Amazing galleries, mind-bending architecture, foodie havens, some of the best nightlife and music festivals in the world… and a beach?
There’s good reasons why Barcelona features on every aspiring Euro-tripper’s itinerary, and why I’ve visited three times so far in my adult life – most recently, on Contiki’s Western Quest tour with a bus full of wild and wonderful Aussie travelers.
Although it’s impossible to fit in every highlight into this blog, and into just 48 hours in the city, I’ve tried to get as much knowledge and experience down as possible, so you know what to fit into just one weekend in the city, and how to go about it.
But be warned – you may find you want much longer than 48 hours! Because Barcelona’s romantic lanes, boho bars and buzzing boulevards warrant a full-blown love affair, not just a 48-hour fling. Here a few things you really shouldn’t miss if you’re thinking of heading there anytime soon…
First thing’s first. Get used to hearing heaps about an artist called Antoni Gaudi. He’s the dude who practically turned Barcelona into the kaleidoscopic wonderland we know it as today throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
On our first morning, we rose early, taking advantage of a day without a hangover, and hopped aboard the Metro’s Green Line to Lesseps station. Here, you’ll find Parc Guell, one of Gaudi’s most famous creations. A garden high on Carmel Hill, overlooking the whole city, encrusted with colourful mosaics, crazy staircases, coocoo sculptures and gorgeous botanicals. It takes a few hours to scramble around it all – check out Gaudi’s cute little candy house at the entrance, which he lived in at one point.
Time for the big daddy – Gaudi’s cathedral is so mammoth, it’s still under construction… A CENTURY AFTER HE STARTED IT. You’ll want to head online to book entrance ticket for la Familia in advance. But I dare say even if you’re not organised enough to do so, this baby is worth hour-long queues in the heat of the day – it might just turn out to be your favourite on all your European travels.
Because La Sagrada Familia is not your average cathedral. The first time I set foot inside La Sagrada, I was blown away. The second time I set foot inside, I was with a first-timer friend, and watching him be as equally blown away made the experience resonate even more. And my third time in Barcelona… I still went back for more during my 48 hours there.
Whereas the outside of the cathedral is Gothic to the extreme, carved with black, twisted gargoyles, once you’ve stepped through it’s scary jaws… it’s the opposite. Spoiler: it’s practically futuristic.
Below is a tiny taste of a fraction of Sagrada. I’ll leave the main marvels as a surprise…
One last Modernist masterpiece sits regally on Passeig de Gracia in the centre of the city, meaning you’re likely to either surface from the Metro upon arrival from the city’s airport right outside it (my first encounter with Barcelona started like this, and it was a real ‘wow’ moment)… or fly past it on your Contiki bus as you drive in (equal amounts of wow). With swirly, curly edges, harlequin walls and crazy stained glass windows… it looks like a machine that took way too many psychedelics.
Las Ramblas, El Born and the Gothic Quarter
With the major sights out of the way, you’re now free to wander back towards the tourist centre of Barcelona. Beginning at Placa de Catalunya, wander right down La Ramblas, stopping off at the incredible Marcato de La Boqueria for a scope around the amazing food stalls and some great wine and cheese. This is every bit the authentic Spanish food market experience, but it can get pretty packed out!
When you’re done, cross La Ramblas, and veer left towards the narrow, twisting streets of the Gothic Quarter. If you’re in dire need of a sit-down and a glass of sangria, stop off at H10 Cubik’s awesome little rooftop bar for more gorgeous bird’s eye Barca views. This is a rooftop bar that’s both affordable and kind of secret… no crowds of people, just the incredible patchwork of Barcelona’s tiled roofs and spires laid out before your eyes.
As the sun crept down below the hills of Montjuic, we left the hotel, turned right, and made our way towards the spires of Barcelona Cathedral. Kids played with giant bubbles, people dined al fresco under leafy trees and street performers had made the square outside the cathedral their stage – one guy was crooning spine-tingling opera while another played a violin. Forget gazing up at the Eiffel Tower or having your first taste of real gelato in Rome. My romatic European dreams were accomplished right here, gazing up at the pink sky and dreamy buildings. Then… it was on to the wine bars!
Psst. We actually went back to the Gothic Quarter, and the super-trendy area next to it known as El Born the next morning, to scope out the Picasso Museum, and see it in daylight. It’s amazing how many tiny shops, museums, tapas bars and wine cellars are crammed into this alleyways.
Let’s be honest. If you’ve only got 48 hours in Barcelona, or a jam-packed Contiki itinerary, you’d be mad to spend it all on the beach. Why sunbathe or swim when there’s an entire city to fall head over heels for?!
But Barcelona does have a huge, pristine, and very busy stretch of sand. On our second evening, we took a pack of playing cards, a euro carton of sangria and a towel to Barceloneta, where the main beach is, before heading to Reina Margherita on Vell Marina next to it for some delicious Neapolitan pizzas covered in fresh prawns.
It’s not hard to turn your 48-hour fling into a 48-hour fiesta in Barcelona, if you so desired. And I don’t blame you! Whereas Razzmatazz – Barcelona’s best and biggest nightclub – doesn’t get busy until long past midnight (and doesn’t close ’til breakfast), the Catalonians have perfected the art of the day party.
Our Sunday in Barcelona found us struggling to the top of Montjuic hill, following the increasingly loud throb of techno coming from its peak, where Brunch in the Park was in full swing (guys. Learn from our mistakes. Get the cable car). This mini-festival has been going for years – in winter down in the city, and during the summer, overlooking it. Cocktails, amazing street food, and the happiest international crowd made it one of my best European memories ever. Who needs Ibiza?
Where we stayed
Every time I’ve been in Barcelona, I’ve stayed in Raval, a neighbourhood just south of Las Ramblas. This area is densely packed with street art, boho boutiques, deliciously inviting bars, and endless winding alleys, always leading to huge squares shaded by palms. These squares are often filled with outdoor seating and became more jovial as the night goes on. For its liveliness and central location, I can’t recommend it more as a base… which is why, if you go on a Contiki tour, their chosen accommodation is always around that area, too!
Head to our Barcelona city guide here, to find the cheapest flights, book your accommodation, tours and train tickets!