A guide to visiting Barcelona in 72 hours

A city full of rich culture going all the way back to the Roman empire, Barcelona has a mixture of old and new architecture. Blessed with good weather ranging from 7 to 10 degrees in winter and 22 to 25 degrees in summer, it is great to visit the city any time of the year.

If you are doing a trip in Europe, you must visit Barcelona as one of your pitstops. Here is a guide on how to make the most if you only have 72 hours in this Mediterranean city.

Day 1

La Rambla and La Boqueria Food Market

Check into your hotel and head straight to La Rambla, one of the most famous streets in the city. Start first at La Boqueria Food Market and grab some fresh fruit juice to quench your thirst as you navigate through the building. It houses stalls selling fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, chocolates, nuts, olive oils, cured meats, among many other items.

There are also several food stalls where you can grab brunch with a glass of Cava, the local version of sparkling wine, or Sangria. One place at the market which many guidebooks recommend was Bar Boqueria with fresh seafood platters and tapas. Unfortunately, the eatery was crowded when I visited, and I didn't have a lot of time, so I had to give it a miss.

When your tummy is filled up, stroll down La Rambla and explore the different shops. There is also a large departmental store, El Corte Inglés, at the Plaça Catalunya Square at the end of the street.

One thing you must look out for is Font de Canaletes, a water fountain that is part of a lamp post. An inscription on the floor says that when one drinks out of the fountain, they will return to Barcelona. I filled up my water bottle, so I would probably be making a few trips back if the legend is true.

Be careful when you are in the area. Our guide warned us as the area can be very crowded and popular with tourists, hence it is also one of the areas where pickpockets frequent. One tip is to keep your bags in front of you, where you can see them.

Passeig de Gràcia

About a five-minute stroll from La Rambla is the "Orchard Road" of Barcelona. Luxury houses and high-street brands dot both sides of the streets. If shopping is not your thing, there are Casa Batllo and La Pedrera, two buildings which are masterpieces of the late architect Antoni Gaudi.

Casa Batllo stands out with its skull-shaped balconies with bone-like supporting pillars. Tickets for adults cost 21.50 euros (about S$37). La Pedrera is a building with wave-like patterns and comprises of two apartment buildings. It was marked as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Tickets for adults cost 16.50 euros.

You will see several street peddlers, but do not be tempted to buy anything from them as it is illegal to do so, and you will receive a ticket if you're caught.

FC Barcelona match

When in Barcelona, there is nothing more memorable than watching a FC Barcelona match. Camp Nou - home of FC Barcelona - is accessible by train, although it is a bit of a walk. From Passeig de Gràcia, it takes about half an hour, depending on train schedule and your walking speed. Football matches usually start in the evening, so plan your schedule accordingly. The stadium seats about 90,000 people, and it is usually at full capacity every match. It seems like a family affair for the locals that even the babies, dressed in football jerseys, are out to play as parents watch the sport, much loved by the Spaniards. The atmosphere is also very warm and for a non-football fan, I found myself swept up along with the cheering crowd's enthusiasm. Tickets range from 58 to 164 euros.

Dinner

Dinner at Barcelona starts from 8.30pm. Do try the local Catalan cuisine when you are there. They have their own version of paella, Fideuà, which is made of noodles instead of rice. Of course, there is the famous local dish Iberico ham. The tastiest version are made from Iberico pigs that eat acorns. The ham is sliced into thin slivers that taste a little nutty and savoury without being too salty.

One of the restaurants to try is El Principal. It has a good range of tapas that is done really well. The mini ham croquettes and fried artichokes are also worth a try.

Day 2

Sitges

Spend half a day away from Barcelona at the beautiful beach town of Sitges. It is only a 35-minute train ride from Barcelona. Hit the beach or walk around the little shops which are open from 10am to 8pm daily. There are also several museums and structures that were built in the 14th century.

Visit the Museum Maricel and Palau Maricel, built by American industrialist and art collector Charles Deering with the help of local artist Miquel Utrillo i Morlius. Museum Maricel was Deering's living quarters while Palau Maricel housed his art collection. Both buildings are connected by a small bridge. The Museum Maricel was closed for refurbishment when I visited, but it would reopen later this year. The word "Maricel" means "sea" and "sky" in Catalan. Sea and sky motifs are everywhere in the building decor of Palau Maricel, from floor tiles to ceiling.

Have lunch at one of the many restaurants by the beach and enjoy the sea view with al fresco dining.

La Sagrada Familia

Back at Barcelona, this is a must-go tourist attraction. Don't be alarmed by all the scaffolding, yes, the building is still under construction since 1882 when the foundation stone was first laid. There is still much to be in awe of even before you step into the building.

Probably one of Gaudi's most famous works, the building facade has intricate sculptures depicting scenes from the Bible. Gaudi's attention to detail is evident. The Nativity facade of the building had several sculptures and each has a different face as Gaudi had used human models of people who lived or worked nearby. If you wonder why the style of the Passion facade on the other side of the church is different, that is because another artist Josep Maria Subirachs was commissioned to finish it in 1986.

Entering the building, you will notice several majestic stained glass panels. When the sunlight shines through, they paint the stone-coloured columns in a myraid of colours. Tickets start at 14.80 euros. 

Tip: Go early as there is always a queue that can sometimes even snake around the block of the compount

Day 3

La Roca Village

Start off the day with some outlet shopping at La Roca Village. There are shuttle buses to take you there from the city centre, which costs 20 euros for a return ticket. If you are driving, there is free parking. There are over 100 shops and another 40 more brands will be added as there are plans for expansion. Sign up for a free VIP card when you are there to get further discounts off non-promotional items, this is only for tourists. You can also book a 15-minute helicopter ride at the Information Centre for 200 euros. My favourite part of the place is the free Wi-Fi - very convenient to send images of items to family and friends who have asked for help to buy certain items.

Have lunch there and rest tired arms and leg from all the shopping at one of five restaurants and cafes there.

Camp Nou

Can't get enough of football? Head back to Camp Nou on a non-match day for a museum and stadium tour. See the trophy cabinet and football memorabilia up close. You get to go behind the scenes and see what the media and players see. Visit the visiting team's change room - they have a hot tub - and take a photo with the UEFA Champions League trophy replica in the press room. Tickets start at 23 euros.

Park Guell

End off the trip with another Gaudi masterpiece at Park Guell. It was originally meant to be a housing estate for well-off families, unfortunately due to several factors such as lack of proper transportation from the site to the city centre, the project became unviable and the owner Eusebi Guell halted the project. You can still see several buildings and features that Gaudi had completed such as the spiral ramps which winds around the area, the Teatre Grec which was a large open square framed with an undulating bench designed in classic Gaudi tile-shard mosaic. But perhaps the most recognisable feature is the entrance and porter's lodge which is on the many Barcelona magnets and postcards. Access to the park is free, but there is a separate Monumental Zone which includes entry to the Teatre Grec at 7 euros for adult tickets.

Exploring Barcelona

Of course, there are many more sites in Barcelona to visit, but for a brief experience, these places cover the two iconic things Barcelona is known for: Football and Gaudi's architecture. It is a place I would recommend spending more time to fully take in all the sights.

natlim@sph.com.sg

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