3 Days in Barcelona A cultural gem by the sea

Barcelona; a beautiful summer destination worthy of a long weekend stay. Three days in Barcelona may be the perfect amount of time to explore the main sights, enjoy the delicious food and wine, and get yourself adjusted to the new time zone before exploring other locations in Europe. For us, it was the perfect launching point for our Mediterranean Cruise.

Day 1

When landing in Europe after a long flight, my first priorities are always 1) get an early check-in at the hotel, 2) take a shower, and 3) find a delicious spot for lunch. Contact the hotel staff approximately one week before your arrival and request an early check-in. When you arrive, put a smile on your face and be pleasant with the staff. Kindness goes a long way to successfully getting your room early. Then you can settle in before your adventures begin. That strategy worked at the Marriott Renaissance Barcelona and we were off to a good start!

A note on Paella...

While Valencia is the undisputed home of Paella, Barcelona is a fantastic place to experience this delicious dish. At it's most authentic, paella is made with ingredients fresh from the garden plus rabbit, duck, or chicken. Saffron is the ingredient that adds the great color and flavor. There are so many different options, but foodie beware! Since paella takes at least 30 minutes to cook from scratch, a lot of restaurants freeze their batches and simply reheat to serve. Do your research to find a restaurant that is known for fresh to-order paella, and be willing to wait for the amazing deliciousness! When we arrived, we asked the hotel concierge for their best recommendation and headed off!

RESTAURANT GAUDIM; Carrer d'Aragó, 231, 08007. Order the chicken paella and you will not be disappointed!

Traveling 101; when it's raining, find a museum.

After our delicious lunch at Gaudim, we headed outside into a downpour and popped into the nearest museum we could find. Casa Batlló stands-out dramatically from the street, as the architecture is like non-other. Go inside to experience truly astonishing Art Nouveau design with marine inspiration. The glass was formed to replicate the ocean, the walls shaped to look like tortoises’ shells, and the interior atrium windows constructed to maximize the sunlight. The was our first experience of the Gaudi architecture, and certainly not the last.

Important travel notes...

Let me take a moment to share one of my biggest beliefs about traveling internationally. You should always take a 2 hour nap the afternoon you arrive. This will be just enough sleep to get you through the evening so you can go to bed at a normal (local) hour. My other recommendation is to take Unisom (low grade sleeping pill) for the first three nights to prevent waking up in the middle of the night. Try this approach and you will be surprised at how quickly you recover from jet lag!

This is also the appropriate time to share a public service announcement about dining in Barcelona; dinner doesn't start until 9PM or LATER. Some restaurants will take 7:30PM reservations, but do not be surprised if you are the only ones there. The locals show up after 9PM and stay for dinner late into the evening. That nap is sounding pretty good right about now, huh? :)

We heeded the above advice and enjoyed an afternoon nap before setting out for our first dinner in Barcelona, a fabulous local tapas restaurant called Vivant. The rosé, gamba roja de huelva a la plancha (red prawns), and the crema catalana con frutos rojos (crème brûlée) were the standouts.

Day 2

The early bird gets the worm

I am certainly not a morning person, but on vacation that is another story. I am quite motivated to get up early when it means getting to see a fabulous destination before the crowds hit or it gets dreadfully hot (i.e., summer in Europe). Friday morning was the perfect time to head up the hill to the beautiful Park Güell. Our easy-on-the-eyes Spanish Uber driver made the trip fun. I highly recommend Uber in Europe - this is a game changer for getting around big cities easily.

Park Güell

Park Güell was designed by a famous architect of Catalan modernism, Antoni Gaudi. It was originally planned as an upscale housing development (who wouldn't want those views?), but ended up becoming a park for locals and tourists to enjoy. The focal point of the park is the main terrace that offers amazing views of downtown. There are beautiful gardens that flank the sides. This is a great place for photographers, so getting there early was critical to get the best shots! Also, I would highly suggest you buy tickets online in advance. They only allow a certain number of people in the park every hour, so booking in advance will allow you to confirm your entry time and avoid the lines that quickly form outside.

The most astonishing elements of the park are the hand-laid pieces of glass, ceramics, and cement that form the various tiles and design on each of the structures. It is fascinating how much work and creativity it took to build something so beautiful.

Keep wandering the park (upwards) for more amazing views of the city. At the top, there is a lookout called Mirador de Joan Sales. Take time to enjoy the views, and when you're ready, there is a very long staircase back down to the entrance of the park. For a refresher, avoid the tourist traps immediately outside of the park and head down the hill to La Granja cafe for an espresso and ham/cheese croissant.

Sagrada Família time...

