What To Do In Barcelona In Only 12 Hours

Photo of Anna Jauhola
9 February 2017

In a city full of life, hundreds of places to visit and even more things to see, it can be hard to choose how to make the best out of your visit. If you happen to be in Barcelona only for few hours but still want to grasp some of the magic the city has to offer, read our guide to what to do in Barcelona within half a day.

Barcelona l | © Tara Jessop


If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to access the hectic city center without heavy luggage so walking won’t be too much of an issue. If, however, you brought your bags with you, do not worry – there is a solution for everything. Visit the services of Locker Barcelona, a storage service in the central Plaça Catalunya. Your Barcelona experience might as well start from this point: the plaça is the most central square in the city. The Old Town and 19th century built Eixample – districts meet here, and are brought together by some of the city’s biggest streets. Make a wish next to the fountain and cross the square off your list of things to do. It’s time for your next move.

Plaça Catalunya l | © Tara Jessop


Don’t get confused by the crazy amount of restaurants, bars and cafés in Barcelona. Barcelona’s culinary world has a lot to offer, but it’s important to know where to head for a happy meal. If you arrive early enough to catch breakfast or brunch, head out to Carrer del Parlament in Sant Antoni. From Plaça Catalunya you can easily walk here by first following your map to Plaça Universitat which is worth a selfie with its big neo-Gothic building, and then continue along Ronda de Sant Antoni and Ronda de Sant Pau that will lead you to Parlament street. If all this sounds too complicated, you might enjoy a visit to the local, busy but charming market La Boqueria just few minutes walk away from Plaça Catalunya. If crowded markets make you nervous, grab a coffee or an authentic craft beer from Catalunya or even some delicious grub at Caravelle down in the El Raval district. If you’d rather wander the streets on the opposite side of Las Ramblas – the long avenue running between El Raval and the Gothic quarter – you might want to have a bite in Argentinian El Callejón, or have some delicious, homemade sushi at Simpu. For vegetarians, the vegan slow food bistro Rasoterra is situated in the heart of the old town.

On the corner of Parlament Street l | © Isabelle Kliger

Art and Architecture

If you enjoy art and culture, you have done well. El Raval hosts some of the best contemporary art museums in the city; both CCCB and MACBA are great places to visit and spend an hour or two enjoying a world of creativity. If you’d prefer something more classic, give it a go at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or revel in the iconic works at the Picasso Museum. If none of the above is to your liking, check out La Pedrera, a UNESCO heritage site constructed by Antoni Gaudí, or the lovely, free of charge arts centre Arts Santa Mònica on La Rambla 7.

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya l | © Tara Jessop

See the squares and churches

Beautiful architecture can be found everywhere in Barcelona, not least in the multitude of churches and squares around the old town. If you’re up for the challenge of queuing up in front of Sagrada Familia, this magnificent piece of (unfinished) work is surely worth the visit. If you do not like to waste your precious time standing in a line, visit the Cathedral of Barcelona landmarking the Gothic district of the downtown area. If you’re not too excited by any of this, head down to El Born to see the church and the beautiful square of Santa Maria del Mar from the 14th century. While on this side of Via Laietana, you might as well check out the rest that the hip El Born – district has to offer.

Santa Maria del Mar (1329-1383) l | © Irene Grassi

Go Tapas

Barcelona might be more famous for its art and culture, but there are a great deal of spots for enjoying a good tapas too. If you find yourself around El Born, head to Mercat Princesa, a hidden, cozy tapas market. If you are wandering the streets of the gothic quarter, make your way to Bodega Vasconia or Bodega Palma close to Jaume I metro stop to enjoy some simple, tasty food. Every district has their own Rambla, and in El Raval the street happens to host one of the greatest tapas bars of the area: La Taverna del Suculent. If you fancy a more pintxo-style experience, head down to El Poble-Sec and the vibrant and local Carrer de Blai which hosts several bars and cafés for enjoying a pintxo or two.


Enjoying a glass of Vermouth before lunch, a well-established tradition in Catalunya, is totally acceptable and perhaps even recommended during your short stay in town. Having a glass of wine with food is what many locals do and a small shot of a strong, local liqueur to go with your coffee to wrap things up is not a bad idea either when seeking a truly authentic dining experience in Barcelona. If you’re in town during the evening-hours, have an after dinner cocktail in L’Ascensor in the Gothic district, or head up to Eixample to experience the magnificent cocktail-lounge of Boca Chica. If you prefer to taste something stronger, try one of the oldest bars in Barcelona; Bar Marsella, famous for serving absinth. If you’re around the Gothic quarter and prefer drinking locally produced artesan beer, down a cold one at La Cerveteca.

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