72 Hours in Barcelona
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
The stunning architecture, the delicious food, and the gleeful music, there’s so much of Barcelona's vibrant culture to take in and with just a few days to navigate the city it may seem like an impossible task. But don't be put off! With some careful planning and some local knowledge, you'll be able to experience life in the vibrant Catalan capital in no time!
I recently spent just 3 days exploring Barcelona with a couple of friends as one of them was carrying out some university research work about Catalonian culture. Time was therefore not on our side as we had to attend sporadic interviews throughout each day. The time we did have available however, we certainly made the most of and often interviews took us to different parts of the city that we may not have otherwise explored.
An evening flight got me into Barcelona just before midnight and just in time for some cocktails. We stayed in an area called Badal which is around a 10 minute metro journey from the centre of Barcelona but much cheaper in terms of accommodation. Barcelona is relatively expensive and I found that accommodation and tourist attractions were significantly expensive so be prepared for this! Food and drinks on the other hand were rather cheap so I guess it evens out.
The Sagrada Família from Plaça de Gaudi
TOP TIP: Purchase a 24 / 48 / 72 / 96 / 120 hour 'Hola Barcelona' travel card at the airport metro station. This entitles you to unlimited travel on any mode of transport (bus, train, tram, metro) within Zone 1 (basically the entire city including suburbs). It saves you an absolute fortune!
As the Spanish operate on slightly different time patterns to the rest of the world and also observe a siesta - an afternoon sleep taking place in the afternoon/hottest part of the day, many are not early risers, shops and attractions usually open no earlier than 10am and breakfast is usually skipped. Instead of breakfast, start the day right with the Spanish equivalent of brunch - almuerzo – the snack between breakfast and lunch – before heading and exploring the iconic main attractions. Head first to the Arc De Triomf - Spain's equivalent of the Parisian Arc De Triomphe - A stunning piece of red brick architecture built in the late 1800s for the Barcelona World Fair. Following this, take a walk through the Parc de la Ciutadella - one of Barcellona's only green spaces and home to the City Zoo, the Palace of the Catalonian Parliament and the beautiful Cascada Monumental Fountain.
Arc De Triomf
When it comes to lunch time, one of the best and most economical and authentic ways to eat is to seek out a good menú del día – an affordable worker’s lunchtime menu which generally ranges between €5 - €10. There are many restaurants and eateries offering such menus around the Arc De Triomf.
After lunch, wander through El Born, the bohemian part of the Old Town located next to Parc de la Ciutadella. This is the best place to seek out independent boutiques and artisan stores that give the area so much character. Hopping on one of the many metros or buses, head towards the Sagrada Família - an incredible basilica which was designed by local Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi in 1882 and is still unfinished! The site is absolutely awe inspiring and if you're looking for a good place to get a picture, head to Plaça de Gaudi where there is a clearing in the trees across a lake and the entire masterpiece can be viewed in its full glory.
Take a stroll and buy a flavoursome gelato - ice cream down the famous Rambla - a tree lined walkway spanning over 1km. Beware that although beautiful, many locals try to avoid this part of the city as it is often flooded with tourists and promoters, though still definitely worth seeing.
Be sure to spend some time by your hotel pool, relaxing and soaking up the rays that Spain is so famous for. It's important to unwind and give your feet a bit of a rest so you can enjoy every aspect of the City - we ended up walking over 12 miles each day!
Before dinner we headed back to the Parc de la Ciutadella where we stumbled across a band playing movie themes in the band stand by the Cascada Monumental Fountain - these small concerts, Música Als Parcs take place all throughout each summer (June - August) in various parks across Barcelona and are completely free.
Cascada Monumental Fountain
In terms of dinner, on the first evening we were keen to head somewhere with good local reviews, surprisingly this lead us to an Italian restaurant so we thought we'd give it a try. Tucco Real Food near the marina turned out to be a great shout - €10 for a starter of bread, oil and balsamic vinegar, a generously sized main course of pasta where you are able to choose from a range of pastas and a range of sauces as well as toppings, a pudding/dessert and a glass of wine or beer.
