“We have given a diploma either to a crazy person or to a genius!”
These were the thoughts of Gaudí’s professor who gave him the diploma when Antoni Gaudí graduated from his architecture school in Barcelona. He was a good prophet, wasn’t he? Brace yourself for an architectural odyssey!
Introducing the Heaven of Architecture
This article will show you how to spend 3 days in Barcelona. Bear in mind that three days in the Catalan capital is the bare minimum to cover the most important landmarks. If you’re a slow traveller, I recommend at least a week.
The post will be in a storytelling way, packed with tonnes of Barcelona travel tips and tricks. But before I proceed, what is Barcelona?
Is it Gaudí? Or Camp Nou?
What about Sagrada Familia?
Bread with tomato? Catalan language?
Beautiful beaches or serrated mountains? Columbus, stunning architecture, or humidity?
I guess I don’t have to decide since it’s a conglomerate of all these and a throng of other things.
Architecture. Sumptuousness. Opulence. But not in that lavish Emirati style. It is just the right amount for your eyes to ponder in awe and your mind to contemplate in regal silence.
Let’s start day by day.
Day 1 – La Rambla, Citadel Park, and Park Guëll
My trip to Barcelona was enjoyed in the company of a friend. We got an apartment just 5 minutes away from Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square), and this is where our journey started.
La Rambla de Barcelona – the Infamous Main Street of the Mediterranean City
Plaça de Catalunya is a gargantuan square where hundreds of public buses stop to take the swarms of tourists from/to the airport. From the square to the statue of Christopher Columbus stretches the notorious La Rambla.
You’d ask, “Why notorious?”
I jumped to this adjective because the street has this grim reputation of recurring thefts. So, it was no wonder that we saw the majority of people (there were literally legions of people, marching this street all day long) had turned their backpacks into frontpacks. They were carrying, or rather hugging, their belongings in front of them. Although I was not robbed of anything, be super attentive there.
I called La Rambla notorious for another reason. It’s not only quite expensive to have a meal there but also the dishes aren’t really delicious. Besides, the pedestrian area is quite small and there are two streets around it with countless cars and public transportation. Therefore, I suggest to just ramble, but not “gamble” (eat and drink).
On the way to the monument of Columbus, we passed by the Main Theatre, the Military Government, and lots of sophisticated examples of gorgeous architecture.
At the end of the street, you’ll notice the towering Statue of Columbus. Erected for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888), the monument was in honour of the first voyage of Columbus to the Americas.
Measuring around 60 m (197 ft), the monument represents Columbus, pointing to the New World.
Funny fact: Columbus is not pointing to the New World but to Algeria.
The Seaside Walk and Citadel Park – a Whiff of Fresh Mediterranean Air
After taking numerous photos of the “explorer”, we continued our tour on Passeig de Colom. That’s a broad avenue generously lined with palm trees. It led us to the Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park).
While sauntering towards the park, we passed and stopped for a minute to marvel at Estació de França (France Station). Constructed in the 19th century and as the name suggests, it served as a terminus for trains coming from France. It’s an imposing building and the second busiest railway station in Barcelona.
Citadel Park is a beautiful 70-acre green space. It houses:
- The Zoo of Barcelona,
- Several museum halls,
- The Catalonian Parliament, and
- A gorgeous fountain (Antoni Gaudí might have had a contribution there, too).
At the promenade’s northern end is situated the Arc de Triomf (“Triumphal Arch”). It’s the principal access gate to the park, constructed in brickwork with vibrant colours in the style of Neo-Mudéjar.
Park Guëll – Colourful Mosaics Come to Life
As one of Gaudí’s most stupendous creations, Park Guëll is nestled on Carmen Hill, overlooking Barcelona. Every bench there is a masterpiece of its own. Architectonic elements reign over the wonderland that Park Guëll is.
The construction of the park happened between 1910 and 1914. It officially opened its doors for visitors in 1926, and it was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage Site and put under the “Works of Gaudí”. The ambience revolves around organic shapes and figures, influenced by the architect’s naturalist phase.
