Illustration by Victoria Fernandez.
Do you have a lightning trip to Barcelona planned and don’t know how to make the best out of your day in the capital of Catalonia? Barcelona is an incredible destination for a long weekend, perfect for soaking up culture, history and a hodgepodge of architectural and artistic styles. There’s a corner for everything — and everyone finds their corner. There are a number of reasons why you might have only one day to see Barcelona, but this guide will put you on the right path to enjoying the city.
Before we begin: Everyone has their own idea of how to make the most of a day. That’s why, before sharing how I managed to enjoy every minute of Barcelona, it’s important to clarify that these are just my suggestions. The options I selected have a certain timeless character, and these selections can be combined to your own taste. After all, everyone experiences Barcelona in their own way.
Start At La Rambla
While there are many places to stay in Barna (short for Barcelona), my room was very close to the historic La Rambla boulevard. If you want to enjoy as much as you can, you should make this long avenue your point of reference.
Start your day by enjoying some fruit juice and snacks in the La Boqueria market. Its metallic structure contains endless products, and over time it’s incorporated new cultures, giving space for Arab, Greek and Japanese delicacies. From La Rambla you can walk to the Gothic Quarter and get lost in its streets (and maybe take some pictures of the beautiful architecture). If you tire of the historic views, then from there it’s easy to get to the Barceloneta neighborhood on foot or by bus. Especially if you’re from a colder climate, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a bit of sun on the beach and some delicious fish!
For those who don’t want to relax on the beach, you can use this time to walk along Passeig de Gràcia (one of the other famous avenues in Barcelona) and admire the incredible architecture of its buildings. The Casa Batlló (did you know that it’s supposed to represent the backbone of a dragon?) and La Pedrera are especially noteworthy — and both are designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. If you choose this option, I recommend replacing the fish on the beach with some delicious tapas at El Nacional.
Barcelona And Gaudí
A trip to Barcelona would be incomplete without an afternoon dedicated to Gaudí. After the beach, take public transit to Gaudí’s Park Güell, which is the perfect place to relax and have a cup of coffee. If you’re cautious like I am, you can buy tickets in advance so you don’t miss out on this beautiful landmark. Keep in mind, however, that this is just a warm-up for the real show: the Sagrada Familia.
If you’ve never heard of the basilica, then you should know that every stone, every column and every little detail on the structure has a meaning. For example, there are two turtles located on the Nativity Façade: On the left-hand side there’s a sea turtle, and, on the right, a tortoise. Together they symbolize the location of the basilica, situated between the sea and the mountains. To learn more about the Sagrada Familia, I strongly recommend getting an audio guide or a private guide. I opted for a “top views” ticket which includes the entrance fee, a visit to one of the towers and an audio guide.
Keep in mind that there are lots of time slots to visit the basilica, from 9 a.m. until dark (depending on the time of year). What’s the best time to visit the Sagrada Familia? That’s up to you. Perhaps the question you should ask yourself is: “Am I a sunrise or sunset person?” According to Gaudí, “the sun is the best painter and the light changes according to the time,” which is why the Sagrada Familia is designed to reflect a different color palette according to the path of the sun.
I decided to go right around sunset — which I highly recommend. The stained glass adjusts to the light as the sun falls, and the west-facing windows project warm tones inside the basilica.
El Raval By Night
A day like this can only end with a table full of tapas in El Raval, a neighborhood that breathes and reflects the essence of Barcelona (with just a touch of modernity). Still, I don’t recommend that you end your journey here.
After a busy day like this, it’s easy to surrender to your hotel bed, but I suggest an outing to any of the absinthe bars in the area. I personally recommend one of the oldest and most authentic of them, the Bar Marsella. Its walls and decoration have remained intact throughout time, and its shelves contain bottles from another era. Picasso, Gaudí and Ernest Hemingway have all had a drink here, and even Woody Allen didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture its atmosphere in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Those of you looking for something more modern can opt for Absinthe Raval or Absinthe 1893.
Stroll Through The City
Any extra time you have should be spent wandering the city. While I’ve been to Barcelona several times for work, I must confess that I’ve never been able to actually dedicate time to the city until the last time I visited. Years had gone by and I still hadn’t managed to see the Sagrada Familia or Park Güell. It wasn’t until I visited a friend that I had 24 hours to do whatever I wanted.
Barcelona is a city that beats at a rhythmic pace, and you shouldn’t rush to do it all. If you can’t manage to see everything in Barcelona in one day, don’t feel overwhelmed. It’s always good to leave something behind (and use it as an excuse to come back some day!).