3 Days in Barcelona – A first-timer’s guide (with detailed itinerary)
Three days in Barcelona is the bare minimum amount of time you need to even check out the best of the city. Like New York, it is a city that never sleeps, but unlike the former, it is a city that is haunted by history.
Three days in Barcelona is a story of how I realized the truth behind these lines, how I discovered what the party capital of Europe truly is. We did get some idea when we were meticulously planning the Barcelona 3 day itinerary, but we were awestruck at what we saw.
Barcelona to me was a sun-kissed city of beautiful beaches, great food, and an amazing nightlife. I thought after the exhausting monument-hopping in our 3 days in Paris, Barcelona would be a relaxing beach holiday. But once in Barcelona, the beauty of its old quarters, the Gothic buildings and most importantly the universal reverence for architects blew my mind.
My biggest takeaway from the 2-day hop-on, hop-off tour of Barcelona was that a city is built by architects and artisans, not by Kings and Queens.
After I returned home, I went ahead and searched – “architect of Taj Mahal”, a question that we never cared about before. Do you get an idea of the impression I am talking about?
The earliest traces of human settlements was found in Barcelona in the Neolithic age! The city came into being during the great Roman period in the 1st century B.C. Yes, the history of Barcelona haunted us, even after we left. Well, that was also because we really couldn’t explore Barcelona as much as we had wanted to, although our Barcelona 3-day itinerary was quite perfectly planned according to us.
If you are planning your trip to Europe for the first time, you must read the post on how to plan a trip to Europe on budget. Don’t worry, the link opens in a new window.
3 Day Barcelona Itinerary
How much you can see of Barcelona in 3 days depends a lot on what time you visit, the h0lidays, and of course what kind of holiday you want to spend. That is why you should check the travel tips for Barcelona, especially if you are going on a short trip like this. The suggestive Barcelona 3 day itinerary is suited for someone who is visiting Barcelona for the first time with a lot of inquisitiveness and not too sure about a second trip soon.
- Day 1: Block of Discord, Gothic Quarter, Sagrada Familia, Montjuic, Diagonal Avenue, Placa de Catalunya, La Rambla, La Boqueria
- Day2: Camp Nou, Publeneau, Bogotell Beach, Arc De Triomf, CCCB, Park Guell, evening at Bunkers
- Day3: Tour of Casa Batllo (or any other modernist building in the block of discord), Tibidabo trip, Columbus, Barceloneta beach
While this might seem too ambitious, a lot of these places can be covered if you stick to the route. That is, if you do not want to enter every monument. The ones that you definitely shouldn’t miss entering would be Sagrada Familia. We had to readjust our schedule completely and skip Park Guell and Bunkers because of the weather.
Travel tips for Barcelona in 3 days – lessons from our trip
Here are a few things which you need to know about Barcelona before you plan your travel-
- Most museums have free entry with Barcelona city card
- Most museums are closed on Mondays, public holidays and close early on Sundays
- Tickets to Sagrada Familia need to be pre-booked online, at least 2 days in advance in peak season
- It is advisable to book tickets to Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller online as well, as there is often a separate queue for people with and without tickets
- Hop-on Hop-off bus tour is a fantastic way to explore the city in a hassle-free way. While it’s costlier than public transport for sure, the history of Barcelona demands to be explored
- The cheaper alternative to hop-on-hop-off bus tours are the theme walking tours in Barcelona. The Old Barcelona walking tour and Gaudi’s walking tours would be my picks if I take one on my next trip. Explore options for walking tours in Barcelona.
We reached Barcelona on a Sunday evening, the next two days being Monday and Mayday, so we couldn’t enter any museum till our last day in Barcelona. To add to our woes it poured half the day on Monday, so we could not chill in the beach either. The fact that we stayed in Casteldefells, which is located 25 km away from Barcelona had its pros and cons which we will come to later.
Three days in Barcelona – Day 1
We spent our evening walking around and exploring our peaceful neighborhood in Castelldefels. The 96-hour Barcelona card made our transport free and entry fees discounted. It also came with a map and details of all the places of interest. So the next morning, we took a train to Passeig de Gracia. As soon as you come out of the station you will find yourself staring at two of the most iconic modernist buildings in Barcelona. This was our introduction to the greatest architect of Catalunya, Antonio Gaudi.
