In the past four years, this is our second trip to Spain. Traveling with kids is always an experience, but this time, with full-on teenagers, we noticed some huge differences in personalities since our last visit. The biggest: the eyerolling, sighing, and being openly embarrassed by almost anything we did, most especially mixing up German and Spanish.
Before we left for Barcelona, we asked the kids to help contribute to the planning — research a bit and give us their suggestions for where we should go. We combined all the “wish lists” and came up with a master plan which could be adjusted as needed.
Day 1: Arrival
After our last family trip where I tried to squeeze in too much on arrival day, I opted for a more laid back approach. Instead of an overly packed first day, we spent some time wandering the Eixample (pronounced ” eye-SHAM-ple”) neighborhood. We quickly discovered this is the best neighborhood to stay in for tourists. We were so close to everything—the Gothic Quarter, the beach, Gaudi sites, the metro, etc. Everything was walkable and when it wasn’t, we could hop on the metro without any issues (since of course, our children know everything about public transportation, and they pushed us aside to advise on how to work the metro/subway machines.)
As we roamed the streets, we happened upon the Museu de la Música de Barcelona. It was still too early to have dinner and the kids kept asking what we were doing wandering so in effort to simmer the masses, to the museum we went. Bonus: it was free that evening.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t pay for this museum, but it was the perfect solution to our situation. If you have musicians in the family, and you happen to wander by, and it happens to be free, then go. It’s a collection of instruments and one room where kids can play a guitar, cello, organ, and harp. We happened along a brief piano performance, which was nice.
Day 2: Walking Tour | Beach | Flamenco
We begin every visit to a major city with a free walking tour. Most cities also offer biking and segway tours. I’m too cheap to pay for the same tour you can do on foot. This time around I booked Sandemans because my daughter loves that you spot them with the red umbrellas.
Top recommendation: Begin each trip with some kind of tour. You will get history, culture, politics, and details you would never ever get in a book. It gives you the layout of the city and tidbits that will help you to decide if you want to go back. The guides can vary greatly on their enthusiasm and level of detail, but so far, except for one city, we have found them very informative and entertaining. Bonus for many cities is your family will walk and burn off some energy. Sandemans makes a point to stop halfway through a café for a pit stop and a sales pitch on other paid tours. But does break up the two and a half hours enough for a mini respite. At the end you pay based on what you think the tour was worth.
A long walk to Somorrostro for lunch (highly recommended) brought us closer to the beach. Despite the fact we are not beach people, there is something very therapeutic about sitting on the sand and watching the waves, especially with the city right next to you.
Our evening plans included a Flamenco performance, which is not traditional for Catalan, but fun nonetheless. Back in 2015 when we visited Madrid, we attended a Flamenco performance that was highly memorable. I went back and forth on doing this again since the price was a little high for four people. In the end, I sucked it up and made the reservation for Palau Dalmases. If you haven’t been to a performance, I would recommend it. This beautiful venue in the middle of the Gothic Quarter is an hour-long show and each ticket gets you a drink. We ended up taking our teens’ drink tickets so even better. Your teens will be memorized by tap dancing ladies with frilly skirts and the songs of jealous lovers.
Tip: Email them to see if they will give you a discount for your teens. After I already purchased four tickets at 25 Euros a pop, I heard them saying there was a discount for kids under 16.
Day 3: Mercat de la Boqueria | Sagrada Familia | Park Güell | Catalan History Museum
Markets are fun, colorful, and lively. Stall after stall of cheese, seafood, candy, juice, meats, wine, cookies, and chocolate. We decided to hit the Mercat de la Boqueria early to avoid the crowds and get breakfast. Two places were recommended—El Quim and Pinotxo. We were hungry when we arrived, and Pinotxo was near the entrance. Rather than scope the two out and compare (which makes our kids crazy), we just sat down at Pinotxo. I do believe the older gentleman who works there may have been there since the beginning of time. We had tortillas and Xuixo, which may have been the yummiest thing I have ever eaten.
After a walk on La Rambla with everything closed (but I could see it would be a cool place to visit on a nice day), we made our way to the Sagrada Familia.
The Sagrada Familia has its own post over here. To summarize, this was the top teen attraction from our crew. I realize people either love or hate it, but with a little pre-Gaudi homework and a guided tour you’ll learn to appreciate the basilica for what it is, even if you don’t love it.
- Do a little homework before you go.
- Book online ahead of time. Go early in the day.
- Don’t forget about the extras like the museum.
- Take the guided tour.
From the Sagrada Familia, we ventured to Park Güell. To be honest, I couldn’t stomach paying another entrance fee for a park. In retrospect, perhaps it was a mistake. You can walk around the free portion of the park which is lovely and has tons of places for kids to escape. We started at the top of the park and worked our way down. The kids were starting to melt down with walking so perhaps it was the better option in the end.
There was a bit of debate on what to do after a late lunch of HipFish (our family really misses poke in Germany). Both kids expressed an interest in the Museu d’Història de Catalunya on their list of things to see before we arrived. My son specifically said he wanted a museum with a good overview of Barcelona not specific to an artist. This museum is not on the top 10 in Barcelona, but much to my surprise, the kids ranked this as a top site!
First thing to note, kids under 18 are free! When kids are free, you greatly increase the chances of us attending. The museum begins with the Romans and moves all the way through modern day in just two floors. This is not a museum for little kids, and if you’re not interested in local history, don’t go here. But if your kids want to get a nice overview with a downloadable (FREE) audio tour, this is perfect. The bonus is there are strangely odd interactive things along the way—like building an arch, wearing armor, sitting on a horse—that little kids wouldn’t care a lick about, but my teens found the space (which was mostly empty) almost enthralling.
