Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region in Spain, is the home of delicious food and whimsical architecture. I recommend staying at the H10 Catalunya Plaza Boutique Hotel. This puts you at the top of the famed Las Ramblas and right by the metro stations you’ll need most. It also looks onto Placa de Catalunya (Catalunya Plaza), one of the area's biggest squares with a great fountain feature.
Speaking of the Las Ramblas, you should start your adventure with a stroll down this street to the Columbus Monument at the waterfront. Enjoy the street performers, flower peddlers, and shady pine trees. A stop at the Boqueria market is a must. Be immersed in the smells and sights of produce, meats, cheese, herbs, and olives. Seafood vendors huddle in the center of the market. There are bars too, so grab a brew, some Manchego cheese, and slices of ham (jamon). Less expensive Serrano ham comes from pigs raised on farms with grain. More expensive Iberico ham comes from a special breed of black pig that eats a natural diet, like acorns, roots, herbs, and olives. Then, after slaughter, the pigs are dried and cured for 1-4 years.
Before you approach the waterfront to the south, turn left to venture into the Gothic Quarter. This area dates back over 2,000 years, but today the narrow medieval streets house many bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. It is also a good place to try pintxos, which are tiny snacks (meat, fish, etc.) on a piece of bread held together with a toothpick. I recommend stopping by the beautiful Gothic Cathedral, which took two centuries to build. This Cathedral of Barcelona has must-see cloisters and offers guided tours. Nearby is the Museum of the History of Barcelona. What I like best about this museum is it houses the largest ancient Roman excavation outside of Rome.
Further east in the Picasso Museum. Picasso spent his teenage years here. If you are a fan, you can enjoy over 4,000 pieces of his work. Most notable is Science and Charity (thought of as the best painting from his youth), The Mad (one of the best pieces from his Blue Period), and the vast Las Meninas series.
You can make today a Gaudi day. This Spanish architect truly has a one-of-a-kind style that is on display in many places. If you aren’t a Gaudi fan, then you can skip the first two locations I talk about, but the last two are a must-see. From the hotel, a short walk north on Passeig de Gracia brings you to the first of two well-known apartments designed by Gaudi. Casa Batllo has a fun and fluid exterior, and the inside is truly a sight to behold. In fact, it’s difficult to explain the quirky architecture, but I guarantee it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before in a home. Up on the roof, the chimney designs are my favorite part.
Heading north a little more brings you to Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera. The exterior may have a rougher appearance than Batllo, but this building is magical. The interior and courtyards once again find a way to be beautifully quirky, but in a different manner than Batllo. The rooftop includes even more spectacular chimneys. It should be mentioned that both locations offer a colorful night show that brings the buildings to life.
From here, you can take the L5 metro line for a quick trip to Sagrada Familia. I thought this was a true “Wow!” moment. This dream of Gaudi has been under construction for over a century and still has a while to go. Upon completion, it will be the tallest church in the world. You’ve never seen a church like this. The blend of architectural styles, elements of nature, colorful stained glass windows, and sheer massiveness inside will leave you speechless. Definitely get a fast-track / skip-the-line ticket or a timed tour due to the popularity of this landmark attraction.
The final Gaudi attraction is out of the way, but worth the journey. It’s Park Guell. From Sagrada Familia, you can take the L5 back and transfer to the L3 to Vallcarca station. Then, it’s a 10 minute walk east to the park. The moment you see the main entrance and guardhouse, you’ll know what delights you’re in for. Continue up the monumental staircase with its colorful lizard sculpture and explore Hypostyle Hall. To the east are gardens to stroll. Or, turn west to walk through fun Portico of the Washerwoman. After a metro ride back, explore the tapas options around your hotel.
On the third day, a short excursion that I recommend taking is visiting the Montserrat Monastery. This is just an hour journey and holds the famous Black Virgin of Montserrat, a statue believed to be about 2000 years old. To get there from the hotel, take the L1 line to Placa d’Espanya. Then, a train departs to the base of Montserrat. From here, you can take an aerial tram up the side of the cliff. This provides fantastic views. Once at the top of the mountain, you’ll get even better views. This pilgrimage site is a unique treat.
Once you return to Placa d’Espanya, you will be near Montjuïc. I recommend talking the winding 1.5-mile walk through gardens to get to Montjuïc Castle. Or, you could take a bus or cable car. The castle is an old fortress from 1799. It provides great 360-degree views from the top. The castle also houses a small café that is quite good. If you’ve timed your return to the Placa d’Espanya metro station right, you’ll pass the Magic Fountain light show that you definitely don’t want to miss (times change based on season).
If you have another day, consider spending time at Barcelona’s magnificent but crowded beaches. Shopping, food, and drink are always nearby. Or, if you are a Salvador Dali fan, plan a fun excursion to the Salvador Dali House Museum in Cadaques. This is a wonderful sight and a beautiful journey about 3-hours one-way via train and bus.