Greetings Internet Stranger! I’m excited to take you through 24 hours in Barcelona, Spain’s second city. Many countries have a heated rivalry between their largest cities and their second-largest cities. Sometimes there is no contest and the largest city is also clearly the best, like how London is much more exciting than Manchester or New York is a million times better than Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: I am from NYC.)
In some countries the two biggest cities are fairly evenly matched in quality, like Toronto and Montreal. (I might be risking getting some angry emails from the notoriously belligerent Canadians on that one.) But Spain is one of those special nations whose main tourist capital is its second city: Barcelona. Madrid is a wonderful city, but if you ask most foreigners which Spanish city has their heart, the answer will probably be Barcelona.
A Perfect 24 Hours in Barcelona will include lots of delicious food, art, architecture, and a giant cat. Come with me to discover all the delights that Catalunya has to offer.
24 Hours in Barcelona
Where to Stay?
Barcelona regulates the tourist industry pretty carefully. So most of the hotels are in the “tourist neighborhood” near La Rambla. I was on a tight budget in Barcelona, so I enjoyed my stay at the Pension Portugal. There was free wifi, a private bathroom, and the location was perfect. But I’m sure you would enjoy any hotel with good reviews in the same area, if your budget allows for something more expensive.
24 Hours in Barcelona
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
Barcelona is hot in the summer, so don’t forget the sunscreen. My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.
Finally, if you’re American or from the UK, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
24 Hours in Barcelona
Morning: Explore El Raval
Before you spend your day exploring El Raval, perhaps you’d rather know what El Raval is? Well, look no further, Internet Stranger! El Raval is the historic neighborhood on the western side of the famous street known only as La Rambla. It is here that you can find markets, contemporary art, mind-blowing architecture, and the wonders of HAM CONE. If you have only one day in Barcelona, you could do worse than to spend it here.
Approximately top 5: El Raval
1) Breakfast at La Boqueria
La Boqueria is possibly the best market in the world. Certainly it is one of the top five markets I have ever been to. When the doors open at 8 AM, you are free to rush in and feast your senses on the tastiest fruits, hams, cheeses, and candies that Barcelona has to offer. At least you can feast three of your senses for free. If you want to touch or taste things, you’re going to have to pay for them.
Every morning I treated myself to a different fresh fruit juice from one of the fruit sellers in the market. There’s no better way to start a 24 hours in Barcelona. You can get something very tasty for 1.5 Euros, although some sellers charge more for the fancier kinds of juice. During my stay in Barcelona, I had mint limeade,
blackberry and coconut,
and pitahaya juice, which is made from a kind of cactus fruit.
But juice alone does not make breakfast. You will want something to eat! I recommend that you stop at Bar Pinotxo for a tasty little pastry and cafe au lait. As you can see, it’s just a small counter near the entrance to the market.
Just wait cagily for a seat to be available and then jump on that seat and order. I tried ordering in Spanish, which worked, but there were people around me ordering in English and they didn’t have any trouble. I ordered a xuixo, which is an insanely delicious ball of fried dough covered in sugar and stuffed with custard. That is literally everything I look for in a pastry.
You will be tempted to stay here and wander, but don’t! We will come back here later in the day, so resist the temptation.
2) Palau Guell
Most cities have several favored “children”, as it were, men and women whose image and inspiration still permeates the city. In New York City, you could start with Teddy Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia, but you could add many others to the list. Copenhagen has Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen, and even small St. Paul, Minnesota has Charles Schultz and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most cities would have trouble picking just one representative of their home.
But in Barcelona, the architect Gaudi stands alone as king. His buildings are the most popular attractions in the city, and it is his vision of the beautiful that has helped make Barcelona what it is today. La Sagrada Familia might be his most famous building, but as an introduction to Gaudi, you could do much worse than the Palau Guell.
The Palau Guell is very easy to explore because an informative audio guide is included with the price of admission. The AG told me the Palau was built by Gaudi for wealthy industrialist Eusebi Guell, in a similar manner to the way in which Frank Lloyd Wright built the Robie House for Frederick Robie. However, unlike the precisely planned Robie House, Palau Guell is a delicious mishmash of almost every architectural style imaginable. Would you like some classical arches? Behold the basement:
How about some Islamic inspired detailing just outside a chapel?
Would you be more interested in a ceiling that is trying to murder you?
We’ve got Medieval stained glass…
and an Art Nouveau fireplace.
Not to mention whatever madness is going on with the roof.
