Three days in Barcelona – delve into the heart of the city – day 1

To claim that you’ve ‘seen’ Barcelona may not be possible. As regular visitors and residents will tell you, this city offers something new on a day-by-day, and street-by-street, basis. But for those of you on a tight schedule, we’ve decided to put our heads together to attempt the nigh-on impossible task of distilling the best that Barcelona has to offer into a 3-day itinerary.

Day One

Take a quick glance at a map of Barcelona and you’ll notice how the city fans out towards the mountains from a nucleus of entangled streets. This nucleus is the Ciutat Vella, the ‘old town’, and this part of the city will be the focus of your first day. The area provides an ideal starting point for visiting Barcelona, as it not only demonstrates the origins of the city, but is also brimming with iconic sights.

09:00 – navigate Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas by DDohlerMake your way to Plaça de Catalunya, which sits on the edge of the old town and is the main transport hub. From here you can walk down Las Ramblas, the world’s best-known tree-lined avenue. This street is always awash with tourists, so it’s easy to be swept along by the crowds, past all the flower stalls and street performers. On your way down Las Ramblas keep an eye out for the pavement mosaics by surrealist master Joan Miró.

Your most important stop, though, will be the Mercat de la Boquería, Europe’s largest food market – the perfect place to pick up some local produce and a freshly made fruit juice to keep you going.

10:00 – relax in the squares of the Gótico

It’s time to take a left turn into the Gótico (the Gothic quarter). Just off Las Ramblas you’ll find the splendid Plaça Reial, a neoclassical gem that happens to contain Antoni Gaudí’s first work in the city – the lampposts by the central fountain. Take this opportunity to grab a coffee in one of the cafés that line this teeming square.

The Gótico has numerous one-off boutiques and galleries which are great for nosing around in. Carrer de Ferran is particularly good for window shopping and at the end of this street is Plaça de Sant Jaume, Barcelona´s civic square. Here you’ll find the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government, with the city’s town hall opposite.

11:00 - meet the geese in the cloister

Carrer del Bisbe by katherinepriceFrom this square, veer left onto Carrer del Bisbe, where you’ll see a much-photographed Gothic-style arch, and come out in front of the 13th-century Cathderal. (Or, Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, to give it its full name). As the most prominent Catalan Gothic building in the city, the Cathedral is awe-inspiring on both the outside and the inside. Its numerous chapels, dedicated to individual saints, are all remarkable works of craftsmanship in their own right, and you’re likely to see devout visitors taking a moment with their favoured saint.

The cloister also houses a surprising bunch of residents – 13 geese, one for each year in the life of Saint Eulàlia, the church’s martyr namesake. Particularly in the summer this part of Barcelona can feel a bit claustrophobic – to help you get your bearings above the warren of the old town, take a lift to the cathedral’s roof. If you’re keen to find a part of the Gótico for a moment’s peace and quiet seek out the haunting tranquillity of Plaça de Sant Felip Neri.

13:30 – enjoy lunch like a local

Hungry? Well, you’re in the right place – there’s no shortage of choice when it comes to food in the old town. To avoid the more tourist-oriented eateries in the Gótico, you could head across Via Laietana to Born – eating here will give you a better chance of mingling with the locals. For tapas try Bubó or for plentiful, good-value portions of paella in an intimate setting try Mar de la Ribera. When eating out at lunchtime it’s a good idea to look for a set menu, or ‘menu del diá’, which can easily fill you up for a reasonable price.

15:00 - get some divine inspiration

After taking your time over lunch, begin to explore the Born district. For several decades the area has been buzzing with artistic activity and offers a quieter, more authentic alternative to the Gótico. However it’s just as steeped in history. In contrast to the cathedral you visited in the morning, the church of Santa María del Mar on Passeig del Born, is a more austere but equally inspiring piece of gothic architecture. The story of this church has inspired a prize-winning novel and the proportions of its interior are widely considered an example of medieval architecture par excellence.

16:00 – rummage about in the Born

Emerge from the light and airy interior and look for Carrer Montcada which starts just behind the church. This street is crammed with museums and galleries. It’s also interesting in its own right, with some of the best examples of secular medieval architecture in the city. The main attraction on this street is the Museu Picasso, exhibiting the painter’s earlier works, and is a must for fans of this incredibly influential figure. Montcada is also home to the Disseny Hub, with a fine collection of design and applied arts, and the Museu Barbier-Mueller d’ art Precolombí, a well-regarded collection of pre-Colombian works. Let yourself get lost in one of these great collections.

17:00 – gawp at Catalan craftsmanship

Palau de la Musica Catala by Jaume MenesesThe Born district extends further inland, where its pedestrianised streets gradually become more residential and lined with small bars and fruit shops. Carrer Sant Pere Mes Alt has one of the best buildings in the entire city – the Palau de la Música Catalana . If you have time, a tour of this unbelievably decadent Modernista concert hall is worthwhile (although don’t forget to buy your tickets in advance). If not, just admiring the façade of this shrine to Catalan culture is an event in itself.

18:00 - cool down by the sea

That’s almost it for day one…

For the perfect tonic after a day’s pounding the city streets, hop on the metro from the nearby Urquinaona station on line 4 to Barceloneta.This will bring you out near the city’s stylishly renovated waterfront. The laid-back atmosphere of this area makes it one of the best spots in the city to sip a drink and look back at the old town. There are loads of options for dinner, particularly when it comes to seafood. Don´t forget that that in Catalonia, like the rest of Spain, people tend to eat dinner later in the evening. If your appetite returns with a vengeance, we recommend Rangoli, an excellent Indian restaurant (its tasting menu is a real treat). Otherwise, as you might expect, seafood restaurants predominate in this part of the city. Can Maño is a truly authentic Barcelonan place to eat – book ahead to avoid disappointment in this extremely popular and slightly raucous restaurant.