One of my longstanding traditions has been to leave a few days on either side of a business trip to a city, or country, I've never visited. But like most business travelers, I still experience the occasional pop-in visit, a short trip for a single meeting or daylong conference.
Even in those circumstances, I still try and get in a few hours of the local culture. On a recent trip to Barcelona, I discovered just how much one could sneak in over a short break in the action.
Here's an easy two-hour itinerary to give you just a taste:
Start at the Placa de Catalunya.
Begin your short sojourn at the center of the city, the Placa de Catalunya. This central square is well known for its grand fountains, neoclassical and avant-garde sculptures, and the massive flocks of pigeons roaming about looking to be fed.
It's the jumping-off point for some of Barcelona's most interesting neighborhoods and important streets, and a great place to start when you're short on time. A large Apple store sits on the corner of the plaza, so if you have any Mac or iPhone related issues while on the road, you can kill two birds with one stone. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Stroll Las Ramblas.
Walk across the Placa de Catalunya and arrive at a tree-lined group of streets known as Las Ramblas. Here you can wander down the pedestrian-only center of the boulevard admiring the architecture.
One note: Avoid eating at restaurants directly on the street -- the food is expensive, and touristy. If you're hungry, don't worry. The next stop will have your mouth watering. Estimated time: 15 minutes.
Snack at Mercat de la Boqueria.
Even if you are not a foodie, the sheer shock of color, movement, and crowds makes this a worthwhile stop. Located right off Las Ramblas, the Mercat de la Boqueria is where tourists and locals alike come to buy fresh seafood, fruits of all kind, and the Spanish staple: Jamón ibérico. Small stands are peppered throughout the market, where you can sample the wares or sit down and have a meal. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Marvel at Casa Milà.
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a viewing of at least one of Antoni Gaudi's world-famous buildings. Gaudi, Spain's most famous architect, is best known for the Sagrada Família church--but it's a bit far afield if you only have a few hours to spare.
Instead, catch one of the many taxis available in the city and go straight to the Casa Milà -- also known as La Pedrera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hot hint: Be sure to buy your ticket online beforehand so you won't have to wait in a long line of tourists to get in. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Have a rooftop drink at Hotel Majestic.
Having had your fill of culture, walk a few blocks down from Casa Milà and duck into the Hotel Majestic. Head straight for the rooftop bar, where you will be rewarded with a well-made cocktail, a strong cup of café, and an uplifting view of the beach shoreline beyond. Estimated time: 30 minutes.
Find yourself with a bit more time? If you're lucky enough to have an entire day to spend in Barcelona, add these great finds to the above itinerary.
Shop in the El Born neighborhood.
Tucked away in the narrow alleyways of these backstreets are some of Barcelona's most stylish shops. The El Born area plays host to boutiques featuring unique home ware, clothing, gourmet foodstuffs, and more. If you're looking for a special something to bring back home -- this is the place. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Visit the Joan Miró Museum.
Barcelona plays host to several great museums, but my favorite by far is the Fundació Joan Miró, located on Montjuïc overlooking the city. The building houses a comprehensive collection of Miró's paintings, drawings, sculptures, and works on paper. Save time by taking a taxi there and getting your tickets ahead of time online. Estimated time: 60 minutes.
Dine at Cera 23.
I can think of no better ending to the day than the pleasure of dining at this local Spanish restaurant. Cera 23 is located down a small alleyway in the El Raval neighborhood, this eatery's food has a great depth of flavor made from simple ingredients.
So if foie gras ravioli with cream quince sauce or black squid-ink paella with saffron cream sounds appealing, then this might just be your idea of heaven. And as it is with all great restaurants, the mouthwatering food is matched only by the excellent service. Estimated time: 2 hours.
We've all read the articles on how to spend three perfect days (or 39 perfect hours) in a city. While that's always optimal, more and more businesspeople find themselves in and out of a place within a 24- to 48-hour period.
In a city like Barcelona, it's a shame not to at least take a few minutes to stop and smell the café.