One Day In Barcelona: How To Make the Most Out of 24 Hours
Updated: Mar 24
Here's my detailed guide to visiting Barcelona in one day. A city like no other, Barcelona is a non-stop feast for the eyes. Barcelona is rich in historic sites, with some of the world's most unique and fantastical architecture. The city is bordered on one side by mountains and the other by golden sand beaches. Barcelona has 9 UNESCO sites.
Ideally, Barcelona deserves more than 1 day, as you would expect from Spain's most popular culture-rich city. But sometimes 24 hours is all you have, if you're on a layover, business trip, cruise ship stop, or simply rushed. If so, fear not, this Barcelona itinerary tells you how to make the most of one day in Barcelona.
With only 1 day in Barcelona, expect a mad scramble. But it will be an unforgettable and magical experience. I know, I've done it before. But enjoyed longer visits more.
This jam-packed step by step Barcelona itinerary tells what to see, do, and eat in one day and gives you tips for getting around. It takes you to Barcelona's must see sites, the radical Art Nouveau architecture of native son Antoni Gaudi, historic landmarks, and Barcelona's charming bohemian neighborhoods.
I give you plenty of options for each part of the day. You can pick what sites and destinations appeal most. You'll get a quick taste of Barcelona, create postcard memories, and begin plotting a return trip.
Getting Around Barcelona
Barcelona is a big city. With one day, time is of the essence. For this itinerary, to make sure you can see everything, use taxis, the hop on hop off bus, or a combination of both. Taxis will be the most efficient. You can also walk between some, but not all, of the sites.
The hop on hop off bus is quicker and easier than using the metro. You'll be whisked between every key site in Barcelona with commentary along the way. There are 3 routes and 44 stops. The sites on this itinerary are on the blue route.
Bus frequencies vary from 5-25 minutes. 25 minutes is a long time to wait for a ride. That's why taxis may help you see more of Barcelona.
If you use the hop on hop off option, you might consider purchasing the Barcelona City Pass. You get tickets discounts, hop on hop off bus and metro access, and free entry to both Sagrada Familia (after 2:00 pm) and Park Guell -- which fits perfectly with this one day Barcelona itinerary.
How To Spend One Perfect Day in Barcelona
Morning: Las Ramblas & the Gothic Quarter
Wake up early and head to Barcelona's Las Ramblas and the evocative Gothic Quarter, or Barrio Gotic. There's a lot to see in this magical quarter of history-steeped back streets and charming squares. You could spend days of atmospheric wandering and investigation. But in this one day Barcelona itinerary, you just have the morning.
Here's what to see in a few hours:
1. Placa Catalunya
Begin in Placa Catalunya, Barcelona's elegant main square at the top of Las Ramblas. It's smack in the center of Barcelona. There's a tourist office there if you want to pick up maps or brochures. Take time to admire the plaza's interesting sculptures and fountains before moving on.
2. Las Ramblas
If you didn't eat at your hotel, grab a quick breakfast at Bar Lobo, 1 block from Las Ramblas (also known as La Rambla). Or get a pastry at Escriba Patisseries.
Then, stroll down the teeming maze-like Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most celebrated central artery. It's an almost one mile walk from Placa Catalunya to the old port, taking you past historic sights in a sensory free fall with a dash of carnival atmospherics. The Spanish poet Garcia Lorcas described Las Ramblas as "the only street in the world that I wish would never end."
Las Ramblas is a home to a plethora of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Don't forget to look up at the beautiful buildings as you stroll. At Pia de l'Os, you'll walk across Joan Miro's circular mosaic. Be sure to wind down the side streets as well.
3. La Boqueria
About halfway down Las Ramblas is the legendary 19th century food market, La Boqueria. It's Barcelona's beating heart, evolving from a rough and tumble purveyor of goods to a bona fide foodie destination.
The market is well worth checking out, especially if you need fresh fruit juice or a smoothie. Inspect its myriad wine bodegas and take home a quaffable souvenir.
4. Barcelona Cathedral
The jewel of the Gothic quarter is the 14th century Barcelona Cathedral, officially called the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. The magnificent Gothic cathedral is a grand monument dating from the 13-15th centuries. The cathedral's facade is stunning, even featuring some elephant and unicorn gargoyles.
Sit by the steps and absorb the cathedral's grandiosity. You can visit it for free from 8:00 am to 12:45 pm and 5:45 pm to 7:30 pm. Otherwise, entry is by donation.
Inside, the cathedral has 28 richly decorated chapels, an ornate finely carved choir, and a peaceful cloister with bubbling fountains. Behind the high altar is the Bishop's chair. You'll also find the crypt of Saint Eulalia, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.
