Renowned for incredible architecture, delicious food, and beautiful beaches, Barcelona was probably the main city I was most excited to see in Europe. Only problem? I’d nearly used up my 90-day Schengen visa on the rest of Europe and only had a few days! This time I had a hard deadline, and that was one I really couldn’t push back. But as it turned out, having limited time only made me plan my stay better than I had in any other country (shoutout to fellow USC-alum Liz of California2Catalonia for graciously housing me and helping out with this itinerary). In a jam-packed two days, I marveled at Barcelona’s main landmarks, indulged in food markets, relaxed on the beach, and truly felt like I saw it all. Google Maps will only let me add 10 stops to a route, but this was my first day in a nutshell:
1. Casa Milà (La Pedrera): Casa Milà was architect Antoni Gaudí ’s last work before devoting himself to the construction of the Sagrada Familia. Built between 1906-1912, it’s an unconventional apartment building that stands out against traditional architecture by using not a single straight line. Walking around Barcelona, you’ll start to notice the incredibly unique architecture and see the tremendous impact that Gaudí had on the look and feel of the entire city.
2. Casa Batlló: Designed from 1904-1906, Casa Batlló was originally the residence of the Batlló family and features colorful mosaics of wavy walls, further exemplifying Gaudí’s creativity and imagination. The result is just too pretty!
3. Plaça de Catalunya is Barcelona’s busiest square, which is very centrally located and full of shops and large department stores. It’s also the starting point for two of Barcelona’s most famous streets: la Rambla (which you’ll walk down next), and Passeig de Gràcia (the street of modernist architecture that you just walked down to see Casa Milà and Casa Batlló).
4. La Boqueria is a large public market where both tourists and locals alike come to shop. With meats, sweets, fresh juices, snacks, full meals, and more, I’d love to see you try to walk out with an empty stomach… As you make your way to and from La Boqueria, enjoy strolling la Rambla, the constantly bustling promenade full of kiosks, street performers, bars, and restaurants.
5. Barcelona Cathedral, also known as La Seu, is in the center of the Gothic Quarter. Though most of the construction was done in the 14th century, due to funding issues it wasn’t completed until the late 19th century. Fortunately the original Gothic-style design was adhered to. After seeing the Cathedral, spend some time wandering the surrounding Gothic Quarter, which contains remnants of the old Roman civilization that took over in the 2nd century.
6. El Born Barrio: A charming neighborhood with hip cafes, vibrant restaurants and bars, and trendy boutiques, El Born is teeming with nightlife, shopping, and culture, making it one of the most popular areas in the city. Plus, La Rambla and the city centre are just a quick 10 minute walk away.
7. Playa de la Barceloneta is your chance to chill out and rest your feet for a bit. You can swim, windsurf, kite surf, or just soak up the warm Spanish sun with a book in hand. If you’re hungry, stop by one of the beachside restaurants for tapas, paella, or the fresh catch of the day.
8. Transbordador Aeri del Port. Easily the most exciting way to view the city, this 7-minute cable car ride shoots across the city skyline rewarding you with stunning panoramic views of all the amazing monuments. One way is 11€, and be sure to check the times before you go (in off season it closes at 5:30, so we just missed it and had to bike instead)!
9. Castillo de Montjuïc: If you didn’t get enough great views from the cable car, you can still enjoy 360-degree views of the city from Montjuïc, an old military fortress dating back to the 17th century. Explore the castle, stroll the botanical gardens, or use the coin-operated telescopes to spy on your friends still lazing on the beach. Check times if you’re interested in seeing the Montjuic Fountain light show, which runs on weekends year round.
10. Plaça de Espanya: Known as Plaça de Espanya in Spanish (yes, it has the same name as the one in Sevilla), this square is where many of Barcelona’s main roads intersect. Though it gets crowded, it’s a beautiful square with incredible architecture and is home to a number of palaces, museums, and even Barcelona’s old bull-fighting ring, which is now a shopping mall called Las Arenas (your next stop).
11. Arenas de Barcelona (rooftop of Arenas shopping mall): Previously known as Plaza de toros de las Arenas, this old bullring was reopened in 2011 as a shopping mall named Arenas de Barcelona. Head up the escalators to the rooftop (or take the outdoor elevator for 1€) to enjoy more panoramic views of the city, and (if you time it correctly) an incredible sunset. Afterwards, enjoy the rest of the night and pick back up with the next destinations in the morning.
12. Park Güell: is a public park and one of Barcelona’s most beautiful icons. The park started with Eusebi Güell bought Carmel Hill and hired Gaudí to create a little community of upper class houses. Though the project didn’t work commercially, in 1922 the city bought the property for use as a public park, which now sees an estimated 4 million visitors per year. Access is limited, so make sure to book tickets in advance (7€). If you want to see the Gaudí House Museum (in Park Güell), you can get a discount if you buy a combo ticket with the Sagrada Família.
13. La Sagrada Família: If you only had time to see ONE thing in Barcelona, this would be it. La Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church and yet another work by Gaudí portraying his genius. The colors of light shining through the magnificent stained-glass windows and the incredible detail of each façade is simply breathtaking. Even as unfinished as it is, it attracts 2.8 million visitors per year, making it the most visited monument in Spain. It’s 15€ and a long wait in line to enter, but it’s worth it… I promise.
14. Montserrat: If you get through all that and still have some time, I highly recommend visiting Montserrat, which is an hour by train from Barcelona’s city centre. It’d be best to plan a full day, however I managed to fit it into the same day as Park Güell and La Sagrada Família (note that I started my day at sunrise and didn’t return until after dark).
The mountain of Montserrat is well-known for its Benedictine monastery, where monks come to stay for mountain retreats. While that was interesting enough to see, of course I most appreciated the spectacular views and the “Stairway to Heaven” sculpture. Unfortunately I couldn’t climb the stairway since it was closed for renovation, but I was happy to cross it off the bucket list nonetheless!
As always, keep on livin’ pura vida! ✌