Discover Barcelona, Spain’s Attractions, History and Nightlife in Just Three Days

As Spain’s most-visited city, Barcelona is jam-packed with attractions, from Antoni Gaudí’s exuberant architectural masterpieces and the medieval wonders of the Gothic Quarter to the world-class museums centered on Picasso and Joan Miró.

Beyond the must-see landmarks, the city is home to lively markets, pristine urban beaches and a gastronomic scene that’s among the best in Europe.

Barcelona is extremely walkable, and with so much to see and do, a detailed itinerary helps ensure you can see it all on foot. And always allow time for strolling — especially to admire the city’s marvelous, varied architecture and to soak in the vibrant street life.

This ambitious (but doable!) three-day itinerary takes in Barcelona’s highlights, while giving you plenty of opportunity to sample its cozy tapas bars and chill on a breezy rooftop terrace.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Visit Gaudí’s Masterpieces

Sagrada Familia
Spend some time taking in La Sagrada. (Photo: Getty Images)

With more than a dozen Gaudí sights sprinkled across the city, it would be difficult to see them all on a single trip, but put his undisputed masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, at the top of your list. Book a timed ticket online well in advance and allow at least two hours to explore this architectural marvel, with its twisting towers, intricately carved façades and fantastical, awe-inspiring interiors. Make sure to grab breakfast at your hotel; you’ve got plenty of walking ahead of you.

Once you’ve taken in the many carvings of La Sagrada Familia, hop on the Metro and get off at Passeig de Gràcia. Tucked down a long passageway off this bustling boulevard is the gourmet food hall El Nacional, where you can lunch on all manner of Spanish fare inside a beautifully renovated 19th-century factory. Try La Taperia for tasty hot and cold tapas, or sample the fresh catch of the day prepared any which way at La Llotja.

Once you’re settled up at lunch, there’s even more architecture to take in. There are two iconic Gaudí buildings situated on Passeig de Gràcia: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, both within a 15-minute walk from your lunch spot.

If faced with a choice, make it Casa Batlló, a real showstopper with its sinuous, mosaic-covered façade, swirling ceilings and undulating multicolored-tile roof evoking the backbone of a dragon. Be sure to reserve a timed ticket, as this is one of Barcelona’s busiest attractions.

Join the locals for a leisurely late-afternoon stroll along Passeig de Gràcia — a street in the Eixample neighborhood full of Art Nouveau buildings — and pop into its many designer boutiques. Make a brief stop at Plaça de Catalunya to see the ornate fountains of this central plaza before heading over to the café-lined Rambla de Catalunya for a drink on one of its many terraces.

Stylish restaurants abound in Eixample, but none is more celebrated than the two-Michelin-starred Disfrutar, with wonderfully experimental tasting menus from a trio of El Bulli alums. In the mood for a nightcap?

It’s a five-minute walk to Sips, one of the city’s best cocktail bars, where inventive concoctions are presented in unusual custom-made glasses. If weather permits, head to the terrace off of the Batuar Bar & Restaurant at the Cotton House to toast to the evening.

Saturday: Delve into Ancient History

A street in gothic quarter
Take a step back in time in the Gothic Quarter. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start with an early morning walk on Las Ramblas, before the city’s most famous pedestrian street becomes mobbed with crowds. Check out the Miró mosaic on the ground near the Liceu opera house as you wander toward Barcelona’s biggest market, La Boquería, an essential foodie pilgrimage, with hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce, cheeses, seafood and meaty legs of Spanish jamón.

Squeeze in with locals at the pint-sized counter of Pinotxo Bar, a market mainstay since 1940, for classic Catalan breakfast fare like tortillas, sausage and chickpeas and tripe stew.

Wander over to the adjacent Gothic Quarter, the medieval heart of the city, and get a little lost in its labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets. It’s hard to miss the impressive 15th-century Barcelona Cathedral with spires towering above the low-rise neighborhood.

Be sure to visit its garden-like cloister, where a gaggle of white geese make their home. Next door is the fascinating Barcelona History Museum, with underground walkways that traverse the excavated remains of the ancient Roman city of Barcino.

For lunch, dine at Picasso’s former haunt, 4 Gats, a gorgeous Art Nouveau restaurant dating from 1897. The artist himself designed the menu cover, which is still used today. Choose from traditional Catalan dishes like the signature canelons, a meat-stuffed pasta in a rich truffle béchamel sauce.

Once you’re ready to take on more of the city after lunch, head to the neighboring El Born district and the Picasso Museum, a marvelous collection of the Spanish master’s works housed inside five interconnected centuries-old palaces. If you have the stamina, Moco Barcelona, a new museum filled with edgy street art, is just a couple doors down.

Rooftop terraces are a must-do for alfresco drinks with views, and The Roof at The Barcelona Edition, rising 10 stories above El Born, is one of the best, whether you’re facing the sea or catching the sunset over the mountains.

From there, it’s a short stroll to Bodega la Puntual, where you can mix and match from a long list of affordable traditional tapas. Wind down with a cocktail at nearby Paradiso, a hip speakeasy concealed behind a pastrami shop, or dance the night away at the intimate underground club Cabaret, beneath The Barcelona Edition.

Sunday: Travel from Sea to Mountain

Aerial view of the Barcelona Beach
Relax and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. (Photo: Getty Images)

Grab your towel and head to the beaches of Barceloneta, which is a 25-minute walk from the end of Las Ramblas, stopping for a divine pastry at Baluard Barceloneta. You can also take the yellow line on the Metro to the Barceloneta stop. Not a beach day?

Skip the sand and take a quick walk to the long seafront Paseo Marítimo promenade, which lines the beach. The views are a great way to kick off the day.

Sunday lunch is all about paella, and old-school seafood restaurants are everywhere in this former fishermen’s enclave. Everyone has their favorite, but Can Majó, with its seaside terrace, is one of the most popular (and reservations are essential).

From the port of Barceloneta, you can take a thrilling 10-minute cable car ride across the harbor to Montjuïc mountain, enjoying spectacular bird’s-eye views of the entire city. Then choose from Montjuïc’s many attractions: Hike to Montjuïc Castle (or hop on the nearby Telefèric de Montjuïc cable car) and explore this hilltop fortress’s long history, or walk 15 minutes to the Fundació Joan Miró, a museum devoted to the work of the Surrealist Catalan artist.

Grab a drink at Terraza Miramar, with its eye-popping panoramic views of the city, sea and harbor, before taking the cable car back to Barceloneta. From here, it’s a short walk to the W Barcelona, where you can enjoy excellent grilled steaks by the beach at Fire.

Ride the elevator up to the 26th floor to Eclipse, a swanky nightclub featuring live DJs, fabulous cocktails and sweeping Mediterranean views: It’s the perfect end to a perfect stay.

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Discover Barcelona, Spain’s Attractions, History and Nightlife in Just Three Days