You have just 2 full days to see and experience all Barcelona has to offer. It sounds like mission impossible but you can do this wonderful vibrant city in just 48 hours with the help of this guide.
The main streets of Barcelona are wide and long, criss-crossing the city taking you off in new directions and new sensations. Spend some time familiarising yourself with Las Ramblas and the top of Plaça de Catalunya.
You could spend hours on the Ramblas alone, taking in the unique stalls selling everything from newspapers, to birds, to reptiles, to flowers and rabbits. Then there are the street performers, colourful characters that pose, mime, sing, dance and juggle for the passing crowds.
Halfway down is the La Boqueria market. A total sensory overload of smell, colour and taste. This is a great place to pick up a few items for breakfast or just a snack. Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and sweets are stacked high over a huge area.
At the bottom of Las Ramblas is the port. This has been extensively redeveloped with the huge Maremagnum complex. By day it is a shoppers paradise and by night becomes the hub for touristy bars and nightclubs.
Plaça Reial is a real melting pot of people, sights, smells and activities. Just spend some time watching the interactions of the locals, tourists, police, restaurants, bars and pigeons. Even the Gaudi lamp posts either side of the fountain add to the overall atmosphere. Some of the side streets lead off to some excellent restaurants and the Barri Gotic quarter.
The Barri Gotic quarter is an area of Barcelona that dates back to the 11th and 12th C. You may walk through Plaça Sant Jaume to reach it but the narrow streets are worth exploring to see the royal palace in Plaça del Rei, once home to Queen Isobel and King Ferdinand. They were the financiers for Christopher Colombus’ voyage to the new world.
There has been some Roman ruins excavated beneath the palace that are also on show. The most impressive example in the Gotic quarter is of course the Cathedral. This looks rather like a shorter wider version of Notre Dame but reflects the Spanish style of gothic architecture. There is a lift to the top for a view across the city roof tops.
In front of the church the square often attracts more street performers with classical guitarists and artists setting themselves up in the side streets.
The evening ‘passage’ is a very important part of Catalan culture. Around this time of evening many families will walk together down Las Ramblas before taking a pre dinner drink at one of the street bars, dressed up and looking their best. Most of the popular restaurants won’t open their doors until 8pm and people will begin queuing from about 7.30pm onwards. Waiters then take the number in each party so when the doors open you are taken straight to your table.
Catalan cuisine is very traditional with particular regional recipes being handed down over centuries. Now is a good time to familiarise yourself with paella, an all in one rice dish that can include meat and/or sea food. Cava is the Spanish champagne and can be cheaper than wine but a worthy alternative. Also popular is sangria, basically a red wine punch with fruit pieces and ice.
Barcelona is also diversifying its tastes with many other Mediterranean cultures making the city their home so you can also find typically non Spanish flavours, including Greek, Turkish and North African.
From May to September one of the best things to see by night in Barcelona is the Magic Fountain of Montjuic. The fountains first performed their illuminated ballet in 1929 at the Great Universal Exhibition. Every half hour from 8pm until midnight the fountains perform a display of light, colour and music attracting hundreds of spectators every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The music ranges from classical and opera to movie themes and contemporary pieces.
The fountains run on reduced hours from October to April, Fridays and Saturdays only between 7pm and 9pm. At the top of the steps is the Palau Nacional which offers a fine panoramic view over the city and backs onto the Olympic stadium where Spain made its return to the world stage in the 1992 Olympic games.
Now to swap the walking shoes for dancing ones. You can choose to go with the rest of the tourist crowd to Maremagnum or the more discerning head to Port Olimpic and the Baja Beach Club. There are many nightclubs and dance bars for all tastes, most going on until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Usually there are no entry fees but the cocktails and drinks are pricy. There may be flyers being handed out in the street offering 2 for 1 deals inside, and these are no ordinary drinks. They are usually long pours so you won’t need many.
Today is the day to get better acquainted with Antoni Gaudi, the modernist architect responsible for some very unique buildings in and around Barcelona. His inspiration came from nature, causing some considerable criticism during his lifetime as some felt his attempts to recreate natural forms was tantamount to playing God.
The first building to examine is the Casa Battlò on Passeig de Gracia. It stands as part of the Manzana Discordia, the apple of discord. This is also a fun play on words as the word for city block is also manzana. The house is a representation of St George and the dragon, with thousands of ceramic tiles decorating the façade like scales. Next door is Casa Amatller by another of Guadi’s contemporaries Josep Puig I Cadafalch.
Much of the modernist approach drew on Moorish influences and a freer expression of shape. Some of the buildings look more as if they were built today rather than almost 200 years ago. The second building to discover is Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera- the rock quarry. La Pedrera is on the corner of Passeig de Gracia and Carrer de Provença, the façade imitating sand dunes with a wind blown effect, the rock curving and undulating around the windows.
Both buildings are open to the public with Casa Mila home to a gallery and also offering tours of the remainder of the building and roof. Casa Batllò was originally offices and closed to the public but some rooms have been opened up.
Perhaps the most impressive and time consuming of the Gaudi creations, certainly the most visited, is the Sagrada Familia. Begun in 1882 this was Gaudi’s most ambitious project. He devoted himself entirely to overseeing the work, moving into the crypt beneath the nave and rarely leaving the site.
Relying totally on public donation to fund the project it followed a rather stop start pattern, and even following the untimely death of Gaudi the donations continued to come in. the building still continues today, the tourist coin adding to the donation box and allowing the completion of Gaudi’s greatest dream, a church for the people built by the people.
Tapas are a cheap, tasty and typically Spanish snack. They are eaten virtually at any time of the day and accompany coffee, wine or aperitifs. There are many tapas bars providing a huge range of choice. They are either served hot or cold and you can buy singles or make a selection. Toppings are mainly meats, fish, seafood, frittatas and tapenades.
Where to go for that all important siesta? There’s no better place to catch a few z’s than in Parc Guell. Another fantastic creation by Gaudi the park as originally a complex designed for a private owner but it later became a public park.
The bench snakes it’s way around the edge of the centre of the shady park, detailed with broken ceramic tiles and ergonomically shaped to make a comfortable place to rest. In the colonnade area beneath musicians will often set up, violins and classic guitar complementing the peaceful atmosphere.
The beach and waterfront have undergone some serious redevelopment in the years following the Olympic games resulting in Barceloneta becoming a hot spot for shopping and dining. Depending on the weather you can either enjoy some time on the beach or make your way to the Museu Picasso behind it, the artist’s most important collection , or up to the Parc de la Cuitadella and the small zoo.
If the day is clear and fine you can make your way along the water front to the cable car that runs over the port and up to Montjiuc where you can visit the Fundaciò Joan Mirò, another awesome modern art collection, and the lively Poble Espanyol full of shops and restaurants.
After dinner there are plenty of flamenco shows to choose from. Some places offer a drink with the entry fee and after the show become a night club. If the feet are feeling tired it might be worth it to let someone else do all the fancy footwork.
There is so much to see and do in this city, it even feels as if it never sleeps. Chatty café customers can keep going until the early hours as well as the discos and dance clubs. 48 hours is never enough but then that’s always a good reason to return.