Vamos – seriously. Barcelona is a “let’s go” city and if you’re even remotely thinking about it, you should go. The only drawback is that it’s big and bustling, and that can be a bit overwhelming for a first time trip. 48 hours is tight here, unlike some others.
Even if you’ve been many times before, the city of Barcelona, like all great cities, is constantly evolving. New neighborhoods, galleries and culinary delights are popping up at every turn, and that means it’s time for a fresh, fun and easy guide to all the fun.
Here’s everything you need to plan the perfect Barcelona and Catalunya trip, even if you’ve just got 48 hours to spare. If you’ve got more, take it!
Getting To Barcelona: Flights, Cars
Barcelona is incredibly well connected both regionally and internationally. Flights come in from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America, the USA and beyond, in addition to countless daily services from European capitals big and small.
El Prat (BCN) Airport is where most people will find themselves arriving, which is located in the Southwest of the Barcelona area. Arriving visitors should expect around half hour to an hour (max) on most cab rides from the airport.
Entry Protocols For Spain: What To Expect
After you’ve perused this guide thoroughly, you can check out this article with a bit more on the current entry protocols. To summarize, it’s all pretty easy and good as far as entering Spain right now.
Fully vaccinated visitors simply need to carry proof of vaccination and fill out an entry form for arrival. Once at the airport, immigration proceeds as normal, and then there is a quick temperature check where the QR code from the entry form is scanned. And that’s it, once that’s done, off you go.
There’s no pre-arrival or pre-departure covid-19 test required for fully vaccinated visitors arriving in Spain. Just have your vaccination proof with you.
It’s worth noting that antigen and PCR tests in the city for visitors remain expensive, so if there’s any way to bring one with you for any needs returning to home, that makes things a lot easier.
Getting From The Airport To Barcelona
There’s two great options to get into Barcelona central from the airport: cab or train. The R2N train runs along most of the central areas of the city directly to Terminal 2 at Barcelona – El Prat Airport, and vice versa.
The train from the airport is cheap, clean and efficient, taking 30 minutes to reach Passeig De Gracia, a main strip in Barcelona. It’s worth figuring out in advance if your hotel is near one of the R2N stops, since it’ll save money for sure, and perhaps time too.
If train isn’t your style, cars can be reserved in advance via chauffeur companies, but standard taxis are very well run in the city. All taxis in Barcelona take contactless now, so it’s easy to pay in any currency, just with your phone.
Uber doesn’t really work in the city, so if you are coming, download Cabify in advance, if you need that extra level of control. Otherwise, just head out to the taxi rank which runs efficiently.
Barcelona Neighborhoods And Where To Stay
Ok, we’ve made it from the airport into the city. Great!
The first thing to note is that Barcelona is a seriously “big” city, not just in population but actual geographical size. It’s spread out along beautiful coast and hills, and if you choose one place, you’ll be miles from others. There are trade-offs to most.
Solid mass transit helps there, but picking the right home base is crucial. Though there are some stellar hotels along the beach, including some icons, most of the beach isn’t really where many of the best bars, restaurants and local neighborhoods are, and it’s also quite far to many of the best neighborhoods.
Here’s a few GSTP picks, for more local and fun feel in the city, which make a perfect hotel or sharing economy home base…
This is beautiful boutique shops, hotels, bars, cafes and upscale local life at its best. You’re near enough key landmarks with easy access to mass transit too, but you’re in an area which feels much more local and authentic than many others. Plus, Michelin dining thrives here!
Hotel picks: The Hotel Alexandra (Hilton Curio), Mandarin Oriental, Ohla Eixample.
This is a strategically great area, with a nice mix of everything. You’re closer to beaches and bustling streets than from many areas of Eixample, but also close to other fun bits. This is a largely high brow neighborhood with great food and lots of mobility, as well as many top museums and major international shops. For some, it’s perfect.
Hotel picks: The Edition, The Mercer, The Wittmore.
Gracia takes you along an utterly charming and beautiful stretch of Barcelona, replete with Gaudí buildings, unique stores, incredible side streets and cut outs, and some of the best cafe culture in areas nearby. Gracia is also excellent for bars!
