Exploring Barcelona in 3 days or more has to be one of the most pleasurable things you’ll ever do. Spain and Barcelona, in particular, are steeped in history. There are even Roman ruins found in this jewel city on the Mediterranean. But Barcelona is known for far more that. Some of the biggest attractions in Barcelona are known for their unique architecture. And then there are the markets, high-end shopping, plazas, old city sites, mountains, and the sea.
Barcelona is a BIG city! Depending on how long you plan to stay in Barcelona, you may or may not be able to see and experience all that Barcelona has to offer. On a recent trip to Northeast Spain, my sister and I explored Barcelona in 3 days so we obviously had to limit the sites we planned to visit. However, since we stayed in a location close to almost everything we saw (and close to the Metro to get to other places) we were able to spend our time in a more leisurely manner. And we had a blast! You can too on YOUR trip to Barcelona. Let’s talk about what you can see and do in a mere 3 days!
La Rambla is technically more than one street in Barcelona which is why some refer to it as Las Ramblas. On the day we explored it, we stuck to one stretch starting out from the Plaça de Catalunya and descending all the way down to the harbor.
La Rambla is a wide, tree-lined boulevard with a center median for pedestrians and one-way streets on either side for vehicles. The trees lining the median are plane trees, one of my favorites. Their peeling bark and large leaves make them especially attractive. You’ll also find these enormous shady trees lining wide boulevards and roads in southern France as well.
La Rambla is a lovely stroll that descends gradually down to the Barcelona harbor. Granted it is very touristy and the locals (and guidebooks) tell you not to eat there because there are much better restaurants elsewhere in the city, but La Rambla does have its charm. We visited there on a Sunday afternoon in late September so the massive crowds of summer tourists were gone. (This is one of the most delightful aspects of being an empty-nester. You can travel in the shoulder seasons when most of the crowds are already back home!)
When you explore Barcelona in 3 days, it can be fast and furious. But on this day, my sister and I decided to take a little side tour off La Rambla to the Plaça Reial. We sat at a tiny table on the front row of two and relaxed with a glass of wine while watching some amazing acrobatic street performers. It was the perfect place for delving into some girl talk and people watching.
The Plaça Reial (Royal Square), on the edge of the Gothic Quarter just east of La Rambla, is an absolutely huge plaza lined with porticoed cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs. There is a large fountain in the plaza called Font de Les Tres Gracies (Fountain of the Three Graces) surrounded with royal palm trees. If you look carefully you’ll find a pair of unusual street lamps, one on either side of the fountain. These street lamps were designed by a young Antoni Gaudi, whose work we’ll see more of during our 3 days in Barcelona.
I understand that at night, the Plaza Reial really starts rockin’ when both tourists and locals descend upon it and the nightclubs and restaurants are full. On this Sunday afternoon though it was mostly quiet and a welcome shady break in the middle of the afternoon before we headed downhill to the Barcelona Harbor.
Barcelona Harbor area
At the end of La Rambla, you run into the Mediterranean Sea, or at least a lovely harbor area complete with old buildings and monuments and lots of things to do. We’ll start with the Mirador de Colom.
Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colom)
When you reach the bottom of La Rambla, you’ll find the Mirador de Colom (Columbus Monument). This monument was built for the 1888 World’s Fair in Barcelona commemorating Christopher Columbus’ first journey to the Americas. It stands about 200 feet high and has an observation deck that is ideal to view the harbor area and the old city, known as the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) as well as other sites nearby.
The monument itself is quite striking as Columbus appears to point the way to the “New World.” However, I’m told that he is really pointing east, across the Mediterranean, toward his hometown of Genoa, Italy. The cost to ride the elevator to the observation deck is minimal and is well worth it to get a sense of the layout of the city and the large harbor area.
The Port of Barcelona is massive and consists of three areas. One of these is Port Vell or the old port. There are beautiful old buildings there as well as a new mega shopping center. One of Barcelona’s yacht marinas is here and you can schedule a sunset cruise if you like.
The Gaudi Sites to See
On our “Explore Barcelona in 3 days tour” we spent a large portion of the time seeing the unique buildings by Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi was an architect and artist whose ideas differed radically with the architecture in the late 1800s. He based his designs on his perceptions of nature and is credited with the quote, “There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.” You’ll see this in his Catalan Modernisme (Art Nouveau) designs.
We were able to see three of his masterpieces in the three days we were in Barcelona. Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, and his last, yet uncompleted piece, La Sagrada Familia were definitely not to be missed sites on our list!
The curving staircase and windows are quintessential Gaudi. His curvilinear style of architecture exemplifies his attempts to mimic nature. There are very few straight lines found in Casa Batlló.
The atrium in the center of the house allows light to stream into all of the windows that open onto the atrium. While many of the older buildings in Spain have atriums, this one is lined with beautiful glazed tiles of varying textures and tones of blue.
The rooftop of the building has several unique features, one of which is the curving spine covered with glazed ceramic tiles. The other is a rounded cross. There is a legend of St. George (the patron saint of Catalonia) who killed a dragon that was threatening the people. The curving, tiled spine of the rooftop is said to represent the dragon and the four-armed cross to represent the handle of the sword of St. George which is thrust into the dragon. I can definitely see that in these features. If you want to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage site, go to the Casa Batlló website by clicking here.
