How to Spend 3 Days in Barcelona - The Vibrant Spanish City That Really Has it All

Looking to spend 3 Days in Barcelona – the city that has it all?  I have “been there and got the T shirt” Read on for top tips to help you get the most out of your own trip.

I Love Barcelona T Shirt

Three days really is not very much time to take in all the sights of a great city like Barcelona.  To get the most out of your trip, you will need to do a fair amount of planning in advance, particularly if you are visiting in peak season.

Getting the balance between pre planning and flexibility on a city break these days is never easy.  Popular sights often get booked up weeks in advance and if you take the “we’ll just see how we feel when we get there” approach, you are going to have to accept that you may well be disappointed when you can’t see some of the top sights.

Barcelona

We visited Barcelona with friends in late May.  With the benefit of hindsight (yes – always a wonderful thing!), let me share with you some practical tips for getting the most out of your own trip and hopefully short-cutting the (sometimes) tedious planning process.

Barcelona "Must Dos"

You really can’t visit Barcelona without ticking off some of the best examples of Gaudi’s stunning architecture.  The exuberant modernist buildings dotted all around the city just can’t fail to leave a lasting impression on you.  Don’t expect to be able to photograph them from the luxury of an empty calle though!  If you are a keen photographer, either visit in the early morning and enjoy the peace and quiet before the crowds begin to gather or wait until the small hours when the facades will be brightly lit and offer you a completely different perspective.

Barcelona -Top Gaudi Sights

If you can’t be bothered with the early mornings/late nights, then you can always invest in a few souvenir postcards?  There is much more to discover in Barcelona than Gaudi’s famous buildings though …

Barcelona - My Top Ten Things to Do

  1. La Sagrada Familia
  2. La Palau de la Música Catalana
  3. Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau
  4. La Casa Batiló
  5. Casa Milà – La Pedrera
  6. See a Flamenco Show
  7. Barceloneta – The Beach
  8. Port Vell Marina
  9. Gothic Quarter/Old Town
  10. Sample “La Bomba” at Senyur Vermut Tapas Bar.

1. La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona
Gaze up in Awe at La Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia – everyone’s Number One in Barcelona.  Walk around the façades of the – still unfinished – Sagrada Familia and take in the story they tell of the life of Jesus Christ.

To get the most from your visit, be sure to go inside the basilica and gaze up in awe.   The building to which Gaudi devoted the bulk of his life captures natural light and the beauty of nature beautifully.  It really feels as though you are walking through a forest.

La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona

Gaudi always predicted that Barcelona would one day be known for its church.  He was in no hurry to build his grand vision though – “My client is in no hurry God has all the time in the world.”

Sagrada Familia Barcelona
Admire how natural light floods in

Fascinating Facts - The Magic Square

Did you spot the magic square on the Passion Façade just above the exit?  Find out what it’s all about here.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona Passion Facade - Magic Square
Passion Facade - Magic Square
La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona - By Night
La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona - By Night
La Sagrada Familia - Barcelona
Tips for Future Travellers
  1. Book a ticket in advance to avoid not being able to go inside or missing out on visiting the towers.
  2. Bring your earphones for the audio tour.
  3. Visit at night for a different perspective.

2. La Palau de la Música Catalana

La Palau de la Música de Catalana
Hats Off to the architect - Lluís Domènech I Montaner

Fascinating Facts - The Air Conditioning

Look up and admire the original air conditioning system at La Palau – spot the holes between the St. George roses?  It was not updated until the 1980s.

No – it wasn’t designed by Gaudi.  “Hats Off” to the Catalan architect that designed this modernist masterpiece of an art nouveau building – Lluís Domènech I Montaner.  

The Palau is a veritable palace of a concert hall – guaranteed to marvel, enchant and seduce you in equal measure.  If there is one sight in Barcelona that really deserves its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, then this is it for me.