Yes, it’s hardly possible to take a photo without someone else’s selfie stick poking you in the tushie or taking at least a minor, but annoying, portion of your picture. Nevertheless, the throngs of tourists were determined to do so regardless of the vivid opportunity to lose an eye or, at least, their dignity.
However, there are a couple of spots one might find amusing or even exciting. A view from the top of the park offers splendid views of the city and you can also see Sagrada Familia.
Park Guëll is also home to a house where Gaudí lived for twenty years from 1906 to 1925. It opened its doors to the public as a Museum House in 1963. The house contains objects of the more intimate side of the architect.
Day 2 – Sagrada Familia, the Gothic Quarter, and the Magic Fountains
Sagrada Familia – a Basilica that Excites, Enchants, and Enthralls
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Sagrada Familia – the true masterpiece and Gaudí’s most ambitious project.
The glorious cathedral is still an ongoing work, bound to be finished in 2026, commemorating the centenary of Gaudí’s death.
Sagrada Familia is spellbindingly beautiful inside and out. It captivates the eye, mesmerises the body, and tingles the skin.
If you’re ready for a promenade in your most audacious architectural dreams – be my esteemed guest.
From outside, the Basilica is nothing short of an architectural miracle. The highest tower, dedicated to Jesus, measures an imposing height of 172,5 m. Besides, there are four other towers, measuring 135 m and dedicated to the four evangelists. There are numerous other towers and façades, dedicated to different Saints and to the life of Jesus.
INSIDER TIP: Book your tickets in advance. If you’d like to peek at Barcelona from above, opt for the tower tour.
The Gothic Quarter – Ornate Edifices Mingle with Tiny Streets
What stroke me most about Barcelona, however, were the amazingly ornate buildings all around the city. Almost every single construction bears an exquisite decoration. Gaudí’s genius and the city’s sheer opulence were streaming off of every corner.
This is the case in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) of Barcelona. As the centre of the old city, the quarter stretches from La Rambla to Via Laietana, and from the Ronda de Sant Pere to the Mediterranean seafront.
The Gothic Quarter unites the oldest part of Barcelona. Besides a few drop-dead gorgeous cathedrals, the quarter is also home to an ancient Roman wall. The neighbourhood is also home to the mediaeval Jewish quarter with its synagogue.
I was breathing deeply every time I entered a new cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. The gargantuan columns, magnificent stained glasses, and pointy domes of every one of those made me ponder in awe. What was even more interesting – the labyrinthine street plan of the quarter led tiny streets opening into spacious squares.
INSIDER TIP: There’s a copy of the famous Black Madonna of Montserrat in the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter.
The Magic Fountains of Montjuïc – an Unforgettable Faery of Lights and Sounds
One of the must-sees, if you are into lights, is the magic fountain show which usually takes place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night from 21:30 to around 23:00. It’s strongly advisable to be there around 20:00 to get a great position for observing the spectacle.
INSIDER TIP: What I did was hop on one of the four gigantic columns, sit cosily there without being pushed, and contemplate the music and light show. You’ll see the four gigantic columns just behind the fountain pictured below.
The fountain came to life in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exposition. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) badly damaged the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc and it didn’t operate until 1955.
Music became part of the show in the 1980s. The fountain underwent a complete refurbishment for the 1992 Summer Olympics that were held in the Olympic village atop the hill.
Day 3 – La Boqueria, Poble Espanyol, Montjuïc Castle, and La Barceloneta
The last day of our 3 days in Barcelona included a visit to the hill of Montjuïc. But before that, we paid La Boqueria market a visit.
La Boqueria – Jamón Lovers and Fresh Juice Connoisseurs, Stop Here
As one of the foremost go-to tourist places, even in the morning, it was crowded. The market’s sundry assortment of goods ranged from fresh fish through cured ham (jamón) and dried cheeses to traditional Spanish and Catalan food.
At the market, my friend and I also found many stalls which sold freshly squeezed juices from various exotic fruits, ranging from guanabana and guava to coconut and mango. Most of them sell the juices for just 1.5 EUR for a cup of 200 ml.
