It’s one of the world’s most exciting and vibrant cities, so making the most of 48 hours in Barcelona might involve a bit of planning…
Some cities you can cruise through in 48 hours and feel like you got the most out of it. After a few visits to Barcelona, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
The Catalan capital is the second largest city in Spain, best known for it’s unique architecture courtesy of Antoni Gaudi, and a particularly successful football club. It’s also well known for it’s vibrant nightlife and cultural scene and for being a little bit edgy, especially at night.
Our latest trip was a more laid back one than before, mainly as we had our toddler in tow, but based on my previous visits, I can certainly give plenty of advice on how to get the best out of a 48 hours in Barcelona, or any short trip to the city.
Getting your bearings
Barcelona is a big city, but it does have a very efficient and affordable public transport network. Thanks also to its grid like street system, it’s relatively easy to get your bearings if you’re on a meandering A to B though back streets.
Las Ramblas is the landmark street in Barcelona, running from the harbour all the way to the Plaza de Catalunya, which acts as the main square of the city (kinda like a Times Square or Trafalgar Square). To the east of Las Ramblas you’ll find the narrow streets of the Old Town, dotted with cathedrals, museums, restaurants and boutique shops.
Looking north from Plaza de Catalunya, you’ve then got Paseig de Gracia. This wide avenue is lined with high end shops and a variety of Guell themed attractions.
Avinguda Diagonal (Diagonal Avenue) cuts through the city from East to West, with the huge Sagrada Familia and popular Park Guell north of the avenue. Both are best reached by public transport as they are a little way out from the rest of the city’s attractions – of course, you can walk it if you wanted!
Getting around Barcelona
As mentioned, the public transport is very good, so if you’re spending an actual 48 hours in Barcelona there are a couple of options.
The first option is to buy a T10 travel card. These are available from vending machines in all the stations, or from certain Tabac shops. With T10, you’ll get ten journeys on the metro, train or bus although the airport isn’t covered. For one zone (which is the most you’ll need for all the big tourist sites), it’ll cost €10.20.
The ticket from the airport to Barcelona on the L9 metro line costs €4.60 at time of writing (2019).
Perhaps the best option for short visits is to get the Hola BCN Card, which costs €15 for 2 days, or €22 for 3 days. Hola BCN offers unlimited trips on the public transport, including the Montjuic furnicular, and also includes the airport.
There is also an extensive bike hire network and lots of random pay as you go apps providing access to e-scooters, mopeds and cars. These are subject to change so I won’t list them here… Keep your eyes peeled!
What to do for 48 hours in Barcelona
There’s a lot to cram in, so with 48 hours in Barcelona we strongly recommend planning your trip, a little bit at least. If you’re looking to hit all the main sights, the Barcelona sightseeing bus is a good idea, for at least one day. This will take the strain off organising your itinerary and working out how to get from place to place… Prices as of 2019 are €30 for 1 day and €40 for 2 consecutive days – get your tickets in advance on their website.
We strongly recommend taking a look at Visit Barcelona‘s website before you go, to stay up to date with what’s happening and get the latest prices.
So let’s get going to Barcelona! If it’s your first time, then you’ll definitely want to head to these unmissable attractions.
1. La Sagrada Familia
The icon of Barcelona is this huge cathedral which is actually nearly finished – 120 years later! It’s scheduled for completion in 2026, but even today it’s looking more complete than when we visited several years ago.
The masterpiece of local architectural hero Antoni Gaudi. even if you shy away from religious monuments and typical tourist attractions, this really is worth the visit. Enjoying the view from outside is one thing, but getting in is something else. We recommend pre-booking online, with tickets starting from €17.
2. La Pedrera/Casa Mila & Casa Batlo
Just off the Paseig de Gracia is this very enviable apartment block. The roof is recognisable for it’s sci-fi themed chimneys, which were allegedly the inspiration for George Lucas. Again this is a building that can be enjoyed form the outside, but for full effect you really need to go indoors and up onto the roof.
The building also includes a museum of retro antiquities as well as details about Gaudi’s projects such as the Sagrada Familia. Prices start from €22 for adults.
Casa Batllo is a short walk down the road, on the other side of Passeig de Gracia. I’ll confess, I’ve never been in, but it looks lovely from the outside. After all, it is one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. By all accounts it looks amazing as an architectural gem… Maybe I’ll get there next time!
