Find expert tips, here on Plum Guide. From where to stay, what to eat, and what to see in some of the world’s finest cities. Find expert-approved homes too: Plum Guide is a collection of the very best vacation rentals in the world, approved by our expert Home Critics after a rigorous 150 point test.
For first time visitors, Barcelona can seem rather overwhelming. There is so much to do and seemingly so little time. That said, Barcelona is considerably smaller and more manageable than other major cities and you can really pack a lot into a short period of time.
When planning for how to spend a long weekend in Barcelona, consider your interests and travel style. Whether here for work or play, Barcelona will feel like a best friend in no time.
Let’s start with Barcelona’s biggest stunner: the Sagrada Familia. Designed by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the large and still unfinished Roman Catholic Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightfully so. Due to its rather nontraditional design, the church was actually not recognised by the Catholic Church until November 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the church and declared it a minor basilica.
After Gaudí’s unexpected death in 1926, construction plans temporarily halted, which is why certain design elements are visibly missing. As of now, the basilica is estimated to be complete by 2026. If that’s the case—assuming it doesn’t take longer—this means that the Sagrada Familia would have taken 10 times longer to build than the Great pyramids, 50 years more than the Great Wall of China and 123 years longer than the Taj Mahal.
As impressive as the basilica’s facade is, make sure to view Gaudí work inside. Due to popularity, we highly suggest you pre-purchase your tickets. That, and opt for some sort of tour (in-person or audio) so you really know what you’re looking at.
Worked up an appetite yet? We thought so. La Paradeta is a go-to for fresh seafood while Anauco serves up gourmet burgers that are melt-in-your-mouth good. For a vegetarian option, Arco Iris is your best bet.
From there, walk (or hop on the metro) to the Arc de Triomf and connecting Ciudadela Park. Dating back to the 19th century, Ciutadella Park was the earliest green space in the city. It spans 70 acres and while a popular tourist attraction, is big enough that you rarely feel overcrowded. Especially during the summer months, you’ll see plenty of street performers as you walk from the Arc de Triomf to the beautiful fountain featuring large golden hours drawn chariots and steps leading to the top.
There’s so much to do at Ciutadella, that you really could plan an entire day here. Many people pack picnics and enjoy on a patch of green grass shaded by the trees; others plant themselves on a bench to read or, even better, people watch. Families and couples gravitate toward the rowboats on the lake, which are available to the public much like they are in New York’s Central Park. Don’t forget about the greenhouse—many people do—for some much-needed shade and some very nice-smelling plants.
When the sun dips a little, take a stroll through Born until you reach the neighbouring Gothic quarter. It sounds far but in reality, it’s a 10-15 minute walk. Gothic dates back more than 2,000 years and many parts appear frozen in time. Cobbled streets, hidden alleys and pedestrian-only plazas give visitors a visual of what life was like for residents hundreds of years ago.
Next up is a visit to the Cathedral of Barcelona. Constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, it is truly a work of art. Before going inside the cathedral, take a good look at the facade, most notably the gargoyles of animals—both real and imagined—built into the roof.
The cathedral is dedicated to the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Eulalia of Barcelona, who according to the Catholic Church, was martyred during Roman Times. Speaking of Roman Times, you can visit a real Roman Temple (Temple d’August), tucked away on a narrow street behind the cathedral.
While Spain is a very Catholic country, the Gothic quarter has strong connections to the Jewish community as well. El Call, Barcelona’s old Jewish Quarter is considered the most beautiful, what with its super narrow streets and lively tapa culture. It’s also where the old synagogue is located, along with two of the best teahouses in all of Barcelona.
Need a stiff one? We feel you. Pop into Hotel Colon across the street from the Barcelona Cathedral and head to their small, two-level rooftop (open to non-guests). It’s easily one of our favourite views of Barcelona and probably the best view of the cathedral. Plus, the sangrias are top-notch.
A couple of minutes walk away is Plaça Reial, which was one of Antonio Gaudi’s first projects in Barcelona. The plaza is lined with restaurants, cafes and a few bars including Pipa Club, which has a loungy, New York feel to it. Come here for a cocktail and stay for the free bowls of popcorn with a curry kick.
WHERE TO STAY:
Rise and shine to another sunny day in Barcelona; seriously though, it’s almost always stupidly sunny here. If you’re eager to take a dip in The Med, head to Barceloneta first thing. This is one of the most crowded areas of Barcelona, especially during the summer months and at times can become a sensory overload.
Stroll, bike or rollerblade along the promenade while the temps are still low enough. You’ll see locals getting in their morning run or doing sun salutations on the beach. There’s usually a few people swimming in the ocean, while other groups participate in outdoor fitness classes like kickboxing or high intensity interval training.
Barceloneta also has an interesting art scene and many sculptures are set along the promenade. The neighbourhood sure has come a long way from its 18th century fisherman village days. The W Hotel is one of the more notable buildings, featuring a transparent glass exterior that reflects the waves. Then there’s the Frank Gehry golden fish sculpture made of gold coloured stainless steel.
Hungry yet? Grab a coffee or a quick bite at the very Instagrammable Brunch & Cake or treat yourself a hearty burger and fries at Makamaka. Of course, for fresh seafood, Barceloneta is your oyster (see what we did there?).
After a well-deserved siesta (hey, you’re in Spain after all!) make your way to The Ramblas. While there are a few different rambles throughout the city, this is the most frequented. Stretching from Plaça de Catalunya in Eixample to the port, you’ll find stalls ranging from flower stands to gelato shops along the tree-lined boulevard.
