One of the charming ideas of living in Europe is that you’re able at any moment to just impulse buy a bus/train/plane ticket and be transported to a different country for the weekend. You can go from bratwurst to borscht, Guinness to champagne, within just a few hours. A weekend in Barcelona, Stockholm, Budapest? Why not?
In reality, this rarely happens. But finally, after six months in Europe, I went on my first whirlwind weekend trip. After I finally received my Ukrainian visa in September, I had one week of freedom left to get from Bucharest to Kiev. Why not take the long way? Tuesday night I purchased a ticket, and Thursday morning I was on a supremely early flight towards tapas and sunshine in the stunning city of Barcelona.
A weekend in Barcelona is far too little time to have in this vibrant city, but sometimes that’s all you got. I was initially worried that my desire to cram activities into our schedule and my complete lack of research and preparation would result in a stressful weekend. But honestly, it’s hard to be stressed in Barcelona. In a city that’s bursting with so much character and culture, I could have happily spent two days in Barcelona just wandering around, exploring its nooks and crannies.
While I generally shy away from weekend guides (unless I’ve lived extensively in a destination, like Kyiv), I have to say my two days in Barcelona were the epitome of a city weekend getaway. Your perfect weekend in Barcelona will undoubtedly be different, but for anyone researching a trip here are a few ideas to get you excited.
Day 1 in Barcelona
Walk from Gràcia to La Rambla
Barcelona is a city made for meandering. Walking from the sun-soaked squares of Gràcia to the leady boulevard of La Rambla is an exceptional way to check out the Gaudí architecture and beautiful people of the city. Once you get down to La Rambla you can split off down the twisty alleyways, where you can find ham slices sold in to-go cups like French fries.
Wander the Mercado de la Boqueria
I’m a total sucker for markets, from real local haunts to complete tourist traps. I find the idea of sashaying around the busy stalls, gossiping with vendors and loading up on fresh produce, hopelessly romantic. Probably fueled by excessive watching of Beauty and the Beast as a child.
La Boqueria is probably one of the most enchanting and hypnotic markets I’ve ever been to. With mouth-watering confectionary displays, all-to-real seafood arrangements, and towers of fresh juice, La Boqueria feels equal parts upscale food bazaar and down-to-earth local market.
Take a Siesta
Duh. You’re in Barcelona. Even if you didn’t fly in on a 4:30am flight from Bucharest, just do it.
Visit La Sagrada Família
Experiencing the interior of La Sagrada Família was my biggest priority for the weekend. I had visited Barcelona about fifteen years ago, and for some reason we only saw the outside of the cathedral.
The interior is… indescribable. This bizarre flight of fancy is one of the most awe-inspiring cathedrals I’ve ever been in. Not even the oppressive number of tourists and ongoing construction work could take away from the magical atmosphere.
(It’s better to buy tickets online. Otherwise, you take the risk of having to wait for hours – or of the day being sold out completely.)
Stuff Your Face with Paella
With only two nights in Barcelona, I felt a bit of pressure about picking dinner options. But when a restaurant is called El Glop, you kinda have to go, right? With friendly service, a room packed with locals, and paella so good I scraped my pan clean, El Glop was a stellar dinner decision. (They have chicken paella if, like me, the sight of tentacles makes you want to huddle in a corner.)
Drink Wine from a Barrel
Because we were staying in Gràcia we had our pick of tiny, lively local bars. One of my favorites was a narrow little bar where wine came straight from big barrels stacked unceremoniously near the door. The place was empty when we arrived (because we are American and even with our feeble attempts couldn’t quite match up with the Catalonian timetable), but by the time we headed out locals had packed the place.
Day 2 in Barcelona
Stumble upon a Hipster Donut Shop
As I was flitting through Barcelona on my way from Bucharest to Kiev, both of which are donut deserts, Lukumas was all my dreams come true.
Visit Park Güell
We had gotten tickets to Gaudi’s house as part of our Sagrada Família entrance, so we trekked up to Park Güell. (Crucial tip: One of the streets leading up to Park Güell has an escalator. Find it. Use it. Thank me later.) I had already visited the monument my first time through Barcelona so we didn’t go again, but the monument and park are definitely worth the time and money needed to explore it. And while Gaudí’s house was so-so, it was surprising to learn that the man behind all the fanciful and mesmerizing architecture in Barcelona lived a spartan life at his own home.
Spend an Afternoon at the Beach
The beach is so easy to get to that even lazy people like us made it out there – and it’s gorgeous. It was September and the water was still warm enough that a quick dip was refreshing, not skin-tighteningly cold. Perfect for beach games, sunbathing, and sipping mojitos – as long as you don’t mind that the wandering beach bartenders carry their rum in dubious-looking water bottles.
Explore the Gothic Quarter at Night
If you want to experience a real sociable tapas hour, head to the rambunctious bar El Xampanyet. I got the recommendation from by Ashley and Alex from In Pursuit of Adventure (who spent three months in Barcelona, lucky bastards, and are working on a Barcelona food guide). With its tapas, cava, and friendly conversation with locals, El Xampanyet remains one of my favorite memories from the trip.
After leaving El Xampanyet, we looked for a quieter place where we could continue a long-standing card game competition. Wandering the Gothic Quarter at night is like being in a painting, slipping down twisting blue alleys pocked with golden streetlights. Romantics, prepare to be impressed.
Destroy a Nutella-filled Churro
Ok, so La Sagrada Família was actually my second priority in Barcelona. Indulging in churros was my first. Honestly, there are few things more satisfying than stuffing a warm, Nutella-filled churro into your face.
Obviously, there are no pictures for evidence.
Chill Out at a Square in Gràcia
Gràcia is packed with happening squares, but my favorite one was probably Plaça del Sol. While the outdoor seating of the bars would quickly fill up, even more lively was the center of the square itself. Knots of gorgeous young people gathered to sit on the ground and drink cheap beer (with the occasional appearance of a bottle of hard liquor), creating a gigantic urban picnic. At about 11:30 the police would show up and loiter around the revelers, who paid them absolutely zero attention. And I don’t blame them. When you’re whiling away a Friday night with your closest friends in one of the most tantalizing cities in the world, what else could possibly concern you?
Day 3 in Barcelona
Drag yourself out of bed, freshen up with a quick coffee, and as you head to the airport, promise yourself you’ll be back to Barcelona again soon.