If I am being honest, I was ready to be disappointed by Barcelona. I spent a whole semester during my sustainable tourism MBA learning about overtourism, in which Barcelona came up frequently as a case study. On top of that, people regularly have strong opinions about Barcelona, either raving about it or hating it. I find that there is a lot of hype about Barcelona, and that always makes me pretty skeptical.
But after spending a long weekend in Barcelona ahead of my 1 week road trip through Basque Country, I get the hype. I am not going to say it is my favorite city in the world, but it certainly has a lot more to offer than initially meets the eye. From unique architecture and bustling avenues to the sun-drenched beaches and idyllic plazas, I can understand why Barcelona captures travelers’ hearts.
When it comes to things to do in Barcelona, the options are endless. This is a city where you’ll want to arrive with a plan, or else it will swallow you up with things to do. In this comprehensive blog, I am highlighting the best things to do, see and experience during a long weekend in Barcelona. Designed for first time visitors, I feature some of the big attractions, like architectural masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí, as well as some locally loved neighborhoods and charming areas.
Get ready to immerse yourself in the rich culture, stunning architecture, and lively atmosphere that Barcelona has to offer. There is really something for everyone here! You can get a visual glance of this itinerary on my Instagram Highlight about the trip. Or keep reading to discover the perfect long weekend itinerary for Barcelona. This blog post is filled with unforgettable experiences, adorable parks, and vibrant neighborhoods waiting for you to explore.
How to Plan the Perfect Long Weekend in Barcelona
Best Things to Do in Barcelona
Culinary Walking Tour
It is no secret that I am a huge foodie. I love doing culinary tours while traveling – it is one of my favorite activities! Food tours are a great way to sample a lot of different dishes, while also learning about the history and culture of a place. Before any trip, I always check to see if Culinary Backstreets offers a food tour in my destination. I absolutely love their culinary walking tours! My first tour with them was in Lisbon during my honeymoon, and then I proceeded to do several of their tours in Mexico City.
Needless to say, I was thrilled to find that Culinary Backstreets offered a number of food tours in Barcelona. I signed up for the Made in Catalonia tour, which is a half day excursion in the Gràcia district. At first glance, Gràcia appears a bit rough around the edges with “Free Catalonia!” graffiti scrawled on the walls and Catalan flags flying from many balconies. It can be a bit intimidating to a casual visitor. But as you dig in more, you’ll discover a plethora of cafés, food markets, old school bodegas, cozy traditional restaurants and creative contemporary eateries. The food here was absolutely wonderful. Gràcia gave me a great impression of what Catalan cuisine is like.
Architectural Walking Tour
In a city as renowned for its human-built infrastructure as Barcelona, taking an architectural walking tour is fascinating. Such a tour allows you to explore iconic buildings, delve into architectural styles, and gain a deeper understanding of Barcelona's cultural and artistic significance. Plus, you’ll come away from an architectural walking tour with an appreciation of the genius of visionary architects, and unravel the stories behind their creations.
I can highly recommend Barcelona Architecture Walks. They offer expert-guided tours led by architects and knowledgeable professionals who provide valuable insights into the city's architecture. The tour typically starts at a designated meeting point based on which tour you select. Given how many Gaudi attractions there are in Barcelona (and already listed in this itinerary), I might recommend choosing one of their other themed walks. I especially liked the Urbanism walk, while the Barcelona of the Future has really good reviews too.
Visit Sagrada Familia
By far the most popular attraction in Barcelona is Sagrada Familia – it is one of those must-visit Barcelona spots! Dating back to 1882, this iconic basilica, designed by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudí, stands as one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. It is a symbol of Barcelona's identity and an expression of Catalan modernism. Still under construction, it is projected to be completed in 2026 on the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death.