The cloisters are the highlight. Arcaded walkways surround a central courtyard filled with tropical trees. A short (3 euros) elevator ride takes you to the top of the cathedral for stunning city views. For the best view of cathedral itself, take the elevator to the rooftop of the next door Hotel Colón.
Be sure to see the 26 foot long The World Begins With Every Kiss mural near the cathedral in Placa d'Isidre Nonell. Created by Catalan artist and photographer Joan Fontcubertat, the mural was unveiled in 2014. It commemorates the 300 year anniversary of the Catalan surrender in the Spanish War of Succession.
The photographer asked locals to send in photographs that expressed a moment of freedom. The photographs were placed on tiles and arranged in a mural. From afar, the arrangement looks like a poignant (or perhaps erotic) kiss. Up close, you see a world in each image.
5. Placa Reial
The 19th century Place Reial is one of Barcelona's most ancient and beautifully designed squares. It has charming Neo-Classical pillars and archways, iron lampposts, and even palm trees. In the center is the Fountain of Three Graces. The lampposts were Gaudi's first government sponsored project.
6. Picasso Museum
If you're a Picasso fan, head to the well-curated Picasso Museum. Founded in 1963, the museum was launched with a donation of 574 works by Picasso’s secretary, Jaime Sabartes. In 1970, Picasso himself donated 800 more pieces. Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline Roque, also donated 41 ceramic pieces and the early Picasso painting Woman with Bonnet.
For Picasso, Barcelona was where it all began. At the museum, you can enjoy an extensive collection of Picasso's work, certainly the best collection in Spain. There's over 4,000 pieces, mostly from Picasso's formative years. They include Blue Period pieces and his reworking of Velazquez's Las Meninas (in the Prado).
By experiencing his precocious youthful works, you can better understand Picasso's later abstract pieces and how he became the greatest artist of the 20th century. The setting of his namesake museum is stunning. It's lodged in five interlinked medieval stone mansions in Barcelona's funky-chic El Born neighborhood, with a gorgeous terrace.
7. Palau de la Musica
If you didn't visit the Picasso Museum, just 10 minutes away you'll find one of Barcelona's most beautiful and photogenic spots -- Palau de la Música Catalana. Palau de la Musica is a gaudy rose-covered wonderland. It's a magnificent concert hall designed in 1905-08 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner -- an architect who was just as famous as Gaudi at the time and a tutor/mentor to Gaudi.
Palau de la Musica is located along a claustrophobic, densely packed street in the Gothic Quarter. Montaner countered the claustrophobia with color and levity. The arches and intricate mosaic columns draw your eye up to the roofline. Stained glass windows bring in the natural light.
The auditorium is almost overwhelming. The piece de resistance is the intricate stained glass ceiling by Antoni Rigalt. Iron and glass chandeliers create a starry night effect. And sculptures curve up the sides of the stage, including a glowering Beethoven and Valkeries from Richard Wagner's operas.
READ: Hidden Gems in Barcelona
Early Afternoon: Gaudi Architecture
This is the time to jump on the hop on hop off bus tour or take a taxi to your next destination. Hop on the blue HOHO route at Place Catalunya and head to Passeig de Gracia. Or it's a 20 minute walk from Barcelona Cathedral .
You can't leave Barcelona without visiting two of Gaudi's most famous masterpieces -- Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. They're only minutes apart on the the Passeig de Gracia.
It's essential to book skip the line tickets for each site well in advance. You can't miss these two Gaudi gems, which still seem startlingly modern. Click here for skip the lines tickets to Casa Batllo and here for La Pedrera.
Once you arrive in the area, eat an early lunch at El Nacional. It's a quick and delicious option close to the Gaudi landmarks. Housed in a beautiful Art deco building, it's a multi-disciplinary space with many restaurants specializing in Spanish dishes.
1. Casa Batllo
After fueling up, head to Casa Batllo at your designated time. Casa Batllo is one of the world's most unique buildings. It's Antoni Gaudi at his hallucinatory, dreamlike best.
Casa Batllo is divine and operatic. A mature Gaudi conjured a building in the image of a dragon. The strange bone-like facade is studded with skull mask balconies and capped by a sinuously scaled roof.
Casa Batllo's mosaicked facade is a kaleidoscope of blue, mauve, and green tiles. Though it's a bit hard to see, the facade is actually uneven and slightly wavy, like a calm sea. Its marine-like surface doubles as a dragon's skin.
Casa Batllo's interior is filled with beautiful tiles, curved wood, and stained glass -- all in organic forms and curvy shapes. The motif is an undersea grotto lit by skylights shaped like tortoise shells. The ceiling droops and swerves poetically.