3) go on the roof of palau guell
Anyone who says that their favorite part of the Palau is something other than the roof is lying. What makes the roof such a special treasure is that it is covered with these amazingly colorful jiggimabobbers. You can spend hours staring at them and wondering what Gaudi was trying to say. Perhaps here he was trying to say, “There’s a reason Christmas trees are green and not rainbow color.”
24 Hour Tip
Reapply sunscreen before going on the roof. You’ll thank me later.
4: Lunch at La Boqueria
You thought we were done with La Boqueria? Foolish mortal! We will never be done with it! After you explore Palau Guell, it will be time for lunch. I suggest you take your time and gently explore each part of the market before you settle on your choice. You can always go back to Bar Pinotxo for lunch tapas, but were I you, I would stop by one of the purveyors of jamon and purchase HAM CONE. It will improve your 24 hours in Barcelona, I promise.
What is HAM CONE? HAM CONE is a paper cone filled with ham. You can get it at any stall in La Boqueria that sells ham. Mine was jamon de pata negra, which is why it is so dark. Observe:
La Boqueria is also an excellent place to pick up something sweet. I first stopped by this candy store and bought some pate à fruits.
Then I stopped by the Vicens nougat stand and bought a “nougat de creme brulee”, which is rich nougat coated with an egg yolk and burnt sugar mixture. I never knew that was something I needed to eat, but now that I’ve tried it, I don’t know how I ever lived without it.
24 Hours in Barcelona
Afternoon: An Art Tour of Barcelona
You might think I am here suggesting a professional tour. Don’t be ridiculous! There’s so much art in the streets and museums of Barna that you won’t need a qualified guide to find the goods. So if you’re in the market for an unqualified guide, by all means follow me. Our 24 hours in Barcelona continues!
Approximately top 5: art of barcelona
1) Visit the CCCB
At this point in the afternoon, it will be nice to get out of the sun and into a museum that stays open fairly late. CCCB sounds vaguely Soviet, but do not worry that the KGB will be waiting for you hear. The CCCB is a contemporary art museum and cultural center with a regularly changing rotation of special exhibitions. Many of these exhibitions are more political than one expects even at a contemporary art museum, such as one called “Piso Piloto” on the difficulty of creating affordable housing in Barcelona and Medellin, Colombia.
Part of the exhibition was recreations of the kinds of rooms that people could expect to have in poorer neighborhoods. Highly interesting, but not what I expect to see at a contemporary art exhibition. I would be more expecting diamond-encrusted sharks or a light installation. But maybe this kind of explicitly political work is more in line with what artists who claim to have a social conscience should be doing anyway?
24 Hour Tip
I strongly suggest getting the Barcelona Art Pass if you will spend more than a couple of days in Barcelona. It includes admission to 6 of the best museums in the city, including the CCCB, for only 30 Euros, which is about half off what you would pay for each museum individually. The pass is extremely easy to buy through the website, but if you forget, you can buy the pass at one of the museums.
2) Find some public art
I’m a big believer in taking some time at the end of the day to explore, and El Raval has a number of little square and side streets that make it perfect for wandering. You never know what kind of wonders you will find. I myself met a giant cat…
3) SEE SOME CLASSIC FILMS
I didn’t actually see anything at this cinema. I didn’t have enough time with only 24 hours in Barcelona. But I did see this poster did teach me how to say Dog Day Afternoon in Spanish.
But what is Spanish for, “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.”?
4) VISIT THE PLACA DE CATALUNYA
If you get tired, you can walk to the Placa de Catalunya and sit with a book until you are ready for dinner. It’s not far at all.
I can’t guarantee that guy with the hose will still be there, though.
24 Hours in Barcelona
Evening: Dinner at Tickets
Tickets is the brainchild of Ferran Adria and his brother Albert. Ferran Adria made his name at the legendary (and since closed) restaurant elBulli, which was often referred to as the best restaurant in the world. So you can imagine that Tickets, as another one of his projects, attracts a lot of attention. I spent six weeks traveling in Europe last summer and I ate a lot of amazing food.
But this restaurant was absolutely the best meal I ate all summer. It is almost impossible to get a reservation here, but it is 1000% worth the effort. If you are at all interesting in molecular gastronomy, Spanish cuisine, fine dining, or just having a good time, make booking a ticket (HAHAHAHA) here a priority.
24 HOUR TIP
It is absolutely mandatory that you make reservations online 2 months before you want to dine at the restaurant. They open up availability for one day exactly at midnight two months in advance. Clear your calendar so you can make your reservation exactly at midnight Spain time. You don’t want to miss out!
Please don’t bother ordering off the menu. The waiter will offer to choose a degustation meal for you and I suggest you go with that! The whole meal, including drinks and dessert, costs a little less than 100 Euros. Yes it’s expensive, but it is definitely worth it for a once in a lifetime experience.
