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Stopping by for a day in Barcelona? On a cruise and only docking at the port of Barcelona for a few hours? Having a layover in Barcelona? Or maybe you are visiting on business and only have an additional weekend day to spend in Barcelona after a week packed with meetings?
There are many reasons why you may only have one day in Barcelona, but despite it seeming to be a short time, 24h is enough to fit a lot of the main things to see in Barcelona in. So let this local be your guide and show you how to make the most of your one day in Barcelona.
I grew up in a small town near Barcelona called Sitges and I studied and briefly lived in the city. Although I currently live in Singapore, I go back home several times a year and always try to explore anything that is new. My mother also keeps me updated on all the new developments in the city and I love to discover them when I go. I even got some of my expert friends in the music world to chime in with their recommendations for the best bars and clubs to recommend for this review. So I hope that you will find this one day itinerary of Barcelona useful and relevant.
Let’s get started shall we?
- How to get around Barcelona if you only have one day
- One day in Barcelona
- Where to stay in Barcelona
How to get around Barcelona if you only have one day
Time is of the essence if you want to fit all that is mentioned in this one day itinerary of Barcelona in so I would suggest taking taxis. A lot of what I suggest doing can also be explored on foot and maybe you can leave the taxis to get to Sagrada Familia only, which is slightly off the rest of the route.
One day in Barcelona
Barcelona receives millions of tourists every year and is also a city where you could easily spend several days, especially if you are keen on exploring Catalunya beyond Barcelona and want to take day trips from the city to discover the wineries, the monasteries, the UNESCO cities, the Medieval cities, the museums, the beaches and the national parks. I always recommend four days in Barcelona as a good trip duration.
But if you only have one day in Barcelona this is the selection of the best things you can do in a day in a chronological order as recommended by a local. I have a lot of friends visiting and asking for recommendations so these are the must-see things in Barcelona in 24h.
Breakfast at a nice bakery
Bread in Spain is sacred. If there was no bread there would be a revolution as we all start the day with a sandwich or a pastry. Bakeries are the heart of any village or city and in Barcelona there are many. Do as locals do and start your day in Barcelona with a cortado and a pastry or a bocadillo (sandwich) made with baguette type of bread.
You really can’t go wrong with any bakery but avoid chain bakeries where the bread is frozen, and go for the most local looking place you can find. Some bakeries I love and always return to are in Carrer Comtal (you will see several of them along this pedestrian street).
An interesting place is the bakery and chocolate store on the ground floor of the Casa Ametller: Faborit. It doubles as a chocolate store selling the house chocolate brand, which is what the owners of the building had and hence how they managed to get a Modernist inspired building next to the famous Casa Batllo. It’s a cafe that is perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack when taking a break from sightseeing.
The store has also kept the original patio and kitchen so you can see how the family living in the building used to cook. Buy some chocolate as souvenir. If you have a sweet tooth, order a portion of churros and chocolate.
Hint: we do not ever eat churros as dessert in Spain, they are a breakfast or tea time snack item.
Casa Batllo and La Pedrera
You cannot leave Barcelona without visiting these two architectural gems and learning more about Gaudi. So make sure to add these two places to visit if you only have one day in Barcelona. They are beautiful.
At Casa Batllo, get the audio guide which has a 3D virtual reality option and is really cool. Make sure to go up and behind into the main patio that is so typical of this neighbourhood in Barcelona. And look up, La Casa Batllo has a beautiful dragon shape roof.
If you are visiting in the summer months, Casa Batllo has evening concerts and performances which are an absolutely fantastic way to end the day so you may want to switch things around.
At La Pedrera, get the audio guide as well and learn more about the many undulated walls, the snail stairs, the ventilation systems and the history of this amazing building. Make sure to go all the way up to the roof for the nice views over the city and an interesting look at the building’s chimneys.
There are also evening performances and concerts in the summer months and you can enjoy a drink with the city views.
Lunch at El Nacional
There are a million and one places to eat in Barcelona and you could spend weeks just trying them all so it is really hard to give just one recommendation, but El Nacional has a few options which should be good for sampling local food.
El Nacional is a multi-disciplinary space housed in an Art Deco building with more than one area under the same roof and restaurant each serving different types of foods, from tapas to seafood. It is also quite near the two buildings so you do not waste time crossing the city.
La Sagrada Familia
In the afternoon you need to visit Barcelona’s most famous landmark: La Sagrada Familia. This consecrated Basilica is a working religious building and place of prayer where mass is given at certain times. It is also a building that, when I was a kid, we all joked would never be finished. In fact, there is now a completion date estimated for 2028.
Read all about how to make the most of your visit to La Sagrada Familia here.
One could talk about La Sagrada Familia and its many details and allegories of nature forever but I have always been impressed by the fact that it has been entirely built with donations. It helps that when its popularity increased the famous landmark topped the world for the most reviewed tourist attraction in the world on TripAdvisor. So many people visit it every day that you are better off buying your tickets ahead of time or you will most likely not get in.
Two suggestions when visiting La Sagrada Familia. Firstly, make sure to buy the tickets that allow you to go up the towers, the views are well worth it and also getting to see the towers from up close is very cool.
Secondly, buy the tickets for the guided tour. These tours are offered in English and cost the same as the regular ticket and you get an experienced guide to tell you about the building and its history. Result! You can also simply explore on your own but the building’s imagery and representations will get lost without a guide and you will miss a lot of the magic of the place. If you don’t get the guided tour, at least get the audio guide.