But let’s get back to Jamón. It’s a scrumptiously divine meat that’s “extracted” from boars who’ve eaten grass, herbs, and, most of all, acorns (or oak nuts). Depending on the quality (which is determined by the number of acorns the boars consume), the prices vary greatly. They start at as low as 10 EUR per kilogramme and go to as much as 300 EUR.
INSIDER TIP: One of the best varieties is Jamón de Bellota Pata Negra. It means “Bellota Ham from Black Leg – because of the colour of the pig’s skin.
Montjuïc Hill – a Place of Stupendous Beauty, Overlooking the Sea
We first headed to Plaça Espanya. It’s a humongous round-about near the Arenas de Barcelona, which is a huge shopping mall. What’s marvellous about it is its panoramic roof that offers a pants-dropping view of the city, Montjuïc Hill, and the Magic Fountains.
You can go to the roof via an outdoor lift (1 EUR) on the left or use the escalators inside the mall (for free, of course). Either way, it’s so worth it, especially at sunset.
Overseeing the Magic Fountains of Montjuïc is the National Museum of Catalan Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). It’s a fabulous building, holding amazing collections of Catalan art and church paintings from the Romanesque period.
Already atop the hill, we strolled around the Olympic City, and then headed to another magnificent place which goes by the name of…
Poble Espanyol – an Open-air Museum with Jaw-dropping Ambience
Literally “Spanish Town”, the complex area may is an open-air architectural museum. It unites many of the Spanish regions into a great village, representing 15 communities with their distinct cultures, mind-blowing crafts, and architectural styles. The only regions that are not represented are the Canary Islands and La Rioja.
We witnessed glass making and had a mouth-watering lunch with delectable sangria. The low-alcoholic beverage was very refreshing and didn’t cost a fortune.
In summer, the village is also a venue for pounding techno music and revolutionising house music. If you happen to be an electronic music fan or a worshipper of architecture, then Poble Espanyol is definitely a must-visit place.
Montjuïc Castle – the Fortress that Kept Invaders Away from Barcelona
The famous castle of Montjuïc is at the very top of the hill and is accessible through a cable car or on foot. A good idea is to take the cable car up (because it offers jaw-dropping views) with a single ticket and then – either walk down the hill or take the bus.
One of the most staggering views of Barcelona and its remarkable beach is from the castle. From there, one can also see the port, which is one of Europe’s largest.
The watchtower at the top reminisces of the primary defensive structure of the hill, dating back to 1073. Via a system of sails throughout the day and bonfires during the night, the lookout tower signalled the arrival of ships.
Barcelona’s defence occurred from Montjuïc owing to the fact that the hill controlled the inland plain and the coast. The fortress on top is to Barcelona what the Paul and Peter Fortress was to St. Petersburg or the Bastille to Paris – both a bloodcurdling prison and an awe-inspiring citadel. Even under Franco’s rule, the fortress continued its operations as barracks and a military prison until 1960.
If you head from the castle down and then to the left, you will find Teleférico del Puerto. The cable car will take you down to La Barceloneta – the beach of Barcelona. This is what we did. Check out the flabbergasting photo from the cable car.
La Barceloneta – Barcelona’s Gorgeous Beach
The tonnes of palm trees, cute beach bars, and tiny pedestrian streets, meandering between the imposing buildings, make La Barceloneta a terrific place and a must-visit. I also found bars for working out so I flexed my Bulgarian muscles.
La Barceloneta is renowned for its scintillating sandy beach where numerous restaurants chit-chat with nightclubs. Whether it’s day or night, the beach is Barcelona’s most animated all year round. It’s also the best place to try seafood, fresh fish, and paella.
The area around the beach also goes by the name La Barceloneta. It has the shape of a rough triangle. A peculiar fact is that La Barceloneta has a flag of its own. In the very centre of the neighbourhood, in a preserved building, lies the museum “Casa de la Barceloneta“. Dating back to 1761, it narrates the history and evolution of La Barceloneta.
If you happen to go there through metro line 4, be extra alert as it’s the most popular for pick-pocketing.
Day Trips From Barcelona
3 days in Barcelona are never enough to see everything. If you happen to have more, here are some ideas for Barcelona day trips.
