Barcelona is a polarizing city. Travelers seem to return home with tales of whimsy or woe; they’ve either found blissful wine-and-tapas-filled beaches or scary pickpocket-filled dark alleys during their time in the Catalan capital.
After a few visits to the city, I’ve always found the lovely land of wine and tapas.
Nestled up against the Mediterranean, Barcelona, Spain is a patchwork of cool neighborhoods with amazing restaurants, shops, historical sites, and natural beauty. It’s a cultural center brimming with breathtaking architecture, delicious food and wine, and plenty of sandy beaches.
Of course, there’s so much to do in Barcelona, you could spend weeks exploring its streets. However, it’s also a great city for a weekend getaway or to work into a longer trip with other cities — it’s a pretty quick flight from Lisbon, for example. Whatever brings you there, Barcelona is a great place to visit, whether for two days or two weeks.
If you find yourself in Barcelona with only a short amount of time, it’s particularly essential to spend said time wisely. With a bit of planning and some flexibility, it’s entirely possible to get a well-rounded sense of the city, even in 48 hours. The key is to balance sightseeing and relaxation.
Here’s your travel guide for how to spend two days in Barcelona, Spain.
Day One in Barcelona: See Works by Gaudi and Go to the Beach
Visit the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell
You, quite frankly, cannot visit Barcelona without seeing work by Antoni Gaudí. It might actually be more difficult to try to avoid his work. With that in mind, though, you won’t be able to see it all.
First and foremost, the famed Sagrada Familia is well worth a visit. This is perhaps Barcelona’s most touristy “must do” activity, as well as the most popular of Gaudí’s masterpieces, but it is known as such for a good reason.
The unfinished cathedral is a towering ode to the cycle of nature. Inside the cathedral, colored glass and tree-like columns provide a sense of peace within its sculpted stone walls. It’s a beautiful sight that’s well worth a visit.
The Sagrada Familia does get quite busy, so make sure to book tickets online ahead of time. You will choose the time you want to enter, and it’s best to book the earliest time of the day that you can manage. The cathedral only gets busier as the day goes on, so make this your first stop of the day. Ticket prices range from 17 euros to 32 euros, depending on whether you add tours or entry to the cathedral’s towers.
The Sagrada Famlia opens daily at 9:00 a.m. From November through February it closes at 6:00 p.m.; in March and October it closes at 7:00 p.m.; and from April through September it closes at 8:00 p.m. Hours of operation may vary on holidays or for special events. The Sagrada Familia is located at Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain.
For another of Gaudí’s works combining architecture and nature, head up to Park Güell.
Park Güell is large public park that features gardens and architectural elements, high atop a hill in Barcelona. Getting up there requires a bus ride or a bit of a walk from a metro stop, but the views are worth the work. (Update: Reportedly there is now a shuttle bus called Bus Güell that runs from the Alfons X station up to Park Güell.)
Tickets to Park Güell are 10 euros, which includes a ride on Bus Güell. There are also reduced prices available for children, seniors, and people with disabilities. You can purchase tickets online up to three months before your visit.
Park Güell is open year-round, and hours vary by season. During the spring, the park opens daily at 8:00 a.m. and closes at 9:30 p.m. The park is located at 08024 Barcelona, Spain.
Go to the Beach
Once you’ve spent enough of your morning running around and seeing the sights, head to the beach and relax for the afternoon. After all, a visit to the sea is a must in Barcelona.
There are many to choose from, but try opting for one of the lesser-visited and therefore more relaxing beaches. Head to Mar Bella (Platja de la Mar Bella) or Nova Mar Bella (Platja de la Nova Mar Bella).
All along the coast in Barcelona, a variety of beach bars line the boardwalk that are great places to grab a drink. Spend the afternoon simply relaxing on the beach, swimming in the Mediterranean, and enjoying the sunshine. There are often lounge chairs and umbrellas available to rent, or you can find your own free area of sand and spread out your towel.
Both beaches are about a 10-minute walk from the Poblenou metro stop. To get to Mar Bella or Nova Mar Bella, exit the Poblenou metro stop and walk down Carrer del Litoral. As you get near the beach, you’ll walk through a large park area with a sports complex and skate park. Once you reach the boardwalk, walk to your left to reach Mar Bella and Nova Mar Bella.
Day Two in Barcelona: Enjoy the Food and Art
Stroll La Rambla
La Rambla is a famous street in Barcelona full of shops and restaurants. As a popular tourist destination, it’s also lined with street vendors and performers. La Rambla begins at Plaça de Catalunya and continues about 1.5 km (just less than one mile) to Mirador de Colom near the sea. It’s open to foot and vehicle traffic, but it has large paved walking paths along the sides and down the middle of the road for pedestrians.
La Rambla is one of the most touristy areas of Barcelona. However, it’s still worth visiting on your short visit to the city. It’s a vibrant and lively area that’s great for exploring and people watching. Plus, it’s home to the Mercado de La Boqueria. La Boqueria on its own warrants a trip to La Rambla.
