Barcelona cityscape and the Sagrada Familia at night

3 days in Barcelona: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Planning a trip to Barcelona? Here are our top picks...

Stay: Ohla Barcelona

Discount card: Barcelona Card

Walking tour: Old town and Gothic Quarter

Gaudi tour: Glorious Gaudi with Sagrada Familia

Food tour: Tapas, taverns and history

Day trip: Girona and the Costa Brava

Barcelona is the Spanish city everyone talks about, the city everyone visiting Spain for the first time ensures is on their itinerary. It is the unrivalled jewel of Spanish cities, but it is also listed among the most-visited cities in Europe.

Barcelona has an animated modern vibe fused with medieval charm. The unique, fairytale architecture of Gaudí dots the city with a spellbinding sense of stepping into a children’s book.

On top of being a captivating city with a delectable food scene where tapas is king, Barcelona also has some of the most dazzling beaches in the country. Not surprisingly, there are many interesting things to do in Barcelona, and those who love history, architecture, beach, food, and nightlife will all find their place in this magnificent Catalonian city.

But Barcelona gets busy, and so do the top attractions. Book skip-the-line entrance tickets and plan your visit carefully so that you do not waste your time queueing for hours. Here is how we suggest you spend three days in Barcelona.

An aerial view of Las Ramblas in Barcelona

How long should I spend in Barcelona?

Barcelona is a big city with multiple neighbourhoods spread quite far apart. This makes seeing all the main sites challenging in a day or two (if you decide to attempt it anyway, we suggest this tour to get the most out of your day).

Even though Barcelona has a good public transport system, expect to spend some time queueing and getting stuck on crowded metro carriages and buses.

For these reasons, and to give yourself enough time to take in the magical vibe of Barcelona between tourist attractions, we suggest not spending any less than three days in Barcelona.

That said, if you have more time, this is truly a city that deserves it - and you’ll probably appreciate Barcelona even more if you stay for longer.

You’ll be able to make sense of the different neighbourhoods and find little, quiet corners beyond the somewhat chaotic first impression that Barcelona gives.

The famous incomplete Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Day 1: Sagrada Familia and other Gaudí experiences

Start your first day in Barcelona by visiting the number one attraction, the Sagrada Familia. It’s Gaudí’s most impressive work, yet the one site that never seems to get completed. The Sagrada Familia has been in continuous construction since 1882 and is now expected to be finished by 2026. 

You should get to Sagrada Familia as early as possible to avoid the worst crowds because this is the most popular attraction in the city, without a doubt. Note that tickets must be booked in advance to get the entrance time you want. To get the most out of your visit, get a guided tour of the grand cathedral.

Next, head to Recinte Modernista Sant Pau, a series of unique structures declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fantastic Art Nouveau architecture by Lluís Domènech. Originally, it was a hospital (may we dare to say one of the most beautiful in the world?), but now, it’s one of the top highlights to see in Barcelona.

With elegant domes, stained glass windows, and elegant columns supporting magnificent arches, it gives you more of a feeling of being in a palace than a hospital. Again, it's worth booking a ticket in advance or taking a guided tour of the site.

Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain

For an eccentric experience, drop in at the Gaudí Experience. The interactive exhibition takes you on a journey through the famous architect’s life and all of his work that is so prominent throughout Barcelona. They also have a thrilling 4D cinema experience where you will learn more about what is behind Gaudí’s work.

Finally, venture to the extraordinary Park Güell on Carmel Hill, where the colourful, rounded artwork of Gaidí meets nature.

The impressive park area, full of serpentine benches, coloured mosaics, and imposing columns, was created to be the public space of an upper-class housing area that never was completed.

Park Güell overlooks the city and is one of the most magnificent parks in the world and you can visit the House Museum where Gaudí used to live.

Once again, you can book tickets for the park in advance, and guided tours are also available. There are a few restaurants near the park for dinner, or you can head into the city centre to find a place to eat.

The view from Casa Batlló in Barcelona

Day 2: City centre and more Gaudí

Spend the second day of your Barcelona trip seeing more of Gaudí’s incredible work and exploring the city centre. 

