With a vibrant food scene, a plethora of unique historic architecture, amazing Mediterranean weather, beautiful beaches, and arguably the best bars in Europe, Barcelona is the place to go for a city break. Having visited for the first time at the end of April, we berated ourselves for not going sooner, as the laid back atmosphere and endless sunshine make for the perfect city for a long weekend. Here’s my three day Barcelona itinerary, covering where to stay, where to eat and what to do.
Three Day Barcelona Itinerary
We arrived on Thursday, landing at 10am and made our way to the airport train station (very sleepily after being up since 3am!). This we found was the cheapest way to get from the airport to Barcelona’s city centre, at only 4.90€ a ticket – in comparison to a 40€ taxi. Our hotel was in Barri Gotic (or the Gothic Quarter as it’s more commonly know) and we stayed in the aptly named Hotel Gotic. I couldn’t recommend this hotel or location enough. Firstly, we were put in a huge room with a gorgeous balcony, overlooking over the historical streets and secondly, the location was just perfect, literally one minute from the metro station and in the real heart of the Gothic Quarter. What’s more the hotel had a private roof terrace which was deserted, but provided more great views and an amazing sun trap.
After dumping the bags and freshening up, we headed out in search of sun and sangria – when in Spain and all that. We stumbled across a beautiful square in front of the Barcelona City History Museum and enjoyed lunch at L’Antiquari with a modest litre of sangria. Post sangria, we wandered around the corner to the Barcelona Cathedral. If you can, visit the cathedral between 5 and 8pm as it’s free to go in otherwise there is a small charge. Make sure you visit the cathedral towers, accessible by a lift (included in your ticket) to see some amazing panoramic views of the city from the Sagrada Família, to the Montjuïc, to the Mediterranean.
Once we were suitably exhausted by the unexpected views we had at the cathedral, we wandered towards La Rambla, one of the busiest shopping streets and tourist spots. The pedestrianised street is filled with artists offering caricatures and exquisitely detailed portraits, to florists bursting with the most colourful flowers and restaurants offering al fresco dining under pretty string lights. La Rambla is also lined with some stunning architecture, so definitely keep your eyes up as you wander through the trees.
Depending on which way you walk you’ll either end up at Plaça de Catalunya or at the coast. We headed towards the sea and found a plethora of tour companies, offering boat trips around the harbour. Of course we spontaneously took one for 7€ which departed in 5 minutes and got a spot on the empty top deck, whilst enjoying a beaker of wine (classy, but who could say no when it’s 2€ a glass) and ogling the super yachts lining the harbour.
After a rather breezy boat trip, we headed back up La Rambla and found the indoor food market La Boqueria along the way. Packed with locals enjoying fresh tapas after a long day at work or stocking up on fresh food for their evening meal, if I worked in the city, I would definitely visit daily. Make sure to pick up a fresh juice or a delicious pastry before you leave.
To finish a very long day we headed back to the Gothic Quarter to find a bar. I’d read that Rubi Bar was the place to go for great music and even better drinks and it didn’t disappoint, wine at 2.50€ and mojitos for 4€. It was a relatively early night at 11pm and some delicious takeout pizza to go back to the hotel with.
Friday was our only full day, so we got up early, with minor headaches from the night before to make the most of the day. We had breakfast at Farggi’s, a two minute walk from the hotel, which served a fabulous and extensive breakfast menu. Smoked salmon and cream cheese on rye, with a beautiful coffee or a sumptuous cone of gelato? I don’t think there’s a better way to start the day.
We walked back down to the coast, but this time to see the beaches and amble along the boardwalk. The Barcelona beaches are stunning, very clean and full of activities, think paddle boarding and bike and segway tours. They’re also lined with beach bars and restaurants so we simply had to stop at one in the sun and enjoy a glass of chilled rosé. We settled on Arenal as they had some great tables in the sun, however they all seem to offer similar menus and prices.
Post rosé, we walked through the El Born area of Barcelona to get to the Sagrada Família. El Born sports an artistic edge with the neighbourhood hosting a thriving creative community, so be prepared to stumble across dozens of small museums and galleries, which you’ll want to delve into. It’s super quirky, think the European version of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, but much cleaner and prettier. On the way to the Sagrada Família you’ll also find the Spanish Arc de Triomf which is a pretty impressive sight and more intricate then the Parisian version. We reached the Sagrada Família after an hour long walk from the beach and were pretty impressed with it’s structure and detail (although it was undergoing refurbishments at the time). Make sure you book your ticket in advance (we did it the night before) as we saw many people turned away the doors due to it being sold out on the day. You definitely don’t want to get all the way up there and not get to go in! Inside, the iconic building is very Gaudi inspired, but to be honest we preferred the more historical and older Barcelona Cathedral from the day before. If you only have time to do one, I would say to to the cathedral instead.
As we were in the L’Eixample area we hopped on a train to Plaça de Catalunya and explored the more mainstream shopping area of Barcelona, think Zara, H&M and the more high end stores like Gucci and Dolce. We didn’t stay long to window shop and got on the train back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.
There’s almost too much choice in the Gothic Quarter for places to eat but we found the restaurant Bliss, which had a fab looking menu with amazing prices and for a Friday night was really quiet. We later found out it was a really highly recommended place to eat in the Gothic Quarter and we can see why. Wanting to hear some live music, we found the bar El Paraigua round the corner from Bliss and enjoyed a live Irish band called Mr Shingles until the wee hours of the morning. The evening unfortunately ended in a police station however, as my phone was stolen! Check out what not having a phone taught me about mindfulness here.
On our last day we checked out, purchased bus tour tickets from the hotel and grabbed a breakfast to go from Pastisseria La Colmena. We caught the open top bus tour round the corner from the hotel and took the red route with the Barcelona BusTuristic company. We stayed on until we reached the National Art Museum of Catalonia where we departed the bus and wandered through the stunning gardens of the museum and climbed a lot of steps to see some great city views. The museum is free to enter after 3pm, but being on a time limit we paid to go in. This turned out to be a good decision the museum was empty when we were there and upon leaving just after 3pm the queues were huge.
After we were suitably punch drunk from all the art, we grabbed an ice cream and hopped back on the bus, back to the Gothic Quarter for another meal at Farggi’s again, it was too good to not go back. Then sadly, it was back on the train to return to the airport and head home.
Barcelona Top Travel Tips
- Walk everywhere, you’ll see so much more. The metro is good for getting around in a hurry or of course longer distances, but walking or a hop on hop off bus tour is much better way to see and appreciate Barcelona.
- Stay in the Gothic Quarter, it’s central for everything if you don’t have much time in the city and steeped in history.
- Save money and time and get the train from the airport , instead of an expensive taxi or bus, which only drops off at Plaça de Catalunya.
- Watch your bags and your belongings and as bad as it sounds trust no one.
- Don’t go to a chain restaurant or anywhere with a picture menu, find an original local eatery, unless you’re hungover then you can be forgiven for going to McDonald’s
- If you can, travel on a Saturday night, it’s really quiet in both airports and they’ll be no wild stag or hen dos on the plane. Plus being in the city on weekdays generally equals less tourists anyway.
Have you been to Barcelona? Let me know in the comments below what your favourite thing to do there was.
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All photos are my own.