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Discover the Charm of Barcelona in a Single Afternoon

The salty aroma of the Mediterranean Sea catches your nose and caresses your skin. The sky is a clear blue, and the sun is bright and inviting. You have just arrived in Barcelona, ready for a quintessential experience before you board your cruise ship tomorrow. Your time in this vibrant city might be brief – and you may leave longing for more – but I’ve got you covered for the day. Here is how to have the best time in Barcelona before embarking on your cruise – as told by a local expat!

Barcelona's skyline from elevation, the most amazing pre-cruise destination in the Mediterranean

The good thing is, is that if you’re staying near the historic Port Vell marina, you are already placed in a fantastic location for exploring some of the city’s best places. Firstly, you’ll be greeted with lush palm tree views, massive yachts, and interesting sculptures that showcase Barcelona’s quirky side. So you’re off to a good start already. From there, the city unfolds much like reading a romantic novel.

Begin your time in Barcelona with a walk through the Gothic Quarter. It’s one of my favorite places to meander, stare up at pretty plant-filled balconies, and just completely romanticize my life. The Gothic Quarter is just across from Port Vell and is one of the city’s prime neighborhoods, oozing with culture, history, and dreamy architecture. While bits of this neighborhood date back over 2,000 years (yep, we’re talking about Roman ruins), the majority of its architecture is from the Middle Ages, with beautiful tiling and stone walls. Just imagine marble roofed bridges with intricate carvings, quaint squares with flowing fountains, and petite balcony-filled streets.

You can easily spend a couple of hours wandering through the Gothic Quarter. Don’t miss the iconic Bishop’s Bridge, the sunbathed Plaça Reial with its palm trees, cafes, and flowing fountain, and the quiet and tucked-away Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. These are the iconic spots of the neighborhood, or barrio as we say in Spain.

Gargoyles and dark yet inviting corridors of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, cruise from Spain
Bishop's Bridge and the dark yet inviting alleys of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter

If you need a coffee fix while navigating this barrio, stop by Satan’s Coffee Co. Just around the corner from many must-see places in the Gothic Quarter, Satan’s whips up some of the absolute best coffee in Barcelona. And if you’re anything like me, trying coffee in every city is a must. I’d grab my coffee of choice – a flat white with oat milk –and take a seat by the windows.

As you work your way through the Gothic Quarter, you’ll eventually find yourself out of the small and winding streets and into a large and airy plaza. This unique spot is home to weekly vintage markets, Catalan events and festivals, and it serves a meeting point for locals and tourists alike. You’ll know you’re there when you look up and see the enchanting Barcelona Cathedral. Constructed during the 13th to 15th centuries, this cathedral is a masterpiece with its looming gargoyles, Gothic arched door, bell tower, and detailed turrets.

As for that vintage street market, I highly recommend it if you’re visiting on a Thursday or Friday. I have found old Barcelona postcards with little love letters on the back, dainty necklaces, and semi-precious stone rings. Why leave with a boring magnet souvenir when you can find things like these?

Barcelona Cathedral in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, cruise from Spain
Truly Gothic, Barcelona Cathedral

Alright, after you’ve gotten to know Barcelona a little bit better and perhaps indulged in eating tapas under the sun, some legendary city views are in order. So, here’s what you’ve absolutely got to do with an afternoon in Barcelona...

Take the cable car. You’ll get sweeping views of the Barcelona skyline and Mediterranean Sea. Plus, it’s a unique experience and a chance to see Montjuïc, a gorgeous hillside with parks, nature, architecture, and even a castle. It’s the perfect way to soak up your last hours. You can take the cable car back down and be right back at Port Vell where this adventure all started.

With just 10 minutes each way, you’ll soak up amazing views as you traverse the city on a vivid red cable car. Once you’ve arrived at Montjuïc, the cable car’s destination, you’ll be greeted with more spectacular views at the Miramar viewpoint – literally meaning ‘sea views’. See the turrets of the Barcelona Cathedral, the dramatic features of Sagrada Familia, the distant hills, and perhaps even locals sunbathing on their rooftops. My first time up here I caught one of the most magical sunsets, and I’ve been coming back regularly ever since.

So, while you may be thinking that you’ve just got to see Sagrada Familia up close and personal, I don’t recommend it if you’re on a time crunch. It is not the true Barcelona, and the rest of the area is uninteresting and filled with tourists. When you take the scenic cable car, however, you’ll get a lovely view of the quirky cathedral jutting out of the skyline. It’s unique and you’ll leave this jewel of the Med with original photos you’ve not already seen online dozens of times. Bonus!

The setting of the sun over Barcelona from Montjuic, Spain
The sun sets over Barcelona and you get the most complete view of Sagrada Familia

Then, at Montjuïc, visit some of Barcelona’s hidden gems... its many parks. Among the best are Jardins de Mossèn Costa i Llobera and Jardins de Laribal. Jardins de Mossèn Costa i Llobera, or the Cactus Park as I tend to call it, is just that. A gorgeous, dry park bustling with thousands of cacti species and other tropical plants, facing the sea and basking in the sun. The other, Jardins de Laribal, was once a luxurious estate that has turned into a romantic park dusted with flowerbeds, walkways, secret city views, fountains, and so much more. It’s peaceful and majestic and is one of the best places to capture what it means to be in Barcelona while escaping the 30 million visitors the city gets each year.

Once the sun rays have grown softer, it’s probably time to make your way back down the mountain. Keep your cable car ticket safe for your return journey. Enjoy fresh views of the skyline, take photographs, and revel in the beauty of this Spanish Catalan city. Truly, there is no city like Barcelona, and that is just part of what makes it so special and unique.


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