Start with Casa Batlló, another one of Gaudís masterpieces - and go early as it is very popular. The façade is incredible, with fairytale-like balconies, rounded windows, and Gaudí’s signature coloured tile-work covering the walls. 

If you think Casa Batlló is impressive enough from the outside and consider not entering, we highly advise you to do so.

As magical as the exterior is, inside, you will find a whole different world where you can easily imagine Disney’s animated wizard Merlin showing up before you. 

The shell-shaped ceiling, stained glass windows, cheerfully tiled walls, and rounded corners will easily take your breath away. Then, up on the rooftop, you will be mesmerized by Gaudí’s iconic dragon shape!

The Columbus monument in downtown Barcelona

Nearby is Casa Milá, also known as Casa Pedrera, which was Gaudís last civil work and is known for its undulating limestone façade.

The interior, much like Casa Batlló features rounded edges, stained glass windows, and majestic staircases. Mystic hobbit hallways and stairways lead up to the roof terrace, which offers sweeping city views.

Then head to Praça de Catalunya to take a few pictures of the majestic square. For lunch, you can check out La Boqueria Market halfway down Barcelona’s most popular street, La Rambla

Then continue to the Güell Palace, yet another Gaidí marvel declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The incredible Art Nouveau building utilizes a wealth of different materials from wood, glass, metal, and pottery to create unique spaces of light and space. 

At the end of La Rambla, you find the 60-meter-tall Mirador de Colom (Columbus Monument), where you can climb to the top to see first-class views of the coastline.

Spend the rest of the day enjoying the harbour before strolling along the beaches at sunset.

Narrow streets and gothic doorways in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

Day 3: Gothic Quarter and Montjuïc Hill

Spend your last day discovering the narrow streets in the Gothic Quarter, the oldest area in Barcelona. Tucked away in its darkest alleys, you can find some of Barcelona’s fascinating attractions, including the Picasso Museum and Palau de la Musica, yet another UNESCO site. 

Barcelona Cathedral is not far from there and is a stunning Gothic church dating back to the early 1400s. Next, make it to Barcelona City History Museum before you dig into the Montjuïc Hill attractions after lunch. 

Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the city, the 17th-century fortress, Montjuïc Castle, is an interesting site to learn more about the city’s history, walk the fortress walls, and take in the views.

You will also find the National Art Museum, the Olympic Stadium, and the Joan Miro Foundation, where you can find a large range of the artist’s abstract paintings exhibited. Catch a show at the Magical Fountain or go for a walk in the Botanical Gardens where you can get lost in a myriad of Mediterranean plant species.

Finally, the Poble Espanyol is like an open-air architectural museum where you can see houses from all over Spain in different architectural styles. This is also a great place to find local handmade crafts, so if you want to spend a couple of hours shopping for unique items, this is the place to be.

There are also a number of restaurants where you can have dinner if you choose to stay in the area.

The port of Barcelona with the city in the background

If you have more time in Barcelona

  • Go on a boat tour - Taking a boat trip in Barcelona is a lovely way to see the coastline and take in some sun. Another favourite is the sunset cruises that depart in the evenings.

  • Colonia Güell - 23 kilometers outside the city centre you find what was once an industrial village where you find one of Gaudí’s lesser famous art pieces, Gaudí’s Crypt. The church is an impressive stone structure and one of the early examples of what would turn out to be the architect’s signature features.

  • Catalonia History Museum - A wonderful place to learn more about the culture and the history of Catalunia from all the way back to the Stone Age to the present day.

  • Parc de la Ciutadella - The 19th-century park was the first green space in Barcelona and a great place to go for a stroll. Pay attention to the grand fountain, Gaudí was slightly involved in the design, but not as much as in other sites.

Planning a trip to Barcelona? Read our Barcelona neighbourhood guide or our Spain travel guide.

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Linn Haglund

Author - Linn Haglund

Originally from Norway, Linn is an avid traveller and freelance travel writer that has a passion for the outdoors, wildlife, and responsible travel. She is currently living the van life in southern Europe with her fiancé and their dog.

Having travelled in 50+ countries and lived in five countries, she has developed a fervour for helping people to travel more responsibly and leave a positive impact on their destinations through her blog, Brainy Backpackers.

Last Updated 25 May 2023

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