Friday, February 28, 2014

Barcelona with Kids

We recently had a four-day weekend and decided to extend it by a day and travel to Barcelona for five days.  We had a wonderful time exploring this historic, beautiful, interesting city.  This was an extremely child-friendly destination and a really fabulous holiday.  Here's what we did....

Why Barcelona?
Barcelona is a city in northern Spain, and is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia.   It boasts gorgeous beaches, incredible food, Gaudi's architecture, TONS of museums, fabulous shopping, a magical gothic quarter, a famous football team, delicious hot chocolate, and the list goes on and on. It is a short flight from Frankfurt and is a perfect spot for a long weekend.

Where to stay?
We consulted with some dear friends who are from Barcelona and they were right on in suggesting we stay in the middle of the Gothic Quarter, near the Gothic Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.  We stayed at an apartment run by Feel Good Apartments Gothic.  This clean, modern, spacious and artsy loft apartment was in the BEST location.  It had a door covered with stickers (which was actually really cool), no fancy foyer, narrow winding stairs, and no elevator.  This was not an issue for us and was a totally acceptable considering location and price.

Things to do...
There is SO much to do in Barcelona.  Beaches, restaurants, shopping, museums, football, architecture, history, art, tapas, exploring....the list is endless.  If you are considering a trip to Barcelona it is certainly worthwhile getting a guidebook (we love Lonely Planet) and educating oneself about all the options.  Rick Steves also has a great episode about Barcelona, available on Hulu and PBS, and snips such as this one are available on youtube.  Here is what we thought worked well with kids on our trip....

Getting around...
Barcelona is BIG.  Between La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, the waterfront, the beaches, the cathedral, the's quite a large area, and not everything is really walk-able, even for the most active families.  Our friends recommended we do at least one if not more days on one of the hop-on, hop-off busses.  This was a GREAT suggestion.  We chose Barcelona Bus Turistic, and paid for two days.  The bus has three routes, and each route stops at literally every relevant activity.  Plus, it is a double-decker bus and honestly, the novelty of riding atop an open air double decker bus is a highlight in and of itself.  We purchased tickets at the very helpful Tourist Office at the base of the....

Columbus Monument
The Columbus Monument is one of the iconic sites in Barcelona.  It was constructed in the late 1800s in honor of Christopher Columbus' voyage to America.  It is located at the base of La Rambla, and near the entrance to the waterfront district Port Vell, and is unmissable.  However, many people do not realize that you can GO UP IT, in a tiny round elevator.   This is really worth it, it's a great view and really fun.

La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter
A visit to Barcelona absolutely must include some time to wander around La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter.  La Rambla is a long and tree-lined pedestrian route in central Barcelona, crossed by many other picturesque and historic streets.  It is an easy walk down most side streets into the Gothic Quarter, which was our favorite area, and the area in which we stayed.  The Gothic Quarter was actually built on the remains of the Roman city, and you can see portions of the Roman walls.  The Gothic Quarter is so beautiful, with many courtyards and winding alleys, and even a handful of little playgrounds (which are especially useful at 7am with early-rising children).  It is choc-full of boutiques, shops, tapas bars, and restaurants.  The magic of this area touched us as adults, and also each of our three children.

Barcelona's Cathedrals
Barcelona is well known for Gaudi's almost-completed masterpiece, Sagrada Familia.  We attempted to go inside this enormous and amazing architectural treasure, but had not purchased tickets in advance and were dissuaded by the incredibly long lines.  Next time!  We wandered around the outside of it, and did check out some other Gaudi spots.

We were incredibly impressed by the Gothic Cathedral.  Not only it is beautiful, but it is connected to a Gothic cloister, full of greenery, gothic architecture, and incredibly beautiful, candle-laden altars to various Saints.  At dusk, one cannot imagine a more magical spot.  It also contains 13 white geese, which have historic and religions meaning.  We allowed the kids to each pick a Saint to light a candle for, and to throw some bread scraps to the geese.

Park Guell
Since a visit to Barcelona is not complete without an exploration of Gaudi, and our visit to the Sagrada Familia was thwarted by long lines, we made it a priority to check out Gaudi's famous park, Park Guell.  This architectural garden complex allowed us to explore Gaudi's style, and take in gorgeous views of Barcelona.

