Greetings, Internet Stranger! So you’re looking to spend a perfect one day in Barcelona and you’ve already seen The Picasso Museum and the Parc de la Ciutadella? What to do? What to do? Well, how about a day that sticks to La Sagrada Familia, aka one of the greatest landmarks in the world, in the morning and then moves to the Barcelona Cathedral? Does that sound good to you?
One Day 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 during my one day 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.
One Day 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.
One Day in Barcelona
Morning: Visit La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty of Barcelona which is to say it is absolutely the one iconic must-see sight in the city. If you only have three hours in Barcelona due to some extremely poor planning on your part, this is the place you must see. DO IT! And if you only have one day in Barcelona, this should be first on your list.
The famous Barcelonan architect Gaudi, who was also a devoutly religious Catholic, devoted his final years to the designing and building of La Sagrada Familia. Sadly, he only lived to see about a quarter of it finished because he died by being hit by a tram and wasn’t treated right away because his clothes were so raggedy that people thought he was a beggar. So this is an important lesson to wear fancy clothes because it might save your life some day!
Fortunately, La Sagrada Familia did not stop construction because of Gaudi’s death. In fact it is due to be completed in 2026, which is only about 140 years after La Sagrada Familia started construction. I think that’s about the same length of time it took us in New York City to build the 2nd Avenue subway line.
But since we plan to spend all morning at La Sagrada Familia, you’re going to need a few guidelines. I’ll help you out with…
Approximately top 5: la sagrada familia
1) Breakfast at Xocoa
Xocoa is a wonder emporium filled with every kind of chocolate treat you can imagine. The woman behind the counter was friendly and spoke excellent English, but I honestly don’t think she had to be. The chocolate displays in the window are so beautiful I’m sure the staff could heap abuse on its patrons and still do business.
I happily downed a latte and a chocolate croissant because that is my favorite breakfast. The pastry was flaky and delicious and the chocolate filling was perfectly on point, but now I am kicking myself for not ordering churros and chocolate instead because that is more authentically Spanish. Next time!
2) see the birth facade of la sagrada familia
Of course you should spend most of your time at La Sagrada Familia exploring the amazing architectural details. Begin with the exterior facades. There are three facades to the church: the Birth Facade, the Passion Facade, and the Glory Facade, which was not available for viewing when I was there. Let’s start appropriately enough with the Birth Facade.
The Birth Facade of La Sagrada Familia, as you can see, has all the messiness and beauty of a fabulous ice cream cake that is just starting to melt. It is covered with intricate floral and faunal motifs, which is appropriate since this facade celebrates the birth of Jesus and the beauty of creation. There are also many sculptures showing Gaudi’s interpretation of famous scenes the Bible. Whether or not you are religious, as long as you are biblically literate it is a fun challenge to go around and see if you can identify which story from the Bible is being expressed in each scene.
3) get depressed at the death facade
The Death facade of La Sagrada Familia, which did not begin construction until well after Gaudi’s death, is exactly the opposite of the Birth facade. There is not even one intricate floral motif to be seen. The lines are all severe and the ornamentation is appropriately austere.
I was fascinated by how effective the difference between the two facades of La Sagrada Familia was. I was so excited and exuberant about exploring the details on the Birth facade, but I only felt depressed when staring at the harsh faceless lines of the Death facade. It made me very curious to see what the Glory facade will look like.
4) check out the stained glass windows
As much as I loved the facades of La Sagrada Familia, the highlight of the church is the interior. Gaudi wanted the columns to look like trees, so that the effect of worshipping in a natural setting would be given. He certainly succeeded on these grounds! I felt as soon as I stepped inside that I was wandering into some great glass and marble forest.
You must go in the morning so that you can catch the light coming in through the windows because the effect is breathtaking.
No one photoshopped these colors! The power of glass and sunshine alone made them! It’s like Gaudi was anticipating Instagram when he designed this church.