Following dinner, we got a taxi straight to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. This is a spectacular show which takes place next to Montjuïc Castle every Wednesday through to Sunday throughout summer from 9.30pm to 10.30pm, free of charge and absolutely bursting with life and energy. The already remarkable fountain comes alive with colour, music and a dazzling water display. Well worth a watch, but be advised that this show is also packed with tourists, though there are several good viewing areas so don't be put off.
Start the second morning by getting a bus up to Park Guëll, another one of Gaudi's masterpieces containing some of his most prised artwork. Beware that the main part of this site is strictly limited to 400 visitors per hour, so make sure you book in advance as we were caught out by this and despite getting there early, tickets had already sold out for the entire day. You can still however, wander around the rest of this beautiful park and enjoy the many street performances taking place.
A return bus ride took us back into the centre where we took a look at Casa Batlló, yet another of Gaudi's works and well worth a visit for the unique and alternative architecture.
Gaudi’s Artwork near Casa Batlló
Wander through the centre of town until you come to the iconic Gothic Quarter. This is the oldest part of the city and is home to a number of buildings that date back to the early Middle-Ages including Barcelona Cathedral built in 1333. The Gothic Quarter's winding streets and enchanting squares are the perfect location to lose yourself and soak up the magical atmosphere of this ancient neighbourhood. In this area there are quite a few quaint little rooftop bars and restaurants which give you an even better view of the gorgeous surroundings.
No trip to Barcelona is complete without heading to Barceloneta Beach, easily accessed by travelling to Barceloneta metro station. Although slightly on the pebbly side, and filled with many a tourist, Barceloneta beach is well worth a visit, even just to top up the tan! Take a stroll along the waterfront and soak up the sea breeze and the sound of the waves with a cocktail or a glass of cava in hand.
Later in the afternoon, my friends interview took us to a small area called El Clot. This was almost a town of its own with its quaint but bustling square filled with bands and street performers and the tempting smell of fresh patisserie pastries floating through the air.
An hour or so in El Clot, and we took a metro and a bus upto Bunkers Del Carmel - the remains of military defensive site dating back to the 4th century BC, with its last purpose being an anti-aircraft structure utilised in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Here, we had hoped to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, a large amount of cloud cover meant we didn't get to see the pink and orange glows that we had hoped for but we did get an incredible view of the entire city which is definitely not to be missed! Be sure to check out the sunset times on the weather forecast and aim to get there about half an hour before sunset.
View from Bunkers Del Carmel
As darkness fell, we hopped on a bus which took us back to the centre of town and just off the Rambla. Being conscious not to be sucked into any tourist trap restaurants, we again looked at local reviews in search of some traditional Spanish cuisine and ended up at Güell Tapas. This place had a great atmosphere and great food. Large portions and small prices with some of the best Sangria - Spanish wine.
After dinner we took a taxi to a cosy little gin bar called the Hemmingway. Although a little on the pricey side, the experience was fabulous. The bar itself could probably only hold around 15 - 20 customers and had a speakeasy feel to it with the bar staff putting on a dazzling show as they made and talked about the cocktails, what flavours we should taste and the reasons for compiling the ingredients, almost like wine tasting but with cocktails.
The morning of day 3 started off with an interview trip to Sarrià - an antique village which used to be where wealthy citizens of Barcelona would spend their holidays in the early 1900s. This quiet and wooded village has a quaint small-town feel to it, full of delicate architecture and stained glass windows. Off the beaten track, out of the way of tourists and therefore worthy of a visit.
The rest of the day was then spent searching the centre of town for the all important souvenirs. Again this was an opportunity to explore the area around the Rambla and do what us tourists do best - shop!
In just 2 - 3 days it is definitely possible to steep yourself in the Barcelona culture but it is essential to plan ahead, do your research and make an itinerary of what you'd like to do. Places book up in advance and it isn't always possible just to turn up and buy a ticket. Make sure you ‘lose yourself’ for a few hours. Hop on a bus or a train and go somewhere you’ve never heard of! Barcelona is a beautiful city and definitely not one that I feel I have 'done' so I really hope to come back one day to tick a few more things off the bucket list.
One place I really do wish I’d visited is the famous de la Musica Catalana - the opera house of Catalan, renowned for its beautiful interior architecture and home to frequent dazzling concerts. Maybe next time!