After taking in all of Madrid's delights, we embarked for 3 days in Barcelona. I was amazed at the different “flavor” in each city: Madrid is a bit more corporate, like NYC. and Barcelona is a party town like Miami.
Both are charming, but Barcelona offers a bit more of a “historical” element (which I always enjoy.) We only had a few short days in Barcelona, and we did our “wine tour” on one of them, so below is what we did and what you can skip and what you should definitely see.
A final note: I felt we did a better job at booking and seeing sites in Madrid, I got a little slap happy in Barcelona and booked WAY TOO MUCH. We came home exhausted and sick from so much running around. Also, Barcelona is so charming on its own, I wished I'd planned a day just to browse the streets and explore instead of having each minute structured. Definitely learned my lesson on that one.
3 Days in Barcelona – What to Eat, See, and Do
We took the train from Madrid to Barcelona. I always love taking trains through Europe. They're so clean, really affordable, and a great way to see the countryside without having to worry about renting a car. When we arrived in Barcelona, we went to our hotel, dropped bags, and then met our private guide for this Museo Picasso and Gothic Quarter Walking Tour. Here's is a similar tour (not private.)
While we enjoyed our tour guide and skipping lines at Picasso museum very much, these are all things you could (and should) do on your own. They’re within walking distance of one another.
- Museo Picasso
- Gothic Quarter
- La Rambla
- La Catedral
- Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar
- Basilica of Santa Maria Del Pi
- Arc di Triomphe
It was fun having a local as a private guide. She was very funny and after the tour, we went for drinks and sat and talked about the struggle for Catalonian independence, a bit about her life, and what we needed to know about Barcelona. Sipping cava and talking with her was one of the highlights of the trip.
In the evening, we did a Sunset Cruise of the Mediterranean, but it was a little lame. I'd skip unless you just LOVE the water.
Near the beach though is the restaurant Can Paixano, which is rumored to have some of the best tapas in Barcelona. I thoroughly enjoyed. Bring cash and expect to stand in line and be a little pushy when it comes to ordering. It's a lot like a New York Deli; you stand at the bar, wait for someone to give you a nod, and then yell your order out.
You can handle it.
So, if you're going to Barcelona, you're going to want to “See the Gaudi.” I had no idea who he was before going, but let me tell you, seeing his architecture is truly a life-changing event. He was so ahead of his time and I'm still thinking about his work nearly two years after this trip. Damn.
On Day 2 we did a combo tour of Casa Batilo (one of Gaudi's famous houses) and La Segrada Familia (the Church he designed). You could do Casa Batilo on your own, but I DEFINITELY recommend a tour guide for the Sagrada Familia. It’s a zoo. The guide explains things and lets you skip the line and then you get to explore on your own for as long as you want.
We had lunch someplace unremarkable near La Segrada Familia.
In the afternoon we did a Segway tour (I know, we cannot be stopped on the segway. This trip convinced us to buy one for the house which I ride a lot in my instagram stories). The segway tour covered these sites:
- Port Vell
- Moll de la Fusta
- Olympic Village
- Parc de la Ciutadella
- Arc de Triomf
- La Gama
- Basilica de la Merce
I'll admit, I was so.exhausted. so I skipped this one. But Rich went. I will never schedule three activities in one day while abroad EVER again. It's vacation. It isn't supposed to feel like work.
After my refreshing nap we had another (unremarkable) dinner near the hotel, but we did venture out to Dr. Stravinskys, which is literally the coolest bar I have ever been to. It has an old ‘mad scientists' lab vibe and they make their own mixers, each designed for a custom flavor profile, which is how you order (sweet, tart, bitter, etc.) The cocktails here were also some of the most well crafted I've ever had too!
Spoiler alert: we did more Gaudi. We woke up before dawn for this tour which allows you to tour Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera) before it opens (no crowds) and watch the sunrise from the roof. This one was cool because you get to go to the roof before it opens so it was quiet and you could see great views of the city and the sun coming up. All of my favorite photos are from this location at this time of day. Truly magical. The tour itself was just so-so but getting there before everyone else was worth the price.
After Casa Mila, we rushed to meet our walking tour group for Park Guell (Gaudi's park where he was trying to build a very unique Spanish subdivision in the early 1900's.) Definitely go, but you don't need a guide.
In the late afternoon, we did an Electric Bike Tour all over Barcelona and to Camp Nou. My fiance´ loves soccer, so seeing this museum was a “must” for us. I loved getting to take the bikes all over the rolling hills and through the cute neighborhoods. Again, how I wished I'd left us time for exploring! On this tour we also got to see:
- Montjuic Palace
- The Barcelona Olympic Site
That night we did another fabulous bar, Paradiso (Barcelona has THE BEST cocktail bars.) It's a speakeasy, but we American tourists were very fooled by the facade. It's a ham sandwich shop and you have to pull on the refrigerator door to find the way inside. Inside is a very sexy tiki-bar vibe.
