Barcelona is a city that seems to have it all – and it’s a city to be explored in any season. Many people visit for the beaches. Some for Gaudí’s architecture. Some for the cuisine and wine. And some for the world-renowned museums. Others visit for the rich history. Parks, nature and lots of kid-friendly activities are sprinkled in, too. And there are cozy cafés on every corner. Barcelona really does appeal to every kind of traveler! Like any big city, you can spend a month and still not see and do it all. But this travel itinerary for 5 days in Barcelona does its best to maximize your time in the Catalonian capital city and help you understand its rich culture.
Why 5 days in Barcelona?
Combined, I’ve spent nearly three weeks in Barcelona. Most people spend about three days. And while you can rush through the main sights within that time frame, two more days gives you time to enjoy that cup of coffee, aimlessly wander through the Old Town and even take a day trip from Barcelona.
And before you go, check out these Barcelona travel tips for practical advice and general information about the city – like how to use the metro, local cuisine, packing tips and how to get from the airport to the city center.
Day 1: Explore the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona
Known as “Barri Gotic,” this neighborhood is the oldest in the city. Barcelona was founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. History is all around you in this area of the Old Town – from the fountains you pass to the stone wall you lean on.
Walking Tour in Barcelona
An affordable and enjoyable way to learn its history is to participate in a walking tour. Runner Bean Tours offers a free tour of the Gothic Quarter – two tours daily during the spring through fall months and one tour during the winter months. The tour meeting spot is in Plaça Reial, which is right off La Rambla – the famous and chaotic pedestrian-friendly shopping street.
Throughout the tour, you will visit and learn about the Jewish Quarter, Roman ruins, Plaça Sant Felip Neri, Barcelona Cathedral, Plaça Sant Jaume (where the Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia and City Hall are located) and many other plazas and historic landmarks. Reserve your tour spot online in advance. And remember to tip the guide at the end. The tour ends just at the start of El Born in front of the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral.
Museums in the Gothic Quarter
Although a walking tour allows you to see most sites in the Gothic Quarter, it doesn’t take you inside of them – especially the museums. And there are plenty in this area.
Related Reading: If you like Gothic cities, check out things to do in Bayeux, France.
Restaurants in the Gothic Quarter
- Mercat de Sant Josep (La Boqueria Market): Located just on the edge of the Gothic Quarter and El Raval, the main food market in Barcelona is worth heading to for lunch, dinner, or even a snack. Pop down for a full meal at a restaurant bar. Bar Pinotxo is very popular, but the wait can be long. Bar Boqueria serves hearty seafood salads and an array of tapas. Or you can snack your way around the smoothie, fruit, kebab, meat, cheese and olive vendors. There are also plenty of souvenir-style vendors, where you can purchase sangria, chocolate and other tchotchkes.
- Milk: If you are looking for a true brunch spot, Milk serves morning cocktails, fresh smoothies, pancakes and hearty omelets. There is also a dinner service.
- Federal Cafe: This modern and bright café in the Gothic Quarter is a convenient place to stop for an afternoon espresso. It’s also a cool spot for digital nomads in Barcelona. There were a lot of students studying and folks working at the community tables.
- 4Cats: Revel in the history over a drink at Els Quatre Gats. Known as “4 Cats,” the café opened in 1897, and Pablo Picasso was a frequent guest when he lived in Barcelona.
Depending on where you stay in Barcelona, you will likely pass over La Rambla frequently – whether that’s to get to your tour meeting spot, grab food at La Boqueria or simply because you want to shop. This pedestrian-friendly street is lined with all the corporate stores – Nike, H&M, Zara, Starbucks, McDonald’s, you-name-it. It starts at Plaça de Catalunya and runs to the waterfront (by the Christopher Columbus statue). Always keep your guard up on La Rambla as it’s the melting pot for pickpockets and thieves. Even a local tugged on me and recommended I put my phone in my pocket.
Although it’s technically one street outside of the Gothic Quarter, the Palau de la Música Catalana is an exquisite concert hall worth checking out. Marvel at the exterior façade’s intricate detail before heading inside for a guided tour or show. It is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Day 2: Explore Gaudí’s Masterpieces in Barcelona
Even if you tried, you couldn’t miss the work of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. There are the popular and obvious spots — La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and Casa Batlló. But look down at the sidewalks and you’ll discover that Gaudí is even the architect behind the tiled design below your feet. So, on day two in Barcelona, dedicate an entire day to Gaudí – learning the history of his life and the creation of his many masterpieces.
