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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.