Barcelona has long been a stop on many summer backpacker circuits of Europe. Now, with Mediterranean cruises growing in popularity, the Catalonian capital is surging with cruise goers looking to cram in as much of Barcelona as they can into roughly an eight hour day. While the city definitely deserves more time than that with its vibrant and diverse history, art, culture, and culinary scenes, it is possible to squeeze the highlights of Barcelona into a cruise ship stop.
Start your day with a tour of Gaudi’s La Sagrada
To many, Barcelona is known for its famed architectural history with Antonio Gaudi at the center. Even for those not enchanted by building and church design, you would be remiss not to soak in as much of Gaudi’s architecture as possible. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.
La Sagrada Familia is his most famous building. Yes, this is the church that has yet to be completed. Construction on the building began in 1882 with hopes to finish in 2026, a hundred years after Gaudi’s death. Even with its towering cranes and scaffolding, it’s worth a significant chunk of your time. You’ll want to make a beeline to it as soon as you disembark. I suggest a taxi, as it’s the quickest way to get there. Please be sure to book your tickets in advance on La Sagrada Familia’s web site. Admission is 15 EUR (17 USD), and it will sell out, especially when a cruise ship is in town.
Next, take in the rest of Gaudi’s Barcelona
Once you exit La Sagrada Familia, continue your Gaudi tour by walking west down Provencal for eight blocks until you reach La Pedrera. The avant-garde apartment building is impossible to miss (there will also be hordes of tourists snapping photos of it). Tours are available. However, I don’t recommend one unless you’re dedicating your day solely to Gaudi.
Follow Pg. de Gracia south and walk four blocks to the Block of Discord. Each of the buildings was designed by either Gaudi or one of his contemporaries. Tours are available, but once again, I don’t recommend one. There’s still so much more to see!
It’s time for a taste of Barcelona
You’ve probably worked up an appetite by now, but please don’t be tempted by any of the overly priced restaurants on La Rambla, which you’ll follow to Barcelona’s main market, La Boqueria. Enjoy window-shopping and people-watching as you walk down Barcelona’s busiest street. Watch your belongings and wallet though. La Rambla has some of the highest rates of petty crime and pickpockets in Europe.
La Boqueria is chalked full of produce stands, fishmongers, and butchers. There are also plenty of stalls selling various Spanish tapas and regional wine. Pull up a seat to the bar at one of these food stalls. You really can’t go wrong with any, but El Quim is a personal favorite. Order a glass of cava and whatever the chef recommends for food. Don’t be squeamish if your plate is lined with anchovies looking back at you. Also, be sure to sample Jamón Ibérico (de Bellota if they have it) - Spain’s most famous, melt-in-your-mouth ham.
Finish the day at your leisure
Now that you’ve hit the must-see sights and tastes of Barcelona, I suggest picking what interests you most to finish the day. For those who love touring churches, the Catedral de Barcelona is a glorious display of gothic architecture. Likewise, the cramp and winding walking streets of the Gothic Quarter are fun to explore (with plenty of bars for more tapas and cava). Or, take in some art at the Picasso Museum to round out your cultural tour of Barcelona.
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