When it comes to traveling, some of us might not have the luxury of spending many days in one place. Whether it’s due to rushed planning or limited vacation time off from work, it can be hectic trying to research and cram in as much as possible into sightseeing a city or country. In the end, it might be exhausting, and it perhaps could detract you from enjoying your adventure away from home.
Having been inspired by the many Internet articles (one of the most-famous including the New York Times’ “36 Hours in…” segment) that showcase ideal itineraries in a set destination, I’d thought that I would also start a similar series on this blog to offer some of my own suggestions of things to do, see, and eat in well-renown cities in the world.
What makes my series different from the others online would be the fact that I’m by no means a professional traveler (e.g. no sponsors, all-paid resorts, etc.), and that what I will suggest are based on my own personal experiences having visited a certain place at least twice, in order to ensure a more-comprehensive outlook on the city itself.
Many online articles in the same vein also tend to cater towards mid-to-upper class travelers who can actually afford hotels and fine-dining restaurants, which I assume many people in their 20’s, even 30’s, can’t have. That’s why I’m catering this series to the budget-friendly, backpack-traveler nomad who doesn’t mind staying in hostels, taking overnight buses, or eating at hole-in-the-wall joints while still getting a fulfilling experience in traveling. This one’s for you, folks! PS Check out my “72-Hour” posts on Budapest and Prague!
72 Hours in Barcelona: Things to See and Do
Barcelona requires no introduction to the average traveler: with over 20 million visitors each year, this city is sprawling and rich in just about anything you could imagine for a holiday: beautiful beaches, awe-inspiring architecture, and tons of nightlife fun. Students and holiday-goers alike flock to Barcelona for these very reasons, to get a taste of what this Catalonian powerhouse of a city has to offer in a short time.
I first visited Barcelona in June 2006 when I was a teenager, then nearly ten years later in February 2016 as a full-fledged adult. My experiences with each visit were vastly-different, as I’d been in different stages of my life– all the same, I’ve grown fond of this lively, vibrant city after enjoying both trips, and I offer my share of what you could do and see in Barcelona in a mere 72 hours:
11 am — 12 pm
Perhaps you’d just arrived in the night before, and you’re much too jet-lagged to hit the first day hard in sightseeing. Give yourself the luxury of enjoying a lie-in at your accommodation, before slowly making your way out to grab a seat at a cafe for a late breakfast. Keep it light with a bite napolitana de chocolate, along with a cup of coffee or tea. Take in your surroundings by people watching, all the while gradually adjusting to the rhythm of the bustling city center.
12 pm — 2 pm
Make your way to the Parc de la Ciutadella, a green oasis in the heart of Barcelona. Pass under the Arc de Triomf on your way in, and spend a couple of hours strolling the massive area. Lose yourself in the greenery, happening upon the occasional statue and perhaps paying a visit to the Barcelona Zoo. Otherwise, find a spot to sit down and take in the idleness and pleasant temperatures (weather-permitting, of course).
2 pm — 7 pm
Continue the nature-themed first day by heading 20 minutes toward the coastline, towards the popular Barceloneta Beach. With close to a mile of beach access, this famed place originally housed the fishing district of Barcelona, and has since become a tourist spot for sunbathing, swimming, and overall enjoying the good weather in the south of Spain. If you brought your bathing suit, now’s the time to break it out!
Almost all restaurants in Barcelona (and Spain, in general) don’t open for lunch until 2 pm, at earliest– in fact, don’t expect to have your midday meal until close to 3! While restaurants along Barceloneta are pricier than inland, take advantage of the beautiful views by enjoying your lunch at one of the eateries. When in Spain, you must get paella– seafood, in this case. Pair it with a glass of strong vermouth, and you’re set for the day. At this point, the jet-lag has probably set in again, so you retreat to your accommodation, where you proceed to knock out for the rest of the night.
9 am — 11 am
Less groggy and more-energetic, you set your sights on all things Antoni Gaudí on your second day in town. This famed 20th century Catalan artist is world renown, best-known for plenty of architectural works scattered all over the city. Your day will be dedicated to this revolutionary Modernist artist, which will take you on a thrilling, visual ride throughout Barcelona.
