Unless you’re booking a cruise from Barcelona, your time in this beachside metropolis will be limited. Don’t waste precious hours catching rays on the sand and pick up the pace, soaking in Spanish culture at such talked about spots as La Sagrada Familia, architect Antoni Gaudí’s most lauded creation, and El Born, a decidedly chic neighborhood brimming with one-off boutiques and cool bars.
Because the number of hours spent in port varies by cruise, we’ve broken down your day for easy maneuvering from metro Drassanes (the closest metro to port), no matter when you arrive. Have lunch for breakfast, spend the day shopping or get lost in the old city. It’s up to you.
9am — 11am
Brunch at La Boqueria
Mercado de la Boqueria is equally popular with locals and tourists, who you’ll often see wandering around snapping photos of the fresh seafood, rows of just-squeezed juices and giant legs of jamón serrano hanging throughout the stalls. Bring cash if you want to nosh on fresh fruit, nuts and chocolates, which are sold by the pound. For something more filling and still traditional, order spaghetti aux fruits de mer (spaghetti with mussels and mollusks) at one of the kiosk restaurants. Kiosko Universal makes a great one for just over 10 euros.
Tip: It’s a covered, outdoor market, so expect some kiosks to close anywhere between 3 and 4p.m. (each vendor keeps different hours).
Stroll Las Ramblas
This famous boulevard, a few steps from La Boqueria is known for its street vendors, fun people watching and notoriously stealthy pickpockets. You’ll want to walk its entirety, or at least a good portion of it, to get the full experience. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the crowds (walk away from La Boqueria and you’ll find yourself in the old city) but pay close attention to your personal items.
Wander far enough down Las Ramblas (about 15 minutes) and you’ll find yourself in this bustling square with department stores and multilevel outposts of Zara, Pull and Bear and other Spanish brands. Rebajas, or sales, happen twice a year (January through mid February; and June through mid July), which is when you’ll find this area particularly congested.
Tip: Casa Batlló, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, is a 10-minute walk from Plaça Catalunya on Passeig de Gracia, which is diagonally across the square when you enter via Las Ramblas. Tour it for approximately 20 euros or simply stand across the street and admire the remarkable architecture on your way to lunch.
Metro: Plaça Catalunya
Noon – 2pm
Eat like a Spaniard
A mere 5-minute walk from Casa Batlló or one stop to metro Diagonal is Cervecería Catalana, a slightly modern take on a traditional Spanish cervecería — a fact that bodes well for travelers who may not master the language since most servers speak English and the bar has single-serving tapas you can point at and order. There’s an assortment of montaditos (toasts) and other cold tapas that change daily, so make sure to sample a few of those, but save some room for the restaurant’s signature dishes: huevos cabreaos (skinny fries, brava sauce and a fried egg) and crema Catalana, the region’s namesake version of crème brûlée.
Tip: If you’re unsure about whether to order an alcoholic drink with your meal, keep this in mind: Wine and beer are just a few bucks more than soft drinks and seldom imported.
Marvel at La Sagrada Familia
From metro Diagonal, it’s a 10-minute metro ride to La Sagrada Familia — the most visited monument in Spain and a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and you’ll need at least an hour to tour the beautiful cathedral, which is still a work in progress. We won’t spoil your visit with details of its significance or estimated completion date but will warn you of the inexplicably long ticket lines. Purchase yours ahead of time online (you’ll need to pick a time slot that generally gives you a 30-minute window to arrive, so choose wisely; tickets range between 15 and 20 euros) or go across the street to McDonald’s, grab a coffee and buy a ticket on the spot using the restaurant’s free Wi-Fi. You’ll present it on your smartphone and be ahead of the game.
Tip: On our visit, McDonald’s served Lavazza coffee, which made stopping at an international, fast food chain in Europe totally acceptable.
Metro: Sagrada Familia
2pm – 4pm
Wander El Born
Making your way around El Born will make you feel instantly cooler, like discovering a new artist or listening to an up-and-coming band only you and your travel companion are privy to. You’ll owe that sudden edge, in part, to the narrowing streets lined with boutiques from local designers, knick-knack shops selling one-of-a-kind items and trendy restaurants buzzing with conversation. Even with its artsy vibe, El Born feels welcoming to visitors of all ages. Don’t be afraid to lay claim to this “new” territory; you are in the land of Columbus after all.
Tip: El Born’s eponymous market-cum-cultural center is at the heart of the neighborhood, and features archaeological ruins and a quiet café. So is Parc de la Ciutadella, a beautiful park with areas for sitting, fountains for fawning and a small zoo for children.
Metro: Jaume or Barceloneta
Check Out Picasso
This quaint museum tucked away in an alleyway of El Born offers an extensive collection of the Spanish painter, albeit in a small, digestible morsel. Museu Picasso features Picasso’s renditions of Velázquez’s Las Meninas, some early works and replicas of his iconic Breton-striped T-shirt — which are for sale in the gift shop.
Tip: The museum is free to visit on Sundays, though you’ll still need to make the line for tickets. Down the street you’ll find El Xampanyet, an old bar preserved to its original, early 20th-century splendor. Make the line for museum tickets, saunter over to the restaurant for a glass of the namesake sparkling wine (sweet like moscato), and wait for your time slot to visit with Picasso.
4pm – 6pm
Hydrate With a Cocktail, or two, in La Barceloneta
Even when it’s freezing out, strolling the boardwalk of La Barceloneta is a must-do. By now, your feet are probably aching and your cabin is calling your name. Before calling it quits, make it down to the boardwalk and pop in for a drink at one of the many beachfront-facing restaurants and bars. Those directly behind the boardwalk tend to have outdoor tables and live music, while the restaurants below near the sand offer a more relaxed vibe and plenty of fresh seafood.
Tip: You’ll likely head back to your cruise ship via taxi cab, so make La Barceloneta either your first or last stop since it’s within the general vicinity of the cruise ports.