Passeig de Gràcia
Both Casa Batlló and the next Gaudi site, Casa Milà are located on the Passeig de Gràcia, one of the city’s most fashionable shopping districts. You’ll find high-end shopping venues here, such as Chanel, Dior, and Hermes to name a few. While we didn’t stop to shop in these high-end stores, we did stop to grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine in the afternoon.
While we relaxed under the umbrellas of our sidewalk cafe, we did a little people watching. For instance, the line to get into the Chanel store was rather interesting. I can’t say that I’ve ever stood in line to enter a store where I expected to spend a boatload of money. That’s just not my kind of shopping! What about you?
What we found even more interesting were the sidewalk tiles in this area. They are Gaudi inspired and symbolize deep ocean creatures.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
Casa Milà, or La Pedrera as it is also called, began as a group of expensive apartments on the Passeig de Gràcia, which at the time was THE place to see and be seen. The owners planned to live on the ground floor and rent out the apartments on higher floors. It is now open to the public and also has art performances and showings. Considered a cultural center it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The façade of the building is said to look like an open quarry, which is why it is also called La Pedrera. There are shops and restaurants on the ground floor so even if you don’t have time to explore the whole building, you can do a little shopping there if nothing else.
La Sagrada Familia
The building of La Sagrada Familia began toward the end of Antoni Gaudi’s life. When he died in 1926, it was partially completed. But his work has continued in the hands of other artists. In 2019, it is still incomplete, although they hope to have it completed in 2026.
In Gaudi’s later years, he lived a life devoted to God. La Sagrada Familia exemplifies this devotion. The outside of the church tells the story of Jesus in vignettes covering the east and west sides. The east side is older and the portion of the building that Gaudi himself worked on.
The west side of La Sagrada Familia is newer and you’ll find more modern angular characteristics in the vignettes.
Extraordinary light from the stained glass windows fills the interior of La Sagrada Familia. However, the stained glass doesn’t resemble the glass found in the much earlier Gothic designed Cathedrals. Instead, the glass goes from blues and greens on the eastern side capturing the morning light to yellows, oranges, and reds on the western side emulating the sunset hours.
Looking up at the massive columns supporting the roof, you realize what a small creature you really are.
Across the street from the church on the east side is a lovely park with a pond. We were able to see the facade of La Sagrada Familia at night from across the pond one evening when few people were around. It was quiet with a few locals enjoying the coolness of the evening. I think this was my favorite spot for viewing this magnificent church.
Barri Gòtic (The Gothic Quarter)
The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona is the “old city” area. You’ll find some of the oldest buildings in Barcelona here. The day we explored this area was October 1, and the first anniversary of the failed referendum for Catalonia to become independent of Spain.
Arc de Triomf
We started out by heading toward Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, built as a gateway for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. It is a classically designed arch with a Spanish twist, unlike like other well-known arches in the world, such as the Arc de Triomphe in Parish, this one is built of brick following the neo-Mudejar style that was popular in Spain at the time.
On this day in October, when we arrived at the Arc, there was a crowd of people gathering for a march from the Arc down through the park below and to the harbor beyond. These were the people of Catalan, all dressed in the colors of the Catalan flag. Some were carrying flags. They were arriving from different directions and gathering around and just beyond the Arc.
While we certainly didn’t want to become involved in a political gathering with the potential for violence, we were curious about this gathering. You see, this didn’t appear to be a militant bunch of locals. Instead, these were mothers and fathers with their children in tow. There were grandparents holding hands with family members, young and old people with flags, and those wearing T-shirts with slogans. In other words, these were people just like you and me participating in a peaceful march in support of their beliefs. No violence. Our curiosity satisfied, we headed into the Barri Gòtic
Inside the Barri Gotíc
Once we started down the street leading to the Barri Gotíc, the streets began to narrow and with the tall buildings on either side of the streets, it became a bit darker in the late afternoon. You can just imagine that you are entering a different time and place.
Not to worry, the lights from the stores along the street and the street lights made it a pleasure to explore this old city.
We leisurely strolled down the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter, exploring the various shops and restaurants along the way.
We didn’t know exactly where we were but we knew as long as we headed west, we would end up at La Rambla. So we just took our time and stopped to gaze at the monuments we found along the way.
The photo above is of t
Eventually, we came upon the magnificent Cathedral of Barcelona. Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, it is a fabulous example of the Gothic architecture of that era. Although it was late, and the church had closed for the evening, I longed to explore more of this beauty.
By this time, we were in search of food! We found a good restaurant in the Barri Gòtic and the food and wine were a delightful end to our day. We managed to find tapas almost everywhere we looked. This was no exception. Ordering several small plates to share was a great way to sample all the different offerings. Yummy!
The Close of Our 3 Days in Barcelona
After dinner on the last of our 3 days spent in this glorious city, we strolled back to our apartment, up La Rambla to the Placa de Catalunya where we said good-bye to a monument shaped like an upside down staircase. The artist shaped it in this manner to represent the shape of Catalonia.
Then we passed by our favorite fountain at the crossroads of the Passeig de Gràcia and the Gran Via. It was a lovely, fitting good-bye.
There are so many more amazing sites to see in and around Barcelona. You can spend 3 days or a week there and not see everything! If you want to read more about planning a trip to Barcelona,
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