Buzzing Barcelona has beaches, banging clubs and bags of boho cool. This artistic city is fiercely Catalan, with a culture and cuisine all of its own, so there’s plenty of cultural sites and gourmet food to whet your appetite on a Barcelona city break. Whether you’re backpacking in europe or fancy a chic citybreak, check out Lauren Smith’s guide to a whirlwind 48 hours in the city.
Check into your Hostel: There are plenty of cool cheap Barcelona hotels or hostels to choose from in the city. The Kabul Hostel is right by Las Ramblas, a lively and good value hostel popular with backpackers for its bar, summer terrace and delicious free breakfast. For something a little more stylish, try the Barcelona Rooms, cool apartments in an art nouveau building with a fully equipped kitchen on each floor.
A Medieval Morning: Barcelona is a city of neighbourhoods, so get to know your bearings by taking a leisurely stroll. Starting at the Placa Catalunya, walk along the famous Las Ramblas boulevard, lined with trees. This pedestrian area is often packed with street performers, pickpockets, and tourists, so turn off into the Barri Gotic, the medieval part of the city.
The Placa del Pi and Placa Sant Josep Oriel are a welcome respite from Las Ramblas’ crowds, lined with terrace cafes and independent art galleries (many of them free). There are a couple of art and food markets here, as well as the odd musician strumming in the square. If you’re feeling peckish, stop off in on of the cafes and ask for hot chocolate and churros (light doughnuts dusted with sugar). The hot chocolate here is like soup, so ideal for dunking!
Check out the Cathedrals: The main draw of the Barri Gotic is Barcelona Cathedral. Dating from 1298, its free to enter, and the cavernous cloisters inside are breathtaking. Despite the Gothic facade, the cathedral is a blend of architectural styles, each dedicated to a period in Spain’s religious history.
Next up is the more famous Sagrada Familia, in the trendy L’Eixemple district, a bit further north. L’Eixemple (‘the extension’) was built in the 19th century after the city became too overcrowded, and there are several beautiful Art Nouveau buildings here worth gawping at. Here is where you’ll find La Sagrada Familia, the surreal architect Antonio Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. If you can’t face forking out the entrance fee, the cathedral is qually impressive from the outside.
Munch at the Market: Head back to Las Ramblas for the legendary La Boqueria Market. This foodie paradise is a feast for the senses – groaning stalls of every food imaginable in an elegant market hall. You can buy anything here from fresh fruit to edible beetles, but the Jamon Iberico, Manchego Cheese, freshly squeezed juices and dought pizza make an excellent and cheap picnic.
March up the Mountain: Montjuic Mountain rises 213 metres over the port of Barcelona, and since the 1992 Olympic Games has become a park filled with things to see and do. Take the Teleferic de Montjuic cable car to the top from Castell (the views from your window are well worth the nail-biting climb), and then explore. Top places to visit include the kitsch Poble Espanyol village (with replicas of architecture from across Spain), the free Magic Fountain light show, and the Palau Nacional, a sprawling palace and the Museum of Catalonian Art. This museum is full of medieval art and works rescued from Catalan churches during the 1920s.
Tuck into Tapas: For a cheap and delicious dinner, try out some tapas. From juicy Calamares to ham croquettes, these bite-sized snacks are the perfect accompaniement to a glass of vermouth or Sangria. La Caleta de Gracia (Torrent de L’Olla 121, Gracia) experiments with new types of tapas, and The Bar Vasconia (Calle Gignas 13) is a great little bar in the Barrio Gotic. For something a little more traditional, the two tapas bars inside La Boqueria market, El Quim and Pinotxo are equally good.
Party Hard: The Gothic Quarter is packed with bars with happy hours and 2 for 1 cocktails until around 10 – start your evening there to avoid paying eye-watering prices in the clubs later. There’s always something going in cool nieghbourhoods like El Raval, so finding a good night out isn’t difficult. Jazzi Si in El Raval (Calle Requesens, 2) is a great place to catch live music, or try Apolo/Nitsa (Nou de la Rambla) a cool club housed in an old theatre, that stays open until 6am some nights.
Parc Life: If you’ve had a wild night, spend a leisurely morning exploring Parc Guell. This sprawling park to the North of Barcelona was Antonio Gaudi’s love letter to the city, a showcase of his dreamlike sculpture on a hillside. Originally planned as an estate for the city’s well-heeled, today you can wander through twisting pathways that boast spectacular views. Check out the iconic gecko sculpture, mosaic benches, the fairytale gatehouses at the park entrance, and Gaudi’s own house, now the Case-Museu Gaudi.
Hit the Beach: After a few hours exploring the park, it’s time to hit Barcelona’s beaches! Just wander down the end of La Rambla and along the Moll de la Fusta, and four km of blue flag beaches are yours to enjoy. In the summer the beaches can get a little crowded, but the facilities are great, with showers, deck chairs, and beach volleyball. Plus the golden sand and blue sea can help you forget you’re even in a city. Grab a refreshing Clara (beer and lemonade) from Santa Marta Bar (Carrer de Grau i Torras 59), and watch the world go by to the music of live DJs.
The Catch of the Day: After last night’s exploits, spend a more chilled out evening in La Barceloneta, a traditional fisherman’s neighbourhood that hasn’t changed much in 150 years. The port’s narrow streets and small squares are full of traditional bars packed with regulars chattering into the night, and small seafood restaurants serving the catch of the day. On the Passeig Joan de Borbo there are several great seafood restaurants serving shellfish and paella, get the ‘Menu del Dia’ for the cheapest and freshest dish. After dinner wander along the seafront and then head to The Electricitat (Calle Sant Carles, 15) for a glass of vermouth, the local tipple of choice.
LS – If you’ve got any more tips on what to do in Barca, get in touch with us – we’d love to hear your insider’s guide to this fantastic summer city!