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We only had 24 hours in Barcelona but we managed to squeeze in 2 walking tours, 5 museums, multiple Gaudi buildings and the Arc de Triomph! Read our guide to this buzzing city to get inspired and for an itinerary of sights to fit in on a hopefully longer visit than just 24 hours!
4.50€ per pint of Guinness
*3€ per pint of local beer (Estrella)

Probably one of the most famous destinations in mainland (nay, the whole of?) Spain, we just had to see for ourselves. Problem was, we really only had 24 hours… Could it be done? Could we really see all of what Barcelona has to offer that makes it so beloved by so many? Well maybe not all but we had to give it a red hot go! Luckily we were there during the Long Night of the Museums Barcelona…

How we Saw Barcelona in just 24 Hours: The Long Night of the Museums Barcelona

The cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona

So do we feel like we achieved our goal? Can we say we’ve really seen Barcelona? Well, definitely the highlights! Certainly I was glad we saw the city centre, the Gothic Quarter, by both day and night. Daytime and nighttime Barcelona have quite a different feel. Once the graffitied shutters come down on the shops that line the streets, Barcelona by night can have an even more gritty, urban feel to it. It seemed safe though, and we didn’t even experience any issue with pickpockets, although friends of ours have, so just be vigilant/sensible. Pickpockets are most active around La Rambla, the famous pedestrian mall lined with bars/restaurants, shops and market style shopping. Personally I was not such a fan of this street and noticed also that the streets of the Gothic Quarter nearest La Rambla, by night, also felt the most loud and unsafe. As we moved away from La Rambla the crowds and the bars became nicer and far less touristy/filled with cringe worthy destination bucks and hens party groups.

Pleasant to look at in the day, the city can take on a gritty feel at night – especially near La Rambla

We had an ace up our sleeve when it came to trying to achieve the somewhat impossible: seeing Barcelona in under 24 hours. The day of our visit coincided with the Long Night of Museums Barcelona, an annual cultural event that started in Berlin in 1997 and has since spread to over 120 other cities worldwide including Barcelona. For this event, the city’s participating museums stay open until 1am, and have free entry from 7pm! So as the sun went down we went “museum clubbing”. We set ourselves an achievable goal of attending 5 museums on this night. This was already probably one too many as we had been out sight-seeing since 10am that day.

Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia takes the Spanish motto of “mañana” to another level – it was started in 1882 and still hasn’t been finished!

From 10am to 1am (that night) we slogged through 2 walking tours, 3 Gaudi buildings, 2 markets, 5 museums, 1 park, 1 metro station and 1 harbour for a total of 20.1km (or nearly 30,000 steps!).

Five museums in one night – yes, it can be done!

We managed to try a meal of tapas and a more (more!?) informal snack style meal of pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”). Our tapas meal featured Spanish classics including Tortilla: a Spanish style omelette with potato and sometimes onions/ peppers. We also tried some Catalan favourites the “Pa amb Tomàquet” (Catalan for bread with tomato) and Patatas Bravas (good potatoes). Bread with tomato is pretty much as the name suggests: toasted bread is rubbed with oil and tomato and this is the general spread of choice rather than butter. The potatoes are GOOD because they are small golden crispy roasted pieces dressed Catalan style with a sauce containing chilli and vinegar. Pintxos are often attributed as being a Barcelona phenomenon but actually originate from the Basque region, and likewise tapas is also an import to Catalan cuisine. A pintxos is a single serving of tapas like Tortilla, speared to a piece of bread with a toothpick. The toothpicks are counted to tally each individual’s bill. Perfect bar food, although we barely sampled the local beers or wine; one local craft beer and one D.O Catalunya (Catalonian) red wine only, and not a single Guinness! We really failed ourselves and our readers on getting acquainted with the Barcelona beverage culture, but we’ll blame that on lack of time… “musuem-clubbing” doesn’t have much of a drinking component. From what we saw the beverage culture looks extensive and inviting! Think mojitos, sangria, Spanish and Catlan wines and of course craft beers, and Guinness on tap in at least one pub we rushed by.

