Spain has remained the second most visited country worldwide for over a decade now and it’s pretty easy to understand why tourists flock there for vacations. Boasting a deep history, amazing culture and location, the country is lauded for those seeking a summer getaway or a holiday in a vibrant nation. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Spain during a month long holiday in Europe in September 2018, albeit only for a couple of days. Barcelona in the south of Spain is one of the most popular cities for tourists, so let’s take a look at some of my recommendations for 48 hours in this historic part of our world!
Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia
Nestled on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and situated quite close to France, Barcelona has two official languages – Catalan and Spanish. It’s the capital of Catalonia, a region with a proud history which recently in 2017 tried to commence separating from Spain. One thing I noticed whilst walking through the old town was the Catalonian flag proudly flying from residential balconies all across the city…so this is truly another world within Spain!
Discover the iconic architecture
After spending 3 weeks travelling around Greece, Croatia, Austria & Russia, one of the first things I noticed that really made Barcelona stand out was the distinctive architecture. It truly is unlike anywhere else in Europe that I had seen! And a lot of the most loved architectural sites are due to the brilliant imagination & designs of the famed Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi. A pioneer of the “Art Nouveau” style in Barcelona, his designs are going to be hard to miss as you explore the city. One of my favourites of Gaudi’s work is Casa Batlló, a UNESCO world heritage site located at Passeig de Gràcia.
A residential restoration completed in 1904 which caused an uproar at the time due to its design, Casa Batlló went on to become awarded as one of the city’s best buildings a couple of years after its completion. One look at Gaudi’s design conjures up images of skeletons so it’s no surprise as to why this is called the “House of Bones” by the locals…. Apart from the flowing and irregular design, what captivated me the most was the colourful array of mosaic tiles and the numerous balconies. You can also visit the café inside as well!
Another noteworthy site is Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. This former hospital is awe-inspiring not only in terms of size but also the beauty of its design and immense garden. A UNESCO heritage listed site, the hospital was built between 1901 and 1930, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau is a superb example of the Art Nouvea/modernista style which was burgeoning throughout Barcelona’s architecture in the early 20th century and was wholeheartedly embraced by the local bourgeoise.
Step back in time to Poble Espanyol
If you’re interested in immersing yourself in Spanish history, then a visit to Poble Espanyol should be on your itinerary! One of my first stops in the morning on a half-day city tour, Poble Espanyol is an open-air museum which was built in 1929 to celebrate the Barcelona International Exhibition. Way back in the 1920’s the intention was to recreate the vibes of different regions within Spain, all within this village.
Nowadays in the 21st century it is still very much loved by tourists and the perfect place to go to soak up some culture – music festivals, handicrafts, cafes & restaurants and even a museum offer up a myriad of activities to keep people of all ages amused. I particularly loved wandering around exploring the shops and little laneways and it really did feel like I was stepping back in time here! Poble Espanyol is located at the mountain of Montjuic, so there are spectacular views in this part of Barcelona as well.
Address: Av. Francesc Ferrer I Guardia, 13 08038 Barcelona
Cost: varies – tickets start from 6.30 euros
Monday – 9am to 8pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday – 9am to midnight
Friday – 9am to 3am
Saturday – 9am to 4am
Wander through the Ciutat Vella
Barcelona’s historic Ciutat Vella, or Old Town, is undoubtedly full of sights to see and tales to be told! Dating back to 133BC, this area spanning thousands of years has been shaped by immigrants and is divided into four “districts”: Barceloneta, Raval, Barri Gòtic (the original Gothic district) and Sant Pere & Santa Caterina i la Ribera. Luckily for me, the half day organised tour I was on also included discovering the Gothic district. A highlight within this particular area was walking through “El Call” which was once the Jewish district. The main synagogue at Calle Marlet no. 5, are two rooms situated below street-level. Roman ruins, a maze of little alleyways, buildings from the 14th to 16th centuries and a plethora of small shops all add to the atmosphere, which is known for it’s vibrant atmosphere during the evenings.
During the tour of the Gothic city on one of the streets we walked past a small, local memorial to one of the patron Saints of Barcelona, Santa Eulàlia. The story of the terrors she endured prior to being crucified on a cross at just 13 years of age are too horrifying for me to even write about here. Nevertheless, learning about this important part of history for the people of Barcelona on the tour made a profound impression on me, and the following photo in one of the old town streets was taken as I learned about the story of her life.
The “Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia” which is Catalan for “Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia” is also known as the Barcelona Cathedral and reaches over 90 metres in height. This Gothic masterpiece where Santa Eulàlia’s crypt is located, towers over the square of Plaça de la Seu and dates back to the 13th century.
Taste the local cuisine and walk down Las Rambla
Las Rambla is the busiest promenade of the city although no matter where you roam across Barcelona, there is a huge variety of cafes, restaurants, markets and gelato shops to satiate the appetite you no doubt have worked up! Especially in the famed thoroughfare of Las Rambla, which honestly is where Barcelona felt at it’s most alive & vibrant – the perfect location to sip & chill whilst you people watch!
