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 reservations. If you're here on a weekend, dance — or watch — the sardana.
Barcelona in 1 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), follow my guidebook's Barri Gòtic Walk and Cathedral of Barcelona Tour.
11:00 Circle back to Plaça de Catalunya and follow my book's self-guided Ramblas Ramble to the harborfront.
12:30 Walk along the harborfront to El Born, grabbing a quick lunch.
14:00 Follow my guidebook's self-guided Picasso Museum Tour.
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 If your energy is holding out, 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 2, 3, 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). Do Montjuïc on whichever day you're not exhausted (if any) — or, better yet, on a third day.
With extra time on any day, consider taking a hop-on, hop-off bus tour for a sightseeing overview (for instance, the Tourist Bus blue route links most Gaudí sights and could work well on Day 2).
Day 1 — Old City
9:00 Follow my guidebook's self-guided Barri Gòtic Walk and Cathedral of Barcelona Tour.
11:00 Head to the Ramblas using the route described in my book's "Barri Gòtic Shopping Walk," then follow my book's Ramblas Ramble (touring Palau Güell if you're a Gaudí fan) down to the harborfront.
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 Follow my book's El Born Walk, and en route, do the book's Picasso Museum Tour. Afterward complete my guidebook's El Born Walk and 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, and follow my book'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. Visit a sight that's open late. Take in a performance of Spanish guitar, flamenco, or jazz, or a concert in a fancy setting (such as La Pedrera or the Palace of Catalan Music). Zip up to Montjuïc for the sunset and a drink on the Catalan Art Museum's terrace, then head down to the illuminated Magic Fountains (Fri-Sat, plus Sun and Thu in summer). Head to Barceloneta and choose your favorite chiringuito beach bar.
Day 2 — Modernisme
9:00 Take my guidebook's Eixample Walk, touring La Pedrera and/or Casa Batlló.
12:00 Eat an early lunch in the Eixample, then take a taxi or bus to 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, stopping at sights of interest. The top priorities are the Catalan Art Museum, CaixaForum art gallery, and Fundació Joan Miró. 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.
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.
With more time, choose among several tempting 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 at some point during their trip can start here first, take the train or fly to Madrid, and sightsee Madrid and Toledo, all before picking up their car — cleverly saving on several days' worth of rental fees.
When to Go
Sea breezes off the Mediterranean and a generally warm climate make Barcelona pleasant for much of the year. Late spring and early fall offer the best combination of good weather, light crowds, long days, and plenty of tourist and cultural activities. You'll encounter hot, humid weather and the biggest crowds in July and August, and some shops and restaurants close down in August. Winter temperatures are far from freezing, but rainfall is abundant.