Photo by Tiago Ribeiro
As the train travelled from Lyon through the Pyrenees to my final destination, Barcelona, the excitement of my first encounter with Spain was quickly creeping up. With only one full day in this buzzing city, I had to choose my sights, cathedrals, and attractions carefully.
So if you've only got a day or two in Barcelona, here's a roundup of what to see, what to miss, and what's worth the detour if you've only got a short time.
Absolute Must-Try Food Experience: Jamonisimo. For a taste of some of the best ham in the world and a uniquely Spanish treat, this is the place to go. The ham served here is high-end Iberico ham: pigs raised in the Spanish countryside that are fed on acorns. With my limited Spanish and the shopkeeper's limited English, when I managed to ask for a tasting plate (35 EUR), the shopkeeper's face lit up. He took me to a room in the back of the shop where two small tables were set up. He brought out a bottle of Rioja, toasted tomatoes on bread, and sliced some of the most delicious ham I've ever tasted.
Where to Avoid: Las Ramblas, the city's busiest area. A tree-lined pedestrian avenue that begins in the heart of Barcelona leading to its port, it's packed with shops, tourists, vendors trying to sell to tourists, tourist trip restaurants that serve low-quality food, and people looking to scam tourists, especially near the port-end of the avenue. It's nonetheless one of the popular attractions - just beware of pickpockets and people looking to lure you into their shop in dark alleys. Go spend your time at the Barri Gotic instead.
Where to Stay: Barcelona Princess Hotel. Outside of the perilous reaches of La Ramblas or Barri Gotic district, the Barcelona Princess Hotel is a great option for those looking for something modern and chic away from the worst of Barcelona's tourist trap areas. My room was the ultimate in stylish decor, my walk-out balcony had an amazing view of old Barcelona and Tibidabo Mountain, and the service was like no other. A box of dark chocolates on my pillow sealed the deal and finished off a perfect evening. With quick and easy access to the Tram and Metro, Barcelona Princess Hotel is a great bargain for travellers!
Best of Gaudi: La Sagrada Familia is the most-visited attraction in Barcelona and packed with photo takers and bus tours. Although other Gaudi sights like La Pedrera, Park Guell, and Casa Batllo are worth the visit, La Sagrada Familia was one of the most fascinating and off-putting structures I had ever seen. Only partially completed when Gaudi died, this unfinished temple is haunted by construction cranes and scaffolding, not to mention a lack of funding for its completion.
Tapas & Chocolate Cake: Bubo is best known as the purveyors of the World's Best Chocolate Cake - although I would urge you to try their other amazing treats, which are even more delicious. Visit the shop for a delicious break of homemade marshmallows, macarons, mousses, and specialty cakes/pastries. Bobu Bar next door is also one of Barcelona's top tapas bar right next door in the Old Quarter, just across from the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar.
Night time Entertainment: The Magic Fountain of Montjuic is located in the Montjuic area where you can find attractions like the Archaeological Museum and the National Palace. You can spend more than 1 day in this area alone, but if you're short on time, be sure to visit on a day that the fountain's synchronized water-lights-music show takes place at night. Built in 1929, it's the first show of its kind (eat your heart out, Bellagio!).
Skip out on: Tibidabo Mountain and visit Montjuic instead, especially if you're planning on seeing the Magic Fountain. The top of Tibidabo is great for families because it has an amusement park. The cathedral is stunning and the views of Barcelona at your feet are great, but not worth the time and money to get to the top.
Picasso Museum: With only one day of sight-seeing available, I wish I that I hadn't missed the Picasso Museum where they house over 2,000 of Picasso's pieces. In a city steeped in nouveau and modern art traditions, this museum is its centerpiece.
The easiest way to see Barcelona, especially if you're short on time is to just give in and take the Bus Turistica. For a 21 Euro fare, you can hop on and hop off the bus at 24 of the city's top sights all day until 9-10pm. Buses arrive every 15 minutes and traverse 3 different zones (east, north, and central) of Barcelona, taking you from Montjuic Mountain to Tibidabo Mountain, Olympic Stadium, Sagrada Familia, the Barri Gotic, and many more.
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Gizelle Lau is a travel-food-wine lover turned writer in Toronto, Canada and the Online Editor for TripAtlas.com, the world’s largest online travel resource. Visit for travel articles, photos, trip deals and more!