I visited here in late September and it was honestly packed with tourists so I personally would avoid visiting here during the height of Summer and peak season, but that’s purely because I don’t think I could handle being around so many people in the heat. One of the things I was most looking forward to during my first visit to Spain was trying out their cuisine – Spanish food is adored all over the world. My diet over 2 days in this city pretty much consisted of seafood paella and a lot of Sangria!
See the wonder of la Sagrada Familia
Saving the best until last – La Sagrada Família is undoubtedly the most adored tourist attraction and site in Barcelona! I shudder to think that I almost missed out on visiting here as my travel agent at the time didn’t even recommend I book a tour there. Luckily I’d heard about the Basilica, which is scheduled to finish being built before the end of the 2020’s, so I suggested we include a tour to see what the fuss what about.
Antoni Gaudi was a true Catalonian – born in 1852 in Reus, after attaining an architectural degree and learning about carpentry, glazing & locksmithing, he began to receive commissions for architectural work. Through taking on building projects and developing respect & increased recognition for his designs, Gaudi commenced his work in 1883 on the Sagrada Família, at just 31 years of age. By 1914, Gaudi has ceased taking on any new work with the aim of focusing his attention solely to completing La Sagrada Família’s construction. In the end though, unfortunately he was never to witness the completion of his life’s work, after passing away in 1914 due to a tram accident. Today, the Nativity façade and crypt (where Gaudi is buried) are recognised as UNESCO heritage sites, given their cultural significance to Catalonia in the late 19th & 20th centuries.
For anyone who admires architecture, desires to learn about Spain or wants to explore the heart of Barcelona, then La Sagrada Família is certainly going to be at the top of the list of recommendations. The exterior is multi-layered in terms of it’s construction and influences – consisting of Gothic and modern styles. In fact, when I first saw the outside of the Basilica on my first afternoon, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and why there was so many people mulling around taking photos. On first glance from a distance it confused me and I dangerously considered not even bothering to visit inside. A discussion about this over sangria that evening resulted in me changing my mind thankfully! It wasn’t until my second day when I went on the pre-booked tour of this Basilica that I began to see it in a different light.
Thanks to my exceptional tour guide, I was able to understand the economic & political reasons why the construction had taken so many years and why it still wasn’t finished. My guide pointed up the different areas of the exterior and drew my attention to details on the facades which I hadn’t been able to see from distance the day before. Even before entering inside I began to fall in love with Gaudi’s vision & creation and was also learning a lot about the history of the city at the same time.
Once I entered the Basilica underneath the door of the Nativity façade, I was shocked and speechless by the immense beauty and ethereal ambience that surrounded me. In short, the old adage of “never judge a book by its cover” immediately came to mind and I instantly felt ashamed by how I had pre-judged this special place the previous day. Light streamed in through various windows illuminating the interior in a rainbow-like haze.
Looking upwards, it felt like I had stepped into a holy forest, with columns towering up like trunks & branches of trees towards the sky. It’s rare that I’m rendered awestruck but this was definitely one of those moments for me. Part religious reverence, part fantasy, Gaudi’s interior design was undoubtedly the reward for anyone who has been fortunate enough to step foot inside La Sagrada Familia.
Please whatever you do, don’t be as short-sighted as I almost was and miss out on seeing this spectacular jewel of Barcelona! I hadn’t seen pictures of the interior and honestly didn’t do any research about this Basilica prior to my visit, other than it being recommended to me by a few people I knew. Visiting La Sagrada Família reinforced a very important lesson for me which I thought I had already learnt; not to pre-judge based upon first appearances (and without an understanding of history too)! However I feel for most people, this is already somewhere they will look forward to visiting as it will reward you with the most breathtaking beauty in the world!
Address: Carrer Mallorca, 401 Barcelona
9am to 6pm – November to February
9am to 7 pm – March & October
9am to 8pm – April to September
9am to 2pm – 25th & 26th December 1st & 6th January
Cost: starting from 17euros for a basic ticket to visit the Basilica Tickets are sold up to 30mins prior to closing time and can be purchased directly on the website There are ticket options for individuals up to 9 people then groups of 10 or more as well as ticket packages which also include the Gaudi museum, audio-guides or with a guide.
Travel tip: I pre-booked my visit through my travel agent with a specialised guide within a group – for a first visit I would definitely recommend the option is using the knowledge of a guide as it truly opened up my understanding of this history and artistic influences in creating this legendary place.
So that’s it – how to spend 2 days in Barcelona! Now if anyone was to ask me “is two days really enough there?” then I’d honestly reply no, definitely not. Not if you want to see as much as possible! There is so much to see and Barcelona didn’t feel like a small city to me, meaning plenty of ground I didn’t cover. Looking back sure, I do wish I had more time there but I certainly was able to see some of the highlights which definitely imparted a sense of the Catalonian culture, history and major sights. Barcelona is a special place in the world with it’s own beauty & style and so much to offer to travellers. Two days may not be very long but plenty of time to fall in love with this unique part of Spain!
I hope you have enjoyed this guide on how to spend a couple of days in beautiful Barcelona! Let me know in the comments below if you have visited or if you would like to visit there one day!