In Barcelona last July I got the kind jolt that only the rocket fuel of a great trip can deliver: Over 5 colorful, dizzy, hot days my family and I burned through an action-packed, throw down of walking, swimming, tasting, sampling, sweating and culture soaking in Barcelona. My husband, our 3 kids ages 8, 10 and 12 and I set a pace that started with a slow to rise morning and ended well after midnight most evenings.The combination of our excitable, hungry travel temperament and the energy of Barcelona itself were a combustable match.
I knew Barcelona would be a spot-on fit for our varied interests. Easy walking and great tapas & wine. Excellent pastries. World class soccer team. Gaudi architecture. Robust local design scene. Colorful street life. Mediterranean sea in which to frolic. Done!
My family and I pulled off this trip relatively last minute style (planned 2-3 months in advance versus 9 or 10 as usual). I created an itinerary with 10 days in Spain – 5 daysin Barcelona, followed by 4 days in the medieval hill town of Girona (only 80k from Barcelona, 38 mins by high speed rail). The second part of our trip would be 9 days in southern France – a 4 hour drive away- as houseguests of a friend. (Details of this second part of the trip in a Dispatches post to come.)
Our home in Barcelona was an Airbnb apartment on Carrer de Valencia in the L’Eixample neighborhood. Our flat was a bonafide Moderniste beauty, immersed in a shady neighborhood of cafes, wide sidewalks and a seemingly endless supply of teeth whitening salons. A tiny elevator hauled our luggage while we walked the tight curving stairs up three floors, our steps and voices echoing. Inside, original tile floors, large windows, a long narrow corridor, 2 small bedrooms and one larger master suite made for a lovely and surprisingly affordable home base. This historic, gemlike flat was perfect: pretty, AC cooled, and quiet.
The loose walking itinerary I created for our family’s 5 days in Barcelona criss crossed the city with key stops to see La Pedrera & the Picasso Museum (highlights of the trip), the Museum de Xocolata (not so much), La Boqueria market (delicious, colorful and smaller than I expected), Camp Nou soccer stadium (for the true futbol fan) and Museo Historica de Barcelona (really fascinating on paper, but sadly closed due to a strike during our visit). I also folded in a half day Fat Tire bike tour, which was a huge hit with our gang in Paris years before. My careful list of tapas bars, scenic walks, design boutiques and other points of interest became a tangle of notes, as my on the fly research yielded more to see and do than we could possibly fit in. Moreover, various strikes and closures, not uncommon in Barcelona, required regular zigs and zags in our itinerary.
From our flat we walked south past stately, turn of the century, Moderniste apartment buildings. L’Eixample neighborhood has rightly been called an open air museum of early 20th century architecture. These elegant residential streets were a visual feast for our family of bourgeoning architecture lovers. Along the grand Passeig de Gracia we stopped to see lines of people waiting to enter Casa Batlo, one of Antoni Gaudi’s most recognizable residential works. (We returned for a captivating tour and visit a few days later which was a hit for all ages; tickets purchased online, which I highly recommend).
Strolling through the L’Eixample district, the many colored tile mosaics, cast concrete flourishes and retro Moderniste lettering on signs caught my eye — along with a few inviting benches to rest our legs. I do love little cozy spots to rest.
A few more blocks and we’d arrive at the center of town, Plaza Catalunya, and a necessary stop into department store El Corte Ingles (full of fun colorful clothes on the kids’ floor and local designers on the women’s floor, see details in Resources, below). Then on to explore the bustling pedestrian artery La Rambla, and even better, the smaller streets that meander on either side of it. It was on one of these side streets, Pintor Fortuny, that we found an excellent art supply store, Casa Piera. There we browsed notebooks & sketchbooks in all sizes and shapes, markers, paints, colored pencils and pens, and a large selection of Lamy, my favorite line of fountain pens.
Throughout our days we found Barcelona infused with a steady stream of bright, energizing design and flavor that pronounced we were nowhere but in Barcelona.
My Barcelona favorites: The hilarious tube sock wearing mascot for Demasie, a bake shop in the Born area that specializes in big, gloppy delicious cinnamon rolls; The selection of modern cotton basics and the easy blue t-shirt dress I found at GreenLife Style boutique in the Gracia neighborhood; The buzzing vibe at Bar Lobo, an indoor/outdoor restaurant a block from La Rambla, with delicious Patatas Bravas with romesco sauce and aioli and cool Cava by the glass; The great view from Bar Lobo on the small plaza on Carrer d’en Xucia and Carrer del Pintor Fortuny with its’ nightly rotation of performance artists and painters; Placa Reial, an airy plaza near but separate from the bustle of the Rambla, a perfect spot to stretch out at a cafe and watch the kids kick the soccer ball with new friends.
What really made our stay in Barcelona feel like a vacation were the frequent stops for cool sparkling limonada for kids, Cava for us, and snacks for all. Pa amb Tomaquet (tomato rubbed bread), Tortilla de Patatas (traditional Spanish omelette with layered potatoes), and Jamon Iberico and olives were our favorites.
Looking up almost anywhere we would see hanging yellow banners and ribbons, reminders of the contentious and still unresolved outcome from the referendum for Catalonian independence in 2017.
The cool turquoise of the Mediterranean sea is a siren call after a long July day in Barcelona. Barceloneta was our pick. It is a lovely, easy-going urban beach, walkable from the Rambla and the Ciutat Vella. We ended our second day in the city with a meandering walk through the tiny, twisty lanes & boutiques of Ciutat Vella, culminating in a blistering and shadeless traverse of Passeig d’Isabel II to get to La Barceloneta neighborhood with its seafood restaurants and beach.
