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Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe and with good reason. Writing an itinerary for 3 days in Barcelona is an easy task, given the bountiful supply of activities.
This itinerary is broken down into days with specific themes on each day. If visiting from May to September, the beach can be factored into any of the days.
For detailed travel information and tips about visiting the rest of Spain, have a look at my Spain Travel Tips post.
The theme for this day is general sightseeing with La Rambla as the main orientation point.
La Rambla is Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, bisecting the city centre into east and west. This large, pedestrianised street is packed with cafes, restaurants, kiosks and entertainers. Three metro stations serve La Rambla: Catalunya, Liceu and Drassanes.
Not only is the street an attraction but the many buildings that call it home are equally worth visiting. Gran Teatre del Liceu (Opera House), Palau de la Virreina (Virreina Palace) and the entrance to La Boqueria food market. Virreina Palace hosts cultural events and art exhibitions that are open to the public.
Barri Gótic, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, is the area east of La Rambla. It is one of the oldest parts of Barcelona and the part I found the most quaint and atmospheric. Its narrow, cobbled streets were glorious for rambling. These streets are connected to squares (plaça) where one could sit on benches and take in the architecture.
The main sight to see in the Gothic Quarter is Barcelona Cathedral (La Catedral). The Gothic Quarter is packed with cafes and restaurants so it’s quite easy to spend the whole day in this district. Jaume I is the best metro station to get to the Gothic Quarter.
El Born is the neighbourhood immediately east of the Gothic Quarter. El Born is actually part of the La Ribera district. The ambience and architecture of the Gothic Quarter continues into El Born. The Picasso Museum is the highlight of this area.
Adjacent to El Born is Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona city centre’s main park. As well as plenty of green space, it contains many features including a zoo, a geological museum and the Catalonian Parliament. The metro stations serving Parc de la Ciutadella are Arc de Triomf to its north and Ciutadella-Vila Olympica to its south.
For many, the works of Antoni Gaudí are the main reason for visiting Barcelona and most are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gaudí was the Modernista movement’s most celebrated architect and his work has had a huge influence on the city.
Gaudí’s style is unique which I describe with three words: colour, curves and characters. Many of his constructs look like the set of a Guillermo del Toro film, fantastical characters ready to come alive.
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA:
Possibly the only visitor sight in the world that’s a building site, the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (or La Sagrada Familia for short) is Gaudí’s work in progress. Construction began on the church in 1882 with Gaudí taking over as chief architect in 1883. He continued with his labour of love until his death in 1926.
The entrance to the church shows the Nativity scene while the back exit shows the events surrounding the death of Jesus. This is not your typical church design so compare this with the city’s main cathedral mentioned on Day 1. I highly recommended booking online in advance of visiting La Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia is located in the L’Eixample district which is characterised by its grid system street layout and Modernista architectural style. The nearest metro station to the church is Sagrada Familia.
LA PEDRERA/CASA MILA:
Also in the L’Eixample district is La Pedrera, an apartment and office block that looks like it is melting. The building contains a Gaudí museum, a museum apartment as well as private residences. The roof of the building contains chimneys that look like chess board pieces with some visible from the street.
The nearest metro station to La Pedrera is Diagonal. It is located approximately 1.5km west of La Sagrada Familia along Carrer de Provinca.
A couple of hundred metres south of La Pedrera along Passeig de Gracia one will find another Gaudí piece, Casa Batlló. The building’s façade is more ornate than La Pedrera, with stained glass on some of the windows and balconies that look like carnival masks. The walls that are not curved are painted in a floral pattern.
This is like an amusement park of Gaudí works but was conceived as a residential complex in 1900. Gaudí was hired by the owner/developer to draw up plans but only got as far as the landscaping. This is a wonderful place for children or anyone who wants to visit a public park with a difference.
Parc Guell is located in the north of the city between the areas served by Lesseps and Vallcarca metro stations.
The third day in in Barcelona focuses on the city’s sporting sights: Camp Nou and the Olympic area.
Camp Nou, Europe’s largest stadium, is the home of FC Barcelona football club. This world famous club has strong associations with Catalan identity and has a museum located in its grounds. Tours of the ground are possible as well. Pre-booking is advised as access is limited on match days.
The museum and tour comes recommended by acquaintances and fellow travellers. I ended up booking match tickets rather than the museum tour and have written about that experience in my Visiting Camp Nou post.
Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, the only Spanish city to host the competition. The Montjuic Hill area was the site of most competitions including the main stadium. Football club Espanyol play their home games here.
There are a number of cultural sites in Montjuic: Fundació Joan Miró, Catalonian National Museum of Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) and CaixaForum. Montjuic Castle is where General Franco’s troops tortured and killed political prisoners during his dictatorship from 1939 to 1975.
Getting to the Olympic area: There are no metro stations on Montjuic – The nearest are Para-lel and Espanya. A funicular runs from Para-lel to Fundació Joan Miró. For those with a good head for heights, a cable car runs from the La Barceloneta beach area to the Miramar area of Montjuic.
3 DAYS IN BARCELONA: TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
GETTING TO BARCELONA:
The city is a hugely popular European city break destination so has excellent flight connections to the rest of Europe. El Prat Airport is Barcelona’s main airport and is connected to the city centre (Estacio Sants) by train. The A1 and A2 Aerobuses run from El Prat Terminal 1 and 2 respectively to Plaça de Catalunya.
Girona Airport, located 80km from Barcelona, is predominantly used by low-cost airlines. Buses run from this airport to Barcelona’s Estacio del Nord.
Estacio Sants is the main railway station in the city. National and international services depart from here.
WHERE TO STAY:
I stayed in L’Eixample near La Sagrada Familia and it was excellent for a good night’s sleep. The Gothic Quarter is popular but may be a little noisy in the height of the summer. La Ribera is also a good option. Check out booking.com for a variety of accommodation options.
Barcelona is quite spread out so make use of the efficient metro system especially if staying outside the city centre.
Catalan is the primary language so signs will be written in Catalan and Castilian Spanish. Given its popularity as a tourist city, English is commonly used.
Barcelona is easily the friendliest place in Spain I’ve travelled to. It is ideal for first time solo travellers.
Finally, while I didn’t see or experience pickpocketing, many guides and travellers warn of such.