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How to Spend the Perfect Day in Barcelona

Everything to see, eat, and do in the culture capital of Spain's Catalonia region.

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Let’s start with the obvious: The timeline in Barcelona is going to be different from the timeline in your average American city. Sure, 24 hours in Los Angeles might start at 8 a.m. and go to 10 p.m., but that’s not the way Spanish time works. When in Barcelona, you have to learn how to be a night owl, or at the very least, how to stay up a slightly past your bedtime. You’re not forcing yourself out of the hotel at the crack of dawn and grabbing a coffee on-the-go in Barcelona—instead, you’re sleeping in and waking up slow as light pours into your hotel room.

Whether you’re stopping off in Barcelona for the day before heading to another Spanish destination, or you have one day to see the city while on a business trip, you’ll find that you can actually savor Barcelona in 24 hours. It’s one of those cities where time stands still—rather than hustling from one attraction to another, anxiously checking famed landmarks off a list, Barcelona is about throwing the attraction list out the window and going with the flow. Barcelona showcases good food and a great time, so that’s how you should fill your 24 Catalonian hours.

10 a.m.: Head to Milk for breakfast, a chic-but-welcoming Barcelona cafe. An Irish couple by way of San Francisco moved to Barcelona in 2005 to open Milk Bar & Bistro, known for their fresh fruit smoothies, seasonal breakfast menu, and Bloody Marys. Formerly a famed absinthe bar, the space has been renovated to perfection and will provide a balanced start to your day.

11 a.m.: You’ll start your sightseeing at La Sagrada Familia, because in Barcelona, you have to lead with Gaudí. A Roman Catholic Church showcasing Antoni Gaudí’s distinctive style, it’s revered by locals, architectural fiends, and everyone in between. While Sagrada Familia remains unfinished as a result of Gaudí’s untimely death in 1926, he dedicated the last 12 years of his life to building the cathedral, turning down all other projects so he could give the church his undivided attention. You’ll know Sagrada Familia when you see it—because it’s unlike any other church you’ve seen. You can purchase tickets to enter Sagrada Familia on their official website—tickets are available up to two months before your visit. Sagrada Familia is known for its use of light, which is why mid-morning, when the sunlight glints directly toward the stained-glass windows, is an ideal time to visit the church.

12:30 p.m.: In keeping with the Gaudí theme, you’ll next visit Park Güell. On 17 hectares of greenery in the heart of Barcelona, Park Güell is an artistic, urban park that cannot be missed. Designed by Gaudí in the early 1900s, Park Güell opened to the public in the 1920s. It is thought of fondly as Gaudí’s most playful work, where you can bear witness to his imagination truly come to life. It goes without saying that you could spend hours in this park, exploring, taking pictures, and looking out over the city.

1:30 p.m.: When you have only 24 hours in Barcelona, Mercado de La Boqueria is the perfect place to try a myriad of Barcelona flavors. The market is filled with every food stall you’d hope for, including vendors selling fresh seafood, pressed juices, tureens of paella, sliced jamon, and deep-fried churros. Sample everything, don’t skimp, and if necessary, go back for seconds.

2:30 p.m.: The entrance to Mercado de La Boqueria is within Las Ramblas, so you’re already in the heart of Barcelona. While Las Ramblas can get crowded and overwhelming, it’s at least worth walking through after lunch to see the city center in full swing. Here, you’ll walk across Joan Miro’s tile work—the circular tiling is right in the middle of the street, so you’re unlikely to miss it. (Bonus points if you can find the tile Miro signed himself.) Or if you’re looking for something a little different while exploring, you can visit Museu de L'Erotica, which is exactly the PG-13 experience it sounds like.

5 p.m.: It’s time to reward yourself for a full day of sightseeing—or for making it through the Museu de l’Erotica straight-faced—with a drink on a stunning patio. Head to the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property, one of the most exclusive hotel choices in the city, which has stunningly curated interiors designed by Patricia Urquiola. The property has a Mimosa Garden, which is home to a heavenly courtyard with plush lavender and a never-ending champagne bar. The Mandarin Oriental calls it their “private oasis in the middle of the city.”

7 p.m.: This is Spain, so you’re not having dinner until after 9 p.m. Fortunately, you’re perfectly positioned at the Mimosa Garden to head to Moments for an appetizer. Moments serves a selection of neo-traditional Catalan delights under famed chef Carme Ruscalleda.

9 p.m.: For an unforgettable dinner, it’s tough to rival the twice Michelin-starred Enoteca, which is a mecca of Mediterranean cuisine. Executive chef Paco Pérez has been awarded five Michelin stars in his career, and his haute autumnal offerings even include a white truffle tasting menu. Between the 700-bottle wine list and the locally sourced produce and seafood, your culinary senses will be overwhelmed in the best way.

11 p.m.: Speaking of overwhelming your senses, let’s talk about the dancing scene. Didn’t we say you’d be glad you started your day off on the later side? This is Barcelona—the night doesn’t end after dinner. After your meal, head down the street from Enoteca to El Bombón Salsa, where the salsa and bachata dancing is out in full force.

Where to Stay

It’s actually the perfect time to stay at the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, because they’re celebrating their 10th anniversary this year. Conveniently located on Passeig de Gràcia, their service and amenities will guarantee you feel like you’re on vacation from the moment you set foot on the property. Or for a more boutique experience, you can stay at Hotel Arts Barcelona, another American Express Fine Hotel & Resort property, which has all the five-star amenities you want on vacation, with an authentic Catalonian flair.

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