Have you ever visited a place and then left wanting to move there one day? That’s what happened this past summer, after we spent three days in Barcelona. Although it wasn’t long enough to see everything the city has to offer, we were absolutely in love with the capital of Catalonia by the time we left.
Prior to our trip, I searched for the best things to do in Barcelona. I didn’t have to look hard. After reading travel blogs and guides for a couple of hours, I realized that Barcelona’s to-do list is extensive. Furthermore, we received helpful tips from life-long friends who live in the city.
Barcelona is already an incredible place. It got even better when we followed recommendations about our friends’ favorite restaurants and how to visit popular sites. From its rich history and superb architecture to the mouth-watering food, everything excited us during our vacation. And then there are the lovely beaches, excellent museums, reliable public transport system, and that chill Mediterranean atmosphere.
Planning a family trip to Barcelona? So that you won’t miss the best of what the city provides, check out this list with the most incredible things we did during our three days in Barcelona.
Three days in Barcelona: taste their tapas
Travelers say that having one good meal in a new city is an example. Two is a coincidence. How about eating delicious food every day? During our three days in Barcelona, we didn’t have one mediocre dish. Whether we walked into the hustle and bustle of famous markets or little-known restaurants, we understood why travel guides list Barcelona as one of the best food cities in the world. Barcelona is a food paradise!
Although the city carries a great diversity of international cuisine, we settled on the traditional tapas along with seafood and the classic paella. Oh my! I have vivid memories of all flavors and my mouth waters as I write this post.
Note: Excellent restaurants are all over the city. Nevertheless, we avoided eating near popular attractions as they often have the reputation of being overpriced and offering tasteless food.
Don’t skip the markets
Most Barcelona markets are within beautiful structures, and El Nacional is no exception. Previously, the building was an automobile warehouse located in the Eixample neighborhood. In later years, it received a major renovation. Its new art deco interior was the first thing to intrigue us.
Next, we checked the four bars and four Spanish restaurants under the same roof. Completely packed, the vibe in El Nacional was wonderful! We didn’t have a reservation. However, with a bit of luck, we were able to sit at one of the bars for tapas and drinks. Totally worth a stop.
La Boqueria is another market located on Las Ramblas. Stalls provide colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, nuts, sweets, flowers, meat, cheese, and much more. We ordered from one of their sit-at-the-counter restaurants after sightseeing central Barcelona. It was another great experience in the city.
Other restaurants we visited
The list below was provided by our friends. I highly recommend these places:
- Pez Vela Restaurante – we had a superb paella while enjoying beautiful views of the Barceloneta beach.
- Palosanto – Cozy venue with the best tapas we had in the city.
- La Paradeta – Great concept! We selected the raw seafood (wide variety) from an iced-counter display and picked (options are available) how we wanted it prepared. We received a ticket, paid, got a table, and when they called our number, we collected our meal.
- Bodega la Peninsular – Excellent sangria and tapas. We enjoyed the local vibe.
Three days in Barcelona: be amazed by Gaudi’s architecture
After doing some research about what to do during our three days in Barcelona, I had a pretty good idea about my priorities: number one was to see the remarkable work of the Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudí.
Gaudí spent most of his life in Barcelona, and the city holds the largest concentration of his creations in the world. His unique architecture style mimics nature and organic forms. The beauty and quality of his work is unquestionable. Even though we are not experts about his achievements, we could intuitively identify them when walking on the streets of Barcelona.
The Works of Antoni Gaudi is what the UNESCO uses to refer to seven properties built by the architect Antoni Gaudi in or near Barcelona. We didn’t see them all, but here is a list of four of his creations we had the pleasure to visit. They are extraordinary!
Park Güell holds an interesting history. In 1900, Gaudi planned and directed the construction of the park for his friend, entrepreneur Eusabi Güell. The idea was to create an enclosed-garden, residential area for sixty single-family residences. Despite their dedication to the project, they never finished, and the park became a commercial failure. After Güell’s death, his beneficiaries offered it to Barcelona City, which later opened it as a public park.
We spent a few hours strolling through the park, and we loved it. Loyal to his style, his work appears as an extension of nature, with columns that resemble tree trunks.
We also visited Gaudi’s House Museum on the site. Although it wasn’t designed by him, it holds a relevant chapter of his life as it was his residence for nearly 20 years. This tiny museum preserves his memory through displays of furniture and objects that he designed.
- The park is extremely popular, and access to the central area is limited to 400 visitors per half hour. Book tickets ahead and save on the admission fee. The rest of the park is free, and you can visit without booking.
- A separate ticket is necessary to visit the Gaudi House Museum. It is small, and it took us less than 30 minutes to see everything.
Casa Batlló is a beautiful residential building in the Eixample district. It was designed by Gaudi for the middle-class Batlló family. The architect only remodeled an existing building. However, as was characteristic of his style, Gaudi maintained his taste for curved lines and organic themes. The inside and outside of the Casa Batlló are a true work of art.
