A weekend in Barcelona is the perfect idea for a short European getaway. Beach lover, hill walker, city dweller, bar hopper, art aficionado or history buff – Barcelona has you covered.
This ultimate guide covers many of the city’s major sights but our goal is to give you a comfortable amount to achieve in a weekend. We’ve added in bonus extras for those who are quicker list tickers and those who are coming back for round 2, or 3 or … you get the gist.
Bienvenido a Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia in the North East of the country and is nestled fortuitously between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains.
Famous for Gaudi, the 1992 Summer Olympics, modern art and of course football; Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain. It is also armed with Spain’s second most visited site – The Basilica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia.
We spent a weekend in Barcelona ourselves, so as always, this itinerary is tried and tested by us first. Let’s get started!
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Travel To Barcelona
By Flight: Barcelona has a huge international airport located just 20-25 minutes drive from central Barcelona around La Rambla and Gothic quarter. There are direct flights from all over Europe and 12 airports in the US.
Check flights using Skyscanner – we always use it as our preferred flights booking engine.
By Train: Travel to Barcelona Sants train station. Barcelona is easily accessible from most of Spain, sometimes with a change in Madrid. Another option is to travel down on a 6 hour direct train from Paris. The station is around 15-20 minutes drive from central Barcelona around La Rambla and Gothic quarter. Check Eurail for trains into and out of Barcelona.
Weekend in Barcelona Itinerary
Day 1 / Saturday
1. Orientation – Free Bike or Walking Tour
First things first, grab a cafe con leche and Spanish omelette to ramp up your energy levels for the mornings activities!
With so much to see in only a weekend in Barcelona, a free walking or bike tour is the perfect way to orientate yourself in the city. You can tick off some of the lesser known sights before moving onto the big guns.
What is a Free Walking/Bike Tour?
A free walking/bike tour is a guided tour around a city by locals who share their knowledge with you and at the end of the tour, you pay your guide only what you think the tour was worth.
If you’ve never done a free tour before, we highly recommend you give it a go. As long as you’re genuinely interested in learning about a place.
You will learn the history and culture about a place and get first hand tips from locals about restaurants and bars. That alone is worth the money but hopefully you’ll find others on the tour who you get on with and grab a beer together.
We went with a bike tour to cover more ground, but both options will do the job. Our group had loads of cool people from around the world and we tore around the streets of Barcelona on old school bikes learning about it’s history.
The tour takes you past the Cathedral de Barcelona, Port Vell, the Columbus Monument, Arc de Triumph Barcelona, Parc Ciutadella, Sagrada Familia and the Olympic legacy among many others.
Tickets: Click here to reserve a spot for your bike tour with free bike tour Barcelona.
Where: Bike and walking tours start next to Barceloneta metro stop.
When: Bike tours begin at 10:00am or 1.00pm Thursday to Sunday, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy breakfast or lunch before hitting the pedals!
Note: Sometimes bike tours fill up so we highly recommend booking in for your desired time. Keep in mind there may also be a small rental fee for the bicycle as well.
There are a few bike tours offered in Barcelona. We did our tour with free bike tour Barcelona, but Sandemans is another great company. Click here to find prices and time for the new bike tours or click here to find prices and times for walking tours run by Sandemans.
2. Marvel at Gaudi’s Unique Architecture
After the bike or walking tour, grab another coffee or perhaps slip into a tavern for a swift half. Once refreshed, embark upon a self guided Gaudi tour. Our suggested starting point is Placa de Catalunya. From there, walk NW along Passeig de Gracia.
Antoni Gaudi’s architectural genius is one of the biggest pulling powers of Barcelona. People flock from all over the world to visit the truly unique building’s he designed. Seven of these buildings have been given UNESCO world heritage designation.
There are over 20 Gaudi sites scattered across Barcelona in various parts of the city. Unless you’re a big Gaudi fan or you have a few days to spare, we’d recommend taking in 3-5 sites during your weekend in Barcelona.
The metro is the best way to get around. However, you could also pick some Gaudi works that are located close together and walk as we did.
Casa Batllo (our favorite, pictured above) and Casa Mila (a close second, pictured below) can be found on Passeig de Gracia, Spain’s most expensive street. If you have time we’d also suggest Park Guell which is were Gaudi lived for a time.
What does it cost?
Prices: Casa Batllo – €24.50, Casa Mila – €25, Park Guell – €8.50
Note: Buy advanced tickets online to save a small amount and skip the line.
Did you know? Gaudi was given the nickname ‘God’s architect’. It reflects his intense faith in Roman Catholicism and aspects of his design stemming from his faith.
Pro-tip: Seeing the master of Catalan modernism’s work in person does not come cheaply. If you’re on a tight budget, remember you can see the exterior of buildings such as the Sagrada Familia and Casas Calvet, Mila and Batllo (particularly striking) and still very much appreciate the design and craftsmanship.
3. Gaudi’s Masterpiece – Sagrada Familia
Gaudi’s undoubted magnum opus is the world famous Sagrada Familia. When you’re finished at Casa Mila, take a 20 minute walk up Carrer de Provenca to be wowed by Barcelona’s centerpiece.
Only Granada’s Alhambra attracts more visitors as Spain’s most visited site. The Sagrada Familia showcases Gaudi’s architectural evolution, it’s a sight to behold and without question it has to be visited at some stage of your weekend in Barcelona.
It isn’t even complete yet (there are towers to add to the top) but its uniqueness is astounding. Gaudi didn’t like straight lines or edges, he based his designs on the swirling curves of nature. Less than a quarter of the project was complete at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926.
Be aware, there is always scaffolding on the structure and cranes in area, so you might have to get creative with photoshop for the instagram account! The building has an estimated completion date of 2026 – which would be the centennial of Gaudi’s death.
Don’t forget if you’re on a budget, check this website out to take a virtual tour of the exterior and interior.
Tickets: €15 will get you a basic entry ticket. If you want audio guides, guided tours, tower entry or Gaudi house museum it will cost more. Click here for ticket price guides.
Hours: 9am – 6pm/7pm/8pm depending on time of year.
Metro: Sagrada Familia
Did you know? The intended height of the Sagrada Familia was 170m, 1m less than Montjuic Hill. This is another testament to Gaudi’s faith. He believed that no man made structure should be higher than that of God’s creation.
4. Eat, Drink & Dance in the Gothic Quarter
After clocking up some miles sightseeing you’ll be ready to take it down a gear or two and really get into the Spanish way of life. Take a metro back to Jaume 1 and spend the rest of your evening (and night?!) eating, drinking and dancing.
The Gothic Quarter or El Gotic is the center of the old city of Barcelona and is truly a remarkable area, full of quaint restaurants, shops, medieval reminders of the Roman settlement and picturesque labyrinthine cobbled streets.
Tourist sites such as the Jewish quarter, Barcelona’s Gothic cathedral and the remains of the Roman wall are in the Gothic quarter. If you covered some of these on a walking/bike tour, no problem! There is always another mysterious alleyway to stumble across, which will more than likely emerge into another enchanting square.
Along the way you can eat at some of the oldest restaurants, drink at dive bars or upmarket cocktail bars and dance the night away as it ramps up into the early hours.
Note: Remember the authentic Spanish tapas bars don’t get started until 8.30pm at the earliest, so bear in mind you’ll be eating late!
Did you know? Many of the famous buildings in the Gothic quarter do not actually date back to the middle ages. In fact, a restoration project in the 19th and early 20th centuries transformed the neighborhood into a tourist attraction. The project deadline was the 1929 International Exhibition, hosted by Barcelona.
Day 2 / Sunday
5. Viewpoint – Montjuic Hilltop Park
Day 2 / Sunday should be spent at a much slower pace, enjoying the other side of Barcelona. After a hearty bread heavy breakfast to soak up the previous night’s wine, jump on a metro and head to Paral-lel where you can switch to the funicular included in your metro ticket.
Note: If you’d rather go up the fun way (with the best views) there are cable cars from next to the funicular or another from Barceloneta beach. Each one arrives at different parts of Montjuic so be sure to check before heading out.
At the top you’ll find the likes of Montjuic castle, several botanical gardens and the Olympic arenas & outdoor pool for swimming in summer. But it’s all about the views over Barcelona city from the top. We had planned to make it up Sunday morning, however, we were slightly worse for wear and could only make it to the beach…damn Gothic Quarter!
6. Dip Your Toes in the Mediterranean at Barceloneta Beach
The beach is included on this itinerary because it’s rare to have a huge and popular tourist city that also has a decent (albeit artificial) beach. It’s also a big part of the tourism in Barcelona so can’t be ignored. However, if the beach isn’t for you, explore another of Barcelona’s neighbourhoods such as Eixample or Gracia, tick off some more Gaudi or maybe there’s a Barça football match on?
When you think of European beach resorts, Barcelona is not one that would spring to mind, right? We had a scorching hot day and it was busy but there’s plenty of sand to set up on. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars on the promenade running behind the beach to pick up drinks and snacks.
It’s the perfect way to spend your morning recovering from the night before!
Fun-fact: Barceloneta Beach is a 2 mile stretch of imported sand from Egypt for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. The palm trees were rented from the USA but are now officially Spanish palm trees!
7. The Notorious La Rambla (Optional!)
We say optional because La Rambla is purely down to individual taste, some enjoy it while others don’t. We were in the latter category. It’s an interesting place to visit, just once. If you know you’d rather not visit, head back to the Gothic Quarter again for the evening.
