Barcelona Itinerary: Planning Your Time

Catalan Art Museum, Barcelona, Spain
The grand Catalan Art Museum on Barcelona's Montjuïc hill is a world-class showcase.
By Rick Steves

So much to see, so little time. To help you plan your sightseeing, I've listed my ideal itineraries for Barcelona, whether you're going for one day, two days, three days, or more.

Barcelona is easily worth two days, and no one would regret having a third day (or a fourth, or a fifth…). If you can spare only one full day for the city, it will be a scramble, but a day you'll never forget.

When planning your time, be aware that many top sights are closed on Monday — making them especially crowded on Tuesday and Sunday. Some of Barcelona's major sights can have long lines, such as the Sagrada Família and La Pedrera; it's smart to make advance tickets.

With that in mind, here are my recommended priorities:

Barcelona in One Day

For a relaxing day, stroll the Ramblas, see the Sagrada Família, add the Picasso Museum if you're a fan, and have dinner in the trendy El Born district.

To fit in much more, try the following ambitious but doable plan. You'll have to rush through the big sights (cathedral, Picasso Museum, Sagrada Família), having just enough time to visit each one but not to linger.

9:00  From Plaça de Catalunya (with its handy tourist information office), peruse the Barri Gòtic neighborhood (follow my guidebooks' self-guided walk, also available as a free audio tour) and tour the Cathedral of Barcelona.

11:00  Circle back to Plaça de Catalunya and stroll Las Ramblas to the harborfront (ideally, following my guidebooks' self-guided "Ramblas Ramble").

12:30  Walk along the harborfront to El Born, grabbing a quick lunch.

14:00  Tour the Picasso Museum.

16:00  Hop a taxi or the Metro to the Sagrada Família.

18:00  Taxi, bus, or walk to Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample to see the exteriors of Gaudí's La Pedrera (a.k.a. Casa Milà) and the Block of Discord. Stroll back down toward Plaça de Catalunya.

19:00  Wander back into the Barri Gòtic at prime paseo time. Enjoy an early tapas dinner along the way, or a restaurant dinner later in the Old City.

Barcelona in Two, Three, or More Days

To better sample the city's ample charm, spread your visit over several days. With at least two days, divide and conquer the town geographically: Spend one day in the Old City (Ramblas, Barri Gòtic/cathedral area, Picasso Museum/El Born) and another on the Eixample and Gaudí sights (La Pedrera, Sagrada Família, Park Güell). If you have a third day, visit Montjuïc and/or side-trip to Montserrat

With extra time on any day, consider taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour for a sightseeing overview (for example, the Tourist Bus blue route links most Gaudí sights and could work well on Day 2).

Day 1 — Old City

9:00  From Plaça de Catalunya (with its handy tourist information office), peruse the Barri Gòtic neighborhood (follow my guidebooks' self-guided walk, also available as a free audio tour) and tour the Cathedral of Barcelona.

11:00  Head to the Ramblas (ideally, using the route described in my Barcelona guidebook's "Barri Gòtic Shopping Walk"), then stroll Las Ramblas to the harborfront (best if following my guidebooks' self-guided "Ramblas Ramble").

13:00  Grab lunch in El Born or the Barri Gòtic.

14:00  Tour the Palace of Catalan Music in El Born (advance reservation required).

15:00  Explore El Born (see my Barcelona guidebook's self-guided walk), including a visit to the Picasso Museum. Afterwards shop to your heart's content.

Evening  Take your pick of activities: Assemble an early tapas dinner by hopping from bar to bar in El Born (you can follow my Barcelona guidebook's "Short, Sweet Walk" for dessert options); other good neighborhoods for tapas are the classy Eixample or touristy Barri Gòtic. Or wait to dine at a restaurant when locals do, around 21:00. For an early dinner, sample tapas at several bars in El Born (or the Eixample or Barri Gòtic; to dine at a restaurant, go when locals do, around 21:00. Visit a sight that's open late. Take in a performance of Spanish guitar, flamenco, or jazz, concerts at La Pedrera or the Palace of Catalan Music. Hang out at the chiringuito beach bar in Barceloneta. Zip up to Montjuïc for the sunset and a drink on the Catalan Art Museum's terrace, then head down to the Magic Fountains (Fri–Sat, plus Sun and Thu in summer).

Day 2 — Modernisme

9:00  Check out the Eixample (you can take the self-guided walk in my Barcelona guidebook — or in my Pocket Barcelona guide), touring La Pedrera and/or one of the Block of Discord houses: Casa Batlló, Casa Lleó Morera, or Casa Amatller (last two by guided tour only).

12:00  Eat an early lunch in the Eixample, then tour the Sagrada Família.

14:00  Choose among these options: Taxi or bus to Park Güell for more Gaudí. Or take the bus to Montjuïc (if you're not going to Montjuïc on Day 3) to enjoy the city view and your pick of sights. Or explore the harborfront La Rambla de Mar and Old Port (unless you already did this on Day 1, at the end of the "Ramblas Ramble").

Evening  Choose among the evening activities listed earlier.

Day 3 — Montjuïc and Barceloneta

Morning  Tour Montjuïc from top to bottom (both physically and in order of importance), stopping at these sights: Catalan Art Museum, Fundació Joan Miró, and CaixaForum. Shoppers like Las Arenas, the bullring mall.

Afternoon  If the weather is good (and you haven't hit the beach yet), take the scenic cable-car ride down from Montjuïc to the port, and spend the rest of the day at Barceloneta — stroll the promenade and have a seafood dinner.

Day 4

Consider these options: Visit the markets (La Boqueria and Santa Caterina — both closed Sun). Tour more sights (Palau Güell's Modernista interior, Barcelona History Museum, Frederic Marès Museum, Chocolate Museum, and more). Take a walking or bike tour. Relax or rent a rowboat in Citadel Park.

Days 5–7

With more time, choose among several day trips, including the mountaintop monastery of Montserrat, the beach resort town of Sitges, and the Salvador Dalí sights at Figueres and Cadaqués.

Connecting with the Rest of Spain

Located in the far northeast corner of Spain, Barcelona makes a good first or last stop for your trip. With the high-speed AVE train, Barcelona is three hours away from Madrid — faster and more comfortable than flying. Or you could sandwich Barcelona between flights. From the US, it's as easy to fly into Barcelona as it is to land in Madrid, Lisbon, or Paris. Those who plan on renting a car later in their trip can start here, take the train or fly to Madrid, and sightsee Madrid and Toledo, all before picking up a car — cleverly saving on several days' worth of rental fees.