I visited Spain 3 months after my trip to Australia and couldn’t help comparing my feelings about Sydney with Barcelona, given that the two are the most visited cities in the respective countries. While one awed me with amazing modern architecture and spectacular nature walks, the other charmed me with its medieval gems and Bohemian vibe. Barcelona is quirky, and if you’re a fan of the unconventional, you’re going to love it. It may not be quintessentially Spain, but it stands apart in how it blends the traditional and the contemporary. You can experience Barcelona in 3 days, though I could’ve easily spent more time to soak in the palpable energy the city exudes.
Before travelling, when I was researching about Barcelona, I read a lot of negative reviews and criticisms about how crowded the city is. No doubt the city is crowded and touristy, but it didn’t really seem any more crowded than so many other big cities I’ve been to. I often got a place to sit in the trains and buses, didn’t have to wait in any queues anywhere, got a place to sit and dine in the restaurants easily and never got shoved around. My experience, thankfully, was rather smooth.
My suggested itinerary for Barcelona in 3 days is a little heavy on Gaudi’s masterpieces, simply because I loved his architecture style a lot. On the other hand, there just aren’t enough museums on my itinerary because I am not a fan of museums at all! I did, however, spend quite some time exploring the famous pedestrian precincts, sipping on Sangrias and filling up on Spanish tapas. I would’ve loved to extend my stay and take a day trip out of Barcelona on one of the days (which I would highly recommend you do) but I didn’t have enough time, unfortunately.
Firstly, I highly recommend you buy the Hola BCN Card that allows you unlimited travel on the bus/ metro network in Barcelona. Secondly, many of the famous tourist sites such as La Sagrada Familia sell out during the peak seasons or have long queues for purchasing tickets on-site. It’s best to buy the entrance tickets online beforehand. Purchase them directly from the website, the only disadvantage being that you are time-bound and you may not want to take the decision of what time you want to visit the attraction so far in advance. However, it does make the visit very convenient, if you can stick to the time you’ve booked your entrance for.
Although there are several options in terms of cards for discounted tickets such as Barcelona City Pass, Barcelona Pass or Barcelona Card, for all the attractions that I picked as per my interest, it made more sense to buy individual tickets rather than any of these cards.
You will hear it a lot and it’s probably not enough that Barcelona is notorious for petty crimes such as pickpocketing. Although I didn’t see any specific incidents while I was there, I did realise that a lot of people were cautious of their precious items, keeping them close while in public transportation or sitting in the patio restaurants. It’s best to keep your belongings as close to yourself as possible, as it is common to have people flick mobiles, wallets and other small items from right in front of your eyes (or so I have heard).
Barcelona in 3 days can seem a bit of a rush, especially if you’re the type who likes to take it easy, soak in the atmosphere and enjoy leisurely meals. In that case, you may choose to skip the day trip to Montserrat altogether and split the itinerary recommended for 2 days into a relaxed 3-day one. And although La Rambla is one of the most famous neighbourhoods in Barcelona, I quite liked the ambience at the beach and port (Port Vell) area.
Suggested hotel stay in Barcelona: Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
Best of Barcelona in 3 days
Day 1: Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, Gothic Quarter, Plaça Catalunya
One of the key reasons I chose to spend more time in Barcelona over Madrid was to explore Antoni Gaudi’s famous architectural gems. Park Güell is a great place to start! In the early 1900s, Count Eusebi Güell of Catalan wanted to create a mini-city with private homes for the aristocrats and commissioned Antoni Gaudi, who was the architect in vogue at the time, to unleash his creativity and build an enviable community. However, over the years, only two show houses were completed, and Count Güell failed at being able to attract buyers to invest in these houses.
In 1984, the park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most fascinating places to visit in terms of the architecture; from the colourful mosaics to the weirdly shaped columns, there’s nothing conventional about the park. In an uncanny way, Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature so many of his ideas were a replication of the elements of nature, something you can learn about if you book yourself an audio guide during the visit. Keep about 1.5 hours to explore Park Güell.
Book your tickets here.
From here, you can head to the most famous monument of the city, if not the country, La Sagrada Familia, another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces which is unmissable when you’re exploring Barcelona in 3 days. The most intriguing thing about La Sagrada Familia is that the foundation of the church was laid in 1882 (taken over by Gaudi in 1883) and Gaudi spent the better part of his life (43 years) in working on it, until his death short of a century ago (1926), without being able to complete it. Many architects that followed tried to complete it but were unsuccessful due to many political and logistical reasons. Today, La Sagrada Familia is still under construction and is meant to be completed, in Gaudi’s vision, on the 100th anniversary of his demise, in 2026. Not only is the building extremely magnificent from the outside, but the interiors are also quite fascinating as well. Do take the audio guide with your ticket that explains every aspect of the church that was carefully thought and crafted by the famous Catalonian architect.
You may also want to buy the entrance to one of the two towers: Nativity Façade & Passion Façade. The sweeping views of Barcelona from the top of the towers is well worth the extra money spent on the ticket. However, you do need to take the narrow, winding staircase back down (although you can take the elevator up to the top) which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Keep about 2 hours to explore the place.
Note: like most places of worship, there’s a dress code that is strictly adhered to at La Sagrada Familia. Bare shoulder, bare backs and shorts are not recommended. They do not have any stoles that you can use to cover yourself on-site, you’ll be denied entry unless you’re dressed as per the acceptable church norms.
Book your tickets here.
From here, you can head to Plaça Catalunya, the central square which is surrounded by several shops, restaurants and bars. One of the liveliest neighbourhoods in Barcelona, you’ll find several street performers here, adding to the charisma of the place. Walk along the several narrow pedestrian streets filled with little boutiques and souvenir shops. This is also a great place to shop – head to Passeig de Gracia street for designer brands and Carrer Pelai for the cheaper, inexpensive buys.
Not too far from here are the delightful medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter. The main attraction here is the Barcelona Cathedral and walking through the narrow alleyways, amidst medieval buildings, is an absolute pleasure! For me, the prettiest sight in the Gothic Quarter was the New-Gothic Bishop’s Bridge. The area is quite lively at night and you may choose to hang around here or move on the La Rambla which is right next to it.
Best of Barcelona in 3 days
Day 2: Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, Casa Vicens, Arc de Triomf, Las Ramblas
One of the most controversial buildings of its times, Casa Milà was yet another project of Antoni Gaudi who was commissioned by the wealthy entrepreneur in the 19th century to design his home. The unconventional design of the building makes it stand apart from all the others in the area and this was what was expected of Antoni Gaudi when he was assigned to this project- to build something unique and enviable for the Milà family. It was also one of the last buildings done by Gaudi before he completely devoted himself to La Sagrada Familia. Often referred to as La Pedrera (meaning the quarry) due to its stone facade, the building attracted unwarranted criticism and became a subject of ridicule rather than appreciation as was expected by the Mila family. The main attraction of Casa Milà is the rooftop terrace with sculptures that look like giants. The architecture is imaginative, modern and iconic, to say the least.
Do book your tour with an audio guide that intuitively changes the speech based on your location in the building. An audiovisual in the end explains the inspiration behind Gaudi's work - drawing parallels between nature, specifically the sea and the rocks, and the design of Casa Mila.
Not too far from Casa Mila, located on the Passeig de Gràcia, is yet another piece of art of Gaudi called Casa Batlló. The building, from the outside, is quite esoteric, almost seeming like it is made from bones of some strange animal. It was one of the buildings that led to Gaudi becoming infamous as a pioneer of Catalan modernism or Art Nouveau and a visit inside the apartment is a must!
You will be handed an audiovisual guide with virtual and augmented reality, which brings the interiors of the case to life! Through the handset, you can see what the house looked like in the early 19th century when it was inhabited by the Batllo family.
Not as popular as its counterparts is Casa Vicens. It was the first house designed by Gaudi after he graduated from architecture school. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the other two buildings and the most recent one to be opened to the public for visiting.
Before heading to Las Ramblas, you might want to make a quick stop at Arc de Triomf. Not very dissimilar from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest, or even India Gate in Delhi for that matter, is Barcelona's very own version of the famous arch. Arc de Triomf was built in 1988 to welcome the guests to Barcelona's World Expo and is a civil monument rather than a military one. It also isn't as impressive as the one in Paris, being almost half its size.
A favourite with locals and tourists alike, Las Ramblas (or La Rambla) is the best place to end the night. A boulevard replete with bars and restaurants that attract you with their large pitchers of Sangria and boards displaying the tapas being served that night, this is the street to visit for a great vibe and fantastic crowd.
Best of Barcelona in 3 days
Day 3: Day trip to Montserrat OR explore off-beat Barcelona
If you're exploring Barcelona in 3 days, you have the choice to either visit some off-beat places in the city itself or head for a day trip to Montserrat. If you would rather explore the city more, then here are some options:
Football enthusiasts can head to Camp Nou, the FC Barcelona Football Stadium, where they can purchase the Camp Nou Experience, a self-guided tour inside the key areas of the stadium, from changing rooms to the tunnel to the pitch, the dugout, press room, the president’s box and the press boxes.
Barcelona Beach is one of the popular urban beaches in Europe which has recently received a bad reputation for being overcrowded and a victim of mass tourism. Although this is true to an extent, the beach bars are quite nice to spend some time at, or even walking/ cycling on the boardwalk is a good way to take in some good coastal views.
Right next to Barcelona Beach is yet another popular area of Barcelona, Port Vell. You will see hundreds of yachts and luxury boats as you walk, along with several restaurants offering stunning views of the port. There are also several boutiques and souvenirs shops located here, apart from the street market that is usually found on weekends. This is also where you will find the Columbus Monument, Maremagnum - an entertainment destination, the Barcelona Aquarium and Catalunya's museum of history.
For a fantastic 360-degree view of Barcelona city, head to Bunkers Del Carmel, a vantage point that was once used to protect the city from aerial attacks, thanks to its strategic location on top of a hill. Today, several people head up there during sunset to enjoy some of the best, unparalleled aerial views of the city, for free.
Another off-beat yet exciting experience in Barcelona, especially for people who like viewpoints is to take the cable car to Montjuic Hill. A place that once served as an execution site and prison, today the castle on the hill is the most visited attraction. The ride to the hill offers panoramic views of Barcelona city and harbour and stops at three key areas - the castle, the park and the final stop, Mirador which is the highlight for the best views on the journey.
Lastly, yet another popular mountain surrounding Barcelona city is Tibidabo. Apart from offering fantastic aerial views of Barcelona city which can be experienced from several viewing platforms, this mountain is also famous for the amusement park that is located here. You can take the bus 'Tibibus Т2А' from Plaça Catalunya directly to the amusement park of Tibidabo. The park was built way back in 1889 and is said to have maintained the old-time charm of amusement parks.
Day trip to Montserrat
My biggest regret was not being able to make it to Montserrat. I would've loved to explore the Spanish countryside and take a hike up to the famous monastery. The craggy brown cliffs form a very bizarre landscape and the trip outside the bustling city into the mountains would have accounted for a great experience, without a doubt.
If you have the time, do make it to Montserrat. Click here for a detailed guide.
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