After La Sagrada Familia it is time to explore another of the most famous places in Barcelona: La Rambla. This street connecting the city’s heart of Placa Catalunya with the Christopher Columbus statue by the sea is the most famous street in Barcelona. Make sure to stop at Placa Catalunya which is considered the heart of the city. Here you can feed the pigeons if that’s your thing. Be sure about it before you extend your hand with their food, dozens (if not hundreds) could descend on you.
This is a great place for people watching but do watch your belongings because professional, experienced and very smart pick-pocketers are in action there and if you take your hands and eyes off your stuff it will fly away without you even realising.
The best way to explore La Rambla is simply by walking it all the way down to the sea along the middle part. Look out for the flower stalls, the human statues, the painters, the singers, the musicians and the many people who call it home. And make sure to look both sides for the building lining it.
Be sure to stop at Mercat de la Boqueria, the local market designed in Modernist style and filled with all sorts of local food. Since the market has become a sort of tourist attraction beyond being a working fresh market, the stalls at the entrance sell ready-to-eat, take-away items like cut fruit or fresh juices, all well worth the extra vitamin boost.
If you are peckish, you could also stop at one of the stalls to the left when you enter the market which serve food in season. Check out the ones which serve tapas. Just take a seat and pick from the daily menu based on what is best available at the market.
Fancy an ice cream stop? Find Rocambolesc, the ice cream parlour by the brothers behind the World’s Best Restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca. Their ice cream is so delicious I always make sure to stop by when I am in the city.
El Gotic – The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
The gothic Quarter of Barcelona is the oldest part of the city. It was where the former Roman Barcino city was and where the Medieval city was born and developed. It is also my most favourite part of the city and one which I love to walk at dawn when I am back home. The empty streets and the narrow lanes are filled with so much history.
On your way up from the port, veer right into the Placa Reial and the narrow, dark and old lanes around the Barri Gotic or Gothic Quarter. This is a wonderful place to get lost.
Look out for the Cathedral, a stunning building, the cloister attached to it and the many medieval buildings in that part of Barcelona. The cathedral can be visited when there is no mass and when service is ongoing you can only see the back of it and the cloister. During Christmas time a large nativity will be placed there.
Find l’Esglesia del Pi and see if there are tours going up to the roof of the church from where you can see the entire old part of the city and also get a glimpse of what it must have been in medieval times when the wall surrounded it all. Your guide will be able to point at the city’s edge back then.
If you are feeling hungry or want a break, there are two places in the area where you can stop by for some historical and interesting snack. Granja Dulcinea is one of the oldest running churrerias in Barcelona and Caelum sells cookies and items made at Spain’s best monasteries and nunneries.
If you are visiting Barcelona from spring to autumn, you should enjoy a pre-dinner drink at one of the few great rooftop bars in Barcelona. They have great views and since dinner is not until after 9pm (especially in the summer) you should make the most of it with a pre-dinner drink.
If you can get a table, try Tickets, the casual molecular cuisine tapas bar that is the brainchild of elBulli chef Ferran Adria and which he opened after elBulli closed for good. The restaurant is always full, but if you go first thing when they open you may be lucky and get a table or wait at the bar before the tables are occupied. You can also go latest, before closing and hope you snatch a table.
For something casual, try the montaditos and pinchos of Txapela, a very laid back place where you order individual pinchos Basque style (slice of bread topped with many things from jamon to meat, cheese, salad, etc.), and then couple them with Txakoli white wine.
After dinner drinks
Clubs in Spain don’t open until very very late so you should head for some drinks before dancing. There are a lot of bars and places where you can chill.
This is how a regular weekend night goes down in Spain. Dinner is very late, never before 9,30pm. Then we have drinks at a bar until 2am more or less when bars close (by law) and clubs start to fill up. If you go to a club before, you will be all by yourself.
There are a few bar areas in the Gothic Quarter. Check out the Born area for the hipster and bohemian feel. For a fashionable spot with views, the W Hotel has a bar at the top that has both sea and city views and turns into a club if that is more your thing. For a wine evening, Monvinic is not only a great proximity food restaurant but also has one of the most extensive wine cellars and menu by the glass in Barcelona and the world.
If you prefer beer, Mortiz is a beer bar that was recently revamped after having almost been abandoned. It is an historical brand and a great place for a local beer. For a posher vibe head to Maria Cubi where there are a few bars. If you are looking for a speakeasy experience, Bar Mut is your choice. You will really feel like you are entering a hidden place. The space is small and they make great G&Ts.
Where to party on your one evening in Barcelona
Barcelona and Spain in general, are known for being all night party destinations and we party until the wee hours, usually until the sun comes up when we head for breakfast. Churros come in handy then as they are greasy, sweet and rich and can soak up whatever alcohol is in your body.
Where to stay in Barcelona
You may be visiting Barcelona for just one day but maybe you end up staying for the night and will need a place to stay. Since I have been an expat for many years, when I go back, I sometimes stay at one of its many amazing hotels. These are my recommendations for where to stay in Barcelona.
Monument Hotel is very well located and the home of Barcelona’s top restaurant, Lasarte. The rooms embody what I think of when I think of Barcelona: modern, sleek, functional and blending history and sophistication.
For something really special, try Mercer Hotel. The hotel is relatively new and during the renovation they discovered some old parts of the ancient Roman walls of Barcino in the hotel so you can sleep next to 2,000 year old walls. You can read my review here.
Hotel Neri is housed in a Medieval palace in the heart of the old town. You will find long velvet curtains blending into the balcony with wonderful views overlooking Neri square. Visit Neri Church to see remnants of the Civil War’s where you will find bullets and shrapnel indented into the back walls.
For something more modern, stunning and elegant, try Mandarin Oriental, the city’s most exclusive hotel. Its rooftop bar has the best views and well, the service is what you can expect from the brand.