48 hours in Barcelona
A great way to get to know Barcelona is to do a lot of walking. If you're not up for it, you can get nearly everywhere on easy and affordable public transport. Kick off your 48 hours with a stroll along the city's most famous boulevard, La Rambla, making sure to stop in to the Boqueria market to marvel at the rainbow of fresh fruit and veg, and you can even stop for a bite to eat at one of the stalls. Off La Rambla you can wander through the medieval alleyways of the Barri Gòtic, including through the Call (Barcelona's Jewish Quarter), and squares such as Plaça Sant Jaume and Plaça del Pi, making sure to seek out the hidden-away Roman columns of the Temple Romà d'August.
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Cross Via Laeitana from the Barri Gòtic and you're in El Born, a favourite area for going out at night. Head to Pastrami Bar, whether you're hungry or not – if you are, know they make a mean pastrami sandwich, the likes of which you won't find anywhere else in Barcelona. But if you're after amazing cocktails, duck in anyway, as behind that not-so-secret wooden fridge door, you'll enter into El Paradiso – a speakeasy that's not just any cocktail bar. This is an elegant cave lined with wooden slats where Giacomo Gianotti was awarded best cocktail mixologist in Spain in 2014. But don't worry, their aim is to creat signature cocktails at affordable prices: most of their imaginative and potent house creations cost a lot less than at a highbrow cocktail bar. If you're in the mood for more out of the night, afterwards you can stop by Magic Club for some rock and roll and a bit of a dance.
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Start your day in the incredible surroundings of Park Güell, one of the most iconic green spaces in Barcelona, declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, and one of Gaudí's most important works. The architect wanted to emulate English garden cities and became obsessed with integrating nature into his designs. There are several important elements in the park: the Hall of One Hundred Columns (though it actually has 86); the square with the mosaic bench in the form of a serpent, and the salamander on the main steps. Since the end of 2013, a charge was introduced to enter the park; however, there are options for free entry.
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Keep the Gaudí and modernisme theme going as you head down from the park. You won't be missing the Sagrada Família today, but you do have time to pop by one of Gaudí's lesser-known buildings, Casa Vicens, tucked away in a small street in Gràcia and just opened to the public in late 2017 for the first time. From there you could head over to Av Diagonal to and marvel at Casa de les Punxes and Casa Planells. Alternatively, you can take the metro from near Casa Vicens to Av Diagonal and walk down Passeig de Gràcia to just hit the modernisme biggies: La Pedrera, Casa Amatller and Casa Batlló. Just around the corner is a must-see museum – the Fundació Antoni Tàpies – which was founded by Barcelona's most celebrated living artist, and the building itself is one of the earliest examples of modernisme to combine exposed brick and iron.
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Here it is at last. Gaudí's masterpiece and life's work, the Sagrada Família basilica. You might know the work started as far back as 1866, and Gaudí took over in 1883, working on it until his death in 1926. The hope now is that it will finally be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of the Catalan architect's death. You can spend as little or as much time as you like during your visit, marvelling at the two very different façades outside and the amazing, relatively new, stained-glass work inside. There are plenty of price options, from a basic entry to various guided tours. Before or after, you might like to stroll up or down Av Gaudí, lined with trees, bars and restaurants, and have a look as well at (or a visit to, if you've got the time) the modernista Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site.
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Head to the Raval and into Two Schmucks for a bit of everything. You can eat there (try their popular brunch at night), have a pick-me-up in the form of a quality coffee, grab a beer, or lose yourself in their cocktail menu, which changes every month and is a catalogue of creativity and technique from the coolest of cool bars and skilled bartenders. All are welcome, though you're greeted by a sign that tells you a bit more about the schmucks' favourite things: 'We like dogs, spaghetti and people with long hair.' Leave your cares – and all formalities – at the door.
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Get your clubbing fix at one of the city's favourite spots, Sala Apolo. This is a place that's been around for three quarters of a century, and has seen it all. Frankly you could spend every night of the week at Apolo, with genre-spanning live music, weekly and monthly parties, and regular DJ sessions to keep you and the good vibes moving. Check the schedule to see what's on in advance if you must, but you're pretty much guaranteed a great night out whatever it is.
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This morning you're back in the Barri Gòtic for a visit to the city's central Cathedral, and if you're lucky you'll catch locals out front performing a traditional Catalan dance called the sardana. Take a moment to enjoy a local favourite square, Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, with its Baroque church that betrays evidence of Civil War bombings, and the Placa del Rei, surrounded by ruins and where you'll often find buskers or other live music performances. If you're drawn to the ruins, don't miss a stop into the Barcelona History Museum, featuring some 4,000sq m (43,000sq ft) of subterranean Roman excavations – streets, villas and storage vats for oil and wine, all discovered by accident in the late 1920s.
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Time for your visit to the Picasso Museum, which has had a home in Barcelona since 1963. By no means an overview of the artist's work, the museum is rather a record of the vital formative years that the young Picasso spent nearby at La Llotja art school, and later hanging out with Catalonia's fin-de-siècle avant-garde. The seamless presentation of Picasso's development from deft pre-adolescent portraits to sketchy landscapes to the intense innovations of his Blue Period is unbeatable, and the pièce de résistance is the complete series of 58 canvases based on Velázquez's famous 'Las Meninas', donated by Picasso himself. Afterwards treat yourself to a popular Barcelona ritual with a pre-lunch vermouth.
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Make the most of your Sunday afternoon by weaving through the seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta, where you'll find a bar or restaurant every few feet at the ground floor of residential apartment buildings. The succulent smells will invite you to indulge in another Sunday afternoon favourite – lunch with a good helping of fresh seafood, whether it's on its own or in a paella or soupy rice dish. If you've still got time, what better way to spend your final moments in Barcelona than with an afternoon siesta on one of the city's best beaches.
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