3. Park Guell
A short metro ride from the centre, Park Guell offers some fantastic views of the city, with the added benefit of some more Gaudi themed architeture. The iconic part of the park, which is the one with *that* view of the lizard fountain, is now a paid entry section, with tickets from €10. Yes, it kind of is worth it if you want the pictures, but wandering the park and taking in view of the city are free.
If you’re looking for an ‘off the beaten track’ alternative to Guell, head to Jardins del Turo del Putxet. This was a short (10-15 min) walk from the hotel where we stayed this time in Las Tres Torres, or from Vallcarca or El Putxet metros. You get the same incredible views of the city, with none of the tourists – plus some lovely gardens!
Overlooking the city from the other side is Montjuic hill and castle. There is also a sprawling area that is the site of the 1992 Olympics, if I’m honest, we didn’t quite get to do all of this area. We arrived on the funicular and then headed to the vintage cable car that takes you to Barceloneta beach.
There are cable cars that take you up onto the hill and around the area, although it’s around €12 for a one way ticket. We arrived by funicular from Para Lel and then walked to…
5. Barceloneta/Port Cable Car
This retro cable car experience whizzes you from Montjuic down to Barceloneta beach/the port – or vice versa. The views are great, of course, and the old cabins are less like those found on a ski resort than the teleferic de Montjuic. Tickets are €11 one way.
6. The beach
While we’re on the subject of the beach, if you’re in Barcelona, you’ll likely enjoy taking time to enjoy Barceloneta. Lined with all manner of cafes and bars, its the perfect place to relax with a beer or cocktail and watch the beautiful people sunning themselves and splashing in the sea.
The area isn’t served by metro (well, it is but it’s a ten-15 minute walk), so you’ll need to get the bus (numbers 47, 59 or D20).
There are a lot of restaurants in the area, many with people outside trying to coax you in. The area has changed a lot over the years, and we found it hard to find somewhere decent to eat on our last visit. Bets bet is to wander the back streets, not the main road, and see what genuine looking restaurant appeals (with no tout outside trying to coax you in).
7. Picasso Museum
We’re into our art here, so if you’re looking for a bit of culture during your 48 hours in Barcelona, the Picasso Museum is a good option. A short walk from Las Ramblas, or Jaume I metro stop, the museum is housed in an impressive old building and features lots of Picassos work from early days through to many of his masterpieces. Highly recommended! Entry is €12, but art lovers won’t want to miss this.
8. Museum of Chocolate
If you prefer your museums more edible, you’ll find the Chocolate museum just around the corner from Picasso. Entry is only €6, and you’ll be able to learn about the history of chocolate consumption and how it’s made. You’ll also be able to enjoy some of the final product in the cafe… Perfect if you have kids in tow!
There are quite a few markets in Barcelona, and the one everyone heads to is Mercado de la Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas. Now, it is cool, and full of great food and what have you but, it’s incredibly busy and a bit oversubscribed. You can skip it, honestly.
If you’re genuinely looking to enjoy the food, head instead to Santa Caterina market, a short detour into the Old Town (not far from the chocolate and Picasso museums). It has all the same food, but about half the volume of Instagram picture taking tourists.
Further afield, Mercat de l’Abaceria is not that far from Sagrada Familia, with fresh food and snacka aplenty. It’s not quite as old and Instagrammable as Boqueria though…
10. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter
The old Gothic Quarter is the sort of place you could wander every day for a year and always find something new. Yes, it is teeming with tourists, but you’ll find hidden squares, boutique shops, bars and restaurants and the other impressive cathedral of Barcelona, the Basilica of Santa Maria. For best results, don’t look at a map, just follow your nose…
11. Food and drink!
Having mentioned the markets, that brings us neatly to food… No trip to Barcelona is complete without sampling some local dishes, and there is plenty to get your teeth into here. We found on our last trip that Barcelona has become much more ‘global’ in terms of the food available, that is, you’re as likely to find sushi or burgers as you are tapas and other treats. Not to say that Spanish food isn’t everywhere, especially tapas and pintxos…
Craft beer is also a big thing in Barcelona, and you’ll spot plenty of craft beer bars. From our previous visits, I can suggest Black Lab, who have a couple of bars, one in Barceloneta (opposite the metro) and another just off Diagonal, not that far from Nou Camp Stadium.