Open air markets are a great place to find all kinds of food and drink

Confused by the mention of Catalan vs Spanish? We were too. If you are a fan of history and/or especially politics then Barcelona is a very interesting city to learn more about. Barcelona is one of the four provinces that make up the autonomous community of Catalonia (Catalunya). Although part of the Kingdom of Spain today, historically Catalonia was a separate principality. Political maneuverings beginning particularly in the medieval era were cataclysmic for the emergence of today’s unified Kingdom of Spain and also responsible for the city of Barcelona’s distinct appearance today: that is the preservation of a beautiful historic city centre (the Gothic Quarter) as well as the grid formation and wide avenues of the extended city from the late 1800s. It’s a nuanced and confusing political history to which I could not do justice, so I’ll leave that to the the city’s walking tour guides to clear up for you. For now though, if you’d like to ensure you are doing your utmost to be culturally sensitive/savvy in your interactions why not try ordering your beer in Catalan? And until next time please be sure to leave your comments below to help other would-be Barcelona visitors make the most out of their (hopefully longer!) time in this great city.

Una cervesa si us plau (a beer please!) Salut! (Cheers) Erin and Ryan.

Our top picks

‘Gaudi & Modernisme’ and ‘Historic Centre’
We always choose one of the “free” walking tour companies – the ones which are free until the end where you decide to tip based on your budget/enjoyment level. In Barcelona we went with the company Next Walking Tours as we liked how they offered two separate and distinct tours; one covered just the historic centre of Barcelona (the Gothic Quarter) and the other the Gaudi and Modernist architecture. We were lucky enough to have a historian take us on our Gaudi tour, I know right, you’re thinking we would have been better off with an architect! But actually this architectural movement cannot be divorced from the historical events of this city. Truly they were the catalyst to Barcelona enjoying so much of the world’s most unique architecture in one place. Even with each of these tours taking 2.5 hours they still only barely scratch the surface of some of the architectural and historic secrets of this city, so they serve as really good jumping off point to further your own investigations.

The influence of Gaudi is everywhere in Barcelona – even where you walk – he designed the footpath tiles.

The view from the MNAC is quite something, we were so grateful to be able to visit this incredible museum, building and grounds on the Long Night of the Museums Barcelona

Thanks to our mini-marathon of museum touring on the Long Night of the Museums we feel well placed to opine that Barcelona contains some truly top notch museums! Not only in content but especially in their layouts, availability of signposted information and curation.Our favourites were MUHBA (Museo D’Historia De Barcelona) and MNAC (Museo Nacional D’Art De Catalonia). MUHBA was a firm favourite for its collection, its an archaeology/history museum presenting Barcelona’s settlement history from Roman times through Moorish occupation to today with a bit of a twist, we won’t ruin the surprise: it’s a must visit! MNAC houses a robust collection of Barcelona’s top artist’s works. What makes this museum extra special in our opinion is the building it is housed in, the Palau Nacional (National Palace) the main sight for the 1929 International Exhibition. It also has an excellent view of the city as it stands atop the Montjuic (a hill overlooking Barcelona). As we went on the Long Night of the Museums our entries were all free so we didn’t note the admission prices. If you are a museum lover you may want to look into the Barcelona City Card as it comes with many discounts, free public transport and some free entry passes to certain museums such as the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum) where they give you free chocolate tastings!

If you love food this market is a must! Some of the most colourful displays of exotic fruits, side by side with fresh seafood, myriad hams (jamons) on the bone and little bars for grabbing (a mostly standing room only) lunch of pintxos and/or fresh seafood. If the ‘standing room only’ feels a bit too much of a juggle for you, grab an assortment of your favourites take-away (para llevar) and head over to the Park Güell to eat amongst the inspiring surrounds as designed by Gaudi. It’s a half hour away by Metro but well worth seeing. (NB there are free parts and ticketed access only areas.)

Standing room only inside this market!

Having only 24 hours in this fantastic city, we are bound to have missed something – tell us in the comments below!

Want to know specifics?
If you’d like to read more about any of the places we have stayed, ate, drank or partied, check out the Reviews link in the main menu at the top of the screen.

Ryan & Erin
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Ryan & Erin

Founders at Downbubble Travels
Erin Hardie and Ryan Platten are teachers, travel writers and photographers/web admins from Perth Western Australia. A mutual love of travel and trying new flavours brought them together (til death do they part!). They have created this blog after having each travelled to over fifteen countries individually before joining forces. They now seek to bring a little taste of the places they go to the walls of others (please pin us!) and to share information with other travel lovers!
Ryan & Erin
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