What To Do in a Few Days in Barcelona, Spain

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Curated By

Shannon Jones

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  • Barcelona

  • Arts & Culture

  • Food & Wine

  • Architecture

  • Ancient Sites

  • Shopping

What To Do in a Few Days in Barcelona, Spain
Curator’s statement

I had long wanted to visit Barcelona since it’s the setting of my all-time favorite book, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon, and because so many people have told me over the years that it’s their all-time favorite city. So when I had the opportunity to book a last-minute off-season getaway to Barcelona, I jumped at the chance. If you’re a foodie, enjoy fine libations and beautiful architecture, then Barcelona won’t disappoint.

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Where to stay

The W Barcelona

Embrace the glamorous coastal lifestyle at W Barcelona, where modern luxury, stunning views, and an energetic atmosphere come together to create an unforgettable stay experience on the vibrant shores of Barcelona.

Fora Perks
  • $100 food / beverage / spa credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

The Barcelona EDITION

With a modern design merging the timeless aesthetic of Ian Schrager and the bold buzz of Barcelona, this hotel features sophisticated guest rooms, suites and 2 penthouses with unparalleled views of the city.

Fora Perks
  • $100 hotel / resort credit.

  • VIP welcome & amenity.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

Hotel Casa Fuster

Catalan Modernist-style hotel with luxury rooms and a Mediterranean restaurant.

Fora Perks
  • Complimentary breakfast daily for two guests per room.

  • Early check-in and check-out (when available).

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Unlock perks by contacting Shannon to book your trip.

Barcelona is a great standalone destination, or a jumping-off point to explore the rest of Spain, hop over to Mallorca, or head up the Costa Brava. Whether you’re there for a few days or much longer, there are some spots you won’t want to miss.

Architecture

Antoni Gaudi is one of the best known and most influential architects and if you’re headed to Barcelona, you definitely want to take some time to see some of his work in person. If you don’t have time to see everything, these three spots will provide you with a nice overview. Make sure to book your tickets online ahead of time as these are all very popular and often sell out. You’ll need to choose times for each, and if you’re seeing multiple places in one day, I’d allow about two hours for Park Guell and at least an hour to an hour and a half for each of the others here, plus of course time to get from one place to the other, and time to stop for tapas and sangrias.

Great Gaudi Sights
Park Guell - Originally intended as a housing project, it’s now a park where you can stroll through and see colorful mosaics, outstanding views, and iconic architecture. Here’s a tip - if you start at the northernmost entrance, you’ll find yourself walking downhill most of the way. Buy tickets on the official website here.

Sagrada Familia - If you’ve ever seen any pictures of Barcelona, chances are they were of Sagrada Familia and if you limit yourself to just one Gaudi structure, this should be it. Yes, it’s crowded both in the church and in the area around it and yes it’s a bit gaudy on the outside (prompting me to look up the etymology of that word and they aren’t actually related). But the details on the structure and the light inside are something you really have to see to believe. Under construction for more than 140 years now, it’s still not finished but what’s there is absolutely worth seeing. You can buy tickets here.

La Pedrera (Casa Mila) - There are a lot of other great Gaudi projects to see, but this iconic apartment building is the one I’d recommend and here’s why: You get to walk through one of the apartments that’s furnished the way it would have been, you get to see the attic (the best part in my opinion), and you get to walk around a really cool rooftop with amazing views. Definitely get tickets, and if you go early, you may find it a bit less crowded. Also, if you have mobility issues, note that if you ask, they’ll let you take the elevator up to the rooftop and back again. Tickets here.

Other Architectural Gems
While Gaudi may be the architect most closely associated with Barcelona, if you’re a lover of beautiful architecture, there are some other spots you won’t want to miss. Here’s a couple that I especially loved on my trip.

Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau - This one wasn’t even in the pocket guidebook I took along, and it was far less crowded than the Gaudi sites but incredibly beautiful. This was designed by Domenech i Montaner as a hospital campus in the early 1900s. Its turrets, tilework and other modernist architectural details make the campus of 17 buildings a great place to explore. You can buy tickets here.

Cathedral of Barcelona - This Gothic cathedral is in the heart of the Gothic Quarter and even if you don’t go inside, you’ll definitely want to spend some time outfront, perhaps watching acrobats or listening to street musicians. Opposite the cathedral, Hotel Colon is a nice place to stop for a cocktail and do some people watching. Grab a table just outside the hotel or pop up to the rooftop, though there may be a wait for the latter.

An arched orange structure at the end of a road

Image 1: Arc De Triomf Barcelona ; Image 2: Park Guell

Castell de Montjuic - I must confess that I’m a sucker for a castle and I was very excited about seeing this place based on what it looks like from the outside. It is worth going to for the view over Barcelona and for the trip up and back on the cable car. However, there is really not much of the interior that’s accessible and worth viewing so if you’re tight on time, you could skip this.

Shopping

Gothic Quarter & El Born - These neighborhoods both have winding streets that are filled with tons of traditional shops selling everything from antiques to clothes, jewelry, artwork, and more. If you want unique gift items, these are fun areas to look. The neighborhoods are also filled with great restaurants and bars so you can shop and then stop for some refreshments and then shop some more.

Paseo de Gracia - If you are looking for exclusive, luxury shops, then this is your destination. Stroll down this iconic street and even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything, you’ll enjoy perusing the window displays as well as some examples of the city’s finest architecture by Gaudi and some of his contemporaries, including La Pedrera, Casa Batllo and others.

