There’s only one word you need to enjoy a family visit to Barcelona. Gelato.
We promised our children that there would be Gelato, and there was. And it was out of this world. And every time we wanted to walk just a little further, explore just a little more, stay out a little later, the promise of the tastiest gelato won every time. This is the way to win at family holidays. You’re welcome.
We spent 4 days in Barcelona in late April. Living in the rural bliss of the Isle of Skye we like to head for cities for our holiday time. We don’t need miles of empty beaches, silence and chill time, and lungfuls of freash clean air on holiday – that’s our daily grind. Instead we seek out bustle, excitement and full on, eyes wide open, get ready for the next new experience holidays.
Barcelona was ideal. Mild spring weather ( we strolled the avenues in shorts and summer dresses, the locals more conseratively in jeans, woolies and chunky coats!), Meditteranean hospitality and streetlife, new foods to try, bustle, markets, shopping, history, amazing architecture, and a city beach all wrapped up in a few square and easily accessible miles.
Day One Arriving mid morning (we stayed in a shabby chic trad old school hotel just off off La Rambla) we spent the first day strolling La Rambla from end to end, eating tapas, exploring the food market and ending up soaking up the sun on the boardwalk at the Marina. It was a perfect introduction to the city. The children stayed close for the first couple of hours but soon took courage and scampered off to engage with the street performers, browse the stalls selling sweets and plants and souvenirs. We all ate gelato.
After a brief siesta we headed to a neighbour hood restaurant near to our hotel. Recommended by our taxi driver (which is always a pot luck) it turned out to be our favourite spot – a funky bar, with friendly staff and a mix of tapas and great quality kids food with beer and vino tinto on hand for us, we ate there most evenings. Eating is a key part of any holiday for us and in Barcelona we really enjoyed the street food, the tiny back street bakeries where four of us could enjoy a huge square of fresh baked pizza and a fruit juice for 8euro, the freshness and quality of the food and the chance to experiment with something new a few times a day. Churros and pastries for breakfast and gelato for pudding.
Day Two and we let the children decide what we would do that day. Easy – back to the Marina and time to explore the Aquarium. This time we strolled there via the Barrio Gottic ( the old town). We took in the Cathedral and traditional dancers performing in the square outside, we wondered along tiny alleyways and gazed upwards at gardens and washing in the streets above us, we were lucky to stumble across a performance by Castellers (human towers – amazing), and with the odd gelato to keep us going we arrived at the Marina and Aquarium.
An easy 3 hours or so of entertainment – the children absolutely loved it. After the cool of the Aquarium they also loved exploding out into the sunshine of the Marina where we cooed over the yachts and people watched while we mingled with the Sunday masses crossing the bouncy wooden bridge that spans the Marina.
Day 3 We abandoned walking for the day and jumped aboard Barcelona’s excellent underground.Easy and cheap to use ( 10 rides for 14 euro) we headed for the Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s great unfinished work. The towering masterpiece is crammed into a suburban space. Book tickets in advance and be prepared to crick your neck and bump into hundreds of other tourists as you circle the permanent building site that this cathedral will be for the next decade. It is breathtaking in scale, design and sheer eccentricity. We loved the view from the park across the street, where the towers and steeples reflected in the green waters of the pond but mostly we loved the gelato and the time spent in the adventure playground. Constantly in Barcelona our children would merge into an international mass with local and visiting children and it was a particular joy to watch them play together. To complete our very surface view of Gaudi’s Barcelona we headed next to the broad boulevards of the smart resiidential and shopping district where even the pavements where beautifully designed and constructed to compliment the amazing architecture of La Pedera and Casa Batlo. Our nine year old particularly enjoyed capturing all these adventures on his phone camera.
After another tapas lunch – seafood for the children and a large beer for Mum and Dad – we headed underground again and whisked off to Montjuic and the funicular to the lovely park and grounds of the Olympic park. We spent an hour or so exploring the shady gardens with gorgeous views across the city. Late afternoon we headed back into town and that night we abandoned our neighbour hood restaurant for the a spot in the beautiful Placa Real. Undoubtedly a tourist trap – but an extemely beautiful one. A large square with palm trees, a beautiful cooling fountain at it’s centre, lined on all sides with formerly glorious and now slightly faded buildings with a huge variety of restaurants (and prices!) to choose. The food was fairly average, but the service from old school uniformed waiters and the glorious surroundings full of families eating and children playing or stopping in for cafe and gelato later in the evening made it a memorable experience.
Day 4 Was spent at the beach! The city beach in Barcelona – created, cleaned up, gentrified and made all pretty for the 1992 Olympics is an absolute gem. Clean, lined with little beach bars, toilets and showers. Deep blue horizon in one direction and the endlessly eccentric and fascinating architecture of Barcelona directly behind you. Seeing my daughter’s joy at splashing about in the Med for the first time was totally priceless. And the flow of waiters from the near by beach bars offering mojitos served direct to your beach towel makes it nearly perfect!
After we washed the sand of our feet (and I must admit stopped instagramming photos of our icy cold beers from the beach bar to friends enjoying less balmy temperatures at home) it was time for a last stroll up La Rambla, time to pick up some last minute souvenirs and yes time for just one more gelato!
Details of our trip:
We flew Ryanair from Edinburgh direct to Barcelona ( long passport queues – have some snacks/entertainment to hand for the children) and transfered to our hotel by taxi. Great organised taxi rank and around 20 minutes and 28 euro trip for us and our bags.
We stayed at Hotel Meson Castillo – great location and budget with large family rooms with plenty of space for four of us and charming and helpful reception staff.
We found lots of inspiration at Visit Barcelona – and they have a great twitter feed too as well as several handy apps.
I would recommend one of the foodie walking tours – Devour Barcelona is excellent
We had great advice from travel consulant Louise Mitchell – a service I would thoroughly recommend when searching the internet for millions of flight and hotel options just seems too much – with the added bonus of finding and suggesting activities that you would never nose out on your own.
The one thing I would have done differently?
I so wish I had taken my running gear. Barcelona in the early morning (when I am awake and my family resolutely asleep) is a city made to run in. With lots of space for traffic and pedestrians , a glorious long boardwalk and miles and miles of traffic free alleys it would have been perfect. Next time!
Words: Rosie Woodhouse Love Skye Photography
Images: Rosie Woodhouse, Andrew Woodhouse Landscapes365 , Tom Woodhouse, Kate Woodhouse