Encompassed in history, culture and crazy architecture, Barcelona is the perfect destination for a weekend city break. There’s certainly enough to do to enchant you for a weekend on this Barcelona itinerary, before you head out of the city’s busy crowds to Spain’s nearby more relaxed beach scene of Costa Brava.
Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia, which is a region in Spain that has a separate culture and language to the rest of the country. Therefore, be aware that the first language of Barcelona isn’t Spanish but Catalan (though most signs do have a Spanish, and sometimes English, translation)!
Here is an ultimate list of 15 things that you should consider adding to your Barcelona itinerary, sorted by theme and location into three days. I recommend three to four days in Barcelona, three exploring the city and one dedicated to a day-trip! There’s so many places in the nearby vicinity of Barcelona that you can visit for a day-trip to get away from the city buzz. If you prefer exploring new cities with the guidance of an experts, there’s also plenty of tours of Barcelona that provide meals, accommodation and tour guides for every day that you’re there.
We stayed in Urbany Hostel for the duration of our trip, which was the cheapest option of all the places in Barcelona. We expected that it might be a bit rundown, being so cheap, but it was actually one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in across Europe. It looked pretty brand new, very modern and seemed to be the perfect accommodation for backpackers who want to make some friends whilst they’re travelling. There was a really friendly and sociable vibe and loads of activities going on each day and night.
We stayed in a female dorm with eight beds. The room was clean and spacious. Each person has an allocated locker that opens with the key card and the lockers were big enough that even the girls with large suitcases could fit all their stuff in with no hassle. The bathroom was cleaned daily, and had two showers, a sink and a toilet. I was pleased that the showers had continuous hot running water and the only annoying part was that you had to press down every 20 seconds for the water to keep running.
They have a breakfast buffet until 11:30 each morning for under three euros with a large selection of cereals, toast, hams, cheeses and fried potatoes, as well as hot drinks (avoid the fruit juice at all cost, there was no fruit in that juice). The drinks were so cheap and they had activities going on nightly on the terrace and common room. You could also buy pizzas and other snacks at the bar. We, however, made use of the fully equipped, spacious kitchen to make our meals and keep our budget down. Be warned, though, they do not have a peeler or a masher. So, don’t be idiots like us and try to make mashed potato.
If you’re more of an upmarket traveller and want a taste of the luxurious life, check out the other accommodation on offer in Barcelona here.
First thing: buy the metro tickets for your stay. The metro is the easiest way to get around Barcelona and many of the main sights are too far away from each other to walk between them. We used the metro everyday during our stay and bought the T-10 travel card from the ticket dispenser (available at any metro station).
This is the best option as it gives you 10 journeys for the price of €9.95 rather than forking out €2.15 for each single ticket. We used three of these T-10 travel cards between the two of us for 4 days in Barcelona. You can use one card for two people by giving the card to your travel buddy straight after using it yourself, so if you only think you’ll need a few journeys, it’s still worth getting this option if there’s more than one of you.
Make your way to the Plaça Catalunya metro stop, which will bring you to a large, busy intersection at the end of Las Ramblas. This is the main high street of Barcelona and the centre of the city. Orientate yourself among the crowds and take a leisurely stroll down this main street in the direction of the port. Take your time and really absorb the architecture and the ambiance of the place. There’s some beautiful modernist buildings- bright and colourful and often made to look as though they have patterned wallpaper on the outside.
Walk down the pedestrian area that runs down the centre of the high street, where they’ll be multiple stalls set up, as well as street vendors and small alfresco restaurants. Here, you can find the typical souvenirs and strange merchandise that vendors seem to think that tourists want.
(Seriously, why do they think I’m likely to buy a bird whistle, a plastic animal or a flashing yo-yo just because I’m on holiday?)
There are also loads of flower and plant stalls, with all sorts of potted plants, mini cacti and seed packets on offer. I thought it would be a really cute idea to buy a packet of seeds to grow later on, a living souvenir of my Barcelona trip!
Mercat de la Boqueria
On the right, whilst walking down Las Ramblas, watch out for Barcelona’s famous market, Mercat de la Boqueria. When I was there, it was quite hidden because there was some scaffolding partially obscuring the entrance and it’s definitely not something that you’d want to miss!