Markets

Barcelona has great food markets in neighborhoods throughout the city filled with lovely fresh produce and delicious cheeses, meats, and baked goods.

Mercat de la Boqueria - I had so many people tell me that they adored this market, but it was so crowded that a quick stroll through was plenty for me. Unless you are going at the beginning of the day when there are fewer people, or unless you enjoy being jostled a lot, I would probably skip this and head to one of the other markets.

Mercat de Santa Caterina - Situated in the Born neighborhood, Mercat de Santa Caterina attracts some tourists, but also a number of people shopping for produce, meat, fish, and cheese. There are a few restaurants on the edge and you can sit and watch life go by. If you want a birds-eye view of the vibrantly colored roof, head for a cocktail at the rooftop bar of the Barcelona Edition Hotel.

Other Sights

Barcelona is one of those places that can expand to fit the time you have for it. There are museums, including a great Picasso museum in the El Born neighborhood, a Catalan History museum, along with an aquarium, a zoo, and many other options. Looking to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh air? Head to Ciutadella Park a - don’t miss the Arc de Triomf. Or down to La Barceloneta and enjoy some seafood while you look out over boats in the marina and then walk along the beach. If you have enough time for day trips, Montserrat, Girona, and Sitges can all be easily reached by train - or you can schedule a guided tour.

Exterior of the Sagrada Familia Exterior

Image 1: Sagrada Familia Exterior ; Image 2: Casa Mila

Eating and Drinking

Barcelona is a delightful destination for foodies. Whether you want to make a meal of tapas, enjoy delicious paella or eat any other ethnic cuisine, you’ll find what you’re looking for here. Here were some of the spots we enjoyed during our recent trip.

Mimo’s Born - Delicious tapas, grilled steak, seafood paella and an assortment of other dishes, plus some of the best sangria in all of Barcelona. If you like sangria, be sure to order it here. You won’t be disappointed.

Paradiso - Barcelona’s bars frequently top the lists of best bars, and this one sits at the top. Visit and you’ll see why. The entry is speakeasy style. You go through the refrigerator door in a pastrami shop. Once you’re in, the menu of cocktails is like nothing you’ve ever seen, the delivery is dramatic and they’re expertly crafted and delicious. Insider tip: Go early to avoid a long wait to get in, or sign up for the waitlist via the QR out front and then stroll around El Born shops nearby.

Gran Viana - Traditional Catalan cuisine prepared well. This is a cozy restaurant in the heart of the Gothic Quarter offering delicious food and great service. Start with a blackberry mojito and try the prix fixe menu and you won’t be disappointed.

A large pan of seafood paella

Image 1: Paella at Mimos ; Image 2: Window shopping on Passeig de Gracia Barcelona

Carmela - This is a great spot for brunch or lunch. They offer traditional favorites such as benedicts along with some other inventive options. The mimosas are good here and it’s conveniently situated to the Palau de Musica so if you’re headed there, this is a nice spot to stop before or after.

Ziryab - Situated on a small back street of the El Born neighborhood, this cozy restaurant offers what they dub “Mediterranean fusion tapas.” We dubbed it delicious. We enjoyed the bacon wrapped dates so much we ordered another plate of them. Yum.

Billy Brunch - For a delicious American style breakfast or brunch with multiple convenient ocations. Everything here was amazing and the service was super friendly and efficient. Tip: If you like latte art, make sure to order a latte because theirs is the best we’ve ever seen.

Where to Stay

W Barcelona - The iconic “sail shaped” building, this five-star hotel is situated along the boardwalk of Barceloneta beach, putting you front and center for dining on seafood and taking in views. You’re also convenient to the Gothic Quarter.
Perks:
Welcome amenity
Complimentary breakfast daily for two guests per room
$100 USD hotel credit (once per stay)*
Complimentary basic Wi-Fi daily
Early check-in and late check-out (when available)
Complimentary upgrade (if available at check-in)

The Barcelona EDITION- Tucked right in the edge of trendy El Born neighborhood, this boutique hotel offers stylish, sophisticated rooms and a rooftop bar with amazing views of the colorful tile roof of adjacent Mercat de Santa Caterina. The central location is unbeatable.
Perks:
Complimentary breakfast daily for two guests per room
Hotel credit valued at $100 USD (once per stay)
Complimentary basic Wi-Fi daily
Early check-in and late check-out (when available)
Complimentary upgrade (if available at check-in)

Hotel Casa Fuster - If you want to not only see art-deco style architecture while you’re in Barcelona, but also stay in one of the buildings, then this may be the spot for you. Situated on Passeig de Gracia, this hotel has 105 suites and rooms decorated in natural tones plus a rooftop bar with a view.
Perks:
Complimentary breakfast daily for two guests per room
Early check-in and check-out (when available)

Need to Know

I recommend visiting Barcelona if you love architecture, history, art, food and / or cocktails. It's a great city to walk in and there's plenty of things to do off-season as well as during warmer weather when you can lounge on the beach or by a rooftop pool This is a great destination for couples, for a girl's getaway or as a solo traveler.

This trip report is part of our ongoing series on travel to Barcelona. In need of further inspiration? Check out Michelle Zelena’s guide, Good-For-All Romantic Guide to Barcelona.

Travel advisor Shannon Jones smiling with sunglasses on head

Travel Advisor

Shannon Jones

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