Montserrat – Catalonia’s Natural Phenomenon
Take the first train (Line R5) to Montserrat from Plaça Espanya if you want to arrive early and see the Black Madonna. There are two stops – Aeri de Montserrat (cable car), which is at the foot of the mountain, and Monistrol de Montserrat (Cremallera Funicular Rack Railway).
We got off at Aeri de Montserrat station and took the cable car which took us from 139 m elevation to 683 m in less than 5 minutes. The ride was quite refreshing as it was very misty and a bit chilly in the morning.
Montserrat’s beauty enchants. As if the Catalan God has been going around with his saw serrating everything he saw (pun intended). Montserrat means “serrated mountains”.
We entered inside the monastery’s yard and saw a huge line of people, queuing to see the Virgin of Montserrat (one of the few Black Madonnas on the European continent). Due to our packed schedule, we only visited the church, but we did not wait to peek at the Madonna. However, I saw a replica of the Madonna in the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral in Barcelona. So, if you don’t mind that you will see a replica, you can easily skip the queue in the monastery and head to the Santa Maria.
The Montserrat Monastery is a wonderful starting point for hikes as some of the serrated mountains reach a height of more than 1,100 m (~3,600 ft). If your feet are tired of marching around, you can take the funiculars to Santa Cova cave, an important pilgrimage site also known as “The Holy Grotto”, or to Sant Joan, offering a stupefying view of Montserrat from the top.
We didn’t go to Sant Joan, but we managed to capture some drop-dead gorgeous moments from the site of the monastery.
How to get to Montserrat:
- By train: Hop on R5 train from Plaça Espanya. The first one leaves at 08:36. There are trains every hour until 16:36. The journey to there is a little over an hour.
- By bus: Take the AutoCars Julia from the bus station next to Estacion Sants train station in Barcelona. The journey takes around 1 hour and a half.
- By car: Get on the C-58 motorway and drive for around 40 km (25 mi). The monastery is accessible by car, and there’s free parking.
Friendly advice: If you wanna wander around the monastery and climb the steep mountains in the area, a good carry on backpack might come in handy.
Sitges – a Beach Town with a Bohemian Feel
Sitges is a shimmering gem. The small coastal town prides itself on fabulous beaches, besides the main one, which gets crowded quickly. In terms of infrastructure, hotels, shops, and other amenities, Sitges outpaces most other Catalonian beach towns. It might not be as authentic as some others, but it’s great both for a cosy relaxation and partying until the first sunrays.
The city is a vibrant combination of old and modern, housing a castle and being a home to a Film Festival and a Carnival.
Fun fact: Sitges is known as the Orange County of Barcelona as many football players from the same club have properties there. It’s also a popular gay people destination. In its vicinity is Castelldefels – the best place for beaching – wide beach area. It’s mainly for beaching, without many people.
How to get to Sitges:
- By train: Take the R2 train from stations Sants or Passeig de Grácia. The ride takes 35 minutes.
- Other options include buses and driving via the C-32 highway, heading south.
Figueres – Salvador Dalí’s Captivating Birthplace
In the Catalonian province of Girona, close to the French border, lies a coquettish town. Figueres is most famous for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí, and it’s one of the best options for a day trip from Barcelona.
The town is home to the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí (Dalí Theatre and Museum), a big museum, which was designed by Dalí himself. The building is as peculiar as the style of the artist, and holds numerous pieces of his personal collection (we’re talking gigantic pink walls with eggs on top!)
Besides Dalí’s museum, there’s a technology museum with many antique typewriters. And if that’s not enough for your exploring eyes, Figueres also houses a castle (from the 18th century) and a Parish church in a Gothic architecture style.
How to get to Figueres:
- By train: Take the train from Barcelona’s Sants station or Passeig de Gràcia. The ride is between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on the train. The fastest ones are AVE and AVANT.
- By car: Take the AP-7 motorway. The distance is 146 km (90.7 mi) and takes around 90 minutes.
Food in Barcelona – What You Really Have to Taste
3 days in Barcelona are not enough to cover the magnificent Mediterranean pearl. Neither they are enough to savour the peculiar Catalan cuisine. Before I give you some must-taste suggestions, note that the typical food in Barcelona is different from other parts of Spain.
