a 48-hour itinerary (but stay longer)
Barcelona is a major port city in Spain, with many cruise lines using her as their point of departure. Our first trip to Barcelona was in 2014; having taken a Western Mediterranean cruise from there, and our time in Barcelona was short. We intended to go the same day our vacation ended, but we weren’t able to arrange an appropriate flight out. So, we decided to stay one night and leave the next morning.
Barcelona is Yours
As always with us, we crammed a lot into those 24-hours. However, this only gave us a small taste for all there is to this beautiful city. We knew we had to come back because Barcelona is so vibrant with beautiful architecture, history, art, culture, attractions, spectacular food, and character. It whets our appetite for more.
As luck would have it, a couple of years later, we took an eastern Mediterranean cruise, that also left from Barcelona. This time, we made a point of spending a full 48 hours. Our cruise disembarkation time was 8:00 AM, so we got to experience two full days and nights. While this may seem short to you, it is plenty of time for us to enjoy ourselves.
Immediately upon disembarkation, we headed to our hotel, which was extremely close to the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla, making it a very convenient spot for attractions, restaurants, and shopping. We got our 2-day pass for the Hop-on-Hop-off bus system (which is a must for any short stay), and we headed out.
There are three lines (red, green, blue) that take you to different areas of the city and sites along the way. My recommendation for a 48-hour stay is to do Red & green on day one (green is very short), and then Blue and red (again) on day two. This way, you see everything, and what you missed on the red line on day one, you can explore on day two. The red line has the most attractions as it covers more of the central core of Barcelona.
Barcelona is Much More
Catedral de Barcelona
Regardless of your personal religious beliefs, you will fall in love with the architecture, beauty, and history of this gorgeous cathedral located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter. Nestled amongst the narrow pathways, the quaint little shops, and street vendors, the Barcelona Cathedral looms large. It also serves as a focal point for you to find your way, should you get lost in the labyrinthian narrows of the quarter.
We were there in December when the holiday was on full display with decorations, many street performers, Christmas pageants, and holiday vendors. They have a huge outdoor Christmas market in the square around the cathedral, called ‘La Fira de Santa Llúcia. It is one of the oldest, and largest Christmas markets in all of Barcelona, making it one of the top Christmas destinations in all of Europe. If you visit Barcelona in December, you won’t want to miss the Saint Lucia Christmas Market.
Barceloneta – Barcelona’s Olympic beach
Located within walking distance of the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla, it is effortless to fit a couple of hours at this beach into your short stay. The beach was created for the 1992 Summer Olympics by importing foreign sand and transforming the landscape of the area, and subsequently making it a significant tourist attraction for visitors. Shops, bars, and restaurants all dot the boardwalk along the Barceloneta. The Frank Gehry-designed goldfish sculpture at one end, and the W hotel off in the distance at the other end define the skyline.
Basilica Sagrada Familia
Sagrada is by far, the focal point of Barcelona. It is the crowning jewel in a city known for its fantastic architecture and the artistry of Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada is still as of yet, an unfinished masterpiece, and Gaudi’s passion project to honour the Holy family. Construction began in the Spring of 1882, under the direction of architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, Antoni Gaudi took over as chief architect transforming the basilica with his unique style.
The first time we visited Barcelona, we did not go in, just viewed from outside, and we regretted it greatly. So, when we returned a couple of years later – we booked our tickets online to ensure we had a set visitation time (to ensure we maximized our time in BCN). Trust us; this is a must-do when you are in Barcelona. It is much more than a church/cathedral/basilica. It is a glorious work of art. The carvings and sculptures that adorn the building are breathtaking. Upon our return, we will spring for the extra for a trip up to one of the two towers.
- Make visiting Sagrada Familia a priority. The magnificence of this building will move you deeply on many levels.
- Enjoy a meal in one of the many outdoor patio restaurants that line the Avinguda de Gaudi, and take in amazing views of the basilica as you dine alfresco.
Technically, a series of individual streets that make up La Rambla, this is the most famous street in all of Barcelona. A tree-lined pedestrian street that stretches for 1.2 kilometres, it runs from Plaça de Catalunya in the centre of the city with the Christopher Columbus Monument at the waterfront. To the east of La Rambla is the Gothic Quarter, and on the west side is the area known as El Raval. La Rambla is a tourist’s delight, with everything you will want to make your short stay more enjoyable.
There are many gelaterias along La Rambla, where you can get a sweet treat as you do some shopping for your souvenirs. Many street vendors are present selling everything from jewellery, crafts, trinkets, and artwork. When it is time for dinner, there is no shortage of restaurants, bars, and tapas places to get your fill of Spanish cuisine. Many tourists on a short stay, will easily spend most of their time in the area of La Rambla when they visit Barcelona.
