Barcelona in a day
This is still one of my all time favorite cities. I was lucky enough to have Barcelona as my “route” for several summers and there are still several things on my list still to see and do. You’ll hear and see a little different of a Spanish dialect here, where they speak Catalan. It’s almost a completely different language than the other six dialects of Spanish throughout the country, though everyone here speaks the traditional Castellano Spanish as well. Barcelona is the capital of the Cataluyña region of Spain and you’ll find its flag hanging over the national Spanish flag over many balconies throughout the city, as the Catalan people have great pride over their home and history. This place offers a little bit of everything, so there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re into art and museums, history and literature, or the beach and la fiesta, you can find it here on the northeast coast of Spain.
The following article is certainly more than what one day could possibly hold, so we hope you’ll be able to stay a few days before your cruise heads out or perhaps on the way home from another exciting European adventure. If not, then pick a few of our faves here and enjoy the day in this enchanting city.
Barcelona is the birthplace and hometown of famous artist Antoni Gaudí, and Parc Guell is one of his many famous creations strewn throughout the city. Although it may be the largest of his designs to visit, it was actually considered a failed attempt at an exclusive neighborhood, contracted by Señor Güell to provide an art nuveaux place for Barcelona’s elite to live above the city. The plans were all complete and most of it was constructed, however, only two houses only ever were occupied: those of Señor Güell and Gaudí. There’s even an area for its own private school that was never started. Take the guided tour through the maze of mosaics and take in some of the most breathtaking views of the city and the sea.
La Sagrada Familia.
Gaudí’s most famous, iconic church stands on the edge of the Gothic quarter and can be seen from nearly any rooftop nearby. It is also slated to to take 150 years in total to finish. Construction began in 1882; the latest rumors are that it will be completed by 2026 for the 100 year anniversary of Gaudí’s death (we’ll have to come back to see it then). However, part of the reason behind the slow construction has to do with the funding: Gaudí wanted his last, monumental masterpiece creation to be of the people, for the people, and so he would only accept donations from the public to fund the work for the church. Even though he was a famous artist at this point of his life, he would not accept any money from the government or public organizations. The vastness of the church is hard to take in, and a walk around half the perimeter will leave you with dozens of questions of the symbology that jumps out at you. Like, “What’s with the fruit on the spirals? Are those supposed to be Christmas trees?” and, “Are those really Star Troopers on the back side of the church? (yes - rumor is the creators of StarWars visited the Sagrada Familia before shooting the film and got the idea for the Star Troopers from the guards depicted at Jesus’ crucifixion on the newer south side of the church). Be sure to get a ticket ahead of time for the self-guided tour, you wont want to miss the fascinating info behind all the symbology and meaning in each angle (especially in the summer: one of the most visited churches in Europe). I still haven’t had a chance for a ticket to the top of the spiral for a separate entrance, but I hear the view is pretty spectacular.
After you get a slice of some of Spain’s art and architecture, continue your stroll through the gothic quarter for more twists and turns through one of the oldest parts of the city. Stop by to pick out your own live seafood dinner (they do cook it for you, however you’d like, you just get to pick out which of the several creature look appetizing to you. Read: not for the squeamish, nor the vegetarian).
Catedral de Barcelona.
In the city center, you’ll find a few of the iconic, historical building belonging to Barcelona including the Barcelona Cathedral and the architectural wonder of El Museo Teatro not more than a few blocks away.
This is the posh side of the city and probably one of the most desirable zip codes for locals: imagine it as the Fifth Avenue of Spain. High end shops sit one right after the other, amongst Gaudí-inspired gothic buildings and lamps with one huge, beautiful fountain that serves as the “base” of Las Ramblas. If you’re hungry while you’re in the neighborhood, make sure you stop at La Flauta. Spanish for “flute,” the flautas (skinny sandwiches) served here are with some of the most creative but delicious ingredients (foie gras and roguefurt: really, it’s delicious). Don’t forget to grab an order of their house shoe string French fries with a fried egg on top! Yum.
Our third Gaudí homage is located in the middle of Plaza Cataluyña. Originally commissioned for one of the wealthier families for Barcelona, “The Gaudí House” was designed with a maritime feel in mind. Grab tickets online and skip waiting with the rest of the tourists for the self guided tour that explains this beautiful house entirely. It’s also nicknamed “The House of Bones” for obvious reasons once you face the front of the house. Make sure you walk by again at night once it’s all lit up: you’ll see exactly why it’s called the House of Bones!
You can’t get to know Barcelona without visiting Las Ramblas, the main drag of street performers, artists, tourist shops, and tapas galore. Be prepared to be in a crowd if you go during summer - and be mindful of your belongings. Spain is a relatively very safe country; the main crime you’ll find is petty theft and pick pockets, and the pros know where the tourists congregate, so travel smart. Buy a wooden, hand-painted fan for a few euros to stay cool like the locals while you stroll down and take in the show. A lot of the tapas places here have great food (tapas are small plates, and it’s hard to find bad food), but they will be slightly higher priced here than some other spots you’ll find in the less touristy areas. As you reach the end, you’ll run into the Christopher Columbus statue along the port side, just north of where the cruise ships dock. Across the street you’ll find the old Town Hall building and a floating mall, accessible by a long dock that seems to stretch out into the Mediterranean. On Sundays in the summer you can usually find a few pop-up artisan markets appearing to sell their local crafts.
Mercat de la Boqueria St. Josep.
Toward the end of your walk down las Ramblas on the southern side, you’ll want to check out arguably Barcelona’s best market for a tapa or two. Duck out of the sun for a few and explore where even the city’s most famous chefs do their shopping, alongside dozens of markets, delis, bars, candy shops, butchers, fishermen… you get the idea: it’s awesome.
This is Barcelona’s version of Central Park. Located between the airport and Las Ramblas, Parc Cuitadell houses some of the cities most beautiful fountains, views of the sea, and even it’s own zoo. You’ll again see more influence from, you guessed it, the genius Gaudí.
The beaches of Barcelona are definitely a great place to hang out. Bring your own picnic of baguettes, jamòn, y queso or dine at one of the several spots with wait service right on the sand (obviously for a few more euros). There are always guys walking up and down the beach with a cooler full of ice cold beverages who will sell you a San Miguel or water for a few euros (I bargain with the guys to make the rounds to our beach posse if we have a group who I know will make it worth their while). Barcelona and Marbella are a few of our faves, but beachgoers beware: some beaches are clothing optional and definitely popular.