Palau del la Música de Catalana - Air Conditioning
La Palau - Original Air Con System
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona - Balcony
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona
Statues surrounding the Stage
La Palau de la Música Catalana Barcelona - Ceiling
Tips for Future Travellers
  1. Book a ticket in advance to avoid not being able to go inside.  The facade is beautiful, but can only really be appreciated from the inside due to the location of La Palau in a tiny, narrow street.
  2. I would recommend a guided tour rather than an audio tour.  You can listen to the organ play on the guided tour – guaranteed to move your soul!
  3. Visit early in the day to avoid the crowds – the first tour is at 9am.
  4. Don’t leave it too late to visit – the last tour is at 3.30 pm.
  5. Consider buying a combined ticket with the Hospital de Saint Pau – designed by the same architect (see below).
  6. Consult the programme of La Palau before your visit to take the opportunity of seeing a performance while you are there.  Imagine watching an opera or a flamenco show in this amazing space.  What better way could there be to check out the natural lighting and acoustics and soak up the passion of the building?
  7. If you can’t get a ticket to visit the real thing, you always have the option taking a virtual tour of la Palau.  Sip an aperitif and take in all the splendour of La Palau for just 5 euros.  Nothing like as good as the real thing, but it’s better than missing out completely?

3. Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau

Hospital Sant Pau Barcelona
Hospital Sant Pau Barcelona

If you enjoyed your visit to La Palau, then you should definitely  not miss the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site either.

Designed by the same architect and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful landmark hospital was constructed to ensure the greatest comfort to the sick.

Funded by private donations, the hospital is one of the best examples I have ever seen of a public building designed to holistically serve its users – both staff and patients – in a truly inspiring way.  

Visiting a hospital is not usually the first thing on your trip wish list, but Saint Pau is easily the most beautiful hospital I have ever seen.

Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau Barfcfelona
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau Barcelona
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau Barcelona
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau Barcelona
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Saint Pau Barcelona
Tips for Future Travellers
  1. Book a ticket in advance 
  2. Consider buying a combined ticket with La Palau de la Música de Catalana (see above).

4. La Casa Batiló

La Casa Batiló Barcelona
La Casa Batiló Barcelona

Second only to La Sagrada Familia, La Casa Batiló is one of the most flamboyant examples of Gaudi’s unique style of archtiecture that makes Barcelona so special. 

The scaly mosaics in the form of St. George’s dragon arch over the rooftop between the colourful chimneys to draw the eye to what has to be the most remarkable block of flats in the world.

Yet another UNESCO World Heritage site in this bucket list must see site packed city!

Tips for Future Travellers
  1. Book your ticket in advance – we only had the opportunity to see the building from the outside.
  2. Visit at night – or take a special night tour – to get a different perspective and avoid the crowds.

5. Casa Milà - La Pedrera

Casa Milà - La Pedrera Barcelona
Casa Milà - La Pedrera Barcelona

If you haven’t had enough of UNESCO World Heritage Sites by now, then La Pedrera (otherwise known as Casa Milà) is yet another one.

Another Gaudi designed apartment block, it has NO STRAIGHT WALLS!  It also has the city’s first underground car park.

Dine under Gaudi's Ceiling - La Predera Casa Milà Barcelona
Dine under Gaudi's Ceiling - La Predera Casa Milà Barcelona
La Predera Casa Milà Barcelona
La Predera Casa Milà Barcelona
Tips for Future Travellers
  1. Book your ticket in advance to avoid missing out on seeing the inside and to avoid long lines.
  2. To get a flavour of this unique building, you can dine under Gaudi’s ceiling at the tapas bar on the first floor.  

6. See a Flamenco Show - Trip Highlight!

Flamenco Show Barcelona
Flamenco Show Barcelona

When in Rome … do as the Romans do.  So, when in Spain – you just have to see a flamenco show?

Nothing symbolises the Spanish culture quite like flamenco.  Watching the dancers – strong, passionate and pulsating with the rhythm of their art – makes your toes tap and brings a smile to your face.

They swirl with their dresses, flirt with their long fringed scarves and make your heart race with their clicky heeled shoes and castanets.

