Barcelona: A perfect long weekend beyond the tourist hot spots

Sandra Rosenau Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2020 Spain Leave a Comment

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Jaume, my long-term boyfriend 20+ years ago was from Barcelona. We both lived in Germany at the time but came to visit his parents in the suburb of St Gervasi at least once a year. Barcelona was beautiful back in those days (as is it today). But in the 1990s, over-tourism didn’t exist: You could stroll around Park Güell freely, visit (what was already built of) the Sagrada Familia whenever you wanted and didn’t have to queue outside Casa Mila or Casa Batlló.

That's me at the fountain in Park Güell in the 1990s

These days, thanks largely due to a massive influx in cruise ship tourists, entry to the sights I just mentioned needs to be booked well in advance – for a specified date and time. Not only that: Paying double-digit entry fees at every one of these sights, will very quickly burn a hole in your wallet.

Thankfully, Barcelona has so much more to offer than the sights that are on every tourism marketing brochure. Barcelona is a real gem for architecture buffs. But it also has many hilly parks boasting beautiful vistas over the city.

You can enjoy views like this from many vantage points in Barcelona | Photo by rubns28 on Pixabay

The Catalan capital makes for an ideal long weekend getaway – for those of you who live in Europe but also for those who come from further afield and want to get a taste of the city.

If you are looking for inspiration for your long weekend in Barcelona look no furtherOur itinerary gives you three fun-packed days full of activities (largely) off the beaten tourist trail: from architectural discoveries beyond Gaudí’s masterpieces to outdoor activities in Barcelona’s green lungs. Enjoy!

When is the best time to visit Barcelona?

Barcelona is a destination you can visit all year round, even in Winter. Our favourite travel seasons are Spring and Autumn, when the weather is more reliable (and warmer) than in Winter, but it’s not quite as crowded as during the Summer months.

Cruise ships visit Barcelona every month of the year (and almost every day). The lowest number anchors in Winter, but at all other times, you can encounter up to 8 (!) cruise ships a day (that’s how many cruise ship terminals the port of Barcelona has). Just google cruise ship schedule Barcelona for the latest update.

Friday

If you didn’t arrive last night, make sure you arrive first thing in the morning. Drop your luggage at your accommodation (or  with a service such as Luggage Hero), as your first activity will start at 1100h.

1100h

If you’ve been following us, you’ll know: we love free walking tours. They’re such a great way to get your bearings in a new place and give you the chance to ask a local in the know (aka your guide) a gazillion questions – all just for a tip.

Our recommended walking tour for your first day in Barcelona is a free 2 1/2 hour walking tour that introduces you to Catalan Art Nouveau and its most famous representative, Antoni Gaudí.

Two of the Catalan Art Nouveau gems you'll learn more about during your free walking tour | Photo by giselaneira on Pixabay

The tour starts at Plaça Reial and finishes at the Sagrada Familia.

It’s a short walk across La Rambla to Gaudi’s first masterpiece, Palau Güell. Afterwards, you’ll head to the Eixample district (the brainchild of urban planner Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer), stopping at Gaudi’s creations Casa Batlló and Casa Mila (La Pedrera), but also at Art Nouveau gems of other Catalonian architects: Palau Malagrida (by Joaquim Codina), Casa Lleó Morera (by Lluís Domènech i Montaner) and Casa Amatller (by Josep Puig i Cadafalch); as well as the Neo-Gothic Casas Rocamora (designed by Joaquín and Bonaventura Bassegoda i Amigó).

After a short metro ride, you’ll also get to see (the outside of) Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia.

These housing blocks with bevelled corners are typical for the Eixample district of Barcelona | Photo by Gokhun Guneyhan on Unsplash

Interested in learning about Spain through entertainment? These inspiration travel movies will allow you to go on your own virtual tour around the world.

1330h

Happy but starving, and suffering from a bit of information and sensory overload? Why don’t you pop into one of the many cafes and restaurants in the surrounding area of the Sagrada Familia? Sit down (your lower back will thank you), have lunch and let it all sink in.

1430h

Exploring the interior of the Sagrada Familia can easily take 2 hours. Make sure you organise your tickets well in advance to avoid missing out.

Views like this await you when you explore the interior of the Sagrada Familia | Photo by CD_Photosaddict on Pixabay

1630h

How amazing was this? Sorry about the crowds.