Illa de la Discordia – Block of Discord
I couldn’t even pronounce the word, but after I learned the English meaning, I couldn’t think of a name that could better describe this block. The block of discord is named after the three most significant monuments of Barcelona which breaks away from traditional art. Casa Batllo, Casa Amatller, Casa Lleo-Morera, and Casa Mulleras are the four modernist buildings that gave this block its name. Casa Batllo, the most iconic of all, is the result of a renovation project of an austere building built in 1877 by Emilio Cortes (Gaudi’s teacher). Antonio Gaudi transformed the classic old building into an architectural marvel. Gaudi combined the traditional Gothic art with his style and created the Modernismo, a new form of architecture that adorns the landscape of Barcelona all around. There was a long queue in front of both Casa Battlo and Casa Amatller, longer than what we had seen in the Eiffel Tower of Paris. It was partly because it was an extended weekend and the museums were all closed.
Miss travel? Explore Spain-themed books, videos and souvenirs online.
Our next stop was the biggest attraction of Barcelona, the vision of Antonio Gaudi which became the dream of Catalunya, the Sagrada Familia. The first stone of Sagrada Familia was laid at the heart of Barcelona in 1883. It is said that Gaudi knew that the construction of this marvel would not be complete in his lifetime, but he said: “God is in no hurry”. We stared in awe at the great building whose pictures we have seen so many times. As awe-inspiring as the temple was, I must say the construction machinery did ruin the experience a bit. There was a long queue outside the temple, but you could enter only if you had an online ticket booked.
Do pre-book ticket to Sagrada Familia online when you are planning your visit. They sell fast!
Hop-on-hop-off Bus Touristic
Outside the Sagrada Familia, we bought our 2-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour and a ticket to Camp Nou, the Barcelona FC stadium. The hop-on-hop-off bus tour is not required, because the transport network is pretty good. But the audio guide which narrated the history of the places as and when we stopped there made it worth every penny. Where else do you think I picked up these bits of history without getting a chance to enter most of the buildings or museums?
If you have a really short time in the city, you don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to get accustomed to the metro-lines on your own. The touristic buses can be a great convenience apart from being fun and educational. It gives you an orientation of the roads and a real feel of the city.
There were three routes – red, blue and green. Sagrada Familia is on the blue route that takes you through Gracia, Park Guell, and Camp Nou, among the major points of interest and ends at Casa Mila. From here you can switch to the buses on red-route. We had been walking all along till now, so we completed the full tour of the blue route without disembarking the bus. The red route is largely a museum route, it takes you along all the major museums of Barcelona – MACBA, MNNAC, History Museum among all others which were unfortunately closed on both the days. Our first stop was at the Mont Juic.
Mont Juic is the most famous hill in the Catalan coastal range. It offers the most spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the city and has large open spaces for people to spend the whole day. A trip to Montjuic only can take the entire day if you want to explore the following-
- Cable car rides. There are two different cable cars that you can take. One starts at the funicular station and takes you directly to the Montjuic castle while offering breathtaking views of the city. The other is the port cable car which takes you directly to the most famous beach in Barcelona, the Barceloneta.
- Montjuic Castle, a must-visit place for history lovers.
- Funicular ride. The funicular ride transfers people from the nearest metro station to Montjuic in just two minutes. In 1928 when it was opened, it was the fastest cable-car in the world.
- Anella Olympica, an Olympic park located at the Mont Juic hill, at the main site for 1992 summer Olympics
Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
The Gothic quarter of Barcelona is 2000-year-old, it is the heart of this great historical city. Many places in the Gothic quarter were rebuilt or refurbished in Gothic style in the 19th century. The marvelous Gothic church is one such example. While the church is medieval it’s Gothic facade was built in the 19th century. Walking in the alleys of the Gothic quarter would take you back in time. We were awestruck at the beauty of the Gothic church and the cobbled streets.
However, there are many remains of the original Roman and Gothic architecture as well. Ramon square is one of them. It is the reminiscence of the walled city of Barcino, during the Roman rule. A 2 km walk away from the modernist block, this is a classic blend of three periods of Catalunya’s history – the Roman walls, the Gothic chapel and the medieval statue of the count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer.
Other important places you see on the bus tour
The Bus tour lets you see all the important places in the city in a very short time. We didn’t hop off at many spots. Instead, we remained on the bus to just see all the places and plan for the rest of the trip. I won’t list them all, but these are some of the places which stood out.
Mossèn Costa i Llobera. A unique botanical garden located at the foot of Montjuic. You can enter the park at a discounted value with your Barcelona card.
