Barcelona rivals Paris in the beauty of its architecture and parks. We had visited years ago, but were jet-lagged and short of time, so didn’t appreciate the city. When we booked a Windstar cruise out of Barcelona, we decided to add a few days to the trip to really get to know this enchanting city. How our perspective changed!! If you are traveling to Barcelona, allow yourself the time to see these amazing sites. Here’s what to do with one day in Barcelona (or more)-
What to Do With One Day in Barcelona
La Rambla is on every visitor’s ‘what to do in Barcelona’ list and is a great place to start this one day Barcelona itinerary. Spend some time wandering this tree-lined boulevard, window shop in the high end store, and have coffee at one of the cafes. A great street for people watching.
La Rambla extends from the sea to the Plaça de Catalunya, the central square of Barcelona. If you’ve only one day in Barcelona, and need transportation to see the sites we recommend below, head to the city center or the Plaça for the Barcelona tourist hop-on, hop-off bus, and other public transportation options. (There is also the Liceu metro station (subway) at the mid point of La Rambla)
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La Sagrada Familia
There are no words to capture the stunning beauty of this still-unfinished Basilica. This is Antoni Gaudí i Cornet’s masterpiece, begun in 1882 and expected to be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Gaudí’s design celebrates God and nature in this architecture.
What makes this cathedral extraordinary is the light. Gaudí designed the stained-glass windows in brilliant colors to light up the interior, blues and greens in the morning, and reds and golds in the afternoon. We visited in the morning and spent over an hour mesmerized by the light, the organic architectural structures, and the extraordinary genius of Gaudí.
A guided tour is recommended as there are so many small but meaningful details built into the architecture. Unsurprisingly the Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Parc de la Ciutadella and the Cascade fountain
We walked this park on our first afternoon in the city. Taking a nice walk in a green space is our favorite way to adjust to a time change. If you only have one day in Barcelona, this is the place to walk.
Ciutadella park has a fascinating history. It is the site of a much-despised citadel built in 1714 by King Philip V of Spain after he captured Barcelona. In 1841 the citadel was destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1843, only to be destroyed again in 1848. Finally, in 1869, the property was turned over to the city to become a park, designed by Josep Fontserè i Mestre.
In 1888 Barcelona hosted a World’s Fair – the Universal Exhibition in this area. The Arc de Triomf that leads into the park was designed by Josep Vilaseca for the exhibition. Take a few minutes to study the friezes and reliefs on the archway.
For decades this was Barcelona’s only green space and, though other parks are now within the city, it continues to draw residents as well as tourists. The gorgeous palm trees, flocks of parakeets, and fountains are an oasis on a hot afternoon. Spend some time enjoying the street performers, artists, and musicians that entertain throughout the park.
What to do in Barcelona in 2 days or more
More Must See Antoni Gaudí work – Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and/or La Pedrera
Parc Güell is a public park set on Carmel Hill. Antoni Gaudí intended this area to become a elite residential area. The idea never caught on, but the park remains a wondrous showplace of Antoni Gaudi’s imagination. And a great spot to look over the city!
Residences designed by Antoni Gaudí
Gaudi’s architectural work can be seen all over Barcelona, not just in his public spaces but also in some extraordinarily designed living quarters. After you visit Park Güell, visit Casa Batlló or Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera), both on the elegant shopping street Passeig de Gràcia.
Casa Batlló was originally built in 1877 and was expected to be demolished for rebuilding. Instead the new owner, industrialist Josep Batlló y Casanovas, hired Gaudi who completely refurbished the building within the original shell. It is a spectacular example of Modernism and well worth a visit while you’re in Barcelona.
The building of Casa Milà was/is an apartment building. Currently the top three floors are open to the public. Gaudi designed the building around two interconnected courtyards which allowed all the apartments access to good ventilation. Visitors to Casa Milà begin the tour on the rooftop, where Gaudi masked chimneys and ventilation shafts with his signature lifelike sculptures. (Note: the rooftop walk, which involves staircases and very few straight lines, can be difficult if you are afraid of heights. Which I am…) From the rooftop you descend into the arched attic and finally to an apartment furnished in period style.
We booked a Viator tour which included three of the Gaudi stops mentioned above. It was a fabulous tour and we would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Barcelona!
Priority Access: Best of Barcelona Tour Including Sagrada Familia (upgrade to include Park Guell)
We also recommend a tour to the Montjuic area, including the Olympic stadium, castle, botanical gardens and the Magic Fountain. From the top of Montjuic you’ll get some of the best panoramic views of the city.
