The first time I visited the city, way back in 2008, I don’t think the topic of how many days in Barcelona even crossed my mind. In those days, I tended to turn up in a city and check in at the first available hostel I could find, without any regard for when I might check out.
Although my travel style has done a complete 180º since then, discovering Barcelona in such a…stream-of-consciousness way has had a long-term impact on how I view Catalonia’s capital. Namely, that because of its sprawl and the huge number of attractions there—and, more importantly, the huge appeal of more intangible experiences in the city—getting to know Barcelona just requires longer than it does in most other cities.
Over the next few paragraphs, I’m going to qualify this general philosophy with more specific examples—and, eventually, come to a conclusion about just how many days you need in Barcelona.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Regardless of how many days in Barcelona you spend, I recommend being a bit more methodical about choosing a place to stay than I was during my first visit. As a general rule, I find that being somewhere near Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a good idea. Some great places I’ve stayed on recent trips include the quirky Hotel Continental, which is literally right on Las Ramblas and Hotel el Call, a boutique hotel right in the heart of la Ciutat Vella.
On the other hand, Barcelona is a hugely sprawled city; convenience isn’t necessarily the most important part of choosing a place to stay, especially not if you spend more than a few days here. Way back in 2008, for example, I stayed in a small hostel not far from Barceloneta Beach, which is Barcelona’s #1 relaxation destination. Another great area to stay is L’Eixample, which is admittedly much more sprawling than most people make it out to be in conversation.
My Favorite Things to Do in Barcelona
Tick the Sagrada Familia off your bucket list
Most visitors to Barcelona want to see the Sagrada Familia, but not all understand the significance of the church, which is the master work of famous Catalán artist Antoni Gaudí. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn, particularly if you spend the rest of your time in Barcelona discovering other Gaudi-related attractions, such as the surreal Parc Güell viewpoint or the colorful balconies of Casa Battló. The better news? Gaudi is not the only famous artist from Barcelona—visit Fundacio Joán Miró in Plaça d’Espanya for a primer on one of the others.
Get lost in the Gothic Quarter
Although its boundaries are somewhat amorphous, the Gothic Quarter (in other words, the area around Barcelona Cathedral—the Gothic one, not the comparatively modern Sagrada Familia) is one of my favorite places to explore in Barcelona. This charming old town, with narrow cobbled streets, should be a top priority, no matter how many days in Barcelona you’ve given yourself. When combined with nearby El Born, which is probably my favorite place for tapas in Barcelona, you could easily spend a full day here. The Ciutat Vella (Old City) is also not far from La Boqueria Market.
Spend (at least) an afternoon in Barceloneta
Looking back on my first trip to Barcelona, the most vivid (and, because of the heat and sun, most hazy) memories were from Barceloneta Beach, which remains one of my favorite city beaches in the world to this day (even though it was actually manmade just before the 1992 Olympics!). The adjacent district of La Barceloneta is also fun to explore, particularly if you’re hungry after an afternoon of sunbathing. From here, you can continue to Parc de la Ciutadella and visit Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomf, or rest up for a night of partying in l’Eixample.
Seek a higher perspective
Regardless of how long I spend in Barcelona, I like to put things in perspective—literally. While I was previously a big fan of doing this from the pool (of Olympics fame) near Montjüic Castle, I discovered a city center viewpoint on my latest trip, which offers a similar panorama, but without the haze and smog Montjüic’s greatest distance makes a bit too apparent for my taste. Unlimited Barcelona is completely worth the €12 (as of August 2022) you need to pay to access the viewing deck, to say nothing of the delicious, well-mixed cocktails on offers once you ascend.
Get out of town—or don’t
Conventional wisdom is that you should use Barcelona as a base to explore Catalonia, be that by visiting cities and towns like Girona and Sitges, or by venturing northeastward to the Costa Brava. I won’t knock any of these destinations—actually I will, I’m not really a fan of them if I’m honest—but I will say, particularly if it’s your first time to Barcelona, that it’s better to spend most of your time discovering the city center. For most travelers, a day is much better spent exploring Barcelona-proper than the less-spectacular places in its orbit.
Is Barcelona Worth Visiting?
Barcelona is a strange city. On one hand, having now explored Spain far beyond Barcelona (and Madrid), I can say that Catalonia’s capital isn’t nearly as fascinating to me as it used to be. This, combined with crowds that seem to get larger and more unruly every year, has made Barcelona’s luster wear off more every time I visit—not hating, that’s just the reality of how I feel.
On the other hand, regardless of how many days you stay in Barcelona and where else in Spain you’ve been, there is a certain magic to the city, one that never really goes away. My advice would probably be that if you’ve never been to Barcelona, the city is absolutely worth some time in your Spain itinerary. If you’ve been once or twice or many times? You might be fine skipping it, depending on how long you spend in Spain and where else you go.
Other FAQ About Visiting Barcelona
Is 3 days in Barcelona enough?
With 3 days in Barcelona, you can easily see the city’s top tourist attractions, from Gaudi-related sights like the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell, as well as Barceloneta Beach and the Gothic Quarter. On the other hand, with just three days, you won’t have much time to get lost in Barcelona’s neighborhoods, let alone to take day trips to nearby destinations like Girona and Sitges.
Is 5 days in Barcelona too much?
In no universe is 5 days in Barcelona too much. Depending on how quickly you explore, it might barely be enough to tick everything off your Barcelona bucket list! If anything, I’d say five days is the minimum amount of time you should plan to spend in Barcelona, at least if you want to have time to “feel” the city before and/or after you visit all your priority attractions.
Is 7 days too long in Barcelona?
If you plan to visit solely as a tourist, a week in Barcelona might start to draw out, not because the sights aren’t impressive, but because constantly queueing and dealing with crowds can be exhausting. If, on the other hand, you rent an Airbnb apartment and “live” in Barcelona for a week, you may find that a 7-day trip is just what the doctor ordered.
The Bottom Line
Unless you’re 23 and it’s the pre-Instagram era, you probably won’t be able to book a trip to Spain without first deciding how many days in Barcelona you should spend. As a result, I’m recommending you make spontaneity part of your trip design: Barcelona is a bit where an extra day or two can be the difference between a magical time and a miserable one. More specifically, if your Spain itinerary can accommodate it, I’d recommend staying at least 4-5 days in Barcelona, whether or not you take any day trips elsewhere in Catalonia. Not sure how Barcelona should fit into the rest of your travels? Hire me as your Travel Coach—and let me sweat the details.