The facade looks like it is made of skulls and bones, but are actually pillars and balconies. In fact, locals nicknamed Casa Batlló the House of Bones. Parts of the wall resemble blood vessels and muscles, and the scaly roof resembles the back of a giant dragon. The interior of the building is no less organic. Everything swirls: the ceiling is twisted, the doors, windows, and skylights are wavy, and the hallway is like a spine of an immense animal.
Note: We saved some time buying our entrance tickets in advance. It came with a self-guided audio tour, which explained the details of the building. The ticket gave us access to the roof to check out Gaudí’s mosaic work up close, including the dragon’s back. Our visit lasted approximately 90 minutes.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
Also known as La Pedrera (the quarry) for its elaborate stonework, Casa Milà was the last civil project undertaken by Gaudí before he worked exclusively on the Sagrada Família. Casa Milà is a combination apartment and office designed by the Catalan architect for the wealthy Milà family.
This structure houses two detached and independent buildings, each with its access door and skylight, connected only via the ground floor. Nevertheless, it has a common façade. The building does not have a single straight line: the patio is wavy, walls are curved, and columns are slanting. Because the Milà family was one of the city’s first car owners in Barcelona, Gaudí also installed a basement parking garage, considered at the time to be a highly innovative element. The roof is no less impressive. It features giant chimney pots that look like multicolored medieval knights.
Note: An audio guide is included as part of the ticket entrance. We spent approximately 1.5 hours in the interior and roof of the building.
This is Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. Because it is one of the most exceptional churches in the world (both by its history and stunning beauty), it was a thrilling experience to step into the Sagrada Familia. After we had visited four of Gaudi’s creations in Barcelona, I must say that if I were visiting the city for a day, this is one thing I would choose to see in the Catalan capital.
Even though still under construction, the church is glamorous inside and out. Towering over its neighboring buildings, the Sagrada Familia is so tall that when we looked up, we almost fell backward trying to see the top of its spires.
When we met our guide, she pointed out details on the façade that we would probably miss if we explored on our own. Inside, we were delighted by the vaulted ceiling, tree-like columns, colorful stained-glass windows, massive doors, and much more. According to our guide, this extraordinary structure will be completed in 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
Note: The available tickets are limited, and they have fixed entry times. We bought the Sagrada Familia: skip-the-line guided tour with tower, which I highly recommend. After the tour, we were permitted to stay inside the basilica for as long as we liked. We spent approximately two hours visiting the Sagrada Familia, including the school and the tower.
Sagrada Familia School
We also visited the Sagrada Familia School, which is on the grounds of the church. As always, Gaudi used curved surfaces and evoked the shapes of nature. The school was built adjacent to the church in order to help workers assure that their children had the appropriate education.
Although La Sagrada Familia is a special attraction on its own, going up one of its two towers was a great experience. First, we saw sections of the church which aren’t visible from the ground. Second, we observed the ongoing construction work up close. Last but not least, their astonishing height gave us a superb view of the city center, including the Eixample neighborhood.
Note: At the time we visited La Sagrada Familia, the church decided which of the two towers would be open that day. It was chosen based on the construction schedule. To go up, we took an elevator, but to come down, we had to use the stairs.
Three days in Barcelona: neighborhoods to explore
Barcelona’s attractions go beyond its pleasing tapas and Gaudi’s extraordinary work. A walk through the city led us to two fascinating neighborhoods that not only show a mix of nightlife, shopping, gastronomy, and art, but also a burst of history and culture. El Born and Gothic Quarter are often considered to be bohemian-type neighborhoods. However, they are also characterized by their old buildings, amazing architecture, hidden alleys, and historical spots that I’m so glad we had a chance to see.
Here are the attractions we saw, and I suggest that you include all in your itinerary when exploring these two districts in Barcelona.
El Born Cultural and Memorial Center
I knew nothing about this place until our friends took us there. During the 2002 renovation of Barcelona’s first, cast-iron, covered market into a library, an archaeological site was found in the subsoil, and the work stopped.
The old market today houses the El Born Cultural and Memorial Center. Remnants of houses and streets are evidence of Barcelona’s history from the Roman period to the beginning of the 18th century, and the consequences of the siege of 1714. Elevated walkways provided an extensive view of the grounds.
Besides the archeological site, a permanent exhibition with recovered artifacts (mainly household items)and written data, gave us an insight into life in Barcelona in the 1700s.
Note: Entry to the building and the central walkway is free of charge.
Santa Maria del Mar (St. Mary of the Sea)
We were wandering through the narrow streets of El Born when we bumped into the Santa Maria del Mar Basilica. Located in the tiny Plaça de Santa Maria, the lack of space made it fairly difficult to take a picture of its entire façade and its most outstanding features: a rose window and the twin octagonal towers rising majestically skywards.
When we stepped inside, it was a pleasant surprise. First of all, it is spacious. Its structure comprises three naves of the same height, underpinned by tall columns. Second, the simplicity of design and almost total lack of decoration give the church an atmosphere of unsurpassed serenity. The many stained-glass windows give the space a light and airy feeling.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar was built by and for residents who saw the Cathedral of Barcelona as a place of worship for the city’s elite, and not for the ordinary members of the community. The project was completed 54 years after they laid the first stone.