They're a bit more avant-garde with their cocktails than Dr.Stravinskys, but I would definitely do them both. I couldn't resist ordering a vodka that came smoked (yes, smoked) in a REAL treasure chest. Instead of a glass, I had to drink the salty sweetness out of a seashell. The biggest thing I miss about Barcelona is that I can't go to this bar again.
3 Days in Madrid + a Bonus Activity
Every trip we take abroad we try to visit the local wine region for a full day. If you have an extra day in Barcelona, I recommend exploring or hitting up one of the winery tours that leave out of the city.
We did this tour, which covered Montserrat, a religious site (in the morning), and then the Cordoniu Cava winery tour. At the risk of sounding cheesy, I definitely had a very calming, spiritual experience being high up in the clouds of Montserrat.
But it is very touristy and grows more touristy by the hour as the day progresses.
The cava tour was fun, but it wasn't groundbreaking. Also to our dismay, you can buy Cordoniu in the states for ~$12 a bottle.
If I were to do it over again, I’d do this tour that does wineries all day in the hopes of seeing something you can “only” see in Barcelona.
3 Days in Barcelona – FAQs
Is it safe to travel to Barcelona?
Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain. However, unlike other large cities, Barcelona is one of the safer metropolises. Apart from tourist crime like having your belongings stolen (pickpocketing), you won’t encounter too much crime in The City of Counts.
We went in October 2017, just a few weeks after the Barcelona attacks. It was also a time of protests because (at the time) Catalonia was seeking its independence from Spain. We never had any issues and the protests were peaceful.
Many places are even safe to walk around in the evening, so long as you take some precautions in keeping your items secure. However, as of August 2019, the city issued a warning about a rise in violent pickpocketing and aggressive thievery.
Don’t wear any expensive looking items, as that tends to make you stand out to the perpetrators of these crimes.
Be wary late at night around the port end of La Rambla and lower Raval. If you stick to public transit and taxis, you should eliminate any chances for problems to arise.
When is the best time to visit Barcelona?
Barcelona has excellent Mediterranean weather in early Summer and early Fall. (It is a coast city after all!) April tends to bring rain showers (turns out the rain in Spain doesn’t always fall mainly in the plain. Ha!)
July and August tend to be muggy and hot, even in the evenings. Again we tend to travel abroad in September/October/November and the weather is always excellent.
Because of its size, Barcelona doesn’t have downtime in tourism, so if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, you might be out of luck.
If you happen to visit during any of Spain’s Holidays, make sure you book a hotel well ahead of time.
What is the best way to get around Barcelona?
Barcelona actually has several options for getting around. The top ones involve public transit – traveling on the metro, tram, and train. All public transportation uses the same system, so any ticket you purchase would be suitable for all of them. The metro is super efficient, only taking up to a maximum of five minutes to arrive at any station. We didn't try out the public transit, so I can't recommend it, but we did do electric bikes.
You also have the option of renting a scooter to travel around in style. However, if you’ve never ridden a scooter or Vespa before, you may want to try other options.
Where do tourists stay in Barcelona?
When staying in Barcelona, you’ll want to stay as close to the city center as possible! You won’t have to worry too much about transit if you’re right in the center of everything.
The center of the city includes the Gothic Quarter, Eixample, and El Born. All three of these areas are near the beach. You can walk down to the ocean and enjoy some waves at any time.
The Gothic Quarter is full of medieval streets and centuries of Spanish history. Eixample is a bright, upscale neighborhood with modern architecture. Finally, El Born has many family-friendly attractions along with some of the architecture found in the Gothic Quarter.
What should I wear in Barcelona?
Barcelona is a huge fashion city, so you can’t just bring any outfit with you on your trip. Pack a piece or two with vibrant color that makes you look put together. Evening wear includes fancier pieces, jewelry, and makeup.
I wouldn't recommend heels, not only for walkability, but also because many of the streets are old and full of cobblestone. Yeeeeouch.
And that's it! I finished this post just in time for us to start planning our next European adventure – to Brussels and Paris. I know many friends who have been to Barcelona – what were your favorite places?
My one big tip for traveling abroad
GetYourGuide allows users to find, compare, and book sightseeing tours, attractions, excursions, things to do and fun activities from around the world. I've used them countless times when we've gone abroad (we always book tours with GYG during our annual European excursion – see here, here, and here). Never had a problem with finding our guides or connecting in the event of a delay or anything.
You can even download the GetYourGuide app so you have your tickets handy to show your guides when it is time for the tours. Highly recommend!