The rooftop adds to the surrealistic feel of Casa Batllo. It's deliberately scaly, like the back of a dragon or dinosaur with iridescent skin and visible raised spines. The riotously colored Trencadis tiles represent the blood of its victims. The rooftop spire represents the sword of St. George being plunged into the dragon.
2. La Pedrera
La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila, is on the same street as Casa Batllo. It's a building that's pure art inside and out. In terms of ingenuity, architectural design, and style, it was even more revolutionary than Casa Batllo. The sinuous rough hewn building was nicknamed "The Quarry" because of its jagged, rocky facade and weird undulating shape.
But La Pedrera is considered one of the crown jewels of the Art Nouveau movement. It's been used in 15 movies. In classic Gaudi fashion, La Pedrera was heavily influenced by nature -- by air, sea, and water. The building ripples and waves like a burbling ocean.
As soon as you enter the building, La Pedrera will intrigue you. From the ground floor courtyard, look up for an incredible view of the inside of the building. Light pours in from the roof to the interior apartments.
The iconic sculptural rooftop has winding pathways and a spiky forest of 30 chimneys. It almost resembles a moon landscape. You have a nice view of Sagrada Familia.
Late Afternoon: Sagrada Familia, Miracle in Progress
Now, it's time for Barcelona's #1 site, the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia. Be sure you're appropriately dressed -- no bare shoulders or shorts/skirts above the knee or you'll be denied entry. It's a 5 minute taxi ride from La Pedrera. Or, take the blue route on the hop on hop off bus from La Pedrera. You can also just hoof it 25 minutes to this stunning site.
Entry to Sagrada Familia is timed, and tickets sell out quickly. Definitely buy your ticket online in advance. Try to reserve a slot for the late afternoon when the sun flows in through the stained glass windows.
Sagrada Familia is Gaudi's wildy creative and vertigo-inspiring masterpiece. It's the undisputed jewel of Barcelona, with its beige-pink spires that culminate in glitter. Despite being under continuous construction, Sagrada Familia is a place of superlatives both inside and out.
After 136 years of construction, Sagrada Familia is still unfinished. It's the world's longest running architectural project. Tourists don't care. They flock in droves to see one of the most visited landmarks in Spain.
READ: 25 Landmarks in Spain
The exterior of the basilica is audacious and "gaudy" in appearance, a mountain (or termite hill) almost. It's dramatically designed, with three jarringly different facades, themed for three chapters in Christ's life. Some would call the Sagrada Familia strange looking. Salvador Dali called it a "terrifying and edible beauty.”
But the interior is entirely sublime. Gaudi intended it to be a retreat into nature. And, indeed, you could be standing in a majestic star-lit white forest. It's an astonishing space, an alternative reality full of detail. You'll gasp when you enter.
Be prepared to crane your neck skyward at the starry ceiling. For a long time. The ceiling and stained glass are aboslutely mesmerizing. You'll can't help but be slack jawed.
The interior is effectively a spiritual sculpture, reinvented as architecture. The nave has shimmering gold tiles on the floor. It's lined with 36 pale columns in different heights and widths. The columns form a forest, branching out like trees.
If you want to go up one the towers of Sagrada Familia, you need to buy a ticket that includes the tower. You have to choose between inspecting the Nativity or Passion Facade. You can get a gargoyle's eye view of the basilica up close.
But there will also be scaffolding. There are better viewing places and plenty of rooftop bars in Barcelona, if you don't add the tower option.
Early Evening Options: Park Guell, Montjuic, or Tibidabo
You have three options for your early evening sunset views. Head to another Gaudi wonderland, Park Güell. Or, take a taxi (or cable car) to Montjuic or Tibidabo. You have beautiful sunset views from all three spots.
On balance, I think Montjuic is the best experience with only one day in Barcelona. The almost make believe Park Guell can be incredibly mobbed. And Tibidabo, while lovely, doesn't offer much to do besides views. But we'll explore all options so you can make an informed choice for your early evening activity.
1. Park Güell
Park Guell might be Gaudi's most fantastical and hyperactive creation. It's a large 30 acre public park and bejeweled garden complex, with stunning mosaic art, located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona's Gracia neighborhood. Gaudi and his mentor, Eusebio Guell, initially envisioned it as a complete community with 60 homes.
The project was never completed. But, even though funds ran out, a freewheeling Gaudi created a plaza, two Hansel and Gretel gatehouses, viaducts, a serpentine bench, colonnaded walkways, and a mosaic stairway. He purchased one of the homes and lived there for almost 20 years before he moved into Sagrada Familia for good.