Gaudí Walking Tour
Like the Gothic Quarter walking tour, a tour dedicated to Gaudí allows you to learn more about his vision, works and life while observing many of his sites. Sandemans New Europe’s Gaudí and Modernism tour is very well done, and it ends at Gaudí’s most magnificent work, La Sagrada Familia. You can also follow a self-guided walking tour – just download an audio tour through a podcast (Rick Steves has a lot!).
La Sagrada Familia
There is a reason this unfinished church is the most visited attraction in Barcelona. The exterior of the church is medieval and gothic. And like most of his works, the intricate pieces are woven together to tell a bigger story. Walk around the entire church before going inside.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia is a complete contrast to the gothic exterior. Gaudí’s inspiration for his works came from nature. And the rainforest, specifically, inspired the interior of La Sagrada Familia. It is colorful, open and bright. The high ceilings, tall columns and shiny stained-glass windows bring his rainforest to life.
For a picturesque view of La Sagrada Familia, walk through the park just outside. It’s a lovely stroll – and you may catch some locals playing bocce ball.
La Sagrada Familia Tickets
Purchase your tickets to La Sagrada Familia as soon as you begin planning your trip to Barcelona. Tickets sell out quickly, and it can be nearly impossible to buy day-of tickets.
Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, La Pedrera was commissioned to be residential apartments. The rooftop terrace has the most interesting yet bizarre design. And the colorful courtyard is truly an oasis – like the interior of La Sagrada Familia. The audio guide tour explains how Gaudí intentionally and meticulously designed the building.
Not far from La Pedrera is one of Gaudí’s most colorful works, Casa Batlló. There are many theories to the symbolism of the design – like the façade representing scales of a dragon and another being the waves of the sea. If you need a short break at this point in the day, pop into the vibrant Faborit Fresh Bar. Although it is a chain café in Spain, the menu offers tasty coffee, tea, smoothies, salads and sandwiches. They also sell beautifully-wrapped chocolates, which make the perfect souvenirs.
Although most of this public park is free to roam, you must reserve a ticket online in advance to visit a small area of Gaudí’s colorful mosaics (and get an awesome view of Barcelona). In 1984, UNESCO protected the park as a World Heritage Site. You may also be interested in visiting the Gaudí Museum while in Park Güell.
Up for venturing a little farther outside the city? Then, take a trip to Colonia Güell – located in a charming village. Gaudí was commissioned to design this church but only the crypt was completed. It’s small and impressive. Dim yet colorful. If you rented a car in Barcelona, visiting Gaudí’s Crypt is an easy drive!
Day 3: Day trip from Barcelona
Take a day trip from Barcelona on your fourth day in the city. Some popular Barcelona day trips are to Montserrat, Girona, Figueres and Stiges. With a robust rail system, it’s easy to explore nearby towns on your own. Look for train schedules at Renfe.com. Or join an organized tour group, such as Catalunya Bus Turistic (like I used to visit Montserrat).
Barcelona Day Trips
Originally, Girona was a Roman-walled city. Today, it is a filming site for Game of Thrones! Although I haven’t watched the show, I can see why they filmed here. It’s stunning! And it’s just a 45-minute high-speed train ride from Barcelona. Be sure to walk the city walls, as it has the most magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains.
Explore the hometown of Salvador Dali. If traveling without an organized tour, reserve your tickets in advance to visit the Teatre Museu Dali. Many tour companies combine Figueres and Girona in one day.
If a beach day is calling your name, Stiges may be the place to pop down.
This mountainous village is known for its monastery and famous Escolania’s boys’ choir. The choir typically performs twice a day Monday through Friday in the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. This is a unique and heartwarming experience!
The nearby vineyards and wine regions make for a great day trip from Barcelona as well. Join a local tour or hire a driver so you can enjoy the adult beverages!
With a high-speed train between the two major cities, most people also travel to Madrid on the same trip as Barcelona. I highly recommend seeing both spots – but not as a day trip! And if Barcelona is part of a multi-city trip, you may want to check out my guide to planning a long-term trip abroad.
Day 4: Explore El Raval and Montjuic in Barcelona
A morning in El Raval
Start your third day in Barcelona over brunch in El Raval. Choose from an abundance of brunch spots – from the trendy cafes to the no-frills diners. Check out Federal Cafe and Flax and Kale.
If shopping is on the Barcelona itinerary, El Raval is the area for local, independently-owned boutiques. This neighborhood is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Maritime Museum.
An afternoon in Montjuic
From El Raval, walk through Sant Antoni toward Plaça d’Espanya. From there, you will have a stunning view of the Montjuic grounds. Walk up (what feels like) hundreds of stairs to the top of Montjuic (spoiler: there are escalators) to view the bustling city down below. Here you will also find the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Note: A lot of museums are free on the first Sunday of each month. You can easily wander through the Montjuic grounds for a couple of hours. There are a few cafes and snack vendors, and there are quite a few gardens.
