin' already and often feature live music.