Barcelona in One Day ~ Must-See Sights and Essential Bites

You could easily spend a lifetime exploring Barcelona but the good news is that its compact size and walkable layout means you can see many of the best bits in just one day.

I’ve teamed up with Royal Caribbean to create a culture and tapas filled shore day itinerary – whether you’re cruising in for the day or simply passing through, these are the essential “must-sees” that you won’t want to miss during your time in Barcelona!

Click on the places I recommend to get more info and see where they are located on Google Maps.

10am ~ Instant Immersion

Placa Reial, a dreamlike square just off Las Ramblas and packed with restaurants, bars and clubs Gothic Quarter, Barcelona.

Placa Reial, a dreamlike square just off Las Ramblas in the Gothic Quarter

You can walk directly from Barcelona’s main cruise port to the heart of the old town in no time at all. For an instant “Wow, we’re in Barcelona!” moment, take a leisurely stroll up and down the iconic boulevard of Las Ramblas.

At this time of day the stalls will be squeaking into action with flower traders flouncing, ice-cream parlours gleaming and street performers prepping.

Stop for photos in the hedonistic playground of Plaça Reial and don’t miss the ornate street lamps which are famous for being Gaudi’s first commissioned design project.

You have arrived.

10.30am ~  Market Moments at La Boqueria

La Boqueria Food Market Barcelona Spain

La Boqueria Food Market

For a full sensory assault, elbow your way into the legendary Boqueria food market (located on Las Ramblas), where the city’s chefs come to stock up on fat olives, fresh meat and fish, crawling crustaceans, fruit & veg and all the frills.

Stop off for strong coffee, buttery croissants and people-watching at Bar Pinotxo and let Juanito the magnanimous owner will induct you into the local way of life.

Need something more substantial? You might want to get involved in Barcelona’s booming brunch scene.

11am ~ Get Lost in the Gothic Quarter

Castellets (human towers) in the Gothic Quarter's handsome Placa Jaume for the annual La Merce festival (every September)

Placa Jaume during La Merce festival

Sneak down one of the many streets that splinter off Las Ramblas and allow yourself to get lost in the rabbit warren of the Gothic Quarter. Here you’ll discover all sorts of independent fashion boutiques, ateliers and time-transcending courtyards.

Don’t miss Plaça de Sant Felip NeriPlaça Sant Jaume and Plaça Sant Just i Pastor.

12pm ~ Indulge in the Born Barrio

Santa Maria Cathedral in the Born Barrio BarcelonaCross the road of Via Laietana and find yourself in the chic Born barrio, where you’ll discover all sorts of vintage fashion boutiques, as well as stylish cafe terraces, bars and restaurants.

Don’t miss the sunny Plaça de Santa Maria, where you can sip on local wines and/or beers whilst enjoying the awe-inspiring views of the 14th century Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.

If you have time be sure to pop into the world-renowned Picasso Museum, which is housed in a medieval mansion. Or take a sunny stroll through the palm-lined gardens of Parc Ciutadella.

1pm ~ It’s Time for a Vermouth Aperitivo

Vermouth and conservas in Barcelona, by Ben Holbrook

Vermouth time!

My favourite time of day! At around this time the locals will head out to meet friends for a sociable pre-lunch aperitivo, or to fer el vermut (to do the vermouth) as they say.

Dark and sweet, this sultry fortified wine is enjoyed with gourmet olives and a couple of conservas (tinned shellfish – considered a delicacy here in Spain), such as mussels, cockles or anchovies to get the appetite going.

Where? There are tons to choose from, but as you’re already in El Born I suggest squeezing into the trendy Bormuth Bar (#10 on this list).

2pm ~ Lunch: Tapas Tour

Blue cheese and jam tostadas - the perfect wine companion

Blue cheese tostadas at Eldiset – the perfect Spanish wine companion!

Nothing sums up the Spanish way of life better than the tapeo, hopping from one tapas bar to the next whilst nibbling on heavenly bite-sized delights as you go.

Again, there are lots of great places, but as you are already in El Born I would suggest starting off in Bodega Punctual for delightfully gooey croquettes and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), followed by Catalan wines, jamón and cheese at my beloved Eldiset and, if you have any space left in your stomach, rustic fish tapas at the legendary Cal Pep

3.30pm ~ Discover the Best of Gaudi and Barcelona’s Modernist Architecture

Antoni Gaudi's Casa Batllo

Antoni Gaudi’s colourful Casa Batllo

March your way over to Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s most regal boulevard, and snap a few photos outside of Gaudi’s iconic La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, as well as many more of Barcelona’s most famous architectural gems.

You probably won’t have time to go inside, but the fantastical facades are are guaranteed to inspire you. Check out this Barcelona architecture route for more info. 

4.30pm ~ Third-Wave Coffee Break

Third-wave coffee at Satan's Coffee Corner in Barcelona

Third-wave coffee at Satan’s Coffee Corner

Barcelona is enjoying a coffee revolution and there are countless “third-wave” coffee shops to get your fix at. If you’ve got time, be sure to pop into Nømad Coffee or Satan’s Coffee Corner to see where the movement got started.

In need of something stronger? As you’re already on Passeig de Gracia, check out the spectacular Art Deco gastro emporium of El Nacional where you can enjoy wine, beer and/or cocktails at one of the bars, or strut over to NaparBCN to sample some of Barcelona’s best craft beers.

5pm ~ La Sagrada Familia ~ “The” Moment You’ve Been Waiting For

La Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Antoni Gaudi’s Seminal Masterpiece – La Sagrada Familia

Arguably one of most iconic sights in Europe, La Sagrada Familiar is Antoni Gaudi’s colossal and famously unfinished church. I lived very close to it when the Pope came to consecrate it back in 2010 and I used to love sitting in the little park next to it. Again, you probably won’t have time to go inside, but the intricately detailed facades are simply breathtaking.  

Tip: If you do want to go inside, make sure you spend a couple of extra euros for the ‘skip the line ticket’ so you don’t have to waste hours waiting to get in.

Note: It’s a bit too far out to walk to so you’ll want to either jump on the metro (purple or blue line) to metro stop Sagrada Familia, or, what I’d probably suggest if you’re only in Barcelona for the day, take a taxi and enjoy the drive through the city.

6pm ~ Hit the Beach

Barceloneta Beach Live MusicYou’ll probably be a bit worn out by now, so jump in a taxi and ask to be dropped off at the beach “near Opium Club”. It’ll be a bit cooler at this time of day, perfect for laying out on the sand or sip a coffee/cocktail on one of the trendy beachfront terraces.

Once revived, stroll down the boardwalk towards the glitzy, sail-shaped W-Hotel at the other end of the beach, enjoying the beach vibes as you go.

7pm ~ Explore the Salty Backstreets of the Old Fishermen’s Quarter

La Cova Fumada Tapas Bar in Barceloneta Beach Barcelona

La Cova Fumada, one of the many classic tapas bars in Barceloneta.

Barceloneta is not only Barcelona’s most famous beach, but it’s also one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Cut into the narrow streets and you’ll find all sorts of historic bars and traditional tapas restaurants. 

8pm ~ Back to the Ship?

It might be time to head back to your cruise ship, but if not…

8pm ~ Pre-Dinner Drinks and Nibbles

Red wine from Barcelona's Priorat DO wine region...

Red, red, red wine from Barcelona’s Priorat DO wine region…

If wine’s your poison then head to the wine temple of Monvinic or the more rustic Bar del Pla or Zona d’Ombra

If you’re a beer geek then you’ll want to take a few gulps out of Barcelona’s booming craft beer movement.

9.30pm ~ Dinner: Catalan Feasts

Amber and hazlenut and there's 16-year-old whisky on my hands at Disfrutar Restaurant in Barcelona

Michelin-starred Catalan cuisine at Disfrutar.

To finish your day in Barcelona in ultimate style, dine at the two-Michelin-starred Moments restaurant in the luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel, or feast on contemporary Catalan cuisine at the one-Michelin-starred Disfrutar restaurant.

For something a bit more low-key (and affordable) choose one of my favourite restaurants from this list.

Midnight ~ Cocktails

ben-holbrook-at-boadas-bar-barcelonas-oldest-cocktail-bar

Ben at Boadas Bar – the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona.

If you’re still able to walk after all this eating then now’s the time for cocktails at Boadas Bar, Barcelona’s oldest cocktail bar Or visit Negroni for something more contemporary. 

1am to 2am ~ A la Fiesta!

Just follow the crowds!

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