I’m quite a big fan of markets anyway but this has probably got to be my favourite by a long shot. There’s so many colours, sounds and smells. They have multiple sweet stands with fizzy laces a metre long and chunks of fudge the size of your fist. There’s a whole stand dedicated to different types of olive, endless rows of hanging chillies of different varieties, jar after jar of brightly coloured spices. In the middle of it all, there’s a bar so that you can relax amongst the lively buzz and drink it all in over a sangria or some orange juice freshly squeezed in front of your eyes.
Port de Barcelona
Once you reach the Colombus Monument at the end of Las Ramblas (that big, pretty column), we took a left and strolled along Port de Barcelona, taking a look at all the yachts and sailboats lined up. There’s some pretty cool architecture along the port as well, check out the details on the roofs, as some have some incredible domes, embellished with what looks like a million shiny beads.
If you continue to head straight for a while along this road, you’ll eventually reach the beach strip. However, we gave the beach a miss on this trip as it was February and probably a bit too cold for a swim. Also, I’ve heard that Barcelona isn’t exactly a beach paradise destination, and I think their coastlines can get a little grim with the amount of tourists and the city so close by. By all means however, check it out and let me know what it’s like.
Parallel to the Port de Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter, so at any point take a left and allow yourself to get lost amongst its narrow streets and alleyways. The architecture here is much older than the rest of the city. This was one of my favourite areas, there’s some adorable independent cafés dotted about on corners, high buildings with flags and colourful washing hanging out of windows and plants drooping over every balcony.
We got completely lost in the Gothic Quarter and had no idea which direction we were headed in at any point. However, we did find a tiny little deli called Dionisos with exquisite Greek food and stopped for a while to devour some falafel wraps. The best thing to do in this area is to just wander (and really, I couldn’t recommend a route as I’m not sure where we were at any given point).
However, make sure you do check out Barcelona Cathedral as it really is stunning! We stayed for a while relaxing on the stairs in front of it whilst a busker entertained us with his beautiful violin playing.
Arc de Triomf
Make your way to Arc de Triomf from the Gothic Quarter. Large, bright red and engraved in intricate designs, the Arc itself its quite impressive and you’ll spot it from a while away. It’s a lot different from Paris’s Arc du Triomphe, a lot smaller but equally, if not even more pretty.
Walk from the Arc de Triomf, down the palm-tree lined promenade towards the park. I loved this pedestrian-reserved promenade as it was full of street artists and people blowing giant bubbles, kids prancing around jumping and people watching shows and laughing. We were there in February yet there was such a vibrant, summery vibe!
Parc de la Ciutadella
This was another one of my favourite spots in Barcelona. It’s the perfect place to spend the rest of your afternoon relaxing after being on your feet. It’s a beautiful grassy space with lovely architecture, loads different types of trees and flowers and it even has a zoo.
The best part is the fountain, Cascada del Parc, which is one of Gaudi’s early works (and not actually very Gaudi-esque). The fountain was on my checklist of things to see but I wasn’t expecting to be extremely impressed. I was however, impressed! It was massive and golden and beautiful. You can climb up the grand steps either side and look over the turquoise fountain from above, frolicking amongst the pegasus statues and taking perfect Instagram snaps (see below). Next to the fountain is a bandstand, where there was live music playing and couples dancing together.
Today is the day to discover Gaudi’s art in all its greatness. Gaudi is pretty much synonymous with Barcelona, so there’s really not much point visiting the city without dedicating at least a day of your Barcelona itinerary to visiting his works. They’re some of the most beautiful and certainly the most famous parts of Barcelona. In fact, all I’d ever seen of Barcelona before I visited was the famous shot below taken from Parc Guell. I’m pretty sure every tourist who’s ever visited Barcelona has a version of the same shot taken below of the colourful mosaic tiles and the two fantastical, Art Nouveau casas in the background. You can’t blame us, it’s a picture perfect spot!