Arc De Triomf. One of the many Triumphal arches in Europe, the distinct feature of the Arc De Triomf is its brick red color. Built in 1888, this is an iconic structure in Barcelona
Parc de Ciutadella. An idyllic green oasis in the heart of the city, Parc de Ciutadella is the largest public park of Barcelona.
Parc Guell. Unfortunately, we could not see this gem of Gaudi. It’s a must-visit attraction in Barcelona, a park with bizarre modernist architecture. If you are reading my guide to planning your visit to Barcelona, I don’t want you to miss out on this as we did.
Placa de Catalunya
Our last stop for the day was Placa de Catalunya, one of the largest squares in Spain and an iconic place in Barcelona. It is surrounded by shopping centers, banks, and hotels. Some of the most famous streets of Barcelona like La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia among others meet at this square. However, we just spent some time there and ate at a subway with our food coupons, before we returned to Cateldefellas.
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3 days in Barcelona – Day 2
The next morning we woke up to a pouring sky, just as promised by the weather forecast. This gave us an excuse of waking up late for breakfast and starting late for our trip, just like vacations are supposed to be. Our top destination for the day was going to be the mecca of Football – The Barcelona Football Club
Camp Nou Museum and Stadium
The Camp Nou Stadium is the largest football stadium in Europe and is the home to one of the most revered clubs in the history of football. I am not a football fan but a tour of the museum did give me goosebumps. The museum has an audio-visual area taking you through the 120-year old history of the emblematic football club, a trophy gallery, original photographs, and a Messi space of course. By shelling out some extra bucks you can get a photo with Messi ..Messi’s image on the green screen. Sounds silly? You must see how many fans line up for that picture.
Now, I need to be honest. As much as I liked the tour, the fabulous stadium, the manicured field, and the panoramic views, if you are not a football fan, the price of 25 Euros might not feel worth it. One of us is a great football fanatic, the sole reason why a TV even exists in our house, so it balanced out for us. FYI, a photo with the photo of Messi is worth some 20 Euros in the stadium – we didn’t take that.
Ticket price – €25, Discounted price –
Open Timing – 10:00 – 18:30 from Monday to Saturday, closes at 14:30 on Sunday
Duration – A tour of the stadium will take at least 2-3 hours.
Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB
When we came out of Camp Nou the sun was shining bright and we thought of taking a detour to the bus stop. We walked aimlessly in the neighborhood, the places that we have seen on our hop-on-hop-off tour the previous day, saw the training camps for tomorrows football stars, the same place was Messi trained in his childhood. Finally, we took a bus to MACBA, but it was closed. So we walked to the CCCB.
CCCB is an amazing place to visit in Barcelona. It is a multidisciplinary institution which features exhibitions, programs, workshops, documentary, etc. It reminds me of Nandan in Kolkata, just bigger, and dare I say, better. We got free admission into the World Journalistic photography exhibition and a documentary-cum exhibition on climate change. I have never been to an exhibition of this nature before and perceived them as a bit too intellectual for me. However, since all the museums were closed and the entry to CCCB was free, we thought of giving it a try. I must say it was amazing. All my preconceived notion about this intellectual stuff was smashed and we ended up scrutinizing every photograph and the story behind them. The climate change documentary was followed by an audio-visual exhibition which was just one of a kind.
Outside the building, there is a perfect college ambiance with chirping young students and skaters going crazy. We enjoyed the lively atmosphere, but the sky was overcast again, and it was time for us to return to Castelldefels. Well, not before hopping into the bus touristic for catch up on the hop-on-hop-off tour where we left off.
The Olympic coastline of Barcelona – Pobleneau district
“Until the Olympic Games, Barcelona was living with its back turned to the beautiful Mediterranean. The Olympic Games allowed Barcelona to turn around and truly embrace the sea. It also brought many other improvements that the citizens of Barcelona still enjoy today”.
These are the words of IOC President on the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Olympics hosted by Barcelona. This was reiterated many times by our audio guide as we passed along the coastline of Barcelona.
Earlier it was the people of limited means who lived near the sea while the rich preferred to live in the interiors. Olympics changed everything. Most of the beaches of Barcelona underwent a complete makeover, or should I say “surgery” to become what they are today. Platja del Bogatell (Bogatel beach), Parc Diagonal Mar and Parc del Forum are some of the most important landmarks which owe their current state to the massive restructuring during the Olympics.