'What is the best time to go to Sagrada Família?' I entered this question into my Google search more than a few times when researching Barcelona. The answer is early morning or late evening (not surprisingly), considering the thousands of people that visit the beautiful church every day. The catch? You need to buy your tickets in advance...like two weeks in advance...for the prime times. There are various types of tickets you can buy. I would recommend the 'Top Views' option that allows you access to either the Nativity facade or the Passion facade in addition to the church. I booked the latest option (18:30) with a visit to the Nativity facade. Just as we arrived, the sun was setting, and golden hour was upon us...now that's what I call successful vacation planning! :)

The outside of the church is spectacular, but the inside EXCEEDED my expectations. What a beautiful and iconic masterpiece. By coming later in the evening, the stained glass windows were on full display and the colors were so vibrant. The west facing set of stained glass is full of red, orange, and yellow colors (to depict sunset) and the east facing set of stained glass is full of green, blue, and yellow colors (to depict sunrise). Coming early morning or late evening allows you to fully appreciate arguably the best feature of this fabulous holy place.

Once you fully appreciate the inside of the church, it's time to go UP! The Nativity facade is on the east side of the church. You ride an elevator to ascend, but on the way down you have to walk a long spiral staircase. Even so, the views and experience are worthwhile! The only thing I was relatively disappointed in was the cranes and construction blocking some of the views, but that is just part of the deal. The Sagrada Família has been under construction for years and will continue to be for years to come. The Catalonians view this place as a continual work in progress...

A meal to remember!

We ended Day 2 with a fabulous (and likely my favorite) dinner in Barcelona at Bicnic. The restaurant has both a 'fast' and 'slow' section where you can either pop-in for mid-day tapas or settle in for an amazing sit-down dinner. We chose the latter, and fully enjoyed our meal. The wonton soup and pork chop were the memorable dishes, not to mention the deep red spanish rosé wine...again and again!


Mercado de Santa Caterina

Visiting a market in Barcelona is a must-do activity. It's a great place to see the amazing seafood and produce offered in the city. As opposed to the over-crowded and touristy Mercado de La Boqueria on La Rambla, we opted for the Santa Caterina Market which is a local favorite and where most Catalonians do their grocery shopping. Again, my recommendation is to go early and you will have a great opportunity to take photos and see the vendors setting up shop.

Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona

At the end of your visit, grab a pastry and fresh fruit and head towards the Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona to people watch and relax. I can imagine if I lived in Barcelona and had a dog, this is where I would be spending my Saturday mornings...

Museu Picasso de Barcelona

Going to the Picasso Museum seemed to be one of the must-do's in Barcelona, however I will say I was left very under-whelmed. The best part of our trip to the Gothic Quarter was finding the hidden gem, Demasié, that is right down the block from the museum and served the most delicious and freshly baked tiramisu cinnamon rolls - ummm YUMMM! It was a good thing they were so delicious, because our trip to the museum was lack-luster. Not sure if it was because the audio guide did not work properly or the art itself doesn't speak to my Van-Gogh loving heart. Either way, I'm glad we tried it out, but it would not make my list of recommendations for a trip to Barcelona.

Museu Marítim de Barcelona

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum was the Maritime Museum. WOW, it was fabulous! This museum got added to our itinerary because of my Dad's love of boats, but I was skeptical on how it would turn out. We were not disappointed. First and foremost, they have the best tech audio system. The audio guide automatically plays based on your geo-location within the museum. This is a game changer...for real. The stunner is definitely the full size galley boat within the atrium of the museum. The other sections of the museum were equally interesting, and I can definitely say I learned a lot about the history of maritime. This is a must-do in my book!

La Barceloneta - Our Last Night

La Barceloneta neighborhood is a great location to enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of the Mediterranean Sea. We explored the area and settled in for a seaside dinner 'al fresco' at Restaurant Can Majó. It just happened to be National Rosé Day, so here we are again! We opted for the seafood Paella, which was delicious but not as good as the Paella we had at Gaudim at the beginning of the trip.

After dinner, we took a stroll on the beach and enjoyed the sights of the beautiful W Barcelona. This was a contender for us to stay at during our visit, however the hotel is pretty much isolated and requires a taxi to go anywhere. The views from the hotel are amazing, so if you have a few days in Barcelona, and you want to focus on the beach and relaxation, this is the spot!

In summary, Barcelona is a fantastic location to add to your European itinerary. Three days was the perfect amount of time to hit the main city sights. On a return visit, I would spend more time relaxing and enjoying the beaches that stretch north and south from Barcelona. But for this trip, it was the perfect start to our Mediterranean adventure. More on that in the weeks to come...

Adiós for now!

Created By
Laura Brizgis


All photography by Laura.

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