The best way to see Parc Güell is to book tickets beforehand for the Monumental Zone. The park itself is free and unrestricted to enter but to see the crazy colourful tiling and casas up close and personal, you’ll want to get into the monumental zone. A general ticket is €7, which is a little steep but understandable considering the sheer amount of visitors a day. When you book your ticket into the Monumental Zone, you book a half an hour slot, which means you can only enter during this half-an-hour window. At first I thought, what!? €7 for half an hour? But no, you can actually stay as long as you like once you’re in the zone, but I guess the presumption is most people will have moved on within half an hour, so it’s just a way to stagger the crowds a little.
Despite this restricted staggering system, Park Güell and the Monumental Zone specifically will be rammed with people, so just mentally prepare for that. It’s going to be pretty hard to get that perfect shot like you were imagining and a little patience with the 10 million selfie sticks won’t go amiss.
However, the architecture is fabulous. It’s like something from a dream. The whole place seems mystical- the long, mosaicked multicoloured bench in the shape of a sea serpent; the archways, pillars and balconies that seem to have morphed naturally out of the surrounding rock; the gingerbread houses with icing-covered roofs that you can imagine fairies taking up residence in.
Actually, I lied earlier. There were two things I knew about Barcelona before I visited: one was Parc Güell, and the second was Sagrada Familia. Because, who hasn’t seen a picture of this monster at least once in their lives?
Sagrada Familia is one of the craziest pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen and a combination of my two favourite styles: Art Nouveau and gothic. It reminds me of something a cartoonist would draw as an evil villain’s castle, up on a hill, surrounded by dark storm clouds and a thick mist, except it’s in the middle of one of Europe’s busiest and sunniest cities, and the only mist that encircles it is a continuous throng of tourists. It’s intimidating, kind of grotesque but also enchanting. I love it but also dislike it. It’s a strange piece of art.
We didn’t see the inside of the Basilica because the lowest price for entry is €15 and I wasn’t ready to fork out a week’s worth of meals to see some stained glass windows. Also, the girls in our dorm told us the outside was more impressive, so who’s the winner, really?
Casa Batlló + Casa Mila
Some more of Gaudi’s experimental artwork, but on the middle of the street this time. These two casas are within walking distance from each other but if you want to just see one because you’re feeling lazy, go for Casa Batlló (picture on the left), because it’s much prettier. The outside is bedecked in a glorious flowery pattern and at each window is a strange, funky-shaped balcony. The shapes of the stone reminds me of the human skeleton a great deal, maybe because of the smooth, curved shapes and the colour. It makes it kind of creepy but pretty at the same time.
Unfortunately, yet again, we couldn’t go inside because the entry price was a staggering €20,5 WITH student discount. To enter a casa. I mean, it is supposed to be beautiful but that much to look around a house? It’s a no from me.
Casa Mila was okay but to me it just looked like a normal building but a bit more… wiggly? I think the inside is supposed to be more interesting, though, so give it a go if you’re feeling optimistic.
On day three of our Barcelona itinerary we spent most of the day over at Montjuic, which is a large hill overlooking the port. There’s quite a lot of attractions within the parameters of Montjuic park so spend at least half a day exploring it. To reach Montjuic, get the metro to Plaça d’Españya, which will bring you to the large plaza opposite Montjuic, or get the cable car for €11, 25 for paranamic views of the city.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is another place on my list that I completely underestimated. It’s hosted in the incredible Palau Nacional. In pictures you think, oh, that looks pretty but in person your first reaction is whoa! The museum is at the peak of a the Montjuic hill that overlooks the city, so from the bottom is seems pretty intimidating. The Font Màgica (the magic fountain) is tastefully placed in front of it and is especially beautiful at night when they do light displays.
Climbing up to the museum past all the pretty water displays takes some time and quite a few steps but there are also escalators if you have any accessibility issues. Inside the museum boasts a thousand years worth of Catalonian art and General Admission costs €12. However if you go on a Saturday past 3pm or the first Sunday of every month, you’ll get FREE entry so plan your weekend wisely if you intend on visiting the museum.