Still got some energy left? Okay. We suggest heading to the waterfront next. To get there, take bus #V19 from Passeig de Sant Joan (just south of the intersection with Diagonal) to Barceloneta and walk to the cable car station. Take the cable car to Montjuic and stop for afternoon tea at the café at the top before you continue – either on foot (2 km) or by bus #150 (the stop is just after the roundabout on Avenida Miramar).

Take the cable car from Barceloneta to Montjuic for bird's eye views of Barcelona's port area | Photo by Behzad Ghaffarian on Unsplash

Looking for a food tour full of historic insights that is affordable and supports the local community? bitemojo tours tick all the boxes – and they are right here in Barcelona as well.

1830h

Explore the area that hosted the 1992 Olympic Games. Then walk through the Botanical Garden towards the Magic Fountain near Plaça d’Espanya to watch the sunset.

Your stroll will take you past the Palau Nacional which was built for the International Exposition of 1929. Today, this majestic Spanish Renaissance-inspired building houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

2000h (Winter)/2100h (Summer)

The best spot to watch the music and light show is from the four columns right by the Magic Fountain. Make sure you turn up well ahead of time to position yourself in the front row.

The Magic Fountain is definitely crowded, but watching the water and lights change with the music, is still pretty cool

As you look back up towards Montjuic and the stepped fountain in front of the Palau Nacional, you can see the two art nouveau palaces Alfonso XIII and Victoria Eugenia on either side. Both were designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (yep, the same one who created Casa Amatller). By the way, he also designed the original four columns that used to stand here.

Right next to the fountain, you will spot a flat, light-coloured building of plain, straight lines. This is the former German Pavilion, Pavelló Alemany, a great example for the Rationalist architecture of the 1920s/1930s. This building was designed by none other than Mies van der Rohe.

Barcelona is not all about Catalan Art Nouveau... | Photo by Jean-Philippe Delberghe on Unsplash

How do I get around Barcelona?

There is no Uber or Cabify in Barcelona. Yep, taxi companies have successfully kicked the local sharing economy in the butt. And the taxi service is accordingly dismal. But don’t fret. Barcelona has a cheap and efficient public transport system that operates around the clock.

Best is to buy a T-10 card (at any metro station), which you can share with your fellow travel buddies. The T-10 card costs EUR10.20, which means each ride only costs EUR1.02. Even better: you can travel for up to 90 minutes (including up to three transfers).

Unfortunately, you can’t use the T-10 card on the metro from/to the airport. You could get a separate metro ticket to get into town/return to the airport. Alternatively, take buses #A1 (from/to Terminal 1) or #A2 (from/to Terminal 2) to/from Plaça de Catalunya and the metro from/to there (all on the one T-10 card ride).

Saturday

If you headed out last night, you will have noticed that Barcelonès (the people of Barcelona) dine very late. 2200h to midnight is pretty normal. Likewise, they don’t start the day at the crack of dawn. So, your second day here won’t start that early either. Make sure though you have a good breakfast before you venture out because we’ve got a lot lined up for you today too.

1100h

To start with, we’ve got two options to choose from, depending on your liking and your language skills:

Option 1

For another taste of 1930s Rationalism, head to Casa Bloc in the suburb of St Andreu. The Design Museum (Museu del Disseny) does guided tours of this apartment complex (which includes an apartment that was reinstated almost entirely to its original state).

Today's architects can learn a thing or two from the minimalist approach applied in developing the Casa Bloc public housing complex

Unfortunately, the tours are only in Spanish (last Saturday of the month) or Catalan (all other Saturdays). The tours take about 1 1/2 hours and are jam-packed with information about the complex and its architects, urban planning in Barcelona as well as Catalan history. You don’t have to be perfect in Spanish by the way. I understood about 60% and still learned heaps. You do need to book ahead though as tours are limited to 15 people (and they do book out).

Option 2

If you don’t speak Spanish or Catalan, or you prefer another dose of Catalan Art Nouveau, head to the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau. This gorgeous complex (and former hospital) was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (the same one who created Casa Lleó Morera in Eixample).

I don't like hospitals but for Sant Pau, I'd almost want to be sick | Photo by Leonhard Niederwimmer on Pixabay

1300h

After your tour of Casa Bloc or the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, jump on the metro and head back into town (get off at Glòries metro station) to check out two unusual market structures – both built relatively recently.

Mercat Fira de Bellcaire Els Encants

Els Encants Vells (as it is also known) is more than 750 years old (and as such, one of the oldest markets in Europe). The structure housing the current market, however, was only built in 2013 (by Fermín Vázquez Architects). Thanks to a giant ceiling of mirrors, the roof reflects the city into the market (and vice versa).

