There is so, so much to do in Barcelona for families.
Gaudi Sites: There are some things you just HAVE to do in Barcelona and they shouldn’t be skipped. La Sagrada Familia and all the wonderful things Antonio Gaudi did for example. La Sagrada Familia is the Basilica Gaudi famously started over 140 years ago that is STILL under construction. As Gaudi once said, his client (God) has no timeline. Under construction or not, it is absolutely a stunning and remarkable artistic contribution that is a must. The play of light in the glass, the towering arches, the tiny playful finds and passionate details – La Sagrada does not disappoint and is wonderful for families to visit. A few things to note:
- It is a church. You must cover shoulders and knees and children need to be respectful.
- Buy tickets ahead of time; it is wildly popular.
- There are two different towers you can climb; you take an elevator up and walk across and down. Not for the weak of heart.
- There is a great playground outside that is perfect for giving children an opportunity to run around; it’s split into two areas for tiny little and mid-sized ones.
Parc Guell is another Gaudi masterpiece. The park sits on a hill overlooking Barcelona and contains two guard houses (you can visit one) as well as a nice area to walk around with gardens. When we visited, about half the area seemed to be under construction and that was disappointing. You’ll need to buy tickets ahead of time, as only 40 people are let into the park every 30 minutes.
Churches in Barcelona are beautiful and the ones we visited were free, with the exception of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, as that one came with a guided tour and trip up the Bell Tower, where we could see the roman wall and original old Barcelona boundaries.
The Barcelona Cathedral is the resting spot for the tomb of St. Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona. The cathedral has much 14th and 15th century art as well as many famous characters from Barcelona history. You’ll find 13 white geese in residency in the outside cloisters, each one representing one year that St. Eulalia lived. We also visited the Church of Santa Anna, a 13th century monastery and chapel where we were lucky enough to attend a private Spanish Guitar concert. With only 20 seats in the chapel, it was very intimate and moving, but should only be attempted with children who can stay still for an hour and a half. Little was thrilled to buy a cd and have it signed after the concert.
La Rambla: This famous boulevard has vendors along both sides and tourists wander along until they meet the harbor. It’s a great place to pick up little things but it was very busy – and very touristy. Once we had walked up and down, we felt there wasn’t much of a reason to go back. If you do make it to the Harbor, there is an aquarium and large shopping mall there.
Neighborhoods: La Rambla is very famous with tourists as is the gorgeous Gotic (Gothic) quarter. While the Gothic quarter’s beauty cannot be beat, the bottom level is crawling with tourists, postcard shops, chain places like McDonalds and Dunkin Doughnuts. On one end, the Gothic Quarter meets the old harbor (Christopher Colombus’s statue is here) and on the other, it meets Ravel, a higher end neighborhood the is overrun by tourists on weekends. We preferred staying in the Born area, which I had been told was a lower-income area with students and artist. As a result there were amazing coffee shops, tapas bars, bakeries within minutes of our door. Which brings us to where we were staying:
Aparthotel Aladda: An Apart-hotel is a neat concept where you stay in an apartment but it’s a hotel-like environment: there is someone at the front desk to help you some of the time. The one we chose was a one bedroom, two bath with a mini kitchen and was within a 5-10 minute walk to Ravel, the Gothic Quarter and all of the amazing sites so we wouldn’t need cabs, metro or buses. Barcelona is a maze of tall, 18th century buildings that circle around little plazas, each with different restaurants, cafes and shops. Ours had pizza, sushi, Chinese and tapas, a British pub, as well as a shirt boutique, pharmacy and small market and turned into an open-air market on Saturday. Oh! And a small playground, which little LOVED and played in daily. It was just around the corner from a self-serve laundry and only 2 blocks from the Picasso museum. It can be so, so easy to get lost in Born but technology to the rescue – we could always open the phone to check in and re-navigate to our apartment.
Speaking of the Picasso Museum, that was a lovely surprise! They offer an audio tour geared just for kids! It was a huge hit for little, who listened to every single moment and learned so much.
With a good base and the right attitude, you really can’t go wrong staying and playing in Old Barcelona.