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.
Above: Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
After a few visits to the city, I’ve always found the lovely wine and tapas land. Nestled up against the Mediterranean, Barcelona 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.
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 in a couple days. The key is to balance sightseeing and relaxation. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Barcelona, Spain.
Above: City view from Park Güell
Day One: Gaudi & the Sea
You, quite frankly, cannot visit Barcelona without seeing work by Antoni Gaudí. I think 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; colored glass and tree-like columns provide a sense of peace within its sculpted stone walls. The site does get quite busy, so make sure to book tickets online ahead of time, and the earlier you book your entry time, the better.
Above: The Sagrada Familia
For another of Gaudí’s works combining architecture and nature, head up to Park Güell. This large public park 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.
Once you’ve spent enough time seeing the sites, head to the beach and relax. After all, a visit to the sea is a must in Barcelona. There are many to choose from, but I recommend opting for one of the lesser-visited and therefore more relaxing beaches. Head to Mar Bella or Nova Mar Bella. Both are about a 10-minute walk from the Poblenou metro stop. A variety of beach bars line the boardwalk and are a great place to grab a drink.
Above: View from a beach bar near Mar Bella
Day Two: Food & Museums
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 and paella are a must. Barcelona is filled with delicious tapas, but Taller de Tapas is a good option; there are a couple of them around the city. 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.
Above: A sample of one of the two dozen or so tasting plates at Disfrutar
If you want a truly unique dining experience in Barcelona, pay a visit to Disfrutar. This Michelin starred restaurant features a small selection of fixed menus to choose from, each with more than twenty extraordinary tasting plates inspired by modern Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant is pretty pricey and requires a reservation far in advance (like, seriously far in advance; think six months plus). However, a meal there is truly a culinary adventure that’s well worth the effort.
After all this eating, walk it off by visiting a museum. One of my favorites is the Picasso Museum. 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.
Above: Rooftops of the Gothic Quarter
Tip: Where to Stay
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. A lovely hotel, complete with rooftop bar and spa, is H10 Montcada Boutique Hotel. It’s in a great location with a friendly staff and a charming interior. Of course, for more budget friendly options, there’s always AirBnB.
Above: Enjoying a drink and the view on the rooftop at the H10 Montcada Boutique Hotel. Photo by Paxton Swafford.
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.