Along the Ramblas, closer to the Plaça de Catalunya side, is the beloved Boqueria market. If you’re not good with crowds, skip this but if not, it’s well worth a wander even if you’re not hungry. The market sells everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to meats, seafood and cheese. Either stock up on groceries to bring back to your rental or grab a quick bite to tide you over until dinner…which in Spain, is around 10 pm.
Plaça de Catalunya is the gateway to the best parts of Eixample, a district so large it was once its own city. Plaça de Catalunya is kind of like Times Square if there was an equivalent. It’s packed with eateries, major fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Desigual.
From an architectural point of view, Eixample has a certain look and feel to it. Unlike the narrow streets in the Gothic quarter, Eixample streets are considerably wider and laid out in a grid formation. It’s also where you’ll find two of Gaudí’s masterpieces: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. Casa Batlló is a remodel of a previously built house, while Casa Milà is a modernist building and the last private residence Gaudí designed.
With the day coming to an end, head to one of Eixample’s rooftops for a glass of bubbly as you toast the sunset. 1898 on the Ramblas (and in neighbouring Raval) is a posh option, but our personal pick is the rooftop at the Mandarin Oriental. There’s a minimum spend required (currently 18 euro), but well worth the splurge. Alternatively, order a round at Cotton House. Their bar and the connecting outdoor patio is beautifully decorated and service is stellar.
Alternatively, you can catch the colourful Magic Fountain music and light show. Located minutes from Plaça d'Espanya, The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc has 3,620 water jets that circulate 1,600 litres of water every second…yes, every second! During the show, which takes place on select nights including Saturdays, there are close to 5,000 lights, resulting in 7 billion light and water combinations. Phew, did you get all that?
While the show is free, it’s also really popular, so plan to arrive early to snag the best viewpoints. We’d say an hour in advance is enough time to get settled. Two great viewing spots are the steps leading up to the MNAC museum and the pedestrian bridge near Plaza de España.
WHERE TO STAY:
Celebrate your last full day in Barcelona with a visit to Gaudí’s peaceful Park Güell. The park is located in La Salut, a neighbourhood in the charming Gracia district. Built from 1900 to 1914, the park you see today features gardens, colourful artwork and unique architectonic elements like stone structures, twisting rock pillars, the Gaudí dragon fountain, not to mention panoramic views of the city. Note—if you’re on a budget, head to their official website to see if and when the park offers free admission.
After your visit, walk a bit south until you reach the heart of Gracia—one of the most quintessential Catalon neighbourhoods in Barcelona. There are a dozen or so plazas dotted throughout Gracia, giving the neighbourhood a local feel and while most of the independent designer boutiques will be closed on Sundays, there is no shortage of bars, restaurants and cafes.
From Gracia, consider heading back down to Born. Architecturally speaking, Born is quite the showstopper. Take in the facade of the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a 20th-century artistic moment that coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Religious or not, there’s no denying the beauty of Santa María del Mar—some say they prefer it to the Barcelona Cathedral.
If you’re saving a museum visit for a rainy day, you may miss out altogether. Instead, visit one of Born’s museums during peak heat and cool off with some culture, literally. If you didn’t know, Pablo Picasso arrived at the Born neighbourhood at the age of 15; today, you can learn more about his work, with the Picasso Museum and the El Born Cultural Center. There’s also the European Museum of Modern Art, which tends to get less attention than the Picasso Museum but is still a must-see in our book.
WHERE TO STAY:
If you play your cards right, you’ll have a pretty free afternoon. That leaves you with a couple of different options. One would be to visit Montjuic Castle—note, this is near Plaça d'Espanya where you caught the sound and light show if you choose to squeeze this into your Saturday itinerary. Another option is to visit one of Barcelona’s classic theatres - Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Palau de la Musica Catalan are the most iconic.
If what you’re really craving is a break from the crowds (you’re well deserving of one by the way), head to Camp Nou for a stadium tour or explore the beaches of Poblenou, which are far less crowded and even nicer than Barceloneta. Poblenou is one of Barcelona’s most up-and-coming neighbourhoods and actively attracts tech companies from around the world.
For your last night in Barcelona, take in the epic view from the Carmel Bunkers. Located at the top of Turó de la Rovira in the Carmel neighbourhood, the bunkers are a series of old, underground military bunkers built during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 to defend against attacks. Today, it’s a popular place to drink a beer (or three) and watch the sunset over the city. To get here, the closest metro stop is Guinardó Hospital de Sant Pau and then a walk up the hill.
Not ready to end your night? We get it. Muster up some energy and go on a self-guided bar crawl through Born. Of course, you’ll want to re-visit the neighbourhood during the day to visit some of the neighbourhood’s many monuments and museums.
Start your night off with a craft cocktail at the secret bar, Paradiso. Truth be told, in the summer months, it doesn’t feel so secret, as there is usually a line out the door. From the outside of the bar, it looks like some sort of fast-food joint. Then you find the ‘hidden’ door and enter a paradise of sorts. Dim lighting, avant-garde decor and ridiculously creative cocktails make this a perfect place to kick start your night. Our personal favourite is ‘The Trojan Horse,’ if for nothing else because it arrives at your table in an actual horse made of wood and is super strong to boot.
Another fan favourite is El Xampanyet; This place is filled to the brim every night and for good reason. The old tavern is family-run and boasts traditional Catalan design like azulejo tiles and wineskin bottles. Come on the early side if you want to sit down at a table. Otherwise, there are some mini tables located near the bar where you’ll eat shoulder-to-shoulder with other patrons.