The whole philosophy behind Tickets is that dining should be a creative and playful experience, and that philosophy shines through in each dish because, like an Agatha Christie novel, almost every dish has a special TWIST! Allow me to demonstrate.
24 HOUR TREAT: LIQUID OLIVE
My meal began with a liquid olive, which has been Adria’s signature dish since elBulli. The TWIST here is obvious: through the magic of food science, olive juice is turned into something that strongly resembles an actual olive. However, when you bite it, it is so intensely flavored that it tastes like you are eating an olive’s immortal soul.
Next came a candy shell coated sweet cherry served on a little tree–I needed to remove this with a tiny pair of scissors, watermelon infused with sangria and served with a glass of sangria, and savory purple churros served with horseradish sauce. The TWIST here is obviously the cherry that has been put back on the tree and the fact that the churros are purple and not sweet, when normally churros are sweet and kind of beige. Also these churros were so light they seemed like they had been filled with air, whereas regular churros are rather heavy.
Next came a fragrant basil and cheese waffle and an impossibly thin slice of Tickets pizza served with burrata so fresh that it tasted like it just came out of the cows udder. The TWIST here is that waffles are usually sweet and not green, unless you are Sam I Am and want to have them with green eggs and ham, and pizza is usually not tiny and paper-thin and served with the cheese on the side instead of on top. But this way makes sense because the pizza is crispier if you don’t add the cheese until later.
24 HOUR TREAT: CHEESE AIRBAG
Next came a cheese puff with an airbag inside filled with manchego. I do not know exactly how the process works, but when you bite into this little puff the cheese actually seems to explode in your mouth. Trust me, this is a highly pleasurable sensation. Clearly the exploding cheese is the TWIST here.
Next was some luscious foie gras escabeche served with toast points. The TWIST here is that foie gras is not usually served as escabeche, which is usually done by marinating seafood, chicken, or pork in acid before serving. I have no complaints here, but I don’t think I’ve ever complained about a foie gras dish in my life!
24 HOUR TREAT: TUNA CONE!
Then came TUNA SASHIMI CONE, which I feel must be kissing cousins with my old friend HAM CONE. The TWIST was that this cone was prepared tableside which added that lovely theatrical touch. I would never object if all my meals were prepared tableside because cooking is so fun to watch. Also sashimi is not usually served like ice cream. DOUBLE TWIST!
After came a fragrant and freshly steamed eel bun. This tastes just like the eel buns I’ve eaten in Japan or Chinatown in NYC, only more intense in flavor. I’m not 100 percent sure what the TWIST is here, but I think it’s that eel buns are usually much larger and they are usually street food.
And then a palette cleanser with two raw oysters each served in a different sauce: one yuzu and one red wine vinegar and tarragon. I think the TWIST here is that you really get to see how each sauce brings out different flavors in the oyster.
Because I clearly hadn’t eaten enough, next came the more substantial dishes. Up first was mackerel and mushrooms in broth. I’m not sure there’s a TWIST here, but look at how gorgeous this broth is! You can practically taste it!
And then came the TWIST on a ham sandwich, with a lusciously sweet and satisfyingly fatty pork belly bocadillo.
24 HOUR TREAT: CHEESECAKE WITH A TWIST
Finally, it was time for dessert. I selected the Tickets cheesecake, which I foolishly thought would be cheesecake. Instead, the TWIST was that the cheesecake filling was presented to look like a fine aged cheese served with little biscuits on the side to spoon the cheesecake innards on. As a New Yorker, I’m hard to please with cheesecake, but this was perfect because it was not too sweet.
I did not only leave Tickets with a highly satisfied and full belly, I left wanting to have a more inventive and playful attitude towards food and life in general. After all, if you can put a cherry back on a tree, pretty much anything should be possible. Now your 24 hours in Barcelona is complete.
Further Reading: 24 Hours in Barcelona!
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Barcelona? Then let me help you get started with some great books about the city. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Barcelona. The chapters are divided into neighborhoods, which makes the book easy to use when it comes to planning purposes.
Barcelona by Robert Hughes is an excellent introduction to the history of the city. You’ll learn about everything from its ancient beginnings to modern changes in the city. You’ll be an expert on Barcelona by the time you’re done reading.
If you’re more interested in fiction, The Shadow of the Wind is a thrilling and mysterious read set in Barcelona. It will make you fall in love with the city and with reading.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Barcelona. If you want to add 24 hours in Barcelona with La Sagrada Familia, click here. And if you’d like to see the Parc de la Ciutadella, try this one.