Pablo Picasso spent his years as an apprentice in Barcelona and it was his expressed wish for this museum to be established here. With 4,251 paintings by the master, this is one of the most complete collections of Picasso’s work anywhere.
The museum itself occupies five large town houses or palaces on the street carrer de Montcada. The original palaces date from the 13th-15th centuries and are an example of Catalan civic gothic style.
Palau de la Musica Catalan – a UNESCO world heritage site
An Art Nouveau masterpiece, the Palau was built in 1908 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. From the website:
The modernist building is designed around a central metal structure covered in glass, which exploits natural light to make the make Domènech i Montaner’s masterpiece into a magical music box which brings together all the decorative arts: sculpture, mosaic, stained glass and ironwork.
Take in a show at this UNESCO site. There are choral concerts, classical guitar concerts, and flamenco shows almost every day. We purchased tickets onsite for a performance that same evening, but you can also order tickets online.
The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
Yet another great area to explore in the city! This old neighborhood features some wonderful architecture and a lot of fascinating history. Visit El Call- the Jewish quarter, la Boqueria- an open air market, and the three spectacular basilicas – the gothic Cathedral of Barcelona, the 13th century basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, and the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
The Gothic Quarter is wonderfully picturesque and the perfect area to stop for tapas and sangria!
Walk the Waterfront
You can spend a day just enjoying the waterfront in Barcelona. Two of the more interesting museums are here – Maritime Museum and the Museum of History of Catalonia, as well as a world class aquarium.
If you’re not into museums, you can enjoy the beach at Barceloneta and have a wonderful seaside lunch at any number of cafes.
More Time in Barcelona? Take a Day Trip
The Montserrat Monastery
About an hour drive from Barcelona is the monastery of Montserrat. The complex sit high on the mountain of the same name (Montserrat means ‘serrated edge’ and the distinctive shape is remarkably similar to the shapes seen in Gaudi’s work) The monastery is accessible by car, cable car or rack railway. Once at the top there are trails to hike and a pilgrimage path to explore. But if your time is limited, you’ll want to focus on the monastery itself and the small but excellent art museum in the complex.
The monastery is quite large and ornate. The 12th century statue, Our Lady of Montserrat, also known as the Black Madonna, sits high up above the altar, and is the focus of a long line of believers waiting to touch the orb she holds in her hand. There is often an hour wait to touch this statue, so plan accordingly.
Plan on visiting the monastery when the boys’ choir is performing. The choir is one of the oldest boys’ choirs in Europe. It is a joy to hear. (check the Escolania boys choir website for performance times)
The Codorniu vineyards in the Penedés
We combined the visit to Monserrat with a trip to the Penedés area where vineyards produce cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. We visited the Codorniu vineyards where the Codorniu family have been making cava for 17 generations. A tour of this facility is a lot of fun. You descend 40 meters into the earth to the tunnels where the cava is stored. A tour train whizzes through the 16 miles of tunnels before bringing you to the sampling room.
We booked this tour with Viator and highly recommend the itinerary: Private Montserrat and Penedes Tour from Barcelona
Just an hour and a half from Barcelona is the picturesque coastal region of Costa Brava. Take a day trip, or better yet, stay a night in town to enjoy some of the loveliest beaches of southern Spain.
It is in this area of Catalonia that Salvador Dalí was born. The ‘Dalí Triangle’ here is a series of sites related to Dali’s life. You can reach Costa Brava by train from Barcelona but would likely want a car to visit the Dali sites.
Did we miss anything? Tapas, sangria, and the incredible music scene? Spots for delicious food? Let us know your favorite things to do in Barcelona!
Books to Read Before You Go
Barcelona is capital of the region of Catalonia, an area rich in history. You will appreciate the city better if you know a bit of the history and culture of the region of Catalonia.
Guidebook (Pocket-sized) – Barcelona Day by Day , suggestions for walking tours of the city.
Packing Light? – the book is available as a Kindle edition (but try a sample first. some of these books don’t transition well to Kindle)
|FICTION||The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón|
Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written…
|Historical Fiction||Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones|
A historical novel of friendship and revenge, plague and hope, love and war, set in the golden age of 14th-century Barcelona. Arnau Estanyol arrives in Barcelona and joins the powerful guild of stone-workers building the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar, while his adoptive brother Joan studies to become a priest.
|Historical Fiction||The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner|
“A beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction . . . Gortner’s vivid details blend with his deeply intensive research to re-create Isabella and Castile in a way that the reader will find compelling and immersive, bringing not just the Queen but the whole nation to life.”—RT Book Reviews