Hotel picks: Seventy Barcelona, Hotel Barcelona 1882, Hotel Casa Fuster
Sant Antoni is another solid option, particularly if you’re unsure what you want the most of. This area is great for food, with one of Barcelona’s most famous markets that shares the same name. It’s near busier areas and not quite as peaceful as some others but manages to be accessible to many places.
Hotel picks: other than the semi nearby Intercontinental, this is a neighborhood for Airbnb and other sharing economy options.
The Must Do’s Of Barcelona
Architecture is big here. So is the beach — and so is food. Sports can certainly draw people to Barcelona, but for most, it’s the art, food and lifestyle which keep people coming back. Here are a few must’s for every travel appetite.
Take In The Gaudi
Gaudi is everywhere in this city, from his most famous works to equally cool and different ones, such as Casa Vicens, the first Asia inspired house he ever designed.
Of course, the “stunner” in the stable of Gaudi is the one and only Sagrada Familia, which is inspired from every direction, particularly now with a bit less construction going on. The area features many parks and is fun to walk.
Best advice? Just keep your eyes open while you walk, and away from your phone. Gaudi buildings can appear out of nowhere, and many that don’t make headlines will make you smile.
Mercados For The Win
I’ll admit, i’m just not a huge gallery or museum person, though I do appreciate the inspiration and joy they bring. Food though, yes please.
Markets are outrageously good across all of Spain, but its hard to find better than many of the spots across this city. There’s history, tradition and most of all, delicious morsels to get a true feel for life here, and the regional cuisine.
Markets will vary from busy and somewhat tourist centric to local and classic, and if you want a sampling of the best — and all the delicious food and wine to find inside — be sure to check out: La Boqueria, Mercat De Sant Antoni, Mercat de Santa Caterina, Mercat Del Nino or Mercat de la Concepció. There are so many more, too.
Boqueria will be the busiest and most touristy, but still worth a trip, the others are a pleasant mix of locals and tourists, each with their own magic. For wine, Concepció is a star.
For a “new” type of market, somewhat inspired by neighborhoods like Bushwick in Brooklyn, or markets of Shoreditch in London, try Palo Market Fest at Palo Alto. No, not the one in California.
This is a curated food festival that requires tickets, but has live music and all sorts of shops. These markets are only open on select weekends, so plan accordingly.
Hit The Museums
Quite frankly, the city of Barcelona is a work of art. Gaudi buildings and mountain views give away to inspired paintings colors and so much more.
But the city does have a few galleries and exhibits worth visiting, including a wonderful Picasso Museum and the Fundació Joan Miró, showcasing the unique talents of Miro, in a cool building. Another must, if you’re into art, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
If you’ve got time, or prefer other types of art, Nau Bostik features amazing street art, the Museu Can Framis is stunning with more contemporary art, and IDEAL is a really cool “new” digital art center in Poblenou.
Walk The Walks
I’d argue that most great cities are defined by their walkability. Or rather, their ability to create things worth walking to, or between. Barcelona certainly nails this.
Of all the walks, there’s none more famous than ‘La Rambla’. This one’ish mile stretch of pedestrian heaven is a great way to traverse the city and make your way the water and up into the swoon worthy neighborhoods of the city.
On the beach side, La Rambla spits you out not “too” far from Barceloneta, which is an over sensory experience of people, volleyball, some beach nudity and a very beautiful stretch of the city. Barceloneta can be very touristy, but the iconic W Hotel makes for a great background to your crescent beach photos.
If facing the water, a walk to the left will take you toward more great areas of the city.
My pick, if I could only have one, would probably be the Passeig De Sant Joan.
Passeig De Sant Joan is a wide street, like a Park Avenue, which ends near the water with Barcelona’s own Arc De Triomf and gorgeous stroll gardens. And for anyone with kids, or who’s a kid at heart, a nice zoo.
Walking away from the water, Passeig De Sant Joan will bring you near enough to the Villa De Gracia neighborhoods, or with a left turn along Avenida Diagonal, to Eixample, a personal favorite.