As you approach the Sagrada Familia, I recommend stopping in Plaça de Gaudí park for one of the best views of the basilica. On each side of Sagrada Familia, you'll be greeted by the imposing facades depicting various biblical scenes, each with its own unique style and symbolism. The basilica's soaring towers, reaching heights of 170 meters, dominate the Barcelona skyline and offer breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
When planning your visit, it's essential to book tickets in advance. Booking online will ensure you have a specified time slot and minimize waiting times. Additionally, consider purchasing an audio guide or joining a guided tour to enhance your understanding of the architectural nuances. Once inside, you'll be captivated by the vastness of the interior space. Gaudí designed the Sagrada Familia to evoke a sense of wonder and harmony with nature. The columns resemble towering trees, branching out into a stunning canopy-like ceiling. I especially loved the way the stained glass windows reflected colors into the space.
Beautiful Parks to Visit in Barcelona
This enchanting Gaudi-designed park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers a unique blend of nature and architectural wonders that have become synonymous with Barcelona's identity. The history of Parque Güell dates back to the early 20th century when Count Eusebi Güell, a prominent industrialist and Gaudí's patron, commissioned the park. It was intended to showcase Gaudí's innovative ideas and provide an idyllic retreat for Barcelona's elite.
Gaudí drew inspiration from organic forms, and the park reflects his belief in the harmonious coexistence between architecture and environment. Wandering through the park's pathways, you'll come across picturesque pavilions, viaducts, and Gaudí's former residence, which now houses a museum dedicated to the architect's work.
Access to the monumental zone of Parque Güell is regulated, and the number of visitors allowed at a time is limited to preserve its tranquility. You can purchase tickets online or at the ticket office located near the park's main entrance. I recommend doing so in advance to guarantee your spot. The most famous feature is the undulating mosaic balcony & bench, offering a panoramic view of Barcelona. Adorned with beautiful ceramic tiles, known as trencadís, this bench represents a splendid example of Gaudí's creativity and attention to detail.
Ciutadella Park is an expansive green oasis in the heart of Barcelona. It is one of the most beloved spots in the city, and a wander through the park gives you a great glimpse into the lives of local people. It provides a tranquil getaway from the bustling city and serves as a gathering place for various cultural, recreational, and social activities. The park was designed by Josep Fontserè, with the collaboration of Antoni Gaudí, who was still a young architect at the time.
Upon entering the park, you'll be greeted by a picturesque scene that includes sprawling lawns, elegant gardens, and meandering pathways. The park's centerpiece is the grand Cascada Monumental, a stunning ornamental fountain. Inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the cascading water, sculptures, and intricate details make it a popular gathering spot and a perfect backdrop for photos.
Cool Neighborhoods to Explore in Barcelona
Indulge in coastal beauty and Mediterranean scenery in the Barceloneta neighborhood. Unlike other parts of Barcelona, the neighborhood has a grid layout and the architecture was carefully planned to meet the needs of the fishing community, with narrow streets and buildings designed for efficient storage of fishing equipment. During the summer months, Barceloneta can get crowded. To make the most of your visit, arrive early to secure a good spot on the beach. Be aware of your belongings, and always have someone watching your stuff while swimming.
One of the highlights of Barceloneta is its picturesque beach, which stretches along the neighborhood's coastline. The golden sand, sparkling blue waters, and lively beachfront promenade create a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, or beach sports. The beach is also dotted with beach bars, known as chiringuitos, where you can savor refreshing drinks or traditional seafood delicacies. This neighborhood has the best seafood in the city! From classic paella to grilled fish, you can indulge in an authentic culinary experience that showcases the neighborhood's fishing heritage.
Located at the foot of Montjuïc Hill, the Poble Sec neighborhood is known for its lively atmosphere, delicious restaurants and eclectic shops. The history of Poble Sec can be traced back to the 19th century when it developed as an industrial area, attracting a working-class population. Over time, it transformed into a thriving artistic and cultural hub. Today, it retains its unique character and offers a blend of old-world charm and contemporary flair. This was my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona, because it feels separate from tourists -- like it is built for locals.
