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.
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.
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 further. Our 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
To start with, we’ve got two options to choose from, depending on your liking and your language skills:
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
If your first two days in Barcelona were filled with architectural discoveries, today has a bit of nature in the mix.
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.
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.
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 Funicular Vallvidrera (you can use the T-10 card, take trains S1 or S2 to Peu del Funicular and then change over to the cable car). From the cable car’s 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.