We’re not particularly adventurous travelers, my husband Tommaso and I. The very thought of “breaking the rules” and leaving the airport when we’re checked in and waiting for our next flight seems positively rebellious. But on a recent 6-hour layover in Barcelona BCN airport, we figured it was worth the risk. It was a beautiful day, and we’d been to Barcelona before, so we headed into the city figuring there was time to see at least one museum before the day was out. I made the mistake of wishing we could just stay in Barcelona forever, which may have resulted in our missing our plane! Read on to find out what to do if you have a short layover in Barcelona but don’t want to miss your flight like we did.

So, before we get started, what inspired this act of rebellion? Just days before, I’d seen an Instagram post by Dan and Audrey, round-the-world travelers of Uncornered Market. With 6 hours to kill between flights and unable to check in early, they stored their luggage and went into town, where Dan tells me they “just focused on neighborhoods, including Ribera, local stuff” and had a wonderful tapas lunch including roulette peppers (“every 100th one is hot!”). They’d made it back with plenty of time to check in, go through security and get to their gate.

Tommaso and I had spent a long weekend in southern Spain at La Manga Club doing an intensive weekend tennis clinic, where we stayed in an apartment courtesy of Flipkey, and now I was craving culture more so than spicy peppers. On our last trip to Barcelona, we found some cool hipster things to do and also visited a ton of museums. We’d purposefully avoided the more touristy locations, and thus hadn’t seen all the Gaudi buildings, despite loving this architect. With a sense of the lay of the land, we knew we could see one on our airport layover.

What to do on a layover in Barcelona (if you love art)

If you take the bus and get off at Pl. Catalunya, you’re close to Les Rambles, the famous strolling street, and walking distance to the Bouqueria market. From here, it’s not a long walk to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. While I didn’t love the collection when I visited, the area (Raval) is alive with street art and contemporary culture, and the building itself is worth hanging out at.

The contemporary art museum
The contemporary art museum

We opted to take the train, which lets off at the Passeig de Gràcia station. In the late 19th and early 20th century, this street was the place to be, with major families commissioning the era’s best architects to outdo each other. Antoni Gaudi, of course, outdid them all. Both his Casa Milà “La Pedrera” and the Casa Batlló are located on this street, the latter conveniently just above the subway station. Although there was a bit of a line-up (which could be avoided by booking entry tickets online), we decided to stick it out.

Casa Milà "La Pedrera" courtyard (photo taken in 2011)
Casa Milà “La Pedrera” courtyard (photo taken in 2011)

Casa Batlló is a privately run museum and the hefty entry fee compensates for the family’s costs in restoration, maintenance and museology, for which the government does not compensate them. It is worth every penny of the €21 euro adult ticket: you’re provided with a smartphone audioguide system that integrates Virtual Reality renderings of the house’s more fantastical features for an imaginative and evocative interpretation that helps visitors get a great understanding of the place (get a taste of the animations with this video). Gaudi here has outdone himself, with a house modeled on a sea monster and integrating the maritime theme in everything. But besides being highly visual and original, he was very practical, designing features to take advantage of natural light and cool air – vents, flaps, skylights and more. Visit time is about 2 hours – the perfect destination for a short layover in Barcelona.

Swirling ceiling and lamp at Casa Batllo
Swirling ceiling and lamp at Casa Batllo

If you have a whole day or an overnight stay, there’s a lot more you can do, but for a short layover, we thought it best to stick close to the train or bus stops that are directly connected to the airport. Another surefire idea, especially for a first-time visitor, is to take one of those double-decker tourist busses around the city. Guaranteed to be slightly tacky, it’s a way to see a lot and not tire yourself out!

For a longer stay, you might enjoy the famous Parc Guell, the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, or simply a day at the beach, all of which can be accessed by the excellent subway network.

Practical information

Luggage storage: If you’re in between flights and had to claim your luggage, you’ll want to store it before heading downtown. There is a manned luggage storage facility in T1. It costs €10 per bag for 2-10 hours of storage. Please note that there is no storage area in T2.

Train from BCN to Barcelona city center: The Barcelona Airport RENFE train leaves from T2. If you’re traveling out of T1, like we were, you’ll need to take the free airport shuttle bus between terminals. It seems to go a long distance and took some 10-15 minutes! Trains run every half hour and cost €4,10 per person, per direction. Purchase tickets at the machine inside the station, and go through the electronic gates with them. It takes 25 minutes to get to the very central Passeig de Gràcia station.

Bus from BCN: the Aerobusbcn runs every 5 minutes from T1 and T2 and costs €10,20 for a return ticket. Stopping in 3 places in the city, the most central stop is Pl. Catalunya.

Taxi from BCN: The taxi from the city center to the airport costs only about €25 and takes about 20 minutes. This is faster, and if you’re three people, cheaper than the train! Also, the taxi will take you straight to T1. Please note that in addition to the displayed fare, there is a surplus for the airport tax.

Get a map: There is 30 minutes free wifi at BCN airport, which is perfect to download a local copy of a google map. Just in case you can’t access it offline, take a screenshot of the relevant areas. Or, go the low-tech route: spot someone with a paper map and photograph the relevant area using your smartphone.

Just be sure you calculate all the time necessary to get back in time for your flight – walking around terminals, shuttle, train, security, etc. We made one stupid mistake and didn’t write down the train schedule, counting on it to be regular and more frequent than it is. Having just missed one, there was almost an hour to wait (seems the lunchtime schedule is less frequent than usual), and thus we missed our connecting flight out! While we do love Barcelona and I’ve liked to stay the night, we had to work the next day, so took the next flight to Milan and a train back to Florence. For our adventure, we were out a few hundred euros, but the positive thing is that it proves we are human after all!

Sign up to receive future blog posts by email