Barcelona, Spain is the city everyone’s talking about. Which means that even teens might be interested if you suggest a Barcelona holiday. We went for a long weekend and can confirm that like all the best cities it really does have something for everyone.
Why take a Barcelona City Break?
A vibrant friendly city – it’s full of history at every turn with a contemporary vibe too.
Fabulous weather – Barcelona is a sunny city all year round.
Art and architectural treasures – that are part of the cityscape, not just locked away in museums. Medieval squares rub shoulders with Art Nouveau, Modernisme and contemporary design.
Beaches – sun-kissed beaches, the sparkling Mediterranean sea and two miles of promenade for strolling, cycling and people-watching.
Plenty of shopping – this city prides itself on its design heritage. Shopping opps range from flea markets and traditional crafts to boutiques, department stores and international fashion ateliers.
Recommended for family trips with kids, teens, young adults or a multi-generation weekend away.
Who went, where and when: Nancy and her teenage sons, Nick and Ed went to Barcelona for four days in August 2016
Our 10 Things to do in Barcelona
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Take a city tour
Barcelona is famous for the works of Antoni Gaudí, who designed many of the city’s extraordinary Modernista buildings.
We hit the ground running on our first day with a walking tour that introduced us to the key Gaudí sights. Yes, it was a scramble to get from airport to hotel and then to the meeting place in Plaça Reial. On the plus side we didn’t waste a second of our first afternoon and we got an instant flavour of the city. Our guide Jessi gave us lots of background tales and insights and also some useful tips for the rest of our stay.
Runner Bean Walking Tours offers themed walks including a Kids and Family tour.
Need to know: There’s no set price: at the end of the tour you pay the guide what you feel it was worth. Here’s their website for more details: www.runnerbeantours.com
See La Sagrada Familia
If you only see one Gaudí building in Barcelona then it has to be La Sagrada Familia. It is his still unfinished masterwork and furthermore is one of the most famous monuments in Spain.
Gaudí only completed one facade of this huge church though work continues, inspired by his original plans. It’s Gothic bordering on fantasy and encrusted with symbolic detail; its sheer size is breathtaking. If you plan to take a look inside then you must book ahead to avoid the enormous queue.
It’s worth it!
Need to know: book online for a timed entrance to La Sagrada Familia. Also book in advance to go up one of the towers for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Take in a festival
Barcelona is divided into districts and they nearly all have festivals in the summer. We visited in August and coincided with the Festa Major de Gràcia which just happened to be on the doorstep of our hotel.
The streets of Gràcia were festooned with decorations, many inventively made from recycled materials. Some had a serious message like the street devoted to the plight of refugees, others were escapist fantasies. They looked wonderful day and night.
We spent two evenings in Gràcia, wandering through the streets, listening to the music and enjoying the carnival spirit. Throughout the week there are parades with giant figures called ‘gegants’. Teams of castellers climb on each other’s shoulders to build human towers and, on the final night, ‘demons’ take to the streets throwing fireworks. Plenty to watch!
Need to know: check ahead for the dates of the neighbourhood summer festivals in Barcelona
Walk in a park
Before our visit to the Picasso museum we wandered through the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s billed as Barcelona’s most popular park and it was certainly swarming with bike tours. But it didn’t feel over-busy and even on a Saturday lunchtime in August we could have found a shady spot for a picnic. There’s a dramatic fountain and parakeets shrieking in the palms too.
On Sunday morning we visited Park Güell, the pleasure gardens imagined by Gaudí. It’s a huge area with natural stone walkways, arcades and viaducts that wind across a steep hillside.
There are plenty of viewpoints or spots to picnic and musicians playing in shady nooks. Take sunscreen and water. The public garden is free but the Monumental Area, where Gaudí’s imagination really ran wild, is ticketed with timed entries. It also has a cafe.
This is where you can get up close to the mosaic lizard and the sinuous tiled bench overlooking the city that adorn a hundred postcards.
Need to know: Book ahead for the Monumental Area as it’s hugely popular and entrance is timed. Try to get there early in order to avoid the crowds. There are two metro stops near the Park which both involve an uphill walk however outdoor escalators help. A 24 bus stops near one of the gates.