This is SHOW TIME – so pre book your ticket to make sure you don’t miss it!

Flamenco Show Barcelona
Flamenco Show Barcelona
Tips for Future Travellers
  1. We saw a flamenco show at the Teatro Poliorama – check the programme and see if you can time your visit accordingly.
  2. La Palau also puts on flamenco shows, which I am sure would be a great experience (but don’t miss out on the guided tour too).
Flamenco Show Barcelona
Flamenco Show Barcelona

7. Visit the Beach at Barceloneta

Barceloneta Beach - Barcelona - Artist's Impression
Barceloneta Beach - Barcelona - Artist's Impression

If the plethora of world famous sites is leaving you in need of some relaxation, pause for a while on the beachfront at Barceloneta – Barcelona’s “fishing village”.

You won’t be stuck for somewehere to have a drink or sample a tapas menu here, though you might struggle more to find a free square on which to lay your beach towel and rest a while on the sand.

Personally, I prefer the artist’s impression of Barceloneta above – one of the exhibits  displayed at the Hospital Saint Pau.

Barcelona – the City that has it all – including a beach.

8. Port Vell Marina

Port Vell Marina Barcelona
Port Vell Marina Barcelona

Port Vell Marina is a pleasant place for a stroll.  The harbour cruise boats  – Las Golondrinas (Swallows) – depart from here.  

We didn’t have time to fit a trip into our itinerary, but they look like they might be fun and give you a good view of the city’s skyline?

9. Gothic Quarter/Old Town

Iberico Ham Shop - Old Town Barcelona
Iberico Ham Shop - Old Town Barcelona

The maze of narrow streets that make up the Old Town and the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona is a good place for a quiet stroll too.

La Rambla – Barcelona’s most famous avenue – bisects the Old Town.  You will find plenty of “I heart Barcelona” T shirts there and many other souvenir shops full of stuff that no-one really needs but that many people must buy.  I’d say give La Rambla a miss, but you can’t really – it’s too long and too big to avoid.

10. Foodie Firsts - La Bomba at Senyur Vermut Tapas Bar

La Bomba - Barcelona Tapas
La Bomba - Barcelona Tapas
Escalivada Barcelona Tapas
Escalivada Barcelona Tapas

Tapas is a big part of Barcelona life.  Small in size but packed with character and flavour, they provide a great opportunity to sample a wide variety of local delicacies without overfacing yourself.  

If you only try one tapas dish, then make it La Bomba. A tennis ball-sized potato croquette served with a white garlic aioli and a rich and spicy red sauce.  La Bomba represents the bombs of the Spanish Civil War – an important part of Catalan’s history.

We sampled ours at Senyor Vermut Tapas Bar – a great little bar equipped with old fashioned soda siphons to add a little frison to the atmosphere.

Another tapas favourite worth trying is Escalivada – a traditional Catalan  dish made with peppers, aubergines and onions. 

Senyur Vermut Tapas Bar - Barcelona
Senyur Vermut Tapas Bar - Barcelona

A Suggested Itinerary for a 3 Day Trip to Barcelona

Pre booking is essential if you want to fit this itinerary into 3 days.  It is useful to know that restaurants rarely open until 8.30, which helpfully means that your days in Barcelona are a little longer!

Day 1

Morning:  Explore the Quadrat d’OrPasseig de Gràcia on foot, visiting  La Predrera, Casa BatilóIlla de la Discòrdia and Casa Milà.

Lunch:  Tapas near Sagrada Famila

Afternoon:  Sagrada Familia – Pre booked tour.

Early Evening:  6.15 pm Flamenco Show – Pre booked (see above for details)

Dinner:  Restaurant Coure – Very nice Mediterranean/ Catalan food, one of the best value for money in Barcelona, where the locals go.  Reservations essential.

Day 2

Buy a Hop On Hop Off Barcelona BusTuristic Ticket – available at all hotels. and on line.  The tourist bus has 2 routes covering all the major sites.  Although the audio tour isn’t particularly inspiring, the tourist bus is a convenient way of covering a lot of ground quickly.  It also offers discounts for many of the major attractions so works out to be a fairly economical way of getting around what is quite a large city. We bought a 48 hour ticket.

