Although my recent trip to Lisbon certainly made me question my one-track devotion to Barcelona (formerly undisputed champion of the European cities I have visited), there is just something about this vibrant Spanish city that keeps me coming back for more. Sure, it can get hectic in the peak summer months but it’s Europe – everywhere by the coast heaves at that time of year!
To avoid the hordes, simply travel just outside the period of mid July-end of August — but as close as possible if you want the sea to be warm enough for a dip. If swimming isn’t a priority, you will find that Barcelona’s charm shines through in spring or autumn – the cooler temperatures make walking the streets a breeze and the sun will still be out in all its glory during the day.
So, what should you do in the city that never sleeps? Let me take you on my perfect 24 hours in Barcelona!
8am: Up and at ‘em! Although there are some lovely, tempting hotels in Barcelona such as the gorgeous Hotel 1881 with its elegant rooftop pool or the quirky Chic&Basic Born where Sophie once stayed, I am firmly an Airbnb girl. There’s something delicious about having a leisurely start in your own time, relaxing in your own space. Just make sure you find a place with a balcony or terrace – it’s essential for the full Barcelona experience. In terms of neighbourhoods, I wrote a whole guide to Barcelona’s barrios to help you pick a place to stay based on your style and interests. But for the purposes of this post, let’s assume you are staying central…
So, the day has to start with a trip to the market and what better market to visit than the big momma of Barcelona markets – La Boqueria! You can’t miss this sprawling explosion of colour, hustle and bustle.
Tons of fruits and vegetables, creamy cheeses and fresh bread – it might be a little pricier than some other local neighbourhood markets but YOLO, you’re on holiday! However, if you want to do it local-style, try the nearby Mercat de Sant Antoni for some serious market action at prices that are friendlier to your wallet. Pick up some light breakfast essentials to enjoy on your balcony and watch the world wake up.
10.30am: Fuelled up for the day ahead, let’s indulge in a spot of vintage shopping in the boho district with a bad reputation – El Raval. Calle Riera Baixa and the backstreets that wind in, out and around it make the perfect shopping arena for those of us that can’t say no to a super cool new pair of cat’s eye sunglasses or are likely to have our heads turned by racks of retro items.
El Raval is also the place to investigate little art and music shops – in fact, art lovers might enjoy swinging past the nearby MACBA, the museum of contemporary art and one of the builds that began to change the face of this formerly rather seedy district. You might catch the skaters hanging out doing their thing outside the museum too – Barcelona is a legendary city for those that skate.
1pm: You’ve shopped up a decent appetite by now I expect, so time to stop at my favourite lunchtime spot in the city! Marmalade in El Raval might not look like much from its quiet terrace outside but venture in and you will be confronted with a sumptuous bar/restaurant that describes itself as having ‘a swinging 1950s Havana/New York edge’.
I heart Marmalade so bad – possibly because it serves up the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had in my life (with all the trimmings!) and the food is delish. Choose from brunch favourites like pancakes, eggs benedict and amazing smoothies to creative salads and juicy burgers – there is something for everyone at this little diamond.
2.30pm: Leisurely lunch done, its time to walk it off with a stroll through the Barri Gotic, the stunning old quarter of Barcelona. This is where those windings alleys and romantic streets can be found – explore at your leisure but be sure to pop into the incredible Gothic Cathedral, La Catedral, to admire its awesome interior.
3.15pm: En route, search for little Bar Jardi, an alfresco bar, hidden from the hustle of humanity in a small, interior garden with a distinctly alternative edge. Look for the neon sign in the clothes/accessories market just off Las Ramblas.
4pm: As the hottest part of the day has passed, wander through beautiful Barceloneta, the district right by the beach. These traditional streets are filled with balconies and washing hanging out to dry. Set yourself up on the gorgeous La Barceloneta beach and top up your tan for a few hours in the glorious sun.
The youthful, chilled vibe on this stunning city beach is one of the factors that makes me love Barcelona. Even though the beach is man-made, you’d never think it, its wide expanse of silky sand and the picturesque boardwalk are just where you need to be when the sun is out. Grab a bottle of cava from the corner shop along with some plastic cups or simply spread out a blanket and have a little siesta in the sun. Don’t forget your sunscreen mind!
6.30pm: As the light changes and the city gets bathed in a gorgeous, golden glow, let’s take a stroll home to freshen up for the evening’s activities. But before leaving Barceloneta, stop off at the tiny terrace outside super cute Bar Absenta – maybe not for the absinthe that gives this quirky art nouveau bar its name but for a delicious caffeinated cocktail. The White Russians are perfectly layered creations of coffee and creamy milk – ideal for a pick-me-up apres afternoon sun.
8pm: If you’re a fan of good sunsets you’ll understand it’s important to get good seats for the show. Settle in for a sunset in style at Skybar, a sleek, rooftop bar ideal for lazy lounging. Look out on that epic Barcelona skyline as you watch the sky change colour and the sun slip away.
9.30pm: There are so many dinner options in Barcelona, it will blow your mind. But we loved the tapas and elegant dishes at Bar Lobo with its comfortable outside terrace littered with colourful cushions. However, don’t go for it if they seat you upstairs, even the waiter admitted that those squeezed in up there are often forgotten about!
If you are in the mood for some world cuisine, pay a visit to the delightful Bun Bo, a super cute, Vietnamese restaurant lit up with traditional lanterns and serving an assortment of budget, noodle dishes. Alternatively, if it is seafood you seek, head down to the marina for a selection of seafood restaurants right by the harbour.
11pm: After a little time to digest, you’ll most probably get a second wind and be ready to explore a little of Barcelona’s nightlife. Lets start with a drink at the famous El Bosc de las Fades, a bar straight out of a fairytale woodland scene, complete with trees and lanterns to live out those Midsummer Night’s Dream fantasies.
Move on to Sincopa, a small yet perfectly formed bar in the Barri Gotic, with eclectic decor, an alternative soundtrack and a cool yet friendly atmosphere.
Next, try Sor Rita, just round the corner in El Born, and shake your tail feather to some 80s pop and Spanish music. We loved the trashy glam interior – a shrine to pin-ups with leopard print lampshades and barbie dolls strung up on the walls.
Finally, if you’re not yet ready to call it a night, track down Bar Pipa, a bar with a license to 6am (they stay up LATE in this city). Bar Pipa is like a curious, Sherlock Holmes-esque smoking den, located in the Placa Reial in the Barri Gotic. Press the buzzer so they can check you’re not a crazed hen or stag party and you’ll be let up the stairs to a den with comfy armchairs, cosy banquettes, shady lighting and lots of smoking paraphernalia.
Hope you enjoyed your 24 hour tour! I’m always on the look out for cool new places to visit in Barca so let me know if you have any top tips!