The development endeavors continued even after the Olympic games which transformed the modest district of Publeneau to one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Barcelona. The area is dotted with corporate offices, hotels, luxury apartments, and urban spaces. You can still find some of the blue-collar housing blocks from the 1960s which have now been integrated with the new neighborhood.
Walk to the Casteldefells beach
By now you must be thinking that staying in Casteldefells, 25 km away from Barcelona was not a good decision. Well, partly yes. Had we stayed in the city, we could have explored Barcelona all day. But we did get to explore the beautiful city of Castelldefels instead. We got a great room in a beautiful neighborhood with a multiplex and a Carrefour around. Our hotel was about 2 km from the coastline, so we decided to take an evening walk to the beach. It’s not a famous walking track, but it was a walk to remember.
As you approach closer to the sea you can see the upscale buildings, resorts and may wonder if you could stumble upon one of the football stars of the Barcelona FC. Despite the rising popularity of Casteldefells among tourists, the beach remains a peaceful retreat from the crowded beaches of Barcelona. In the north, you can see shops and eateries and locals partying while as you walk along towards the south it gets calm and more silent. Platja de Castelldefels is a shallow clean beach to spend an entire evening and watch the sunset. It was May, and overcast and chilly, and sunset wouldn’t happen till 9 pm, so we didn’t get to see the real sunset.
3 days in Barcelona- Day3
Our last day in Barcelona was luckily bright, sunny and a non-holiday. So, we decided to make the most out of it (and our Barcelona pass). We started after an early breakfast and hit the block of discord. We had a 50% off on the entry ticket to Casa Punexes.
Casa Punexes is one of the most beautiful buildings off the block of discord. It is often overlooked by tourists over the more famous modernist buildings near the train station. In 1905, Bartomeu Terradas Brutau commissioned modernist architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch to design a house for each of his three sisters. The building resembles medieval castles with various technical innovations which are explained in the audio visual tour inside the building. The six pointed towers crowned with conical spikes inspired its name- Punexes.
The audio-guided takes you through the history and architecture of the modernist monument. But the highlight of this tour is walking into the mythical world of Saint George – the legend that inspired the building. Mythology is an essential part of a country’s culture, and this entertaining audio-visual tour was a window to the culture of Barcelona. I am so excited to narrate the legend of Saint George, I do not want to dilute your experience by doing so. The tour ended with a visit to the rooftop which offers you panoramic views of the city.
You can top up the experience with a brunch, cocktail or a cup of Cava. Here is some more information which can help.
- Adult (18+) Ticket prices – € 13.50 for audio-guided and € 20 for a guided tour. 50% off with Barcelona pass
- Timing – 10 am to 6 pm every day with last entry at 6 pm
A trip to Tibidabo
Tibidabo is the tallest mountain of Collserola mountain range that dominates the skyline of Barcelona. What makes the hilltop stand out is the unique combination of the iconic Sacred Heart church and the Ferris Wheel in the Tibidabo Amusement Park. Our Hop-on hop-off audio guide mentioned Tibidabo being one of the most upscale, posh areas of the city inhabited by the wealthiest. So we weren’t really surprised to see that the residential bungalows looked more like castles than houses. The views from this elevation are also unsurprisingly breathtaking. It’s difficult to say what we enjoyed the most – sunny weather, the stunning street, the funicular ride or the park.
We got a €4 discount on the funicular ride to the amusement park and purchased the ticket to the panoramic area of the park. You can walk around the park, the cafes, souvenir stores and seek the panoramic views of the city. What I loved about the pricing is its flexibility. the entry to the panoramic area of the park is free! A €10 worth ticket gives you access to the rides as many times you like. A package ticket with the Funicular railway will give you access to two of the rides along with the panoramic area. Check out the video about Tibidabo Amusement Park.
Rambla Del Mar and the Mediterranean Cruise
Finally, on the last of the 3 days in Barcelona, it was time for us to enjoy the sea in the sunshine. What appears on the map like an offshoot of the famous La Rambla street, is a wooden walkway at the port. Also called, Rambla of the sea, the walkway has a distinct shape of the wave. A walk on the promenade offers you the beautiful views of the city including the Montjuic. At the end of the walkway stands the iconic statue of Columbus which steals the limelight. Other notable buildings here are the Maremagnum shopping center and Hotel W.
At this point, you can book a pleasure cruise ride in the Mediterranean. Las Golondrinas is the popular choice for a pleasure boat ride in the sea. Barcelona Card comes with attractive discounts on the boat rides. We availed the 40-minute cruise and I would rate it among the top things to do in Barcelona. Sailing in those vanilla blue waters and feasting your eyes on the spectacular views apart, if lucky, you can also catch some interesting activities. We saw flyboarding live at the sea for the first time in our lives on the cruise tour.
