When you are deciding what to do in Barcelona for 3 days, La Sagrada Familia must be at the top of your list. Because it is not just a famous church like so many others in Europe. This is where the heart of Barcelona beats. Where you can experience Barcelona’s passion for creativity, its love of modernist art, where Gaudi’s unusual style is celebrated.
Barcelona is a bold and sophisticated city, where eye-catching architecture and modern art surrounds you. It wears its culture on its sleeve. Artwork will surprise you as you round a corner or look up as you walk. Sculpture looms over you from the roadside, drawing your attention with its vibrancy. It is not locked away in formal galleries.
This is a city with an artist’s view of the world. Where interesting is more important than beautiful.
What to do in Barcelona for 3 days
While Sagrada Familia is a definite must-see, there are many other sights and experiences that are well worth fitting into your short stay.
Barcelona essentials –
- Wonder at the Sagrada Familia
- Get lost amongst the Barri Gotic laneways
- Sample mouth-watering delights at La Boqueria Mercat
- Rest your legs on the Hop On Hop Off bus
Barcelona maybes –
- Gaudi architecture – Parc Guell, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila
- Montjuic mountain, cable car and magic fountain
- Barceloneta beaches, restaurants and bars
- Camp Nou and FC Barcelona museum for the soccer fans
- Montserrat – a mountaintop monastery an hour out of Barcelona
We arrived in Barcelona after flying from Sydney via Dubai. We had travelled for about 30 hours and moved 7 hours back in time zone, so one of our main goals was to get over our jet lag before beginning our Mediterranean cruise.
With only 3 days in Barcelona, the “essentials” were enough for us.
Top things to do in Barcelona
The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (The Basilica of the Holy Family) was absolutely everything that I hoped for – Gaudi’s inspiringly beautiful combination of nature and religion.
While much of its design is based on traditional cathedral architecture with plenty of Christian symbolism, Gaudi was particularly inspired by nature, light and colour. He said, “The intimacy and depth is that of a wood, which will be the interior of the Temple of the Sagrada Familia.”
Standing amongst its vast forest of columns lifts up your heart. Less due to any religious fervour than to the joy of its uniqueness.
It is this simple beauty on a grand scale which gives this church an inclusive, welcoming feel. It is a spectacular building whether or not it has any religious meaning to you.
The west wall of stained glass with its oranges, yellows and reds looked like it was on fire.
Sagrada Familia for kids
I didn’t want the kids’ memories of Europe to be being dragged through endless churches, so I chose only this one to visit. I explained this to the kids so they would understand how important this visit was to me and they were brilliant. They truly really enjoyed it.
For them the highlight was going up the Nativity tower, which I will go into in more detail in another post, but the audioguide was really helpful too. Although there wasn’t a specific children’s guide and the kids were not allowed to have their own, we could share the adult ones and the brief, simple commentary meant that it held their interest.
Sagrada Familia tips
- Make sure you book your tickets online before you go to get your choice of entry time and to avoid queuing when you get there.
- The playground and park across the road is a good way to keep the kids occupied while waiting for your entry time.
- We got there on the Hop On Hop Off Bus from Placa de Catalunya, but when choosing your entry time keep in mind that the first bus doesn’t leave Catalunya until 9am. We also had to wait half an hour to get back on the bus after our visit because it was so busy. A taxi may be a better idea.
- Make sure you dress “appropriately”. While we saw all sorts of outfits being worn and plenty of flesh on display, these are their clothing guidelines.
Wandering the winding laneways of the old town is the best way to experience many European cities and Barcelona is no exception. We loved staying at our Barri Gotic hotel (Gothic Quarter) and exploring on foot.
Getting a little bit lost is half the fun!
La Boqueria Mercat
With its impressive and colourful displays, La Boqueria fresh food market is a fascinating spot to discover. Just off La Rambla and full of friendly stall holders and cheap snacks.
We enjoyed giant empanadas (more like a pastie), freshly squeezed juice and a huge range of fruit neatly packaged up with a fork to enjoy on the go.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
Barcelona is an ideal city to explore via the Hop On Hop Off Bus. It is enjoyable to sit and relax and listen to the commentary and, with three different routes to try, it covers all the sights you will want to visit.
Placa de Catalunya at the top of La Rambla is the start and finish point for the two main routes – red and blue. You can buy tickets here or buy them online beforehand like we did.
We bought a two day ticket and did the red route on the first day and the blue on the second. Our main reason for getting the two day ticket was to use it to get to Sagrada Familia, but in retrospect a taxi may have been easier due to the timetable restrictions and crowds mentioned above.
The red route is the best for driving past the main sights, but at a 2 hour round trip, we found the kids got a bit bored eventually. I recommend choosing at least one or two spots to get off so they can have a run around. We chose to get off at Barceloneta and went for a walk around this beach area.
There’s a couple of different bus brands, but we chose Bus Turistic which is connected to the City Sightseeing brand that is well known in many cities. They even have a retractable roof for the top deck if it rains.
This was as close as we got to Parc Guell. Notice we’re on the wrong side of the fence?
We decided to visit this Gaudi-designed garden at the last minute and weren’t overly disappointed to miss it, but it was annoying to do the long, steep walk from the bus stop only to find the next available entry time was 6.30pm (it was 2pm).
So if you do want to visit, then definitely buy tickets online beforehand.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Check out my article on the best family room Barcelona has to offer –
Where to eat in Barcelona
Pans is a handy coffee shop chain that we came across regularly. Perfect for a coffee, pastry (filled croissant, donut) or sandwich on the go. There’s even one around the corner from the hotel above.
These are particularly great for when you need a toilet. There are no public toilets, so use the facilities when you purchase a snack or meal.
This casually cool burger cafe is half Spanish and half Australian. There’s even an Australian burger with beetroot on the menu and Coopers beer is served.
Super friendly and helpful staff serve absolutely delicious burgers. There are several locations, but we went to Ferran (Carrer de Ferran, 10), just off La Rambla near Placa Reial.
Xurreria dels Banys Nous
This is the most amazing old school churros place in the Barri Gotic, just around the corner from the hotel above (Carrer dels Banys Nous, 8).
Take-away only – churros with nutella 2 euros each, sugar-covered churros 1.20 euros for 5.
We visited many times during our 3 days!
Although tapas is typically eaten much later in the evening, we tried the wonderful Tabarlot just off La Rambla for dinner at around 6.30pm (Carrer de San Pau, 4). At that time most people were just drinking, but we felt very welcome for a meal.
They serve delicious fresh tapas with lovely service. Miss 10 could not get enough of the chicken strips!