Els Encants Vells, one of the oldest markets in Europe, has a unique reflective roof | Photo by Max Hofstetter on Unsplash

Mercat de Santa Caterina

A short 15-minute stroll away, this market dates back to the mid of the 19th century. However, its current structure (which preserves some of the original markets) is only a few years older than Els Encants Vells. Designed by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, it also has a unique roof. Resembling waves, it is covered with colourful hexagonal ceramic tiles (designed by Toni Comella), symbolising the colourful market it protects.

Whilst at the markets, grab lunch at either (or both):
• the Els Encants Vells food hall
Santa Caterina Market (which also has a more local feel than it’s more famous sibling La Boqueria).

15:00

For the remainder of your afternoon, we suggest a leisurely stroll around the Gothic Quarter – self-guided this time.

Make sure you make a little detour to the church of Santa Maria del Pí (between stops 17 and 18 of the recommended tour) and climb its bell tower for a birds eye view of the Gothic Quarter. If you want to visit the Cathedral book in advance.

Loose yourself in the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter | Photo by Roman Fox on Unsplash

1730h

We have a gem of a different kind in mind for you tonight. But before you head there, we suggest you grab some afternoon tea and relax at your accommodation.

Evening

One of my favourite buildings in Barcelona is the Palau de la Musica Catalana, another Modernist jewel by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (of Sant Pau and Casa Lleó Morera fame).

You can visit on a guided tour, but a much better way to experience this beautiful space is by attending a concert. Make sure you time your long weekend accordingly.

Make sure you time your long weekend with a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana | Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

Sunday

If your first two days in Barcelona were filled with architectural discoveries, today has a bit of nature in the mix.

0800h

Most people sleep in today. But it’s an early rise for you.

Your final day in Barcelona starts at Park Güell. The park consists of three zones: The Zona Forestal (with beautiful vistas from Mirador de Joan Sales) is always open, while the Zona Monumental opens at 0500h. So, you could even watch the sunrise if you really are an early bird.

To enter the Zona Regulada (which is restricted to 400 visitors per 1/2 hour), book your ticket as close to the opening time at 0800h as possible. To come here in the (early) morning is not only an easy way to beat the crowds but also a great time to hear and see the parrots (and other birds) that call this park home.

Would you like to travel to Spain and wonder how much to budget? Check out how much it cost us to explore this beautiful, historic country.

To have a shot (like us) at one of the most photographed benches in the world, you need to book a ticket for Park Güell's Zona Regulada

1000h

For those who need a final dose of Gaudí, we suggest to either

  • head to Casa Vicens, Gaudí’s first house – take bus #24 from the bus stop near the Park’s main entrance (on Carretera del Carmel); or
  • visit the virtual reality Gaudí Experience – walk one block south of Park Güell.

If you come across a bakery this morning, make sure you pop in and ask for Braç de gitano (literally translated Gypsie arm). Buying this roll of thin fluffy dough, filled with plain or flavoured cream and burnt on the outside (like Crema Catalana/Crème Brulee) is a Sunday tradition I remember well from my frequent visits to Barcelona back in the 1990s. While they are usually sold as a whole cake, ask if they have portions as well.

Make sure you try Braç de gitano if you happen to pass by a bakery that sells them

From 1200h (or earlier)

When you visited Barcelona’s gorgeous waterfront on Friday, did you notice that the city is backed by a mountain range? This is the Serra de Collserola. And this is where you’ll be spending your Sunday afternoon.

First, head to the Vallvidrera Funicular (you can use the T-10 card). From the top station, take bus #111 to the Amusement Park at Tibidabo (the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola). The Amusement Park has seen better days, but the views from up here are outstanding and it’s still worth to

  • take the one free ride (with two alternating baskets that lift you up into the air),
  • nibble on some freshly made churros from the stall underneath the free ride, and
  • visit the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
If you have a few hours on Sunday afternoon, explore one of the many hiking trails in Collserola Park... just don't get lost

If you don’t have to fly back until late (or the next morning), explore one of the many hiking trails around Collserola Park. Otherwise, just walk or take the bus #111 back to the Vallvidrera Funicular. From the funicular train station, it’s about an hour to the airport, via Plaça de Catalunya.

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Have you been to Barcelona? What off the beaten path tips can you share? Please leave a comment below or send us an email.

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Barcelona: The perfect long weekend for architecture buffs and outdoorsy people
Barcelona: The perfect long weekend for architecture buffs and outdoorsy people
Barcelona: The perfect long weekend for architecture buffs and outdoorsy people

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