Park de Montjuic
We walked through the park from the museum to reach the Castell de Montjuic and on our journey realised that it wasn’t really much of a park at all. It had the feel of a university campus, a network of main roads and loads of buildings with a few patches of grass of statue gardens scattered here and there. From the green expanse on the map, I expected the park to be some sort of vast field or woodland but no such luck. The roads were dusty and isolated on the route to the Castell so we must have gone a strange way.
However, the park is home to quite a few interesting attractions including the Poble Espanyol, a miniature Spanish village; Teatre Grec, an open-air theatre, which is home to the Grec Festival each summer and surrounded by beautiful gardens and also the 1922 olympic grounds, as well as multiple museums and a rather spectacular cemetery. There’s plenty going on in Montjuic park to keep you occupied, though it is a large space so make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes.
Castell de Montjuic
Approaching the castle of Montjuic, with the ramparts and flags coming into view, I grew excited to see what the castle had to offer in terms of history and architecture. As we walked around the perimeter, beautiful symmetrical gardens were revealed and a lovely arched bridge. Entry is only €3 or free on Sundays but it’s easy to understand why the price is so low, there’s absolutely nothing there, one corridor as you enter and some castle walls, empty inside other than a small rundown garden. I would still add the castle onto your Barcelona itinerary, but remember that the best part is the pretty garden on the outside of the castle so there’s no point wasting time actually entering it, just take a look from the outside.
The views over the South walls from the castle were over a large, industrial shipping port, with rows and rows of metal cargo and ships. It was not a pretty sight. The views over the city on the opposite side were much nicer, you could see the museum from above and the Sagrada Familia very hazily in the distance, but still not much to write home about.
We initially wanted to get the funicular up to the 100 year old Tibidabo amusement park to watch the sunset from atop the hill. This, I recommend doing as what I’ve seen online it is a beautiful place. However, we made a timing error choosing to go up for sunset as the funicular stops running around 5pm. Thus, we got the bus all the way to the funicular station for no funicular to be running. However, the station was already on the perimeter of the city at quite a high elevation and a local restaurant owner let us take the shots below from their balcony at sunset, so it wasn’t a completely wasted journey. I can only imagine how spectacular the views would have been from higher up, so make sure Tibidabo makes the cut on your Barcelona itinerary (but much earlier in the day).
This particular point was not on my personal Barcelona itinerary, but I hear that for any football fanatic, visiting Camp Nou is a great experience. You can take a tour of the stadium and learn about the history of FC Barcelona from €20 all year round. To read more about the Camp Nou experience, read Kirstie’s post about her recent family trip.
Day-Trip to Montserrat National Park
My favourite day on my Barcelona itinerary was a day-trip to Montserrat National Park, where we hiked from the monastery to the peak of Sant Jeroni. As the park is at least an hour away from the centre of town, you should dedicate a whole day to hiking Montserrat and seeing its beautiful rock formations. This is just a teaser of my experience in Montserrat, to read about the whole experience, click here.
Watch out for your money!
As with most tourist-saturated cities, there’s a couple of people in Barcelona who give the place a bad name. Not only do you have to watch out for the notorious pick-pockets, but also a few scams floating around in certain establishments. When we went for a drink at a restaurant on Las Ramblas, we ordered a cocktail and a coca-cola that were not marked with any prices (should have been a warning sign, I know). When they arrived, they had been served in massive stein glasses, which we initially found funny. However, after not being about to finish even half our drinks and seeing on the bill that we’d been charged over €30 for two drinks, we were no longer amused. Make sure you ask the size and price of your drink before you order, as if there’s no prices, there’s a pretty big chance they’re trying to rip you off.
Weekend Free Entry
Make the most of free entry in a lot of museums at certain times on the weekends. Add these to your Barcelona itinerary if you happen to be visiting on the weekend. A few of the places that offer weekend discounts are: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Museu Picasso, Museu d’Història de Barcelona and Palau Güell.
I hope you enjoyed this big bumper post of what to see and do for a perfect weekend city break to Barcelona. Let me know what you think of my Barcelona itinerary. Is there anything you would add?
Read more: Want to explore more of Spain? Read about how best to take a Northern Spain Road Trip on Year Of The Monkey.
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