5) Lunch at Cafe Viena
I recommend walking to La Rambla, which is the giant, gorgeous, unavoidable main drag in Barcelona for lunch. Unfortunately there are a million bad cafes along this route because the area attracts so many tourists. Fortunately, Cafe Viena is a rare exception on this street that will not disappoint.
The best reason to come here for lunch is to get the ham sandwich. A writer for the New York Times called this porcine marvel “the greatest sandwich in the world”, and you’re not going to argue with the New York Times, are you? Just plop down at the adorable lunch coaster, order your thinly sliced ham on your toasty roasty bread and blissfully chow down!
24 Hour Tip
You must buy your ticket in advance online, especially if you are going during the high season. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t buy your tickets in advance, you’re going to wait on line all day and you are going to be so unhappy. Please listen to the seriousness in my tone of voice and heed my warning.
One Day in Barcelona
Afternoon: Explore Historic Barcelona
Now that we are back at La Rambla and have eaten our lunch, it’s time to continue our one day in Barcelona exploring all the small hidden gems that Barcelona has to offer. We will visit some sacred geese, we will see even more Gaudi, and I might get murdered by a fictional ghost. It’s all par for the course when you see…
Approximately Top 5: Barcelona
1) Visit the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona
Did you know that there were tons of Roman ruins in Barcelona? Neither did I! But I felt super psyched to visit them as soon as I learned of their existence. I’ve been obsessed with Roman history ever since I bought a copy of I, Claudius at a flea market for ten cents at the age of thirteen, so I will jump on any opportunity to learn more about the ancients and their ways.
The Roman ruins in the museum are all underground of course, so after you buy your entrance ticket and peruse a few Roman artifacts above ground, you will follow a trail downstairs and find yourself flitting about a ruined Roman ghost town.
24 Hour Tip
Be sure to pick up the audio guide because it will help keep you informed of the purpose of each ruin when it was in its unruined state. For example, you might look at a pile of crushed stones and broken vases and think it’s just Roman junque, but then your audio guide will tell you its the vats where Romans used to keep urine so they could do their laundry,
Then you will follow the path further and further underground until you come to a little chamber where there is almost no light. If you’re anything like me, you will take a picture here even though you know it’s totally pointless.
This looks like a deleted scene from The Blair Witch Project. I was very concerned that the ghost of Inigo Montoya might try to push me down this well, but then I remembered that he would be more likely to attack me with his sword.
2) See the Barcelona Cathedral
The Barcelona Catedral is of course an example of Catalan Gothic architecture, so you can expect it to have high arched ceilings, stained glass windows, and the like.
The Barcelona Cathedral also contains many beautiful statues of saints, but it’s very hard to see them because they are kept behind bars in various side chapels.. However, I think there’s something evocative about the images you get of peering at the saints’ statues through the bars. This one is my favorite.
Once you are done photographing the statues of saints like they are being imprisoned, of course you should go on the roof! Any church worth its salt in Barcelona has a spectacular roof view!
And I’m sure the Medieval Spaniards would be happy to know that it was all worth building their cathedrals so high so now girls from the New World can come over, take a lifting machine up to the roof, and put photos of the view on Instagram.
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite part of the Barcelona Cathedral is the Cloister which is an enclosed garden inside the church that is home to 13 white geese. Apparently the 13 geese are for the age of Saint Eulalia at her martyrdom, according to Lonely Planet. Has no one told the Cathedral that this is an unlucky number? I’m a little concerned.
Don’t try to pet these geese. They look like they might bite.
3) Find the Gothic Bridge
The Gothic Bridge has, sadly, nothing to do with trolls or goats, nor does it go over water. It crosses Carrer del Bisbe as shown above.
It’s even more beautiful in close up!
4) Ramble around la rambla
Enjoy all the funny little ice cream and candy shops on the way, as well as the many men who sell whistles called pitos that make indescribably weird noises. How is this a lucrative business? Who buys these whistles?