Park Guell is rich in ornamentation, inspired by dragons, the sun, flowers, and even vegetables. Moorish and Spanish Gothic elements are included. The serpentine bench is a cheery patchwork of color. Tiled stairs connect the two levels of the plaza.
Gaudi's home is now the Gaudi House Museum, which is in the park's free section. The most famous icon at Park Guell is the ebulliently multicolored mosaic lizard known as "El Drac," or the dragon. Click here for information on admission to Park Guell.
To expedite things, take a taxi or glass cable car up to the hilly Montjuic area. Click here for information on taking the cable car. Montjuic literally translates to “Jewish Mountain.” Montjuic is located in the southwest part of Barcelona, almost 75 meters above sea level.
There's a lot to see on Montjuic. Take a leisurely walk around the botanical gardens. Peak into the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, created in 1929 as part of the International Exposition in Barcelona. This is truly one of the greatest building of the 20th century.
Watch the Magic Fountain illuminated technicolor water display. You'll have to time this right. Click here to check the schedule.
Head to Placa Espanya and visit the grand domed Neo-Baroque Palau Montjuic, which houses the National Museum of Catalan Art. The building itself is a sight to behold. Or visit the Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona's most emblematic gallery, housing seminal works of the great Surrealist artist.
Some would say no trip to Barcelona is complete without a trip to Tibidabo. Tibidabo is the highest mountain in Barcelona. It offers sweeping panoramic views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea. It's also home to an amusement park and a fairytale church, the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Built in 1806, this Neo-Gothic church is the handiwork of architect Josep Maria Sagnier i Vidal. It's a mix of styles, but evokes a Neo-Byzantine feeling. For even higher views of Barcelona, you can take an elevator to the top of the church. When you're done admiring the views, have a cocktail at the beautiful Gran Hotel la Florida.
Late Evening Options in Barcelona
I give you five fantastic options for spending the rest of your evening in Barcelona, a city that stays up late. Don't expect dinner before 9:00 pm.
If you want to stay put in Montjuic (possibly to see the Magic Fountain), this area has a fantastic selections of restaurants and bars to end your evening. For a break from traditional tapas, pop into Bangkok Cafe. For seafood, try Abrassame. For the best views over Barcelona, reserve at El Valet, which boasts a panoramic terrace.
But, if you're still fired up to see more of Barcelona, I'd say it's time to head to one of Barcelona's trendy neighborhoods for cocktails, dinner, and more strolling -- El Born, El Raval, for Gracia.
2. El Born
The El Born neighborhood is a fun neighborhood with shops, restaurants, and bars. Try the excellent tapas bar, El Xampanyet, or Cal Pep. Be sure to stroll by the Church of Santa Maria del Mar, an ancient church that has been around in some form or another since the 10th century.
3. El Raval
El Raval is a historic neighborhood west of Las Rambla. It's becoming one of Barcelona's trendiest and most colorful neighborhoods. It even has its own Rambla, with plenty of street art and sculptures, along with narrow winding streets. You may meet a giant cat sculpture.
In Raval, you'll find one of Barcelona's hotspots -- the tapas restaurant, Tickets. You must make reservations 2 months in advance to score this trendy eatery. If you can't get a reservation there, try El Rincon de Aragon.
4. La Pedrera Night Show
In the evenings at 6:40 pm, there's also a spectacular audiovisual show that takes place at La Pedrera. The rooftop terrace and stairwells are illuminated with projections set to music. You can enjoy this performance with a glass of cava in hand, which comes with your ticket.
Then go to dinner in Eixample. There are plenty of good restaurants including La Esquina (seasonal menu), Bar Mut (tapas), Caelis (Michelin-starred), or Cinc Sentis (Michlein-starred).
If you opted for Park Guell earlier, you may want to stay and have dinner in the Gracia neighborhood. The hipster Gracia district is one of Barcelona's best kept secrets, with a totally unique vibe. You can meander from square to square at your leisure.
The central meeting point is the Placa de la Vila de Gracia. There's pretty blue buildings and a 19th century clock tower. Placa Virreina and Placa del Sol are also neighborhood hang out places.
Walk down the Carrer de Verdi, which crosses the whole neighborhood. It's a beautiful tree-lined street with boutique shops, cafes, and tapas bars. Gracia is packed with fantastic restaurants and independent art galleries. Click here for a guide to Gracia's restaurants.
Need more of Barcelona? If so, check out my 3 day itinerary for Barcelona. It gives you a more comprehensive look at Barcelona, taking you to some hidden gems and suggesting possible day trips from Barcelona.
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