This post shows you exactly how I spent my 30th birthday weekend in Barcelona and provides you with my personal recommendations so you can do the same.
Note: This is not a sightseeing guide but more about spending a weekend in Barcelona as a local would.
If you’re planning your first trip to Barcelona then definitely check out my guide on ‘What to See and Do in Barcelona on Your First Visit – and What Not to Do’.
I’m always getting asked for advice from excited travellers who want to know how to spend two days or a weekend in Barcelona. There’s so much to see and do… The chic yet edgy culture, the tapas bars and golden city beaches make it the ideal destination for a quick weekend getaway.
The truth is however, although I lived there for two years, I had all the time in the world to explore and get to know it, so I never really had to worry too much about squeezing it all in to two days, or a weekend.
Recently however, when my girlfriend surprised me with a weekend in Barcelona to celebrate my 30th birthday, I had to think very carefully about how I wanted to spend it.
Here’s how I decided to spend my 2 days in Barcelona…
1. Indulge in Cafe con Leche and Pastries for Breakfast in Hip and Artsy Gràcia
There’s nothing better than a fluffy, freshly-baked pastry full of gooey goodness to get your day started. And a heavy little coffee cup filled with rich espresso and steamed milk is the perfect accompaniment.
Do as we did and visit Antico Caffè on the Gaudi-centric street of Gran de Gràcia – my favourite street in all of Barcelona – and let the locals demonstrate how to indulge in a leisurely breakfast. It has that classic Barcelona cafeteria feel: busy, simple and totally unpretentious. This is a real glimpse of Barcelona that most tourists never see.
Addition: Since writing this post (I’m almost 35 now!), Barcelona has become quite obsessed with brunch, so you’ll find countless cool cafes serving French toast, eggs cooked every which way and speciality coffee.
Top Tip: After breakfast, be sure to take a stroll down Gran de Gràcia, where you’ll discover many of Gaudi’s masterpieces, including my favourite building of Casa Milà “aka La Pedrera” and Casa Batlló.You won’t have much time so definitely spend the extra couple of euros to get the skip-the-line ticket).
It’s also one of the most prestigious shopping strips in the whole city and leads all the way down to the central square of Plaça Catalunya. You can walk the whole street (it’s all down hill) in about 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many times you stop to take photos.
Address: Antico Caffè, Gran De Gracia, 152, 08012 Barcelona (Get Directions on Google Maps)
Nearest Metro Stop: Fontana
2. Open Yourself Up to the Randomness of Barcelona, at Plaça de la Seu
One of liveliest and biggest open spaces in the centre of Barcelona, there’s always something going on in Plaça de la Seu.
It could be live music performances or political protests, Catalan cultural celebrations, carnivals and dancing – just turn up and be prepared for anything.
Standing proud just off the centre of the square is the mighty Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, a Gothic masterpiece and one of Barcelona’s most dramatic buildings. Remember, Sagrada Familia is actually a church, not a cathedral.
Grab an ice-cream from on of the nearby stalls, take a seat on the steps leading up to the church and take in the warmth and randomness that makes this city so special.
3. Visit La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona’s Unmissable Landmark
Going to Barcelona and not seeing Antoni Gaudi’s awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia church is like going Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower.
You might not have time to go inside, but if you do then I would highly recommend it – this is probably the one and only church I would ever encourage people to pay money to enter.
But definitely get the skip-the-line ticket (only a few more euros) or you’ll waste the best part of a day burning in the sun while you wait to get in.
4. Skip La Boqueria and Visit the Santa Caterina Market Instead
Honestly, La Rambla is probably the biggest tourist trap in all of Spain. I’d go as far as saying that it’s the only thing I really dislike about Barcelona. If it’s your first visit then of course I understand you’ll want to see it, but trust me, don’t spend a single cent there – definitely don’t eat here. There are so many better places nearby.