I didn’t have a chance to taste many of the typical Catalan dishes, but there’s one that’s not only appealing to the eye but also to the taste buds – arròs negre (black rice).
Wait, what? A black dish?
Yes, usually used in paellas, people in the north of Catalonia serve dishes, which they flavour with squid’s ink. Don’t be surpised when the dish arrives at your table and everything is entirely black : )
If you haven’t tried paella in Valencia (its birthplace), Barcelona is a great spot to do so. Bear in mind that numerous places offer paella but in many of them, the paella is not really good (avoid La Rambla).
Pulpo a la gallega or “Octopus in Galician style” is, obviously from Galicia. However, if you’re a seafood worshipper, I highly recommend the dish. I’ve tried it both on the island of Tenerife and in Barcelona, and both times, it was excellent. It’s a little piquant and comes with plenty of sea salt and an occasional potato – simply scrumptious.
Besides the delectable jamón (cured ham), if you’re a cured meat aficionado, don’t miss the chance to get your teeth on:
- Fuet: a long, thin sausage made of dried and cured pork meat that’s wrapped in a gut. It’s similar to salami.
- Botifarra negra: a pork sausage with blood.
- Botifarra blanca: a white pork sausage.
- Botifarra d’ou: a white pork sausage with an egg.
Barcelona Travel Tips
- Avoid Barcelona in July and August. The city is good to visit almost all year round due to its warm weather. However, I strongly advise you to avoid it in July and August. Two reasons – swarms of tourists and unbearable humidity.
- The Mediterranean city is the capital of Catalonia. This means people in Barcelona and the whole region speak Catalan. Don’t worry – virtually anyone there also speaks Castellano (Spanish). But there will be many signs in Catalan, too.
- It’s expensive. Barcelona might be Spain’s second largest city, after Madrid, but it’s the country’s most expensive one. Its prices are comparable to those of Berlin, Adelaide, or Huntsville, AL.
- Book in advance. Overnight tourists in Barcelona were over 9 million in 2017. A good number of these people will be wanting to visit the attractions you’ll want to see, too. To escape the long queue lines, book your tickets in advance, especially if you’re going in the busy summer season. If you’re travelling alone, booking one of the many hostels in Barcelona for solo travellers is always a good idea.
- Eating time is different. As in everywhere else in Spain, local eating times are later than you might be used to. Bear in mind, lunchtime in Barcelona is between 1 and 4 PM, while dinner usually starts at 9-10PM.
- Have some cash on you. While a good number of shops accept card payments, there are also many which don’t.
- Tips are not obligatory in Barcelona. The service is usually included in the price of the meals.
- Ride the metro. It’s fast, frequent, and well-connected. A single ride is €2, but a 10-ride pass is just €10. However, it’s boiling hot in summer.
- Watch your belongings. While Barcelona is not a dangerous city, and I didn’t get robbed, La Rambla and some other areas are famous for pickpocket issues. Be aware of your things when in crowded places.
- Don’t eat at La Rambla. The notorious street is just a tourist trap. Plus, the food is bland and overpriced.
- Have some tasty and affordable tapas in the evening. Tapas are a must when you’re in Spain. Just don’t forget to couple them with a beer or red wine.
Visit Barcelona at Least Once in Your Lifetime
You can easily mix and match the spots I enlisted above for your 3 days in Barcelona. I did the tour in a relaxing way, so I can suck in every inch of the drop-dead gorgeous capital of Catalonia.
The architecture slaps you in the face, permeates in you, and leaves you wanting more. Severely fascinated by what’s around, you continue walking as if a magical Fairy is dragging you gently by the nose. Every time she wants to show you an ornament, arch, or something else worth seeing, she will gently scratch your nose in the right direction, leaving you to experience petite orgasms every single time.
Barcelona, you hugged me with your warm Mediterranean sun and kissed me gently with your caressing wind. It’s a bit disheartening to leave you, having been part of your warm, powerful embrace, but to miss you will bring me back. Barcelona, my love for you is excessively saccharine. I can’t wait to meet you again.
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What did you manage to see in Barcelona for 3 days? Did it enchant you, too?