Barcelona packs the whole Earth into one city. Mountains, beaches, and urban areas coexist in a grand mix natural beauty, rich history, and flamboyant architecture, making it one of the most unique travel destinations in the world. But with so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the Catalan capital. Which is why I’m glad I have a survival guide.

Park Guell in Barcelona

Expedia has brought me to Spain for three days to test out their new Barcelona Survival Guide. Designed to help visitors make the most of the city, the free online guide has a range of travel tips, from sightseeing attractions to restaurants and tapas bars. It also contains practical information about public transportation and language to help visitors navigate the city.

Houses in Barcelona

The guide has several sections, including a general one and specific ones for young travelers, couples, and families. Given I don’t exactly fall under any of these categories, I stick mainly to the Top Tourist Attractions section, dipping into the Young and Lively chapter as much as I dare.

Tibidabo Sign in Barcelona

I’ve arrived in Barcelona on a sunny day, and the weather couldn’t be better for exploring. I grab my guide and head out to Las Ramblas, the bustling boulevard in the heart of Barcelona.

View of Barcelona from Tibidabo

I know exactly where I’m going, too: La Boqueria. Barcelona’s most famous food market, La Boqueria is a big covered hall packed with stalls selling everything from pretty pink confections to salted cod and traditional Spanish ham. Mmmmm…ham.

Ham at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona

I spend far too much time here, exploring the variety of colorful juices, salty olives, and tiny tapas bars, grazing on chorizo along the way. I could spend my entire trip here soaking up the smell of Spanish sausages and the sounds of the vendors calling out their daily specials to passersby.

La Boqueria Market in Barcelona

But there’s so much more to Barcelona than just food, and I want to see some more of the sights. One of the difficult things about the city is that—like London—there are so many museums and attractions it’s impossible to pack them all into three days. And that’s where the survival guide comes in.

Street in Barcelona

It highlights some of Barcelona’s top attractions, including the famous quirky buildings designed by modern architect Antoni Gaudi. His style blends innovative architectural elements—the catenary arch, a parabolic curve in the shape of an upside down chain suspended from its endpoints, for example—with playful stylistic ones—many of his buildings look like gingerbread houses topped with ice cream sundaes, resulting in some of the most unique designs in the world.

Park Guell in Barcelona

The guide showcases the most beloved of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona—Casa Mila and Casa Batllo, which I visited on my last trip to Barcelona—and also his most famous—the Sagrada Familia church and the fairytale Park Guell.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

I visit these last two, taking in the sand castle spires of the church and the colorful curvilinear forms of the park, marveling at how unique they are as I go. The one downside is that there’s a three-hour wait for the park, which could have been avoided by booking tickets in advance online. I wish the guide had included this detail.

Park Guell Barcelona

I also visit the Palau Guell, a mansion just off Las Ramblas that Gaudi designed for industrialist Eusebi Guell at the end of the 19th century. Opened as a museum in 2011, it showcases more of Gaudi’s work, including stunning interiors made of heavy stone and his signature tiled chimneys on the roof. I didn’t know about the Palau Guell before, and I’m glad it’s included in the guide.

Palau Guell in Barcelona

Beyond Gaudi, Barcelona has other museums with works by famous artists and architects. The Picasso museum is one of the best known in the city, and has a great collection of the artist’s early work. I spend an afternoon exploring the collection and a temporary exhibition on Picasso and Dali, learning about the artist’s career and soaking up the color on the canvases.

Las Ramblas in Barcelona

Over by the Placa d’Espanya, I visit Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, an iconic work of modern architecture and one that I’ve wanted to visit for years. It’s not in the guide (it’s pretty niche), but I love the simplicity and elegance of the design.