Day 4: CrossFit | Cathedral | Beach | Picasso Museum | Palau de la Música
After almost a dozen family trips, we have realized by day four this family needs a workout. Don’t get me wrong, our goal is to walk at least 10 miles/16 km a day while traveling. But as we’re all used to working out on a regular basis, personalities and moods start to melt down by day three. We scheduled all four of us for a CrossFit work out.
The hubs needed a break from sightseeing so the three of us headed off to the Gothic quarter to explore. Our tour guide from the walking tour recommended a stop at the Barcelona Cathedral so we made that a tentative destination. Note, it costs 7 euros per person between noon and 5 pm. My guess is it’s free the rest of the time. So if you must see this and would prefer not to pay, double check the pricing and the times. It was actually lovely inside and fee afforded us an elevator ride to the roof to look over the city.
Both teens were anxious to head back to the beach since the day was warm. We headed that direction to meet up with my husband. My oldest climbed a jungle gym structure of ropes and sat staring out at the sea for nearly an hour. My daughter just dug in the sand. It was a nice respite from so much touring and information. The beach is very clean and in February . . . very quiet. My daughter was happy to stay and practice handstands, but my son felt like we should go see more sites. I’m always up for more adventures so we quickly decided on the Picasso Museum. It had been on my list of something to do if there was time . . . and after a quick Google search I realized he was free! So off the two of us went.
We see Picasso works here and there at various art museums around the world. But it’s thrilling (OK, perhaps that’s not the right word) to see an artist’s work spanning decades. We wandered room to room filled with paintings that resemble a more traditional artist and then BAM! something changes with our deal friend Pablo. You can see sketches from early days, but the timeline of his life is rather interesting. If you have extra time, then go.
Our evening included another performance. The Palau de la Música concert hall was recommended (another UNESCO World Heritage site), and I prefer to attend an actual performance. The building is striking and the ceiling with its roses and stain glass is certainly unique. I booked a guitar orchestra concert a few weeks out as it seemed like the performance that would pack a powerful punch. This talented group of musicians delivered complete with a violinist, pianist, and Spanish dancer. If you would like to visit this venue, I recommend actually seeing a performance. Consider it a cultural experience.
Day 5: Montserrat
We saved Montserrat for the last day. Recommended by numerous people as a day trip, our clan usually gets a little restless by the end of a journey so we wanted something different. I reserved a car with the plan to drive directly to the monastery. However, once the hubs got wind that we could hike it, we decided this would be better for our family. This blog gave us some great directions on finding the trail for the hour-and-a-half hike. We cancelled the rental car.
And all great plans must have a backup plan.
Come Thursday morning, as we headed out to take the train, complete in hiking shoes, a RENFO worker told us there was a separatist strike affecting the trains and while we may be able to get out to Montserrat, it might be possible we couldn’t get back. We should go another day, he says.
Unless we drove. Since we were already at the main train station, we walked a few blocks to the Avis office. Both the ladies there were uncertain as to the scope of the demonstrations/strikes and the roads may be affected as well. They wouldn’t go to Montserrat today. As we considered our options, my daughter started to cry, fearful that would be stuck on the mountain. After looking at Google maps and careful deliberation (whatever that is), we decided to give it try. Tucked into our teeny tiny car (less money than the train would have cost), we headed out to the mountain. Also, half the time by car vs. train.
As we chugged up the mountain in our teeny car, which I won’t lie was a bit terrifying, I felt this had been the right decision. We got through the gates and parked right away deciding to walk up a little more to make up for not hiking. Keep in mind you are up here for the view.
The church has a few things worth noting. First, there is a black Virgin Mary in there. You have to wait in a separate queue to see her. She is special and has special healing powers. As both my husband and I grew up Catholic, we understand this, but neither of us were willing to wait in line to see her. You can see her from the pews….kind of. My favorite part was the unique collection of lanterns around the church. They were all different and worth enjoying.
This site used to be (and may still be) a pilgrimage for many. So we had to appreciate that because the mountain is no joke! You can hike from the monastery down to the Santa Cova Chapel where a sighing of the Virgin Mary was seen. It’s a very small chapel and the building itself is not impressive, but the views are. And the hike was good for us all. Along the way you will statues that will make you feel like you are on a religious expedition.
There are a few trams/funiculars and cable cars that will transport you from the lower parts of the mountain. The funiculars/trams weren’t working the day we went and the cable cars seemed somewhat irregular. Just double check it all before you plan your journey.
Best: Definitely the best thing was the Sagrada Familia. I heard a little bit about it, but in my mind it wasn’t as amazing as it was. We have visited a lot of churches and cathedrals and I thought that this was just going to be another one. But it was absolutely amazing! The inside is what I enjoyed the most, with the forest like architecture and stained glass windows, this was the most beautiful building I have ever seen in my life. Plus, the history and future is very interesting, hopefully we will return to see it complete in a hopeful seven years.
Worst: Like most trips, the family gets tired of one another after a few days. So all the sights were wonderful but sometimes the arguments can be quite irritating. Even when the trip is great, by the end, we’re all ready to get away from each other for a bit. [Editor’s note: There were few(er) arguments this time, but it comes with family. If this is the worst of the trip, I say success!]
Unexpected: When we first started researching we seemed to come across a lot of pick pocketing stories, even my best friend said she was robbed of all her things when she went to Barcelona. Maybe we were prepared but when we got there it didn’t seem to be a threat. I didn’t see anyone getting robbed or in any danger of being pick pocketed so we were pleasantly surprised that is was over exaggerated, at least in our case.