Mercado de La Boqueria is a huge market just off La Rambla that’s brimming with produce, sweets, and all kinds of fresh local fare. Spend some time wandering the aisles and marveling at all the edible selections. Grab a couple treats to enjoy now, and make sure to get some to bring home with you.
Mercado de La Boqueria is open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. There is no fee to enter the market. La Boqueria is located at La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain.
Eat the Local Cuisine
I always say one of the best parts about visiting a city is eating, and of course this goes for Barcelona as well.
When in Spain, tapas are a must. Barcelona is filled with delicious tapas restaurants, but Taller de Tapas is a good option. There are a few locations around the city — one in Born, another a few minutes off La Rambla, a third near Plaça de Catalunya, and one in Eixample, also not far from Plaça de Catalunya — so you’re likely to find yourself near one of them.
To get your paella fix, head over to the Barceloneta neighborhood and eat at Restaurant 7 Portes. Open since 1836, it’s famous for the traditional Spanish rice dish.
Restaurant 7 Portes is open daily at Passeig d’Isabel II, 14, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
If you want a truly unique dining experience in Barcelona, pay a visit to Disfrutar. This Michelin starred restaurant features a selection of fixed menus to choose from, each with more than twenty extraordinary tasting plates inspired by modern Mediterranean cuisine.
Disfrutar is expensive and typically requires a reservation far in advance. You’ll want to make your reservation months ahead of time (reservations can be made up to 180 days prior to your visit) and it’s more than 100 euros per person. However, if it’s something that interests you and it’s in your budget, a meal there is truly a culinary adventure that’s well worth the effort.
Disfrutar is open weekdays for a lunch service and dinner service. They are usually closed on Saturday and Sunday, with some exceptions. Disfrutar is located at Carrer de Villarroel, 163, 08036 Barcelona, Spain.
Visit the Picasso Museum
After all that eating, walk it off by visiting a museum.
One great museum in the city is the Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso de Barcelona) in the Gothic Quarter. It’s not too large, so it’s a perfectly manageable afternoon activity. The museum follows Picasso’s career chronologically and features many captivating pieces. The airy building and flow of the art makes it a wonderful place to wander and enjoy the afternoon.
The Picasso museum hours vary by season, with closures on some holidays. In the spring, summer, and early fall, the museum is open Mondays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m to 8:30 p.m., with the exception of Thursday, when it’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. During the late fall and winter, it is closed Monday and open Tuesday through Sunday, from 9:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., with the exception of Thursday, when it’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Hours may change, so make sure to check with the museum prior to your visit.
Tickets to the Picasso museum are 12 euros, with reduced prices available for children, students, and seniors. The museum is free on Thursdays after 6:00 p.m. and on the first Sunday of the month. The Picasso Museum is located at Carrer Montcada, 15-23, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
In order to be close to both the city center and the beach, stay in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic). Its narrow medieval streets wind through the tall, charming buildings filled with trendy restaurants and shops.
For a lovely hotel in the Gothic Quarter, check out H10 Montcada Boutique Hotel. It’s in a great location with a friendly staff and a charming interior. Plus, there’s a great rooftop deck with a bar and jacuzzi.
H10 Montcada Boutique Hotel is located at Via Laietana, 24, 08003 Barcelona, Spain.
Tips for Visiting Barcelona
- Barcelona is a large city, with landmarks spread all over, so you’ll need to use public transportation to get around. Barcelona has a pretty extensive public transit system with buses and the metro, and it’s not too difficult to use. If you’re really not comfortable navigating public transportation, there are also “hop on, hop off” bus tours that will take you around to all the sights. You can pick up one of these in various areas around the city, like Plaça de Catalunya.
- Make sure to carry some cash with you. Some spots in Barcelona are more credit card-friendly than others, so just make sure to have some cash on you. The currency in Spain is the euro.
- As with many other big, tourist-filled cities, pickpocketing is a known issue. Just make sure to be careful and be aware of your surroundings. Do your best to keep your belongings close to you and don’t draw attention to yourself as a tourist.
- Bathing suits are optional at some of the beaches. If you’re American, this is something that might surprise you! (If you’re not American or are already familiar with European beaches, you’re probably like, yeah, duh.) You’ll find topless or nude sunbathers at some of the beaches in Barcelona. Unlike the U.S., it’s a common practice here. There’s plenty of coastline, so if you come across a nude beach that makes you uncomfortable, just move along to the next beach. (Or better yet, join in! “When in Rome,” eh?)
- There are two official languages in Barcelona: Catalan and Spanish. It’s a big, international city full of visitors, so English is widely spoken as well, but make sure to go the polite route and learn a couple phrases of the local languages too.
Barcelona is a truly captivating city. Its distinctive neighborhoods, architecture, food (and wine!) and natural beauty make it difficult to leave.
There’s so much to do and see in the Catalan capital, but if you only have a short time, make sure to treat yourself to the architecture, art, seaside, and cuisine. Strike a balance of activity and relaxation, and you’ll have yourself a marvelous time. ¡Salud!