Visit Camp Nou – if you’re a football fan
One morning I went walking – and shopping – in Gràcia and the boys headed off to Camp Nou. FC Barcelona is one of the pre-eminent clubs in the world and its museum charts its history with memorabilia, pictures and collections of kit and trophies. Behind the scenes, visitors are allowed into the Away dressing room, the media rooms, the tunnel and the dugouts.
The boys were struck by just how huge the stadium is. The pitch is maximum size, one of the biggest in the world and the stadium soars skywards, tier after tier.
I was impressed to see that the grass is still cut by one man pushing a lawnmower.
Need to know: book ahead, as always, to avoid queuing. The Experience ticket gives access to the museum and a self-guided tour.
See Picasso in a palace
Five palaces in fact. The hugely popular Museu Picasso is housed in adjacent medieval palaces in the La Ribera district. We decided to do just one museum and the boys both voted for this one. It’s one of the most important collections of Picasso’s work in the world however there are some big gaps. There are lots of his early paintings as a teenager and it’s easy to chart the huge leaps in style as his work matures. But don’t expect to see many of his really famous pieces. His interpretations of Las Meninas by Velázquez fill a gallery and are one of the highlights.
Need to know: There’s a no photos rule inside the museum but the courtyards and stairways at entrance and exit are beautiful in their own right. There’s also an excellent gift shop!
Watch the Magic Fountain
Montjuic is the site of the 1992 Olympics. On a Sunday afternoon the stadium and its huge piazza were deserted and rather forlorn. But the Olympic pools, indoor and outdoor, were open and looked inviting. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya was closed – but we knew that the fountain in front of it was due to put on a show. So we went to the Arenas for supper and a sunset view. The former bullring is now a shopping mall with a 360 degree rooftop terrace and lots of restaurants. We picked a table facing the MNAC and watched crowds gathering in the Avenue that leads to the fountain.
Soon after sundown the show began. White fountains flanking the avenue frothed into life while the central Font Màgica erupted in every shade from grapefruit to pomegranate. We joined the crowds for a closer look on the escalators that lead up to the MNAC terrace. It’s a sort of aquatic firework display – just the thing for a hot August night.
Need to know: check ahead for dates and times of the displays.
Obviously tapas are going to be a big part of any trip to Barcelona. But the pastries are fab too. We just happened to pass La Colmena – it’s close to the Cathedral – and made a point of returning twice more. Great sandwiches as well as cakes.
Need to know: it’s all good!
Shopping isn’t always high on the list of priorities on a family trip. But Barcelona will reward you if you’re able to snatch a retail opportunity or two. I spotted plenty of tempting fashion, accessory and interiors boutiques and even managed to go into one or two. Sadly Vinçon, iconic temple of home goods and design, has gone. It’s still in the guidebooks as it only closed last year but I can verify it’s not there anymore. On a more family-friendly note Barcelona has its share of quirky and unique stores. This is El Ingenio which specialises in the giant heads used in parades as well as theatre goods and magic. It’s just as fascinating inside as you’d expect!
And after a couple of day’s diet of protein and carbs we pounced on this display of perfect fruit on a street in Gràcia.
Go to the beach
Barcelona’s sunny beaches were actually installed for the 1992 Olympics along with two miles of promenade for strolling, cycling and people-watching. They’ve been a hit ever since. The busiest part of the beach is Barceloneta, which was packed when we arrived on a hot and breezy Saturday afternoon.
There are huge pleasure boats in the dock and a palm fringed broadwalk to stroll along – dodging electric scooter riders.
A couple of days later we set out to find some quieter sands. North of Barceloneta is Bogatell beach: easy to get to on the metro and distinctly uncrowded in the late afternoon.
We splashed around in the waves then sat in the sun until the evening. There’s a lifeguard tower – and a warning message when they go off duty – and showers as well as ping pong and volleyball. The other great plus about Bogatell is its chiringuito, or beach bar, La Guingueta Escriba.
So we ordered club sandwiches and tapas with our toes in the sand and watched the sunset reflected over the sea.
Photos taken by Nancy and family are all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written consent.
For more on Barcelona – where we stayed, where we ate and tips on using the Metro read
Have you visited Barcelona yet? Please share your stories in the comments below.