Parc Güell And Park Life
Barcelona does parks and it does them really, really well. You’ve likely heard of Parc Güell, and if you haven’t, you’ve undoubtedly seen it in pictures. It’s that gorgeous place way up above the city in the mountain foothills, with the cool blue and yellow tiles.
Go there. The views are wonderful and there’s lots to learn along the way. Plus, these foothill neighborhoods just below the park are as charming as any.
Once you’ve done Parc Güell, there are still plenty more. Parc de la Ciutadella is lovely, as is Parc del Laberint d’Horta, Montjuïc (all of it), Parc Poblenou and so much more.
Dining And Drinking In Barcelona
You’d really be hard pressed to find a better foodie city in Europe than Barcelona. Many would put in a word, but they’d all end up agreeing that they’re all fabulous and we’re all lucky.
Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya benefits from an amazing growing climate, with access to fresh fish, livestock and wine, not to mention the incredible vegetables, so come hungry and expect to leave with a bit of enjoyment weight!
But First, Coffee
Europe’s cafe culture is famous, but not for discerning coffee fanatics. A few amazing spots in Barcelona are changing that, with local roasting, direct trade and creative side treats to accompany the perfect oat milk latte, latte art and all.
Here’s a list of our favorite Barcelona coffee shops, including: Roast Club Cafe, Onna Coffee, Cafe de Finca, El Magnifico, Hidden Coffee and Vita Brevis. Onna offers what I’d argue is one of the best and most creative croissants for many hundreds of miles and pairs perfectly with top notch coffee.
For avocado-toasty style brunch and all day dining, La Papa is a relatively new star on the scene, with a very Instagrammable shop and excellent food and pastry.
Mercados Are Your Friend
In case you swiped right past it above, mercados are your friend in Barcelona. These places where stalls are a plenty, variation of food is immense and incredible wine is never far are some of the best ways to eat to your hearts content.
Mercat De Sant Antoni, Mercat de Santa Caterina, Mercat Del Nino or Mercat de la Concepció are all going to wow, each with their own twist or take on the spectacular regional cuisine.
Wine And Tapas Bars For The Win
There are too many great wine and tapas bars in this city to even start to make a list. My suggestion is to go anywhere where the menu is in Spanish, the crowd looks local and the setup seems humble. The food likely won’t be. Even busier spots, like a Vinitus can be great.
If a place is on both, it’ll be good. It just might be busy, and that’s why wandering into a humble place with less fame might end up better.
Michelin Starred Meals
Barcelona has a staggering number of Michelin starred restaurants, and a very dense collection of two and three star restaurants. That’s probably due to a convergence of land and sea, in a wine growing region. What’s not to like?
If fine dining is your thing, the 2021-2022 Michelin Guide to Barcelona allows you to filter by stars or bib gourmands and map out your high brow culinary journey through this city.
Hot tip: sometimes, like with wine, it’s all about the person. If a great chef is behind something, it might be the best meal, even if it’s not on lists. Be sure to google chefs like Albert Adria, Jordi Cruz Mas, Raul Balam, Carles Abellan and others, to see if you can find a low key gem.
48 Hours In Barcelona: Wrapping It Up
Barcelona is a fabulous city and a big one at that. If you really want to break the surface, you’ll want more than 48 hours.
If you don’t have it, prioritize a quick stop near the beach and then a walk up on of the amazing streets like La Rambla or Passeig De Sant Joan toward Avenida Diagonal and get yourself lost. Get up to Parc Güell to see the city from above and then spend the rest of the time eating.
If there’s anything to takeaway, it’s that even if you have lots of money here, it’s not needed to unlock amazing meals and drinks. Most great Spanish wine doesn’t make it out of the country, and a €5 glass will rival what places elsewhere can charge $25 for.
The same goes for food, where simple jamon, cheese, fresh fish and unbeatable croquetas are going to be nearly as satisfying as the intricate, Michelin starred plates that dot the city.
Basically, this is a city to enjoy on any budget and if you love great views, fun people and culture creature features, you can’t do better. Stay as long as you can!