You head out early to La Sagrada Familia. This is Gaudí’s most-famous masterpiece, as it’d first began construction in 1882 and has yet to be completed (projected for 2026). Lines can be long, so it’s best to arrive before it opens at 10 am to secure a ticket inside. Take your time admiring the interior, an eclectic blend of whimsical designs inspired by geometry and nature. Be in awe at the rainbow stained-glass, and if weather permits, head up to the top for panoramic city views. Definitely a must-see for anyone who goes to Barcelona.
11 am — 3 pm
There’s more Gaudí on the agenda, as you make it over to Passeig de Gràcia, a major bustling street for business and shopping. This is also the stretch of architectural masterpieces (“Illa de la Discòrdia”), created by Gaudí and his successors. The most-famous is Casa Batlló, with its exterior as whimsical as the artist himself. Pay the admission fee to explore this strange, skeletal building before reaching its rooftop with its fairy tale chimneys.
If time and money permits it, try hitting the other Modernist buildings on the street, which includes Casa Milà, Casa Lleó Morera, and Casa Amatller. They’re all brilliantly-designed, each with their own distinctive flair once you step inside. Otherwise, take a pause to rest your feet and have a quick bite at one of the many cafes on the busy Passeig de Gràcia, before moving on to your next destination.
3 pm — 7 pm
Grab the metro north to Park Guëll, another of Gaudí’s delights. It helps to book a timed ticket in advance to avoid the crowds, especially in the afternoon. The place itself isn’t as big as you might’ve believed, but it’s dense in lush vegetation and copious landmarks of Gaudí’s creation. Begin with the Serpentine Bench before snaking your way through the park on to the flourishing Austrian Gardens, the Laundry Room Portico, and “El Drac,” the impressive, mosaic salamander statue. Spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sites on the bench while making your money’s worth of the experience.
7 pm — night
Return to the city center for tapas as dinner. My personal favorite is Quimet y Quimet, located in the El Poble-Sec neighborhood. It’s a bit of a ways out from the more-touristy parts, but the food is incredible. Get there before they open at 7 pm to ensure a spot at the bar. Get the pork cheek with chips and artichokes with Brie cheese and caviar– you won’t regret it!
If you are still up for adventure, try your hand at Barcelona’s nightlife. The Gothic Quarter is a good bet, especially with the most tourists, so you can’t go wrong there. Enjoy going until the early morning, until the sun calls for you to head back to your accommodation for some much-needed sleep.
12 pm — 3 pm
Perhaps you’d stayed out too late the night before, so it’s a matter of taking it slow on your last day in Barcelona. Or take the leap and throw yourself into the chaos of La Rambla, a 1.2-kilometer pedestrian stretch lined with street artists, tourist-trap restaurants, souvenir shops, and unfortunately the occasional pickpocket. Take in the chaotic excitement as you stroll the street, all the while keeping your valuables close.
After some time, you’ll reach Plaça de Catalunya, considered “ground zero” of Barcelona. This is the very heart of the city, and you can enjoy its sculptures before turning around to return to the chaotic La Rambla. Stop by La Boqueria, a historic covered market which dates all the way back to the 13th century! Here, you have infinite food options for a snack or light lunch before going on your merry way.
3 pm — 7 pm
Spend your time again in the Gothic Quarter, this time in the day. You can choose to enter the 13th-century Barcelona Cathedral or opt for a couple of hours at the Picasso Museum, dedicated to the famed Spanish artist. Otherwise, it’s a matter of getting lost in the labyrinth-like streets of the most-historic part of the city itself.
7 pm — night
Enjoy a nice, sit-down dinner before heading to Montjuïc, a hill upon which its eponymous castle stands. Admire its castle and fortifications before sundown, and stay until dark to watch the water-and-light show of the Font Màgica. It’s dazzling exhibition is absolutely mesmerizing, and it’s the perfect way to cap off a busy, but fun-filled time in Barcelona.
…touristy as it is, Barcelona has a good reason as to why so much tourists visit every year. From its stunning beaches to Gaudí architecture to thriving nightlife, it has so much going for it. Whether you only have 72 hours or a lifetime, you’ll never run out of things to see and do in this Catalan city.
More of this series to come soon. Thank you for reading!