Barcelona's Waterfront
The gorgeous ocean and beaches are certainly part of what makes Barcelona so special.  We visited in the winter, so were not able to swim or do any summer-y activities, but just being able to walk around in the sun (and not be too hot) was really pleasant.  The waterfront starts at the newly constructed Port Vell, with an ultra-modern pedestrian walkway, dock, and gorgeous mall, and continues through countless Platjas (beaches).  There are a few playground areas, and some interesting shops and restaurants.   The children also found some beautiful shells.  Barcelona's waterfront is truly gorgeous, and is a wonderful contrast, and complement to, the Gothic beauty of the city.

There is also a gondola that connects the waterfront to some parklands.  We attempted to go on this, but the lines were too long.

Annella Olimpica and Surrouding Areas
Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics.  The Olympic Park, Annella Olimpica, is a stop on the Touristic Bus, and is a fun spot for kids to run around.  It's interesting to see the huge facilities that are built for the olympics.

In the vicinity of the Annella Olimpica are several other tourist destinations that looked awesome, especially the gorgeous Museu National d'Art de Cataluyna, but we did not make it to them.

Arenas de Barcelona
We are not fans of bull fighting, but did enjoy seeing the huge Arenas de Barcelona - a bull fighting arena that has been converted into a mall with a beautiful viewing platform.  Randomly, in this mall, we found a kiosk that had large fishtanks with Garra Rufa, aka Doctor Fish.  These small fish are fed fish food but think that human skin is a fabulous and delicious treat.  We paid five Euros to let them eat the dead skin on my and Mike's feet.  It was absolutely hysterically ticklish and the kids were delighted.  As Mike said, it was the funniest five Euros we have ever spent.

FC Barcelona
Barcelona has a very famous football team - FC Barcelona.  There happened to be an afternoon game the weekend we were there, so we bought tickets at the Columbus Monument tourist information office, and checked it out.  It was really interesting and lots of fun, but the game we were at was apparently not very important, and the crowd was quite subdued.  The stadium is huge and reminded me a bit of Comiskey Park.  I am so glad we went, and we now all feel a bit of an affinity with FC Barcelona.

Museu Picasso, Ciutat Vella
Barcelona is FULL of museums.  However, there is so much exploring to do, and it was so sunny and interesting to walk around and ride the Touristic Bus, that we did not make museums a priority.  But, I made it a requirement that we spend a Sunday afternoon (some museums are free Sunday afternoons in Barcelona) at the Museu Picasso, which chronologically portrays Picasso's formation as an artist.  We had a stroller for our littlest one, and so got stroller-priority to skip the hugely long line.     This was worth a visit as it is awesome to see the progression of Picasso's works from incredibly realistic to beautifully abstract.  To get a feel for it, you can watch Rick Steves walk through Museu Picasso here.

Flamenco Dancing
We had wanted to check out Flamenco Dancing while in Barcelona, so when we were waiting in line for the Museu Picasso and saw a man soliciting people to see a flamenco show, we jumped on it.  This was one of the best things we did in Barcelona, it was incredibly authentic, reasonably priced and had delicious sangria.  All three kids were transfixed, and the setting was gorgeous.  Espai Barroc is the name of the venue, and is worth a visit.

Like many spots in Europe, Barcelona contains a woman selling bird seed in Placa de Catalunya, reminiscent of the "feed the birds, tuppence a bag" lady from Mary Poppins.  My children have never been covered with pigeons before, and absolutely loved this experience.  We quickly popped into a nearby restaurant to thoroughly wash after this experience.

Food and Drink...
Tapas and Paella.  Need I say more?  The food in Barcelona is fabulous.  My kids loved it.  And the hot chocolate in Barcelona is not to be missed.  It is incredibly thick, and with a churro, is a great afternoon snack (and pick-me-up)!

When we were researching a trip to Barcelona, we found innumerable articles discussing the prevalence of pick-pockets in Barcelona, especially on La Rambla and in the Gothic Quarter.  Knowing that this was an issue, we were very careful with our belongings and did not carry purses or bags.  We felt safe in Barcelona, even at night, and did not have any issues.

We LOVED our time in Barcelona.  It is a magical, beautiful and fascinating city.  I feel so lucky that we were able to experience it with our children.  We highly recommend spending some time in Barcelona!


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