La Rambla is a 1.2km long vibrant and lively promenade. It connects Plaça de Catalunya (the center of Barcelona) and Port Vell. Until 1440 it was a sewage-filled stream and rainwater drain. The city walls were extended and diverted the stream away from what is now the tree lined Las Ramblas.
It’s packed full with tourists day and night, shopping or eating and drinking into the early hours. It has become synonymous with pickpocketing and being a tourist trap, but can still be fun to people watch with a beer, although be careful as this beer will be outrageously overpriced, as we discovered!
Confession: La Rambla was a disappointment for us. We’d heard it would be tacky so we were prepared for that aspect. But it also lacked soul, was outlandishly overpriced and was crammed full of tourists doing photoshoots like they were in a music video. If, like us, that’s not your thing, we’d suggest heading to the Gothic Quarter. There are ample alternatives for food and drinks (plus they’ll be better value for money and more authentic).
Pro-tip: Watch your gear down here, it’s notorious for pickpockets, more on this at the end of the post.
Day 2 Alternative
Day Trip to Montserrat
We have an awesome alternative if the beach really isn’t for you or you have an extra day. Take a half day trip up to Montserrat for some countryside and nice mountain views.
Head North West on the train, then a rack railway or cable car will take you up to the Benedictine abbey – known as Santa Maria de Montserrat. From there a funicular railway takes you to the top of the mountain.
It’s a popular place so plan carefully for the crowds if you’re heading up by public transport. This half day at Montserrat is also perfect if you have longer than just a weekend in Barcelona.
What to Eat in Barcelona
The locals of Barcelona take their food and wine very seriously. Many refer to the jewel of Catalonia as one of the best food cities in the world. Of course, there’s paella that you should definitely try in Barcelona. But let’s face it, it’s all about the tapas. You can’t avoid it in Barcelona – and you shouldn’t.
There are almost too many options; we discovered that instead of trying to research ‘best tapas in Barcelona’ or looking on tripadvisor, just wandering around and stumbling into a tapas joint was the way forward. Eliminate the time you’d lose on trying to get to the absolute perfect place. Instead see one you like the look of and take the chance.
We’d recommend patatas bravas and jamon iberico as favorites of Barcelona. Most tapas bars or restaurants will usually have a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere, where you’re encouraged to try new dishes and share all with your fellow diners. Keep your eyes peeled for the busy places with locals and you can’t go wrong!
Did you know? In Spain, dinner is usually served between 9-11pm, which leaves a lot of time between finishing work and eating! Spaniards will often go to a bar and drink beer or wine with tapas until later when they go home for dinner.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
The city is split into 10 districts or barrios, broken down into 73 different neighborhoods. Accommodation isn’t too badly priced in Barcelona for the low to mid budget traveler. There are plenty of cheap hostels and pensions based all around the city.
Check booking.com for the best hotel prices in Barcelona – we always use the resource as our preferred hotel search engine.
We took a punt on looking for a place in between La Rambla and the Gothic quarter. In hindsight, we’d recommend setting up HQ near to Placa de Catalunya. This location is very central and has easy to access to most of the main sights.
The early bird catches the worm. Barcelona hugs the East coastline of Spain and it has some spectacular sunrises. Here are some of the best places to watch a sunrise if you’re awake early enough:
-The W Hotel
-Castillo de Monjuic
Bonus: for a special sunset, head over to Gaudi’s Park Guell
Pickpockets in Barcelona
Let’s shed some light on the pickpocket situation. Barcelona is well known for being the pickpocket hotspot of the world, particularly La Rambla.
Now, we’re not saying it’s a myth, but we are saying it is avoidable. Just be sensible. Don’t walk around brandishing your brand new iPhone X and don’t display your wallet that’s half tucked into your back pocket. Keep your head screwed on and nothing will be stolen.
We even sat on La Rambla nursing a pint, watching to see if anything happened. It didn’t, but we did see a lot of tourists being lazy with security.
Interactive Map Weekend in Barcelona Itinerary
If you’re planning a Spain itinerary for an upcoming trip, be sure to check out some other articles from our Spanish adventure!
Day Trip to Toledo – A beautiful UNESCO city, picture perfect and an easy to reach day trip from Madrid.
Segovia: Ultimate Day Trip Guide – Another easy to reach UNESCO city from Madrid. Segovia is home to an incredible aqueduct that has to be seen to be believed.
Alluring Ronda: An Andalusian Gem – Spain’s unique city where a famous bridge connects an old Moorish town (La Ciudad) with a newer modernized town (EL Mercadillo).
Cordoba, Spain: One Action Packed Day – An awesome Andalusian city, similar in many ways to Granada. Don’t miss the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral!
Hiking Los Cahorros in Sierra Nevada Spain – One of our favorite hikes in Andalusia!
We hope this Weekend in Barcelona itinerary helps you plan your visit!
Let us know if you have any questions about Barcelona.