Another masterpiece from the great architect & artist Anton Gaudi. Casa Battlo is a gorgeous building in the heart of Barcelona, designed with the same artistry, craftsmanship, creativity, and sense of whimsy that all of Gaudi’s works possess. The exterior of the building is covered in tile mosaics that shiny and change colour in the light of day. The roof looks like the back of a dragon. The many styles and designs in the rooms inside the house that each room will leave you in awe. Gaudi took his Inspiration for the design of this house from nature, and there are no straight lines in the building – ‘because they don’t exist in nature’. A real work of art and somewhere that you love to visit.
It is one of the few museums & attractions that we took time to explore, and you will want to add to your 48-hour itinerary when you visit Barcelona as well.
Mercat Port Antic
This market located near the statue of Columbus is an open-air antique market with many vendors selling everything from vinyl records, trinkets, home décor items, and much more. It is not huge, so it will not take a lot of your time, but it is a fun activity.
An amusement park of architecture and design, Park Guell is another must-see in your visit to Barcelona. The walk to the park from the bus stop is arduous, for sure, but you will be in awe of this beautiful public park the minute you arrive. You will love the flowing lines of the architecture and the brightly coloured mosaics. The giant lizard sculpture, which you have seen in many postcards, books, and brochures throughout Barcelona, is all created by the beautiful madcap mind of Gaudi (who else?).
This ornately designed mansion is located just steps from La Rambla, and conveniently for us, right across from our hotel. The rooms we had at the Hotel Gaudi were spectacular and had rooftop terraces that looked out directly on to the roof of the Palau Guell and the beautiful spires that adorn it. It was not a hardship waking up to that view every morning. When the sunlight shone on them, and the bright mosaics sparkled and glistened in the light, it was a sight to behold. We planned to tour inside on our last morning before our flight out since the proximity to our hotel was very convenient. Unfortunately, they were closed that day for some reason.
The Magic of Montjuic
Montjuic is a gorgeous and magical destination on so many levels. First, as you arrive, you are greeted by the giant Magic Fountain of Montjuic. You can sit and watch for hours as the waters do their dance. While beautiful in the daytime, the fountain really comes alive at night – with lights and motion all set to music. It is just spectacular. As you come up the mountain, there is Montjuic Castle. Which itself is beautiful, but the meticulously cultivated grounds, gardens, and statues are Instagram-worthy. The views of the city from this mountain are glorious.
But wait, there is more. The castle is an old military fortress and former prison that also houses a military museum, and the National Museum of Art.
More still…. Keep exploring the mountain, because there is still so much more. In addition to being a beautiful landscape of parks, greenspace, and trails, this is also home to many more museums (Joan Miro, for example) to explore.
In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Here is the site of the Olympic park, complete with the Olympic Flame, Stadium, and the swimming pool.
On our first visit to Barcelona, I made one request –to see the Olympic Pool, where Kylie Minogue filmed her video for “Slow”. Seems like a silly request, but I wasn’t sure when we would be back, if ever, so it had to happen.
You can spend so much time on Montjuic just taking in the views, scenery, and attractions, that it can eat into your time on your 48-hour itinerary if you are not careful.
For more short stay inspiration, check out Roguetrippers’ other 48-hour itineraries.
At the furthest point on the blue line is the Palau Reial de Pedralbes and gardens. We explored the beautiful grounds of the Palau Reial on our first trip to Barcelona; and very briefly on our second trip. It is quite a remarkable building, and the gardens are magnificent. It is guarded by the Iron Dragon, which adorns the gates. If you can make time on your visit to Barcelona to see this, I highly recommend it.
One regret from our two trips to Barcelona was that we didn’t have (or make) time to check out the Tibidabo. This mountain overlooks Barcelona and the coastline, offering some of the most glorious views of the city. Here, you will find the amusement park, which first opened in 1889. With many of the rides dating back to that time. The Ferris wheel looms large over the city, offering what looks to be even more spectacular vistas. Next time we visit Barcelona, we head there first.
Mercat de la Boqueria
La Boqueria, considered to be the ‘best market in the world, is one of the most famous and oldest markets in Spain. It has become a significant tourist attraction for people when they visit Barcelona.
I am pretty sure you get that I wish we had more time to spend on Montjuic. That is entirely true; I look forward to going back. Ride the funicular up the mountain; visit the Joan Miro museum; ride the Teleferic de Montjuic (Barcelona Cable Car) to take in more of the fantastic views, and the Montjuic cemetery.
I get this 48-hour itinerary may sound exhausting to many of you, but it wasn’t that bad. The Barcelona Bus Turistic helps a lot with their Hop-on-hop-off service.
Regardless of how much time you have when you visit Barcelona, you are sure to have a fantastic time. I look forward to a day when we can return and fully savour this great city. There is still so much more we haven’t experienced.
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