Don’t miss the Miro mosaic cleverly hidden under the feet of all the tourists who cross La Rambla each day.
5) Visit La Pedrera
La Pedrera is more properly known as Casa Mila because it was designed by Gaudi for the Mila family. However, it is known as La Pedrera, or “the quarry” because apparently there was such a big mess of stones left on the sidewalk during its construction that the neighbors became frustrated and started saying it looked like a quarry, and the name stuck. La Pedrera is not nearly as crowded as the Picasso Museum or La Sagrada Familia, but I still suggest buying tickets in advance, so that you don’t lose out on the entry time you want.
During the tour, you get to explore five floors of the house. I loved this because you are allowed to see all the whimsical touches that Gaudi added to the building, from the view of the sky from the lobby….
to this fabulous umbrella stand.
24 Hour Treasure
As with the Palau Guell, the most exciting part of La Pedrera is the roof. Gaudi covered the rust red roof with his signature “phallic thingimabobs”. The ones at the Palau Guell resemble, but these ones call to mind the heads of knights that have been stuck on pikes. These were my favorites because they were made with crushed champagne bottles, and I simply love champagne, darling.
Just be careful not to stay on the roof too long because you might start to hear the heads talking to you, and that is Cause for Concern.
24 Hours: One Day in Barcelona
Evening: Tapas Lover Tour
The Tapas Lover Tour is the perfect way to finish our one day in Barcelona. It seems pricey, but it really ends up being an excellent value because all the food, water, and alcohol is included. Josh, our guide, was a friendly young Spaniard bursting with enthusiasm about the local cuisine.
There are three stops along the tour. The first was at a trendy bar where local Barcelonians might come for snacks and drinks after work. We ate some delectable sliced cured meat, fluffy tortilla de patatas, that omnipresent bread with tomato, and croquetas. Croquetas are fried balls of ham and batter. I approve because the only thing better than ham is fried ham. I am sorry that I didn’t take pictures because at this point in the evening I felt too embarrassed to take pictures of my food in front of strangers.
24 Hour Treat
Our next stop was a more traditional Barcelona seafood tapas restaurant, the kind that has soccer on the television and checkered red and white tablecloths. Here we ate tender octopus with potatoes, two kinds of clams: regular and razor clams, and fat, juicy prawns with their heads on like I like them. (I like to look my food in the eye before I bite into it.) It goes without saying that there was bread with tomato and wine too.
Our final stop was the sit-down dinner at a more upscale restaurant called Bardot Barcelona. We started with a couple of traditional tapas like patatas bravas and croquetas. But then came out something unusual: bone stuffed with a kind of rich, meaty, bone-infused concoction. And it was exactly in the midst of eating this bone dish that I became drunk enough to take pictures of my food.
Next came the main course, which was a steak that literally came sizzling to the table. Don’t touch! It’s still hot!
Finally there were two desserts. The first was a light, “fluffy as a cloud shaped like a lamb” cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel. Yum!
24 Hour Treat: A Mystery Dessert
The second dessert was the more unusual, though. Pop quiz, hotshot. What do you think this is?
Whatever you guessed, I’m sure you’re wrong. It’s a chocolate omelette with Pop Rocks on top. I knew as soon as I bit it that Pop Rocks were involved, but it had a taste exactly like a very rich chocolate crepe with a fizzy surprise on top. This was my favorite dish of the meal just because I’ve never had anything like it.
There! I hope I’ve convinced you that the Tapas Lover Tour is worth the price with all the food you get. And the next time I go on the tour, I will take pictures of all the food without needing a drink.
Related Reading/Watching: One Day 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.
If you’re sick of reading and want to watch a movie, try Barcelona by Whit Stillman. This funny comedy of manners will allow you to enjoy Barcelona’s architecture and laugh at ridiculous Americans at the same time!
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 one day in Barcelona. If you want to add one day in Barcelona with the Parc de la Ciutadella, click here. And if you’d like to spend one day in Barcelona including the Palau Guell, try this one.