As someone who’s only spent two days in Barcelona, I can’t claim to know all there is to do in the city, but I guess I’m decently equipped to write a guide on how to spend two days in Barcelona.
Touching on all things that may come to mind when you think of Spain—tapas, flamenco, Gaudí—and maybe some that don’t, this little fling with my latest favorite city (read about how I fell hopelessly in love with Barcelona) will be a weekend well spent if you’re flitting around on a euro trip or making a quick stopover between one place and the next.
Not that it’s at all enough, but if two days is all you’ve got, there’s tons of things to do in Barcelona that will still leave you feeling like you saw the place.
Track down some tapas | 6:00 p.m.
So, tapas places are to Barcelona what Starbucks is to the U.S. There’s pretty much a place on every corner. From hole in the wall spots to longer wait restos, you’ll be hard pressed to choose one unless you’ve already scoured Tripadvisor for the one with the best reviews. But forget reviews and ask a local, it’s almost always the best way to find the best eats. I asked the concierge at our hotel and he recommended Cervecería Catalana in the city’s hip Eixample district, so that’s where we went. And for all the tapas places that followed over the rest of the two days, it remained, by far, the best. Sit outside, order what sounds good, plus what the waitress recommends, savor and watch the people pass by.
Sleep and the city | 9:00 p.m.
If you want to stay in the hip Eixample area in a boutique hotel in an old building well fit for Instagramming, and where the room has its own wrought iron balcony and the “lobby” feels like it could be your own living room, try Boutique Bed & Breakfast. There are only six rooms in the place and the staff have the same home-y feel as the accommodations. Plus, it’s walking distance to the tapas place above if you’re desperate to go back (it could happen) and to Passeig de Gracia, a major thoroughfare with high-end international shopping, plus Zara (but more on that later).
Rise and Gaudí | 9:00 a.m.
What better way to start the day than at one of the city’s gems and one of Gaudí’s coolest creations? Plus, you’ll start your whirlwind tour of Barcelona with a view of the whole city and the sea. Park Güell is a public park of sorts that Gaudí started working on in 1900 when Eusebi Güell, a rich Spanish entrepreneur who made bank off of the industrial revolution, asked him to create an estate for other rich people to play in. The city of Barcelona acquire it later in 1922 and turned it into a public park where people of all statuses can play. It’s the place famous for the fabulous multi-colored tiling and the gingerbread house-like structures. I would say get your tickets (7 euro per person, or almost $8) ahead of time because they sell out sometimes, and when they don’t you may arrive to find the next opening time slot is four hours later.
Gaudí on | 10:30 a.m.
It’s really best to just get in all the Gaudí while you can, let’s face it. His style is distinct to say the least. His masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia is the icon you’ll see on every single Barcelona knickknack in the souvenir shops. Architect Francisco Paula de Villar started building it in 1882 but Gaudí pretty much took over a year later and the first guy quit. It’s gothic and traditional in some ways, but then you’ll see very big bunches of grapes on the spires. It’s also extremely crowded probably all the time, so here’s another where buy-ahead tickets are best since you’re on a two-day schedule.
Lunch on the plaza | 12:30 p.m.
If you’ve made it to Barcelona while the weather is nice, take all opportunities to dine outside. For lunch, do it at Plaça Reial, a plaza in the Gothic district of the city and next to La Rambla, Barcelona’s most popular street. Here, restaurants surround the plaza with all views pointing center so you can watch life happen. We found this place immediately after stuffing ourselves silly, so I didn’t eat here, but I’d say pick the one where the paella looks best.
Beach at Barceloneta | 2:30 p.m.
After all that food, it’ll be time to walk it off and then chill. And the beach really can’t be beat for lounging. Take the stroll down La Rambla from lunch in the plaza to Barceloneta beach, which is pretty much a straight shot. There, you’ll dodge peddlers convinced you need a beach blanket before you sink your feet into the sand below the Mediterranean Sea. I was there in October, and though the temperature was in the low 70s, the water wasn’t all that cold. And it was blue and clean and begging to be enjoyed. Sit, stay a while.
*Pit stop at Zara | 4:3o p.m.
I’ve starred this one, because it’s only for the shopping inclined (like myself), so for those who aren’t, please proceed to the next activity. Shoppers, Zara was born in Spain, it’s better in Spain and in some cases, it’s cheaper in Spain. It’s also on La Rambla, where you’ll likely be at more than one point during the trip. I saw a coat I wanted in New York that was $129, but because it was made in Spain, the exact same coat was 79 euro ($87) in Barcelona. That’s a deal worth making a pit stop for!
Dinner and flamenco | 7:30 p.m.
Would it really be Spain without flamenco? I mean, it probably would, but I think this is just the cherry on top of this two-day tour. The place to go, I’m told (since I didn’t make it there) is Tablao Flamenco Cordobes. It’s run by a family of flamenco artists and said to be the most important show in the city. Dinner and a show starts at 69 euro ($76) per person and there are as many as five different shows in an evening. Making reservations ahead will likely make for better seats the night of.
Places abound along La Rambla and on side streets to pop in for a drink afterward. Or, if you want to imbibe at the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona, which counts English writer George Orwell among its past patrons, you’ll find Boadas not far off on a side street.
See Casa Batlló | 10:30 a.m.
If you’re Gaudíed out, sleep in. If not, head to Casa Batlló. It used to be a regular house until owner Josep Batlló asked Gaudí to make it audacious, which I’m pretty sure he aced. Now the ground floor is a museum to the design, and some people have said they love it more than la Sagrada Familia. The roof is made of the architect’s favored broken tiles and looks almost like a dragon’s back. Some of the windows are oval and the main spire looks like it has a meringue cookie on top of it. Inside, things are oddly shaped and look a little like they’re melting or you’re falling down Alice’s rabbit hole in Wonderland.
Eat ice cream to write home about | 12:00 p.m.
Back along La Rambla, you’ll find a bajillion gelato places—actually, there are a bajillion gelato places everywhere for some reason—but there’s one that’s the one. At least I think so. It’s in the center aisle of La Rambla, where all the restaurants have their outdoor seating and street vendors sell everything from selfie sticks to succulents and handmade earrings. It’s called La Nocciola Toscana and there are close to 20 flavors. Get at least two. I had banana and cookies and cream, and if I were rich, I’d fly back to Barcelona on my private jet at least once a week to have this gelato. It was that good, so go.