Poble Sec is known for its diverse array of dining options, with numerous restaurants, tapas bars, and cafés lining its streets. We spent a night simply bouncing around to different spots along Carrer de Blai, looking for busy haunts and places with cool vibes. It's a great neighborhood to indulge in authentic Spanish cuisine, sample local delicacies, and savor a traditional tapas experience.
This captivating neighborhood, also known as Barri Gòtic, is the heart of the old city. Its origins can be traced to the Roman era nearly 2,000 years ago. It feels like stepping back in time! As you wander through the Gothic Quarter, you'll encounter a treasure trove of architectural delights. The neighborhood is filled with medieval buildings, narrow alleys, and hidden squares that exude an old-world charm.
Over the centuries, the Gothic Quarter flourished as the political, religious, and economic center of Barcelona. It is home to some of the city's most significant landmarks, such as the Barcelona Cathedral, which dominates the neighborhood's skyline with its intricate Gothic façade and soaring spires. The Plaça del Rei, a historic square, features beautifully preserved medieval buildings. The Plaça Sant Jaume is another noteworthy square, home to the City Hall and the Palace of the Generalitat de Catalunya, the seat of the Catalan government.
Beyond the grand landmarks, the Gothic Quarter is a labyrinth of streets that beckon you to explore. Lose yourself in the intricate network of alleys, lined with trendy boutiques, artisan shops, cozy cafés, and bustling tapas bars. The neighborhood comes alive with vibrant energy, especially in the evenings, as locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy the lively ambiance and sample the culinary delights on offer.
Where to Eat in Barcelona
In a city with as many tourists as Barcelona, it is all too easy to have a downright disappointing meal if you settle for any old paella-slinging bar along Las Ramblas. Whether you’re visiting for just a night or spending a full week in Barcelona, be sure to choose your meals wisely! Make no mistake, you can eat incredibly well in Barcelona. Dining options range from rustic, traditional Catalan fare to sleek fusion spots. Plan on making reservations at trendy restaurants, or else you aren’t likely to get a table.
Like much of northern Spain, Barcelona is a foodie city. You can spend a lot of money on fancy dinners and tasting menus, or you can enjoy delicious pintxos and tapas in crowded bars for a cheap price. From age-old, family-run tascas to Michelin-starred creative hotspots, the list of where to eat in Barcelona is endless. Stay up to date with the newest and best restaurants in town with helpful food guides, such as this one from Eater or this guide from Conde Nast Traveler.
Where to Drink in Barcelona
Forget the Sangria. One thing you must drink while in Barcelona is vermouth! Now before you turn up your nose, hear me out! Vermouth, or vermut as it is commonly known, is a fortified wine flavored with various botanicals, herbs, and spices. In Barcelona is not just a beverage choice; it's a cultural experience that locals and visitors alike partake in. Barcelona has a deep-rooted vermut culture, and the city is dotted with vermuterias, or establishments specializing in serving vermouth. I didn’t think I liked vermouth prior to visiting Barcelona, but turns out – I was wrong!
Vermut is typically enjoyed as an aperitif before a meal or as a social gathering with friends. When drinking vermouth in Barcelona, you'll typically find it served in a small glass, accompanied by a few ice cubes and a slice of orange or lemon. The ritual often involves swirling the ice cubes in the glass to cool the vermouth slightly before taking a sip. To fully immerse yourself, consider visiting some iconic vermuterias in Barcelona, such as Quimet & Quimet, Bar Calders or Bodega Marin (where we went). These establishments are known for their wide selection and expertise in serving this beloved drink.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
There are SO many stylish and nice hotels in Barcelona. The city is pretty spread out, so choosing the right place to stay in Barcelona is crucial for a memorable and convenient experience. A few of the top neighborhoods for travelers include: Eixample, known for its modernist architecture and central location; El Born, which is adjacent to the Gothic Quarter with trendy spots and a lively nightlife; or Poble Sec, which is full of stylish AirBnbs and vacation rentals. We stayed at the Cotton House Hotel and absolutely loved the location. The restaurant was beautiful and the rooms were spacious.
Have questions or comments about spending a long weekend in Barcelona? Tell me below!
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