By Rick & Sandi Griffin & McKenna, on October 18, 2013

48 hours in Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona on an overnight flight from the U.S. early on a Wednesday morning. The timing was perfect. The airport was virtually empty as we whizzed through customs to claim our luggage. Taxis were lined up waiting and we sped along to our hotel before most of the locals had even rolled out of bed. Since our rooms weren’t ready yet, we took to the streets of Barcelona to explore the neighborhood.

El Museu Blau

Directly next to our Barcelona hotel was the El Museu Blau, the Blue Museum. Inexpensive, just €6 for adults and kids under 16 free, its “Living Planet” exhibit is a journey through the history of our planet up to the present. Kids especially will enjoy the many interactive exhibits that focus on their curiosity and desire to learn.

Centro Comercial Diagonal Mar

Across the street was the Centro Comercial Diagonal Mar, otherwise known as the shopping mall. Not the place to spend your vacation but a great place to pass the time while waiting for your room to be made up and pick up anything you might have forgotten to bring from home. Its three stories high and packed full of shops, eateries, and people. After roaming in and out of the stores, we sat outside on the top floor’s cobblestone patio in one of the outdoor, umbrella-covered cafes for a light bite, and of course, to people watch.

Barcelona is known for its late-night dining and clubbing; a city that really springs to life after dark. But what if like us, you’re time zone challenged midlife travelers, or weary parents with kids in tow? Not to worry, Barcelona has plenty for families and early birds to do too.


Barcelona is home to 2.5 miles of beaches offering something for just about every taste in sun and sand. Depending on the beach you pick, you can bike, stroll along the boardwalk, surf, sail, windsurf, sip beverages under a beach hut, or even let it all hang out, literally.

La Rambla

More strolling, shopping, and eating welcomes you at La Rambla. La Rambla is Barcelona’s best-known street, beautifully shaded and lined by trees. You will either love it or hate it, since it can get crowded, especially when cruise ships dock. It’s great for people watching, but can also be notorious for pickpockets. 

Of all the stores and cafes along La Rambla, our favorite spot is the Boqueria Market.  Drawn in by the vibrant colors, there is aisle after aisle of stalls filled with produce, fish mongers and their fresh catches, breads, pastries, candies, charcuterie, cheeses, flowers, and so much more. It is a treat for all the senses. It is, what we imagine Barcelona to be.

Sagrada Familia

With 3 million visitors annually, Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the most visited monument in Spain. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, Sagrada Familia’s construction began in 1882 and according to estimates, won’t be completely finished until somewhere between 2020 and 2040.  It certainly makes us feel a bit better about our own incomplete DIY projects. That aside, this spectacular architectural masterpiece is not to be missed. On our first trip to Barcelona, we asked for directions about how we would know when we got there. We were told that we couldn’t miss it, and that it was the only church that looked like it was carved from wax – a melting church (and it does!). The church has three facades: the Nativity, Passion, and Glory. With eight spires rising well over 300 feet in the air, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building in the world when complete.

Getting Around

The metro was a breeze and is the perfect choice when you are pressed for time. A single ticket costs €2.00. A T10 ticket (10 rides for €9.80) is a cost-effective way to navigate the city. The T10 ticket is good for the main city center areas (zone 1) on the metro, FCG (similar to the metro), buses, and the tram.    

Viewfinder Tip: Buy your Barcelona Bus Turistic pass online and save 10%.

One of our favorite ways to see a city when we only have a short amount of time is the on-off double-decker bus. Barcelona Bus Turistic lets you get on and off as many times as you want with your one- or two-day pass. Your ticket entitles you to take three different routes with six transfer points that stop at 45 different points of interest. Buses run every 5 to 25 minutes depending on the season. A one-day pass for an adult is €26.00 and €15.00 for a child. If that’s not enough, the buses are equipped with free WiFi, which comes in handy when you factor in the cost of international phone calls!

Just because you only have a couple days doesn’t mean you can’t see and do what’s important to you. Whether you are in search of tapas, fun in the sun, history (some of which is a work in progress), or fabulous shopping, you will have a very fulfilling 48 hours in Barcelona.

What is your must-see in a destination when you only have 48 hours?