Eight, six, or even just four hours in Barcelona’s airport are enough to take a cab or the Aerobus and jump into the city. The ride from the airport to the center takes around twenty-to thirty-minutes, and is really worth it to escape from the capsule of the airport – and that feeling of being, but not really being in a place. Here, we give you several options for different layover lengths, all with options to stay close to the bus line or to move about by cab, to maximize your time and take home a more colorful and tasty experience of your stop in the Catalan capital.
Your first option: the quickie. If you have only three hours but want to make a fast excursion out to grab a bite and have a real Barcelona experience, you can take a 16-minute cab from the airport and have breakfast or lunch in the Zona Franca neighborhood. It is not the city center – you will not see any Art Nouveau architectonic wonders – but you will find a few excellent places to eat well, among local office workers and neighbors, and can even stretch your legs the in the nearby park, Can Sabaté. In this area, our favorite is Granja Elena, a small eatery two generations old, serving “neighborhood haute cuisine” from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. This place is a temple of good Catalan food for locals, specializing in the traditional “fork’s breakfast” and lunch made with market seasonal high quality ingredients. Call from the taxi to reserve your table.
Also in the neighborhood, just a five-minute walk from Granja Elena and with later opening hours (1 p.m to midnight) is Bodega Pasaje 1986, a new restaurant opened by Xavi Alba, the ex-director of Tickets, one the Adriá brother’s famous restaurants which recently closed during the pandemic. Bodega Pasaje is a bigger space than Granja Elena, with an excellent menu of Spanish-Catalan plates and tapas, specialized in grilled and stewed dishes. It is located inside La Campana (a public offices building) with a nice terrace in the back patio.
The second option: the half day. With four or five hours you can go a bit further – our recommendation is to head to the Plaça d’Espanya area, located about 20 minutes from the airport (there is a convenient Aerobus stop here). In this area you can easily walk to some of the Montjuic gardens, the Magic Fountain, the MNAC Catalan art museum, the Arenas shopping center (located in a repurposed bull ring), and a number of bars and restaurants. Only five minutes walking from Plaça d’Espanya (a big monumental square) is Cruix, a fantastic young restaurant serving Catalan-Valencian cuisine, including amazing rice dishes and cool tapas with a creative touch. Not far, the specialty coffee-shop Morrow (Av. Gran Vía De Les Corts Catalanes, 403) is your stop for the perfect caffeine pick-me-up your layover demands.
If you feel up to walking ten minutes from the square, you can head down Paral·lel avenue and then turn left on Tamarit street to reach the Sant Antoni neighborhood and El Racó de’lAgüir, another Catalan-Valencian spot. With a fantastic selection and more classic menu offer, the restaurant is just a few minutes from Sant Antoni Market and also very close to Celler Florida – great for a quick wine or vermut with a tapa.
If you are have the time to venture a bit further, you can head fifteen minutes up Diputació street from the square (or take the Aerobus directly to Urgell, one stop past Plaça de Espanya) and then turn on to Comte Urgell street, where you will have the chance to eat at Restaurante Gelida. A third-generation former bodega that still sells wine in bulk, Gelida specializes in traditional Catalan cuisine with very friendly prices. To return to the airport, there are bus stops on Sepulveda–Comte d’Urgell and Plaça d’Espanya–Creu Coberta.
If you are lucky enough to have a full day of around seven or eight hours, then you can go into the heart of the city, walk the center and see some of Barcelona’s main touristic sights. Just take the Aerobus or cab to Plaça Catalunya, in front of the El Corte Inglés building, and use the same point to return to the airport.
In Ciutat Vella, the old city center, be prepared to find yourself in one of Barcelona’s most touristic areas – though not without interesting local places to eat, if you know just where to look. In the Gothic Quarter, you can grab a coffee and a bite to eat in Satan’s Coffee Corner, touch the Roman wall while eating Catalan coca or salad for lunch in L’Antic Bocoi del Gótic, and finish with chocolate at to Bombonería Fargas. Nearby Fargas, you’ll find Xarcuteria La Pineda, perfect for or a vermut and a couple of good tapas, or Bodega La Palma for a slightly more elaborate offer. If you head to La Barceloneta neighborhood (in between the beach and the port), you can have an early lunch in the iconic old eatery La Cova Fumada or in the classic restaurant Carballeira, and try the vermut at Bodega Fermín (Sant Carles, 18, in the square). In the El Born area, you can try farm-to-table Catalan sandwiches and plates in Sagàs, or have a more multicultural bite with a healthy juice in the beautiful terrace of Mescladís, a social impact project and café. For natural wine you can go to Bar Brutal or L’Anima del Vi. If you want to take home some local treats, don’t miss the cheeses, conservas and wine at La Vila Viniteca, the roasted nuts and romesco sauce from Casa Gispert and the nougat at La Campana or Planelles Donat.
If you decide to head inland instead, go directly to the Gràcia neighborhood by subway. Here, you can skip the crowds of tourists and find yourself instead in the midst of a buzzing residential area, with a multitude of terraces, plazas, and dining options. For an excellent specialty coffee with an artisan pastry, try Slow Mov. For breakfast, visit La Pubilla in front of La Llibertat Market, which also serves a great lunch, as does Santa Gula and Fonda Pepa, all specialized in seasonal market cuisine with a traditional Spanish-Catalan base and fantastic contemporary presentation. For traditional tapas and sandwiches, the classic Can Ros is another tried-and-true option, or you can find a more gourmet offer of sandwiches and plates at Entrepanes Diaz.
To end the day with a good vermut, wine, beer or cava with tapas you can try Bodega Lo Pinyol or Bodega Quimet. Don’t miss the gelato at Paralel·lo or Bodevici on your way out – we recommend returning on foot to Plaça Catalunya via Passeig de Gràcia, where you will see two of the most famous Gaudí houses: Casa Milá and Casa Batlló.
However long your layover might last, you will be ready to return to the airport with a happy soul and a full belly, ready to catch your next flight with no regrets at all: now you truly have been in Barcelona.
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