One of the main attractions on La Rambla is the famous Boqueria food market. It’s said to be the biggest market of its kind in all of Europe, if not the world, and it’s kind of cool. But the truth is, it’s so over-crowded that it very quickly turns into a nightmare.
Instead, do as the locals do and check out the elegant Santa Caterina Market. It’s only a few metres off the cathedral square (mentioned above) and it’s a far more authentic experience. The roof is a rippling wave of pastel rainbow colours, a tour de force in the world of classic Catalan architecture and easily one of the most beautiful markets in the world.
5. Sip Your Way Through the Wines of Catalonia
Catalonia is such an exciting place for wine lovers and there’s so much going on right now. Head to one of my favourite wine bars in Barcelona and ask the staff for a few recommendations based on your personal preferences.
I adore reds from the nearby Montsent and Priorat wine regions, and whites from Alella and Penedès. And of course, no trip to Barcelona would be complete without a bottle of Catalan cava (which is basically the exact same thing as champagne, but much more affordable).
5. Saunter and Siesta at the Beach
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit Barcelona, the weather is pretty much always good enough to enjoy the city’s many beaches.
It may not always be bikini weather, but it’s almost always nice enough to sit on a cafe terrace with a drink and few tapas.
Stroll down to Barceloneta beach and watch the weird and wonderful people do their thing. Skateboarders zoom up and down the sidewalk, hawkers sell donuts, coconut and ice-cold drinks, and the young and beautiful show off their bodies whilst sipping on minty mojitos.
Stroll down towards the W Hotel, which jets out into the ocean like a giant sailboat, find a quiet spot to lie down and take a quick siesta – this is life in Barcelona.
Nearest Metro Stop: Barceloneta (Be careful; the pickpockets know this is where all the tourists are.)
6. Eat Lunch/Dinner at a Traditional Tapas Bar in Barceloneta
For a true taste of Catalan tapas, there’s simply no better place than the historic fishermen’s quarter of Barceloenta (which borders the beach front. Here you will find rustic old tapas bars that opened to feed the local fishermen years ago.
Little has changed so don’t come to eat here if you want something fancy. Order traditional tapas like patatas bravas, croquettes, pimientos de padrón, and fish/seafood fishes such as calamaris, mussels and scallops served with juicy wedges of lemon.
Note: See more of my favourite tapas bars and restaurants in Barcelona here (from dive bars and dusty old bodegas to Michelin-starred marvels).
8. Head Out for a Night of Craft Beer and Cocktails
Barcelona’s craft beer scene has positively exploded in the last few years and there are not countless places to sup local Catalan brews. Find a list of my favourite watering holes here, and remember that many of them are within walking distance so you can hop from bar to bar.
Naturally, the Catalan capital of cool is a mecca for discerning bar flies and there are some seriously cool cocktail bars to explore in Barcelona – find my favourites here.
They’re all fantastic but make sure you squeeze in a few cóctels del día at Boadas Cocktail Bar, which is tucked away just off Las Ramblas and the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona.
9. Follow the Crowds, Party All Night
It’s not hard to find a party in Barcelona. You’ll see lines of people waiting to get into bars and clubs. But to find some of the best clubs and bars, which are often hidden out of sight, away from the centre, you’ll need a little help.
Check out my Barcelona nightlife post called, Barcelona’s Best Bars, Clubs and Party Spots | An Inside Guide.
Make it Happen
Getting to Barcelona
As with most of Europe’s top destinations, there are loads of airlines providing last minute flights to Barcelona, so you don’t need to organise your trip months in advance. And of course, once you’re on mainland Europe, you can always jump on a train or bus – I can’t praise Spain’s RENFE train system enough.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
If it’s your first visit in Barcelona then you’ll want to stay near the historic old town. I’d suggest the Gothic Quarter, Born, or Eixample.
See more essential things to do in Barcelona here.
Got a questions or something to add? Please leave a comment below and tell me all about it!