We were sweaty and ready for a dip in the Med when we got there, towel-less but with our suits in our bags. We’d been warned numerous times about pick-pockets in Barcelona, and this beach is rife with ’em. How do I know? Because I foiled one as he was slipping my daughter’s bag from my feet and into his jacket as I paused to look up at the score of the World Cup soccer game we were watching in a beach cafe. It was that quick. I grabbed the bag back as the man stubbled away. Forty-five minutes of searching for police followed, during which we watched (and foiled) the would-be thief’s attempts to rob 3 more people. We were told by sympathetic bar staff, at multiple restaurants, that the beach is literally crawling with thieves. From then on wherever we were eating or pausing in Barcelona we kept our bags in our laps, with one arm laced through the straps.
That night, feeling lucky and a bit rattled from our near-miss theft, we found our way home via 2 pedi-cabs powered by talkative and knowledgeable drivers. Our moonlight route passed by Mercat del Born (now home of the El Born Cultural Center) and paused to peek in the windows on the urging of our drivers. This was one of the most captivating sights we found in Barcelona: an active archeological dig housed in a huge, airy, cast iron structure. We learned this had been the site of Barcelona’s central food market, but renovations begun in 2002 revealed underground remnants of buildings from the 1700’s. Hence the site’s transformation into an almost open-air museum offering fantastic overview of Barcelona’s history. We returned the next day to watch the team of archeologists as they recovered pottery and other artifacts.
As we prepped to leave our apartment on our last morning, it was clear that our days in Barcelona had been satisfying in a way you hope for: Learning, tasting, exploring, being inspired and relaxing. We were sold on the easy-going ritual of ending our days on a Placa, a cool drink, some crusty bread and a plate of Escalivada – fragrant grilled peppers, zucchinis and eggplant. Now to plan for our return….
5 Day Barcelona Family Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive apartment & Nap. Walk in L’Eixample neighborhood, stop for outdoor lunch en route. Stroll Passeig de Gracia and Plaza Catalunya, to El Corte Ingles Department Store, La Rambla, visit La Boqueria for late snacks, Casa Piera art store, stroll Barri Gotic, dinner at Bar Lobo, near La Rambla.
Day 2: Walk to La Ribera and El Born neighborhoods via the Arc de Triomf, browse boutiques, stop for coffee and sweet rolls at Damasie, visit Picasso Museum (advance tickets online), quick walk thru Museo de Xocolata. Lunch on Placa de la Seu, viewing La Catedral. End day at Barceloneta beach watching World Cup soccer match at beach front cafe & swimming. Paella dinner at outdoor restaurant on Passeig de Joan de Borbo in Barceloneta neighborhood – one of many restaurants from which to choose. Pedicabs home, excellent nighttime tour with charming riders.
Day 3: Fat Tire bike tour 11 a.m – 3 pm. After, family divides up: some go to Camp Nou for Barcelona FC visit, the rest Metro to Parc Guell and strolling Gracia neighborhood. Meet at Placa del Sol in Gracia for people watching & tapas. Uber to Placa Reial for dinner and evening stroll on La Rambla.
Day 4: Visit Sagrada Familia (tickets online first) 10:30 a.m – Noon. Stroll park across the street and have coffee/snacks from nearby bakery. Stroll L’Eixample neighborhood, into El Born to see El Born Cultural center and active archeological dig. Local dinner at a Gianni restaurant on Carrer del Valencia in L’Eixample neighborhood.
Day 5: Visit Casa Batlo (tickets online in advance) 11 a.m – 1 pm. Taxi to Barcelona Sants station, train to Girona.
Green Life Style: Small, well curated boutique with local designs and easy wear cotton basics. In the Gracia neighborhood. Torrent de l’Olla, 95, 08012 Barcelona. www.greenlifestyle.es
Cafe Demasie: Cinnmamon rolls in the Born neighborhood. Carrer de la Princesa, 28 Barcelona
El Corte Ingles Department Store: Avinguda del portal de l’angel 19, Barcelona. Details: https://www.elcorteingles.es/centroscomerciales/es/eci/centros/centro-comercial-placa-de-catalunya
Bar Lobo: Carrer del Pinor Fontuny 3, 08001 Barcelona. For hours and details: https://grupotragaluz.com/restaurante/bar-lobo//
Mercat de la Boqueria: La Rambla 91,08001 Barcelona. Details: http://www.boqueria.barcelona/home
Fat Tire Bike Tours: Carrer de Marlet 4, 08002 Barcelona. Details: https://www.fattiretours.com/
Parc Guell: In the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. Details: https://www.parkguell.cat/en/
Sagrada Famila: Carrer de Mallorca + Carrer de Sardenya. Details: http://www.sagradafamilia.org/tiquets/
Casa Batlo: Passeig de Gracia 43, 08007 Barcelona. Details: https://www.casabatllo.es/en/visit/
Camp Nou / Barcelona FC: C/Aristides Mallol 12 & Avenue Joan XVIII, 08028 Barcelona. Details: https://www.fcbarcelona.com/en/tickets/camp-nou-experience/practical-information
El Born Centre Cultural: Pl. Comerical, 12 (Corner de la Fusina) 08003 Barcelona. Details: http://elbornculturaimemoria.barcelona.cat/el-centre/informacio-practica/
The Picasso Museum: Carrer Montcada 15-23, 08003 Barcelona. Details: http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/