World class city that needs independent planning
When planning a trip to Barcelona, you should think of your visit independent of your Spain itinerary. It is a mistake to visit Barcelona expecting it to represent traditional Spain. If you are expecting typically Spanish experiences like bullfighting, tapas, flamenco or Moorish architecture then Barcelona will disappoint you.
Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan and modern cities in the world. Think of your Barcelona trip as you would think about planning a trip to New York, London or Paris. Plan enough days in Barcelona to experience its uniqueness - Modernisme architecture, world-class urban beaches, nightlife, and molecular gastronomy.
Day trips from Barcelona are an essential part of experiencing Catalonia. You should try to visit at least one of Montesserat, Girona, Tarragona, Costa Brava or Sitges as a day trip.
You need to budget for at least three full days in Barcelona.
- Less than 2 days in Barcelona - Not worthwhile because 2 days is just not enough to experience the uniqueness of a world class city like Barcelona
- Three full days in Barcelona - With proper planning, you can get a basic flavor of Barcelona. Be prepared to put in long days.
- Four days in Barcelona - With four days in Barcelona, you will have enough time to spend at the main attractions. You can avoid a rushed trip.
- Five days - Five days in Barcelona is ideal. You can add a day-trip too.
- More than five days - You have enough time for the off-beat attractions of Barcelona.
Let me share few tips for your Barcelona trip
- If you are planning a rushed 3 day visit, you have to pack a lot in a day. Luckily, Barcelona is compact city with most attractions close to one another.
- Barcelona tourism runs Hop On Hop Off tourist bus . Sign up for one day tour to get a good overview of Barcelona.
- Book La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Picasso museum in advance.
- Sign up for free walking tours. Gothic Quarter walking tour is a must. It is 2.5 hours well spent.
- All the museums of Barcelona are closed on Mondays. However, Gaudi attractions like Sagrada Familia/ Casa Batllo are open on Mondays. Plan your schedule accordingly.
- Do not cram all Gaudi buildings in a day. It will get too boring. At best, you can combine La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell in a single day.
- Buy T10 card for travel in Barcelona public transport. It is cheap and convenient.
- During you stay in Barcelona, you must plan to have at least one lunch in a traditional Catalan restaurant. This post on Catalan restaurants details options.
- If you are in Barcelona for only three or four nights, find accommodation in the city center, Plaza de Catalunya area.
Visit plan outline - 1 to 5 days in Barcelona
1 day in Barcelona - skim the highlights
Start early. Pick up a fresh juice at La Boqueria as you watch the neighborhood residents shop for produce. Walk down La Ramblas, to the beach. Walk back into the Gothic quarter and spend the morning in the lanes. Have lunch in the Gothic quarter. Spend the afternoon focused on Gaudi. You will be able to admire Casa Batllo and La Pedrera from the outside. Then head to Sagrada Familia, spend time walking around the Basilica, taking in the details of the facades. You will not have time to visit from the inside. Come back to La Ramblas for dinner. With one day it is advisable to stay in Placa Catalunya.
2 days in Barcelona - 2 monuments in detail
You should cover the same places as above (slow it down), and now you can plan a longer visit to 2 of the best monuments. Book your La Sagrada Familia visit in advance, keep aside 3 hours for your visit and climb the towers. Also, visit Park Guell on the same day, ideally in the second half. Keep aside 3 hours for this too and visit the monumental zone.
3 days in Barcelona
4 days in Barcelona - add a day trip
You must go on a day trip to Montserrat or Girona. If you like nature then Montserrat is the right pick. If you want a diverse experience then head to Girona.
5 days in Barcelona - add less visited gems
Make sure to visit the Picasso Museum and Palau de la Musica. Add in a bar crawl for tapas or vermouth. With 5 days you will also have time to visit important places in the Gothic quarter in more detail.
You must spend 3 full days in Barcelona to get the best from the city.
Here is a great day wise itinerary covering: Gaudi and Modernism >> Gothic Quarter, La Ramblas, and the seafront >> half day to Montserrat, and nightlife.
Three Full Days
One of the common questions posed to me is “Is 3 days in Barcelona enough to get the feel of the place?”
I think three days is just about enough, provided you plan to visit Barcelona again. Three days in Barcelona is like an appetizer. It helps you to shortlist what to see and do when you come back to Barcelona next time around.
How many days should I stay in Barcelona?
Before making a hotel reservation, Guests do ask me, “How many days should I stay in Barcelona?”
By 3 days, I mean three full days and not including day of arrival and departure. If you plan a 3 day itinerary in Barcelona, do not schedule a late night departure on third day or if you arrive early, count the day of your arrival. At minimum, Barcelona deserves three full days.
As part of a Spain trip, a 3 days stay in Barcelona is ideal and also enough!
It will be perfect for you to spend 3 days and 3 nights in Barcelona on a relaxed itinerary. This way you will make sure you also do justice to your time in Madrid and Andalusia, without giving up the required stay to experience the highlights of Barcelona.
Immerse yourself in Gaudi and Modernism
Barcelona is the only place to experience the wonderful works for Gaudi and his Modernist contemporaries. No other city in Spain can offer this. So whatever you do, make sure to see the main Gaudi attractions on your visit to Barcelona.
Skip Flamenco and Tapas in Barcelona
You mentioned you are going to Andalusia on this trip. So keep your flamenco evening for either Seville or Granada, where it originated. The same is also true for Tapas. This way you will be able to spend your time in Barcelona focused on the unique things that Barcelona has to offer.
You must add 1 day for an excursion from Barcelona
Do not miss a day trip excursion from Barcelona. There are many places easily reached by train. Too many visitors skip this opportunity to see the real Catalonia. Personally I would suggest Girona or Montserrat as they are more unique to the area. Sitges is also nice but is a beach town; you will probably visit a beach town in Andalusia anyway.
On its own, even a Barcelona weekend can be fun
I have seen that Barcelona is becoming popular as a weekend trip from all across Europe. In this case you should plan your visit accordingly. Try and get 2 full days and 2 nights in Barcelona or else it will be too rushed.