Note: We paid 5 euros to visit the cathedral. Guided tours are available, including one that gives access to the rooftops.
This museum is wonderful. We were thrilled to see works from Picasso’s early years. When he was ten years old, he had already revealed his remarkable artistic skills. Sketches and paintings show his experimental and learning periods.
Not planning on seeing all 4,250 pieces of the collection, we chose masterpieces of the Blue Period and some of the oil paintings produced in Barcelona during the longest period he stayed in the city. Among others, we saw Las Meninas (the only series of works painted by Picasso on display together in one museum), First Communion, and his self-portrait. The museum also holds a collection of prints and ceramic pieces donated to the museum by Picasso’s widow.
We spent about two hours at the Museum, including the temporary exhibition. Check the Picasso Museum website for more information about hours, tickets, and location.
Arc de Triomf
Though Arc de Triomf is not in the El Born neighborhood, it is a short walk from the Picasso Museum and El Born Cultural and Memorial Center. We checked it out while in the area.
The Arc de Triomf was built in 1888 as the gateway to the Barcelona Universal Exhibition held in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The design of the arch stands out for its colorful brickwork, which has its origins in Moorish architecture.
Catedral de Barcelona
Barcelona’s Cathedral, located in the heart of Barcelona, is also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. The Cathedral and its square mark the beginning of the Gothic Quarter.
Although we didn’t visit inside (time was short), its exterior definitely caught our attention. During a brief stop, we enjoyed its neo-Gothic facade – a harmonic combination of arches, stained-glass windows, and two side towers with tall pinnacles. It is beautiful!
Adjacent to the Cathedral, we saw the remains of an old Roman wall. The grounds originally housed a Roman temple, and the well-preserved walls still stand. If you are interested in ancient architecture, they are worth a glance.
El Call: The Jewish Quarter in Barcelona
Not long ago, my family discovered that our ancestors in Brazil came from Sephardic Jews, forced into exile during the Inquisition in Portugal. Whereas expulsions of unconverted Jews from Spain and Portugal were separate events from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, they were ultimately linked. This chapter of history ended long ago, but the Jewish Quarter, also known as El Call, stands in the middle of the Gothic Quarter. I was thrilled to visit it.
The Jewish Quarter is a labyrinth of old, narrow, charming alleys. It holds Europe’s oldest synagogue and buildings that once belonged to the Inquisition. Nowadays, boutiques, bars, shops, hotels, and restaurants occupy all medieval homes. Whether you have ties with the Jewish community or not, it is a must-see.
Las Ramblas is a wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city and serves as a border between the Gothic Quarter to the east, and El Raval to the west. If you visit some of Barcelona’s main attractions, you will probably come across Las Ramblas. We did after finishing lunch at La Boqueria Food Market. We didn’t spend a lot of time there, but a stroll through it was worthwhile. Folks walked in and out of shops, restaurants, and cafes, which lined both sides of the street.
Note: We had no problems, but friends advised us to watch out for pickpockets.
How to get around in Barcelona
It’s very easy to get around Barcelona. The city center is both pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Although the city does not have alternative services such as Uber, taxis are plentiful and affordable.
Regarding public transportation, the metro system is outstanding. It’s easy to use, has frequent trains, and is clean. It runs from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays, until 2 a.m. on Fridays, and also all night long on Saturdays and special holidays. Similarly, the city’s bus system is another great option for getting around Barcelona. Though perhaps not as speedy as the metro can be, an advantage is being able to see the beautiful streets of Barcelona!
The current price for the single ticket (good for city bus or metro) is €2.20. If you are planning on visiting Barcelona for a few days, the T-10 card is your best option. It is valid for 10 journeys from 1 to 6 zones by metro, tram, suburban train (Rodalies), or bus. Each ride will be about half the price of a single ticket. The T-10 card does not include the metro ride to or from the airport.
Where to stay in Barcelona
While in Barcelona, we stayed with dear friends. We can’t thank them enough for their wonderful hospitality. However, if we were staying in a hotel, I’d choose to stay in the city center because many of the famous sights are a short distance from each other. Sometimes, it only requires a short ride.
You can be well-located in Barcelona if you stay in Eixample, Gothic Quarter, or El Born. The Eixample district holds some of the most impressive monuments of Barcelona, such as La Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, and Casa Batlló.
Top-notch: Ohla Eixample
Ohla Eixample is a stylish boutique hotel conveniently located within a 10-minute walk from two of Gaudi’s major works, La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. Highlights include a full-service spa and a Michelin-starred restaurant with innovative Catalonia cuisine.
Mid-range: H10 Casanova
H10 Casanova combines comfort with a reasonable price. It is a 10-minute walk from Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas. This hotel has a rooftop pool and bar, which are very inviting after a long day of sightseeing.
Located in the Eixample district, this apartment combines convenience, comfort, and good value. It is a short walk from La Sagrada Familia and an excellent option for families.
For more options, check the best places to stay in Barcelona.