We also loved A Birra Derro, which is near to Para Lel station, which has both a great selection of beers and tasty tapas to soak it up!
What to eat in Barcelona
Although Barcelona is in Spain, and tapas is ‘a thing’, the Catalan region has many of it’s own delicacies.
Tomatos on bread is pretty much a staple of Catalan cuisine (pa amb tomaquet), and you’ll find it as a starter for main meals or even as a tapas style snack.
Cannelloni, known locally as canelons, is a big deal here too. For the uninitiated, it’s pasta sheets stuffed with meat and a rich tomato based sauce and then smothered in bechemel sauce.
There are also a couple of soups that you might spot on many a menu. Escudella is a meaty and veggie stew, or the fishy equivalent is Suqet de Peix. Mopped up with a big side portion of crusty bread of course…
You’ll spot bars and restaurants in back streets around, well, everywhere… Menus with a starter and a main will usually set you back anything between €9-18, depending on how posh the place is.
Insider tip. 100 Montaditos are a Spanish sandwich chain who do delicious bite sized tapas style subs. Their prices start from €1, and they do cheap drinks too. There’s one at Rambla de Raval, a short walk from Las Ramblas, as well as a couple of them around the Plaza Catalunya (Rambla de Catalunya 11 and Plaza de Uquinaona) – and across the city.
Where to stay in Barcelona
On our most recent visit we stayed in the excellent Hotel Primero Primera, which is just a five-ten minute metro ride from the centre. Located on a leafy street in the upscale Les Tres Torres neighbourhood, staying here felt more like ‘the real’ Barcelona, with a more sedate pace of life compared to the centre of the city. We found some great bars just a short walk from the hotel, perfect for an evening bite and refreshing drink.
Hotel Primero Primera itself is a 4 star boutique hotel with each room decked out in a unique townhouse style. Our room was a ‘superior suite’, which was just off a shared courtyard on the top floor of the building. Rooms were spacious, quiet and with lovely big king sized beds and a big sofa for lounging on.
We found the staff friendly and attentive, the included breakfast was top quality and the premises also included a pool and garden which were perfect after a hard day sightseeing. We were also lucky enough to enjoy a meal at the hotel’s restaurant, which was locally inspired and modern. Our starter was an excellent yucca bravas (basically patatas bravas but with yucca instead) and the tomato bread. My partners vegetarian ravioli was delicious, as was the home made chocolate brownie. I had the salmon, which was a little lacking in depth of flavour, but was perfectly cooked.
Other accommodation options in Barcelona
On previous visits we had also stayed in the Tryp Apolo, near to Para Lel metro, as well as Airbnb’s in the Barceloneta area (near the beach). Both of these were great for the enjoying the late night Barcelona atmosphere which we were looking for at the time.
Average costs in Barcelona
Wondering how much it will cost to visit Barcelona for a weekend? Well, like anywhere, the sky is the limit. We found in 2019 that prices had definitely gone up since our last visit around 5 years before, which I guess is to be expected.
Get a T10 travel ticket for €10.20, spend out on a couple of attractions for around €20 each, expect to spend around €10-12 per meal and €2-3 for a coffee or a beer. A single tapas can be anything from €2 in a local style bar, all the way up to €5-8 somewhere in a touristy zone.
Of course there are always ways to do things cheaper. Grab a barra de pan (baguette) from the supermarket and a slab of cheese and ham for around €5 and you have a picnic in the park ready to go.
There are water fountains everywhere, so bring a re-fillable water bottle (you’ll also keep your plastic waste down, so double win).
Getting to Barcelona
Barcelona is well served with international flights from around Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the Americas. El Prat is the main airport. Be warned, if you fly into Girona, you’re in another city over an hour and half away – although Girona is worth a visit in itself.
You can also get to Barcelona by coach or bus from across Spain and southern France.
Check out flights to Barcelona on our handy flight booking widget below.
Thanks to Barcelona Tourism for their assistance with our most recent trip to the city. And thank you also to Hotel Primero Primera and their excellent hospitality…
Got your own tips about what to do for 48 hours in Barcelona? Drop them in our comments box below… Don’t forget to share!