This article includes links to our travel partners at Tripadvisor, where you can read traveller reviews, book tours and plan your visit to Barcelona.
Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN) is just 9 miles (14km) southwest of Barcelona’s city centre. It’s a great destination to plan a layover in one of Europe’s most significant cultural cities. Barcelona’s architecture is unsurpassed, from the historic Barri Gotic to the legacy of Gaudi’s Modernist buildings. Add beautiful parks, world-class museums, delightful shops on the Passeig de Gracia, pavement cafés on Las Ramblas and even a sandy beach. You will understand why visitors want to spend time in this vibrant city. Whether you have a couple of hours or a whole day to fill, check out our Barcelona Layover Guide below to see what to do and how to get there.
Barcelona Airport is a major airline hub serving 37 million passengers each year. It has two terminals connected by a shuttle bus. The main shopping area and restaurants are on Level 1 in the newer Terminal 1, which serves most international flights. Terminal 2 is divided into three interconnected sections – 2A, 2B and 2C – which serve mainly budget and regional carriers.
Due to the proximity to Barcelona city centre, Barcelona El Prat does not offer a range of services for passengers on layovers. Shops offer duty-free goods, gifts, fashion, jewellery, Barcelona Football Club merchandise, and a beauty spa/hair salon. Restaurants and bars are limited to the 24-hour Caffe di Fiore, La Cerveseria bar and the Michelin-star Portagaig restaurant and snack bar. Getting out and sightseeing during your Barcelona airport layover is a no-brainer! But if you prefer to stay at the airport, explore our Barcelona El Prat Airport Guide for information about what to do while you are there.
Barcelona Sightseeing Attractions
Below are a few of the top things to do in Barcelona:
Barcelona’s #1 attraction is the magnificent cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, which is still a work in progress. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, it has become an icon of the city. Work began on this magnificent building in 1883, but the death of Gaudi, lack of funds and civil war have slowed the progress of this engineering masterpiece. The church is covered in symbolic carvings and topped with ornate spires covered in Venetian mosaics. Spiral staircases allow visitors access to the towers and upper galleries with marvellous city views. The apse is one of the completed sections and leads down to the crypt, where Gaudi rests in peace. In peak season, you must book tickets and guided tours well ahead to skip the lines. If you only have time to do one tour as part of your airport layover, make it the unforgettable Sagrada Familia!
- Time required: Allow 2-4 hours to get the most from your visit. Guided tours take approximately one hour, excluding the towers. Alternatively, self-guided audio tours allow you to explore at your own pace within your timeframe.
- How to get there: The Sagrada Familia is a 30-minute walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya. With time at a premium, hop in a taxi or use the Metro Blue Line 5 or Purple Line 2, both of which have stops outside the Sagrada.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Sagrada Familia, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
The pedestrianized Las Ramblas is one of the most famous streets in Spain, lined with old mansions, shops, hotels and pavement cafés. It’s an excellent spot for people-watching, with flower stalls down the centre of the street and many street entertainers looking to earn your loose change. Some highlights to stop at as you walk down the mile-long street toward the port include Gaudi’s neo-Gothic mansion, Palau Guell, which is open for tours. You can’t miss it! At the bottom of Las Ramblas is the Mirador de Colom, a 60-metre-tall column with a statue of Christopher Columbus on top. Ride the elevator to the viewing gallery for stunning city and sea views.
- Time required: Allow at least an hour to walk down this lovely street, stopping for shopping, refreshments and attractions.
- How to get there: The airport Aerobus will drop you at the Plaça de Catalunya at the top of the Las Ramblas. Alternatively, take the Metro to Drassanes, Liceu or Catalunya stations, all within easy reach of Las Ramblas.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Las Ramblas, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
Just off Las Ramblas is the famous food market known as La Boqueria or Mercat de Sant Josep. It’s a great place to pick up deli items for lunch in the park, such as tasty Iberico cured ham, local cheese, artisan breads, salads and fruit. However, be aware of airline policy when making purchases. For example, meats, cheese and fruits cannot be carried into the USA, and liquids are limited to 100ml in your hand luggage. Even if you don’t buy anything, a peek at the magnificent iron and glass structure of this is worth the detour. This lovely building was constructed around 1840 on a site that has been a market for over 2,000 years.
- Time required: 30 minutes will allow you to browse, take photographs, taste samples and buy delicious local produce. Allow up to 2 hours if you plan to have lunch there.
- How to get there: La Boqueria is just off La Rambla near the Liceu Metro Station. It is a short walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the La Boqueria, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
Where better to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh sea air than on Barcelona’s lovely sandy beach near the port at La Barceloneta. Rent beach chairs, take a dip in the warm Mediterranean, play beach volleyball or buy drinks from enterprising locals who stroll up and down selling beers and mojitos. Walk along the promenade and stop for a delicious tapas meal at a waterfront restaurant or visit the Aquarium. Expect to see cruise ships, fishing vessels and luxury yachts in the nearby port.
- Time required: Anything from one hour to all day, depending on the time of year and your schedule.
- How to get there: La Barceloneta is on the port’s north side. It is a pleasant way to conclude a walk down Las Ramblas from Plaça de Catalonia. It can also be reached by Metro; the nearest stations are Selva de Mar and Maresme Forum.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the La Barceloneta, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
Passeig de Gracia
This main shopping street has department stores and boutiques selling the latest European fashions. This paseo is considered the heart of Barcelona, visited by over 7 million tourists each year.
- Time required: At least 2 hours.
- How to get there: Passeig de Gracia is a 10-minute walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya. It can also be reached from elsewhere in the city by Metro; the nearest stations are Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Passeig de Gracia, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
No stopover visit to Barcelona is complete without a tour of one of Gaudi’s Modernist creations. Casa Batlló is an extraordinary six-storey home on the Passeig de Gracia with extruding balconies, irregular windows and a roof designed like a dragon’s back.
- Time required: Tours take one hour.
- How to get there: See Passeig de Gracia above.
- Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Casa Batlló, book a tour or read traveller reviews.
Bus: For less than 6€ each way, you can take the Aerobus service from Terminal 1 (service A1) or Terminals 2B and 2C (service A2) into the heart of the city. Get off at the Plaça de Catalunya to visit the Barri Gotic, Casa Batlló, Sagrada Familia, Museum of Contemporary Art and the beach at Barceloneta. The stop at the Plaza Espanya is convenient for visiting Camp Nou football stadium, the cruise port and Montjuic attractions.
Train/Metro: Trains into Barcelona city centre leave from both terminals via the L9 Sud metro line. Ride as far as Barcelona Sants station for Plaça Espanya or connect with Metro lines L5 and L3. The Passeig de Gracia station is close to Plaça de Catalunya, shopping and Las Ramblas. Public transport options include:
Taxi: Taxis provide an affordable 15-minute service from the airport and will drop you right outside your chosen attraction. Taxis are metered, and booking ahead won’t be necessary.
Car: It’s straightforward to pick up a hire car from the airport and follow signs to the Gran Via from the C-31 or C-32. However, parking can be a problem near the main sights in Barcelona, and many areas are pedestrianized.
Before You Go: Layover Tips
Now that you are motivated and excited about your mini layover vacation, check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.
- Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost, and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
- When is your next flight’s check-in time? Double-check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
- What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for extended security wait times, so research in advance and factor that into your overall time budget.
- What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.
Other Useful Resources
Finally, here are a few handy resources to help you plan your layover even more thoroughly: