Known for its beaches, its fútbol, and its groundbreaking architecture, Barcelona is one of the most lively and vibrant places on Earth. Walking down its streets is drowning in a sea of color. Dining at its restaurants is being showered with the scents of seafood and sangria. Dancing at its clubs is to being pummeled into the earth with the deafening pulses of techno. A two-day visit here will certainly expose you all of that. But Barcelona, for all its beauty, is not without strife, and the city is laced with past remnants of political, social, and economic turmoil. Prior to becoming a tourist hotspot, Castell de Montjuïc served as a prison and torture facility. Until a few decades ago, the Bunkers of Carmel—a romantic viewpoint and local student hangout—functioned as a storage facility for weapons. Despite facing some grueling challenges, Barcelona’s citizens have proven to be extremely resilient. They’ve turned their frustrations into art, and now for every reminder of the city’s turbulent past, there exists a beacon of a brighter future. Luckily for you, those beacons are open to the public and waiting to explored. If you have 48 hours to spend in Barcelona, this itinerary can help you get the most out of your stay.
Visit a museum and soak up some of Barcelona’s stunning architectural views.
Morning: Visit Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya
With branches and excavation sites scattered across northern Spain, Barcelona’s Archaeology Museum of Catalonia is part of a network dedicated to preserving the region’s cultural and technological history. Its permanent collection consists of a variety of Greek, Roman, and prehistoric artifacts, and can be covered in about an hour. It’s best if you speak Catalan—unfortunately for the rest of us, MAC lacks English translations. As you wind through the interactive exhibits on the lower floor, you’ll be taken from the origins of man, through stone tool development, and finally to the Bronze and Iron ages. Most mornings, MAC’s halls are about as dead as the human skulls in their display cases—great if you’re into really old things, but a little too Night at the Museum for our taste. It’s certainly worth a visit—for its historical significance, for its interesting traveling exhibits, and for its air conditioning.
Lunchtime: Whip up some local dishes in a cooking class
Good news—the class starts off with a tasting session that includes a delectable array of tapas all originating from various Spanish cities and unlimited beer and wine. Once you’ve given your taste buds a sample of what’s to come, you’ll be provided with all the ingredients and chef-approved cookware to whip up a meal made from fresh local ingredients found at Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria Market.
Afternoon: Head over to La Sagrada Familia for beautiful views and soaring arches
Antoni Gaudí’s life-long project, this landmark was only 25% done when the architect died in 1926. By the time construction ceases in 2026, it will have taken longer to build than the Egyptian Pyramids. Why is it taking so long, you ask? The short answer: none of the interior surfaces are flat. Still left to build are 10 towers—six of which are larger than the existing ones, and one of which will reach a whopping 566 feet, making the edifice the largest religious building in Europe. As you move from north to south around its exterior, the stone reliefs emulate the story of the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Inside, the transept depicts a parallel journey: that of the evolution of architecture from Medieval times to present. Particularly fascinating is the southern doorway, which is more “modern” than the world’s most impressive skyscrapers. Whether you’re in town for two weeks or two hours, it should be at the top of your priority list. A guided tour is definitely the best way to get the full experience of this architectural wonder.
Evening: Grab dinner and drinks in the Gothic Quarter
Stretching from Las Ramblas to Via Laietana, the narrow cobblestone streets in this Barcelona neighborhood is home to buildings from medieval and Roman times and some pretty sweet street art. It’s also filled with restaurants, bars, and cafes, perfect for grabbing a bite and enjoying a night on the town. After you’ve eaten, check out Plaça Reial for some of the best nightlife in the city. Try a tapas and flamenco tour—it’s a great way to really experience the culture and vibe of Barcelona.
Take some insta-worthy photos and spend the afternoon and evening in the district of Gràcia.
Morning: Snap some pictures and climb to the top of Casa Batlló
A dominant silhouette and one of the most emblematic works by Antoni Gaudí, Casa Batlló was constructed between 1904 and 1906 for one of Barcelona’s preeminent families. True to the architect’s style, this house has almost no right angles or straight lines, and is outfitted with walls that undulate like waves. It is an ode to the marine world, complete with decorative elements that shimmer like fish scales and turquoise glass windows that look like bubbles. Nicknamed the “House of Yawns” because of its gaping iron balconies, its exterior is plastered with lime mortar and sprinkled with fragments of ceramic and colored glass—a technique called trencadís. Inside, a wooden stairwell resembling a twisted spine leads guests to the Noble Floor, offering a panoramic view of the treetops and street below. Notice how the windows get smaller and darker as you make your way upstairs. This was a conscious and ingenious design choice made by Gaudí to ensure that the home glows a consistent shade of blue throughout.
Lunchtime: Take a breather in the Born
La Ribera, aka “the Born,” is a trendy area of Barcelona right next to Ciudadela Park, and it’s hip restaurant scene offers several options for a leisurely lunch. Keep it simple with coffee and a sandwich at a sidewalk cafe or settle in for a three-course, sit-down affair complete with wine (or sangria). After you’ve eaten, head to
Calle Flassaders for a little window (and souvenir) shopping.
Afternoon: Stop by Villa de Gràcia
The district of Gràcia feels removed from the rest of the city, despite the fact that it’s only a few metro stops away. It is the atmospheric antithesis of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter—calm and cozy, not hectic and overbearing. Tourists are in the minority among the artists and young professionals who live here. Craft breweries, ethnic eateries, and galleries abound in this vibrant and diverse enclave of Catalan life—its intimate, close-packed streets and predominately low-rise, Mediterranean buildings lending it a distinct, bohemian feel. We recommend taking a stroll down the lively Carrer de Verdi and turning right on Carrer de Ros de Olano.
Evening: Stick around to dine al fresco in Gràcia
At night, Gràcia’s sloping streets come alive with patio restaurants serving traditional Catalan pintxos. Or, if you’re not feeling the patio scene, take a tapas tour for some delicious insight into this Barcelona neighborhood. After you eat, head to Plaça Del Sol, where groups of students gather nightly to sit on the ground, drink, and be merry. It’s a pretty neat way to end your stay in Barcelona.