Fountains of Montjuic
In the evenings, there is a water fountain show at Montjuic. This is a fun activity if you’re traveling to Barcelona with kids.
Olympic area on Montjuic
Barcelona was the host of the 1992 Olympic World Games. Here you can visit the Olympic Stadium and Palau Sant Jordi.
If you’re a sports fan, be sure to also look up the FC Barcelona schedule. Seeing a match would be a great addition to your Barcelona itinerary! At a minimum, consider checking out the Club’s Museum (Museu FC Barcelona).
Close to the Olympic grounds is the Montjuic Castle, a former hilltop fortress. From here, you are greeted with spectacular views of the oceanfront.
An evening in El Poble-Sec
Time for some grub! From Montjuic, head to the nearby El Poble-Sec neighborhood for its well-known pintxos restaurants. Pintxos are bite-sized snacks – veggies, seafood or meat on a small piece of bread. This area is lively. And the restaurants and patrons spill out onto the pedestrian-only streets and squares in this district. Try to snag a table at La Tasqueta de Blai.
Day 5: Explore El Born and Barceloneta in Barcelona
On your last of five days in Barcelona, spend time in the El Born neighborhood and the adjacent Barceloneta neighborhood. While both are part of the Old City, each has its unique style.
El Born of Barcelona
First stop – the El Born neighborhood. Located near the Gothic Quarter, El Born is thought of as the “hipster spot.” It’s filled with trendy cafes and local shops.
Santa Maria del Mar
Pop into the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral (free to enter) to see the grand columns. If you’re lucky, you may catch a wedding like we did!
Pablo Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)
Over 4,000 of his works are housed in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga (in the south of Spain) and moved to Barcelona when he was 14 years old. The museum is free to visit on the first Sunday of the month and Thursday afternoons. Otherwise, you can purchase skip-the-line tickets online in advance.
Located on the site of an old military fortress, Ciutadella Park is a nice spot for a picnic or a stroll. You can also rent a bike and cycle through it. This public park is free to enter, and more Gaudí works can be discovered!
El Born Cultural Center
Located in the heart of the neighborhood (and a stone’s throw from Ciutadella Park) is the El Born Cultural Center. It’s free to visit so stop by to see the main attraction – excavations from the 1700s. Just outside the center is a café and candy shop – Chocolates Lacasa La Boutique.
Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria)
This standing-room-only cava bar is bustling at all hours of the day. No fancy service here – expect to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while scarfing down a warm sandwich and sipping on a bottle of cava. It’s a cheap and unique experience!
Barceloneta of Barcelona
Spend the afternoon in the former fishing village of Barceloneta. This area feels the most different from the rest of the city – which is why I love it so much. It starts at Port Vell on the west and stretches along the water to Barcelona’s casino. Barceloneta transformed dramatically in the lead up to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Even the beaches were man-made during this time. Today, it’s a fantastic place to relax, as well as taste (arguably) the best seafood in town! Check out Restaurante Paco Alcalde for its delicious seafood paella.
Of the beaches in Barcelona, the ones in Barceloneta are the most conveniently located to the city center. Of course, convenience usually leads to crowds! This area is very busy, especially in the summer months. If you want to escape the crowds (and hoards of vendors) venture farther north of Barceloneta.
Every 10 minutes or so, I turned down a vendor asking if I wanted a beverage, food or even massage. Like traveling in Paris (near the Eiffel Tower), the vendors on Barcelona’s beaches can be a bit aggressive. The first massage I was offered wasn’t offered. I was tanning on my stomach and, without warning, a woman began massaging my calf. I nearly kicked her (my self-defense instincts kicked in). So, take the metro further north of the city if you’re looking for a long, quiet beach day. Or head south to Castelldefels.
One of my favorite free things to do in Barcelona is simply strolling along the promenade. It reminds me of the boardwalk in Venice Beach, California, filled with skaters, skateboarders and pedestrians. Gaze at the ocean and beach on one side and cafés, shops and restaurants on the other side. Just under the promenade are more cafés and takeaway food huts.
And there you go – you are ready for your trip to Barcelona! Need packing tips? Check out my minimalist packing guide. And just remember that Barcelona is like Paris and London – you can’t do it all in one visit! There is always more to do and see. But hopefully, this five-day itinerary helps you maximize your time and get the most out of your trip!
Other Europe travel guides you may enjoy:
- What do in Ravello (Italy)
- A weekend in Galway (Ireland)
- Travel guide to Dubrovnik (Croatia)
- What to do in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany)
- A weekend in Freiburg (Germany)
- Exploring Cinque Terre (Italy)