From our AirBnb apartment in L’Eixample district we were withing a five minute walk to the Verdaguer metro station if need be, but we preferred to meander. Barcelona is a city to get lost in, a city to explore on foot, wandering around narrow alleyways and timeless architectural timepieces. We wandered down the Passeig de Sant Joan into Ciutadella Park, stopping over at the Cascada and then into the Gothic Quarter.
Traditionally known as the Barri Gotic, the Gothic quarter area encompasses the old center of town. Highlights in the area that are worth exploring are the:
- Picasso Museum because really you can’t say you’ve been to Barcelona and missed it (to avoid the queues get tickets online ahead of time, saves a huge chunk of time)
- La Rambla is another one of those Barcelona “must-do’s.” In theory it is the quintessential European street to “ramble” on but in my opinion it lost its sole to commercialism a while back and is now the quintessential tourist trap full of people in shorts with cameras around their necks buying over-priced anything and everything.
- Sombreria Obach on the other hand is one of my favorites, a shop that does one thing only and does it well – a hat shop. Stepping into Sombreria Obach is like stepping back in time. No displays inside the store, only dresser drawers with sizes to find you a hat that you will call your own. If you are into hats this is one place not to be miss.
- Barcelona is known for many attractions, but the foodie scene is definitely a big draw. Restaurant Montiel, recommended to us by friends of friends proved to be a culinary adventure in the best sense of the word. Our host Gabriel was very eloquent and so very charming in his Spanglish translations of the foods. Confitated (still don’t know what it means) is now part of the family lexicon and our favorite new English word. Another lost in translation moment came with the term “vegeterian” – with Gabriel proudly waltzing in carrying a plate of foie-gras for Dawn, then duck filled ravioli, and finally “sweetbread” which I later found out isn’t sweet and is definitely not bread. Details aside, the food was exquisite, no other words to describe it really. Probably one of the best meals in my life (or recent memory anyway) – blending art, science, and passion together to create dishes that were masterpieces. Speaking of dining, eating out at lunch is definitely the way to go with the “Menu of the Day” including a first course, second course, desert, and coffee/drink usually for between 8-12 Euro depending on location and fanciness.
- Placa Reial is a quaint piazza just off the busy Las Ramblas surrounded by outdoor restaurants and a large central courtyard where something always seems to be happening, including a pick-up game of football.
- Forn de Pa Artesa’ just around the corner from the apartment on Bailen St. is divine for fresh bread and fluffy pastries. We started every morning with coffee and Nutella croissants – the breakfast of champions!
- The Museum of Inventions is a gem of a place, all about children and what imagination and creativity can achieve. For children under 11 there is also a “lab” to jot down ideas and the best ones are turned into prototypes. Among my personal favorites were the child shower cap for not getting shampoo in your eyes and a magnetic watch type thing to keep nails on while on hammering jobs. And this short video I thought was really powerful …
In the Gracia district, just a 20 minute walk straight up from our apartment is Park Guell, another Gaudi masterpiece that combines elements of public park with architectural modernism. Lots or “organic shapes” with conical winding paths and Gaudi’s residence as well. Make your way to the top and you will be rewarded with stunning views over the city (and a public school with the best view ever).
Antoni Gaudi was a busy man, though he lived to be 73 he seems to have built anything and everything worth taking a picture of in Barcelona. Perhaps his piece-de-resistance is his work on the Sagrada Familia, I have seen many churches in my life and this one is like no other. It is still a work in progress, though when asked about the long construction time-frame Gaudi is remarked to have said “my client is not in a hurry.” The man was pure genius, and the building really speaks to you in terms of the design elements that make it come alive. A must see.
If the children remark at some point “why do we have to see so many churches” then it is time to head to Barceloneta and Olympic village area. This is Barcelona’s board walk, a great way to catch some fresh air and stroll along the water. Our modus operandi was to bring a soccer ball, let the kids have at it and park ourselves at one of the many cafes lining the beach for tapas and sangria. A great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
For the more sporting inclined no visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the Camp Nou, the holy ground of the FC Barcelona football team. The stadium tour is interesting but the real game was priceless. When we originally bought the tickets we were hoping to catch Messi in action, alas he ended up hurting his knees and did not play but we did have great seats and an awesome experience being in the world’s third biggest football stadium for the night match between FC Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano. With a goaleda final scoreline of 5-2 this was definitely a family highlight and the most memorable 90 minutes the children will remember.
Montjuic Castle, a former military fortress is set on top of a hill with spectacular views over Barcelona and the Med. Take the L3 metro to Parallel, then the funicular to Montjuic and from there it is a short 10 minute walk. A tourist attraction that hides a dark past – if only walls could talk.
Street Art is another distinguishing feature of Barcelona, especially on closed store shutters, love it.
Biking Barcelona is another fun way to explore the city. There are rentals for every time frame and budget. There are certain streets with dedicated bike lanes – get the map that shows where they are, well worth it.
We spent a week in Barcelona and were basically full on from morning till night, eventually learning to eat lunch at 2 and taking advantage of siesta time. At a minimum five days are almost obligatory, but a week just about checks off all the “must do” sights. There is something for everyone and a definite family holiday destination that we all highly recommend, as my son says the B in Barcelona is for Best!