Barcelona Pavilion

Next door is Montjuic, a high hill with a smorgasbord of sights. Walking trails lead to gardens and parks, and the famous Castell de Montjuic castle crowns the top. I stop in for a visit to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, expecting to spend a short time there but getting sucked into one of the most amazing collections of Romanesque art I’ve ever seen.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona

Next I follow the guide up to Tibidabo, one of the highest peaks in the city and a place that has eluded me on my previous visits.

View from Tibidabo, Barcelona

I ascend on the colorful funicular, my eyes growing wide with the expanding views on the way. Once at the top, I take in the amusement park—a great place for families—and the stunning church, which are as entertaining as the sweeping panoramas of Barcelona below.

Church on Tibidabo, Barcelona

I also let the guide lead me to Placa Reial, a beautiful square just off Las Ramblas. It has lots of cafes and nightlife options, and is a great place to sit for a cafe con leche and watch life go by.

Placa Reial in Barcelona

I make time for the restaurants in Barcelona, too. The city’s markets don’t have a monopoly on good food, and I want to make sure I experience some of the other top places to eat. The guide doesn’t have general recommendations for restaurants outside of the ones for young people, couples, and families, and it doesn’t cover breakfast, one of my favorite meals of the weekend, so I go off piste and do my own research.

Federal Cafe in Barcelona

I have brunch at Federal, a stylish cafe in the Gothic Quarter with excellent filled croissants and great coffee. It’s the perfect way to start a day of sightseeing in Barcelona.

Brunch at Federal Cafe in Barcelona

I also seek out a taste of Ferran Adria’s growing foodie empire near Placa d’Espanya. It’s nearly impossible to get reservations at Tickets, his famous post-El Bulli restaurant, but a friend in London tipped me off to the fact that Bodega 1900, his tapas bar across the street, serves some of the same food.

Bodega 1900 in Barcelona

I book a couple of weeks in advance—even then I barely manage to snag a reservation—and enjoy a relaxed, casual meal in the intimate dining room. The food is as good as I hope—the croquetas are so creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside that they may be the best I’ve ever tasted—and the service is as friendly and warm as the city itself.

Las Ramblas in Barcelona

When it comes time to travel back to London, I leave Barcelona feeling like I’ve had a well-rounded trip. The guide has been helpful in giving me the big picture view of what to see and do in the city, and has introduced me to new attractions like the Palau Guell.

Arc de Triomphe in Barcelona

It could have used a bit more detail, some closer fact checking (some of the opening hours are incorrect), and things like maps and insider tips, but overall it was helpful in pointing me in the right direction for having a good trip to Barcelona. And that’s important in a city with so much going on that it feels like the Earth stops here.

20 Comments on Lady’s Barcelona Survival Guide

  1. Such a useful little summary of some of the highlights of Barcelona Julie! I went such a long time ago but absolutely loved the Gaudi architecture! Large parts of the sagrada familia were closed off when I was thre though so if love to return again!

  2. Can’t believe I still haven’t been to Barcelona.Although, I do not regret my decision to go to Girona instead of Barcelona. I’m not a fan of big cities. But barcelona do look absolutely beautiful!

  3. All of this in three days? Wow, I’m impressed! This certainly does give me hope for when I’m going to Barcelona later this year. This survival guide will definitely come in handy and I’ll keep it in mind! The photos are once again gorgeous, well done!

  4. Ah, you’ve made me want to return to Barcelona so much! Especially after reading I could indulge in food so closely related to El Bulli (I wasn’t educated in the world of El Bulli on the my last trip) 💚

  5. Thanks for this post. I was there two years ago and was in so many of the places that I visited and also photographed. It really was like being back there again.

    By the way, I’m also an expat and have been for many years, but I’m living in Switzerland. This is also a relatively photogenic place 😉

  6. Your blog on Spain is a really in depth and detailed, and the pictures are amazing. I am glad I came across it. I am looking into traveling to Barcelona, except I may go alone. It looks like such lovely place, would it be enjoyable with just myself? Also, would you suggest I have a great camera to capture this beautiful city of Spain? I have an iPhone 6S.

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