World class art and architecture, foodie havens, proximity to the ocean, and some of the best nightlife and music festivals Europe has to offer. There’s a reason why Barcelona features on every keen Euro-tripper’s itinerary, and why I’ve visited three times so far – most recently, on Contiki’s Western Quest tour with a bus full of wild and wonderful Aussies.
So by now, I’ve pretty much ticked off all the major ‘to-do’s, and gotten a pretty good understanding of how you could spend one weekend in Barca. Although it’s impossible to fit in every highlight into this blog, I’ve tried my best to throw all of the best bits in, in a vaguely chronological order.
But be warned – you may find you want much longer than 48 hours in this city. Because Barcelona’s romantic alleys, boho bars and balmy boulevards warrant a full-blown love affair, not just a 48-hour fling. Here a few things you really shouldn’t miss…
Bright and early on our first morning, we hopped aboard the Metro’s Green Line, to the hills overlooking Barcelona. It takes 1-2 hours to scramble up and around Gaudi’s colourful garden (get used to hearing his name – he’s the dude who practically turned Barcelona into a kaleidoscopic wonderland throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries). Look out for a mosaic salamander, a huge cross on a mound of rocks signifying the highest point (read: best views), and Gaudi’s cute little crib in the midst of it all.
Time for the big daddy – Gaudi’s cathedral is so mammoth, it’s still under construction… a century later. You’ll want to head online to book entrance ticket for la Familia in advance… unless you’re a fan of hour-long queues in the heat of the day.
But even if you haven’t booked in advance, it’s still worth the wait – because La Sagrada Familia is not your average cathedral. The first time I set foot inside La Sagrada, I was blown away. The second time I set foot inside, I was with a friend who was experiencing it for their first time, and watching him be as equally blown away made the experience resonate even more.
Whereas the outside is Gothic to the extreme, made from black stone and carved with twisted gargoyles, once you’ve stepped through it’s jaws… it’s all so heavenly and futuristic.
The below is a small spoiler; a tiny taste of a fraction of Sagrada. I’ll leave the main marvels, above and around the gallery as a surprise…
One last Modernist masterpiece sits regally on Passeig de Gracia in the centre of the city, meaning you’re likely to fly past this on your Contiki bus as you drive into the city. Gaudi and his assistants took all of their inspiration for Casa Batllo from elements of nature. Basically, it’s super wavy.
Las Ramblas, El Born and the Gothic Quarter
With the major sights out of the way, my Contiki comrades and I headed back towards the hubbub of central Barcelona and dodged vendors, tourists and performers on our way towards the Gothic Quarter, to finish off our first successful Barcelona day of touristing. If you’re on much the same path, be sure to stop off at the incredible Marcato de La Boqueria on Las Ramblas if you’re peckish… or just want some of the Best. Foodie. Shots. Ever…and a few cheeky (free, if you smile nicely) cheese tasters.
Veer left towards the narrow, twisting streets of the Gothic Quarter, and if you’re in dire need of a sit down and a glass of sangria (I mean, if you’re not, who are you? You’re in Barcelona), stop off at H10 Cubik’s awesome little rooftop bar for more gorgeous bird’s eye Barca views.
As sunset approached, we made our way towards the spires of Barcelona Cathedral. Street performers had made the square outside their stage – two were dancing the Tango to a boombox they brought along, and another was crooning spine-tingling opera while playing a violin. Balmy European evening dreams: complete.
Carrer de Blai
Who doesn’t love a local haunt? Authentic, fun and above all, a damn sight cheaper than the tourist hotspots. Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec is an entire street dedicated to bars and eateries serving super cheap Basque tapas, known as Pintxos.
Walk in, grab a drink and order as many of these little €1 nibbles, topped with everything from seafood to chorizo, as you can manage. Then it’s sit, drink, pintxo, repeat until you burst.
Due to the fact that I was a few too many Cava Sangrias deep and fast drowning in the food rage they’d induced, I shamefully didn’t take a single photo of this charming eating street before I scranned it all. The above photo is from San Sebastian – the heart of Basque country, the birthplace of the pintxo bar, the spiritual home of all die-hard foodies… and another highlight of Contiki’s Western Quest trip.
I can’t remember what my life was like pre-introduction to pintxos… and for that, I have our Contiki trip manager to thank!
The beach (even if only for sunset)
Let’s be honest. If you’ve only got 48 hours in Barcelona, or a jam-packed Contiki itinerary, you’d be mad to spend it all on the beach.
But Barcelona does have a huge, pristine, and very bustling one. We took a pack of playing cards, two cartons of sangria and a towel to sit on our second evening, before heading to Reina Margherita on the small marina next to it for some banging Neapolitan pizzas smothered in fresh seafood.
It’s not hard to turn your 48-hour fling into a 48-hour fiesta in Barcelona. Whereas nightclubs like the famed Razzmatazz don’t get busy until long past midnight, the Catalonians have perfected the art of the day party.
Our Sunday in Barcelona found us struggling to the top of Montjuic hill, following the increasingly loud throb of techno coming from its peak, where Brunch in the Park was taking place (Don’t do this. Get the cable car). This mini-festival has been going for years – in winter down in the city, and during the summer, overlooking it. Cocktails, amazing street food, an international crowd, and even a family-friendly area complete with enviable hipster mums, dads and babies made it one of the most memorable events I’ve been to.
One of the highlights for many of us on the Barcelona leg of our Contiki tour was the optional add-on of a fiery Flamenco-infused dinner in a traditional restaurant. I promise you: the generous portions of tapas and jug after jug of sangria weren’t (surprisingly) what made this night one of my most memorable (ever) in Europe. The dancers were insane, and we left feeling energised and ready for the long night ahead of us!
Where we stayed
Every time I’ve been in Barcelona, I’ve stayed in Raval, a neighbourhood just south of Las Ramblas. Densely packed with graffiti and street art, deliciously inviting bars and boutiques, and endless winding alleys, always leading to huge squares shaded by palms. These squares are often filled with outdoor seating, and became more jovial as the night goes on. For its liveliness and central location, I can’t recommend it more as a base… which is why Contiki’s chosen accommodation is always around that area, too!
Want more? Explore Barcelona as part of Contiki’s 12 day Fiestas and Siestas, which takes in the cultural highlights of Spain and Portugal.
Got less time to play with? Try the 4 day Barcelona Uncovered, which includes food and accommodation… and start researching with our Barcelona travel guide.