Morning:  Take the Red Route, disembarking at the Port Vell Marina.  If you have time, take a scenic harbour tour on Las Golondrinas.

Lunch:  Barceloneta Beachside Restaurant – or buy a picnic from Mercat Boqueria on La Rambla.

Afternoon: Walk back through the Old Town/Gothic Quarter exploring La Rambla and – if you have allowed enough time- visit – Palau Güell.

Dinner:  Enriqueta – Reservations essential.

Day 3

Morning:  Take the Blue Route, disembarking at Hospital Saint Pau.  Take a pre booked tour.  Hop back on the bus – or walk – to the next stop – Park Güell – Take a pre-booked tour.

Afternoon: Return to the centre of town via the remainder of the Blue Route.

Take a late light tapas lunch under Gaudi’s ceiling at La Predera.

Dinner: For a very special meal, reserve a table at Hisop.   It’s a tiny place but the chef has one Michelin star and they have a wonderful tasting menu or a la carte, which is really good.  It is Catalan food with a modern touch.  We didn’t get a chance to try this restaurant, unfortunately, but it was highly recommended to us.   Reservations essential.

Late Evening:  Visit the City at night to get a completely different illuminated perspective.

Day 4

Fitting everything in to 3 days – even long ones – is a real challenge in Barcelona.  I would have loved the luxury of another couple of days here to allow a more in depth look at Gaudi’s famous buildings and to explore some of the many museums and art galleries in the city.

An afternoon flight meant that we were able to have enough time to visit La Palau de la Mùsica Catalana in the morning of our last day in Barcelona.  It makes a great finale for a short visit.  Tours begin at 9am.

Where We Stayed

Our base for this trip was the Hotel Pratik Bakery.  Overall, this was a great place to stay in Barcelona.  Rooms are small and functional, but clean, cool and comfortable.  It is in a quiet location, but all the main sites are within easy reach on foot.  There are a number of good restaurants available nearby – ask at Reception  for current recommendations.

A lovely buffet breakfast is available and you can watch your bread and croissants being baked as you eat it.  Kettles and tea bags are available from Reception too so you can enjoy a morning cuppa – unusual for Spain/Europe!  Beach towels and airport transfers are also available.

A 12 noon checkout meant we could make best use of our last day too.  Highly recommended.

Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona
Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona
Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona
Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona
Barcelona Hotel Pratik Bakery Bedroom 409
Barcelona Hotel Pratik Bakery Bedroom 409
Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona - View from Room 409
Hotel Pratik Bakery Barcelona - View from Room 409

Wish I'd Seen

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and a gift I aim to give you for free via the Love to Wander website.  Although our itinerary was very close to the one set out above, we didn’t get time to visit Palau Güell, Park Güell or Mércate Boqueria and we didn’t take a trip on Las Golondrinas either.  To fit these in, you would need to be prepared to make an early start each day and book well ahead.

Glad I Packed

  1. An Umbrella and a Raincoat.  Although the weather was mostly dry and sunny and pleasantly warm at the end of May, we did have a couple of short sharp showers during our visit.
  2. Comfortable walking shoes and sandals.  We managed to clock up a hefty 70,000 steps during our short stay – despite sitting on the tourist bus for part of it!
  3. A zip up handbag I could carry close to my body and fit under my arm.  Sadly, Barcelona is also famous for its pickpockets

Tips for Future Travellers

There are a couple of other tips I’d like to  share with you before I close this post:

We travelled with friends and found the Splitwise App really useful for tracking all our trip expenses and splitting them between us as we went along.

An easy way to share photos without losing resolution is useful too.  Air Drop is obviously great while you are together, but if you run out of time to do that, try out: We Transfer or transfer between iPhones  via an iCloud Link.

A website I referred to a lot during my own planning was Museos, written by Céline who has made Barcelona her adopted hometown.  I found her interactive map particularly useful.

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