Sun-kissed at Barceloneta
After the mesmerizing cruise ride, we headed to the Barceloneta beach. The color of the sea here is a pure Prussian blue. Barceloneta is indeed one of the loveliest beaches you would ever come across. People dancing, posing for photos, sunbathing, chirping along is a usual sight. You would also see sand artists making a miniature replica of Sagrada Familia and other landmarks of Barcelona.
One thing that touched me in Barceloneta was a board with a counter. “2017: 3118” flashed the counter. This is the number of people who lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean sea to seek refuge in Barcelona. The number was a way to pay tribute to the people with no names, and a way to say “we are and will be a refuge city”. How many wealthy cities of the first world can say so?
Popular street art and La Rambla Street
La Rambla is the most famous street in the city. It is a 13 km long road that connects the Placa de Catalunya to the coastline of Barcelona. This is a throbbing destination filled with locals and tourists alike. We had hit this street once on day 1 but didn’t walk up to the coastline. This time, we started walking from Barceloneta towards Placa de Catalunya.
You cannot miss two of the Pop-art landmarks in this walk from the beach – the El cap de Barcelona (aka Barcelona’s head) and the Gambrinus (aka dancing prawn or dancing lobster). A fusion of modernist and American pop-art, these are cartoonish abstract artwork which adds to the vibrancy of the coast.
There are street hawkers all around selling scarfs and magnets at just € 1 each. Apart from that, you will see fake branded shoes, handbags, and other stuff. I am not a brand-conscious person and really wouldn’t mind getting one of them at dirt-cheap rates. Of course, you have to haggle. The price of items increases drastically as you move towards the main part of La Rambla, towards Placa de Catalunya. FYI, the articles are still fakes, but just costlier.
National Art Museum at Montjuic
Our last stop for the day was Montjuic, this time to enter the at the National Art Museum. It was closed in the last two days, like most others. The entry to the museum was free thanks to our Barcelona card. The museum houses 1000 years of art developed in Barcelona. It includes medieval Roman art, Gothic art, renaissance, and baroque art, and modern art. It’s not just paintings, but also sketches, photographs, carved furniture that find a place in the museum. Ideally, you would need over 1 hour to even glance at everything that is there.
So here is my account of the three days in Barcelona – the city of history, art, and culture. It is also the party hub of Europe, but we didn’t experience the night-life much. Hope this account inspires you to visit the beautiful city with a great heart. Before signing off, adding the most frequently asked questions I received from friends, family and my readers below.
The Best alternative to Barcelona card
Now that you got all the tips and a detailed itinerary with you, you can choose the specific places that you want to enter and those you want to just see from outside. We found some awesome offers on GetYourGuide which saves both money and time if you want to enter one of the important monuments we discussed. Online skip-the-line tickets to Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, cable cars, Park Guell, etc. at a discounted price can be booked online.
Where to stay in Barcelona?
There is no dearth of hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs in and around Barcelona. If you want to splurge you can choose the iconic Hotel W, right across the ocean near Barceloneta. It’s a sleek luxury at the best location in Barcelona. Budget backpackers can stay in hostels in the central locations – Placa de Catalunya, La Rambla or the Gothic Quarter. However, if you want spacious rooms at cheaper prices, you should consider staying in places like Casteldefells which are away from Barcelona. However tempting the price of hotels may be outside the city, make sure that the Barcelona card covers the transport cost to and from Barcelona.
Are you interested to know more about Barcelona and its culture? Here are some recommended books for you.
- Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Barcelona
- Rick Steves Spain 2020
- Fodor’s Essential Spain
- A Guide to Barcelona’s Nightlife
- 50 Barcelona Restaurants
What to eat and drink in Barcelona?
I am not an expert in this department but when in Barcelona you should try Paella and Tapas. The most famous drink in Barcelona is Sangria. I loved the Spanish cuisine because it is slightly spicier than the rest of the Western European cuisines we had. Of all the big, expensive West European cities that we visited, the food was cheapest in Barcelona. We did use our Barcelona card to get discount coupons at Subway that reduced our food expenses to half! So while I recommend enjoying the local food, if you are constrained by budget just use these coupons which come with the Barcelona Card.
Check out the 50 Barcelona Restaurant Guide for more food tips.
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