Four Days in Barcelona with Kids
Barcelona and Spain in general were never on any bucket list for me. Our trip to Spain was merely inspired by the following conditions I had set for our next trip.
We could get a direct flight from Charlotte, NC with American Airlines miles.
This destination would have plenty family friendly things to do within a two hour radius to keep us entertained for 10 days without spending a lot more time travelling.
Barcelona and the surrounding areas ticked all those boxes. Our group for this trip was four adults and four kids ages 1, 2, 9, and 12. I did a lot of planning beforehand to try to come up with an itinerary that would make the most people the most happy most of the time. Overall my plan worked out pretty well, but there are definitely a few things we would do differently if we were to do it again.
We stayed at this apartment: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10961519 . It was a decent experience as it was very central and well connected to lots of public transportation options. But it was also very loud and a bit too small for our group.
We took an airport taxi from the airport to our apartment in the center of the city and it cost us 35 Euros. Note that our taxi driver required us to install our car seats for our ride to our apartment, so we may have been charged slightly more for this delay. I am really glad that we did bring our own car seats for this trip as we would have had a lot of trouble getting to our apartment without them. The taxi attendant was very insistent that children under three be in car seats in taxis. She said that finding a taxi with one car seat would have only caused us a short delay, but finding a taxi with two would have been nearly impossible.
On our way back to the airport, we used the app Free Now to get a taxi. This ride cost us 29 Euros.
We used google maps to help us determine the best public transportation options for the rest of our trip for which we were advised to takes buses, metros, trains, funiculars (rack railways), and a gondola. Riding the public transportation was a fun adventure in itself, especially for our two year old son. We live in the country, so public transportation was something exotic that Lewis had only read about in books before this trip. He also loved the opportunity to sit with his cousins who shared their snacks and acted silly with him. Our apartment was pretty central, and so all of our trips around the city took no more than 45 minutes.
We purchased T10 Zone 1 travel cards for our trip and were able to use them on every public transit option in the city with the exception of the one Gondola ride we took up to the Montjuic Castle. These cards cost 10.20 Euros and are good for 10 trips no matter how short or long. We purchased these cards at a news stand outside of our apartment and also from a metro kiosk. We ended up using about one card per person for our four days in Barcelona. Note, each person does not have to have their own card - you can punch the same card for multiple people on one trip. Also, children under 5 do not have to pay.
We took a stroller and a baby carrier on most of our trips around the city as at least one of our two children generally want to be carried. We generally found good elevator, ramp, and stroller parking options on public transit, although we did learn that you have to push a button on some buses to make sure the door stays open and doesn’t squash the stroller as you are trying to exit.
Day 1 - La Horta Labyrinth and La Sagrada Familia
We actually spent five nights in Barcelona, but since our first day was devoted to travelling and getting settled in, I’ll start off with our first full day in Barcelona. Since for us, this happened to be a Wednesday, we decided to head to La Horta Labyrinth first thing in the morning as it is free on Wednesdays (Sundays too in case that works better for you). La Horta is not in many lists of things you must do in Barcelona, but I tend to seek out gardens and I knew the labyrinth would amuse the kids while there would be many beautiful photo opportunities to amuse the other adults in our group. This garden and area in general ended up being a hidden gem and in hindsight, I wish we had spent more time visiting Barcelona’s hidden gems as Barcelona is a bit overrun with tourists. It took us about 30 minutes to navigate our way out of the labyrinth and then we spent another hour and a half exploring the rest of the gardens.
We were quite hungry after La Horta, and we found a magical spot for lunch. A short walk from La Horta is Can Cortada - a restaurant in a historical castle serving up all the Catalan favorites.
After lunch we headed back to our apartment for a nap and then we headed out to La Sagrada Familia. We had purchased timed-entry tickets about six weeks ahead of time, which I highly recommend. The crowds outside of La Sagrada Familia were insane, so I can only imagine how painful it would have been to wait in line for tickets. We brought our stroller and were directed to enter through the elevator entrance which meant we didn’t have to wait in any lines at all. We visited at 6:45 PM so the sun was pretty low in the sky and allowed for some really splendid stained glass effects inside. It was no doubt the grandest and most ornate church I have ever been in.
It only took about 45 minutes for us to experience the whole church (or the parts that we could get into with our normal tickets) and that was the perfect amount of time for our group with young kids that were still a bit jet-lagged.
Day 2 - Parc Guell and Parc de la Ciutadella
I purchased timed-entry tickets for the restricted area of Parc Guell about six weeks before our trip. The tickets include a shuttle bus from the Alfons X Metro bus which took us to the upper portion of the park which is restricted to those with tickets. This part of the park has the famous gingerbread houses and mosaic lizard.
After visiting the restricted area, we got some juices and a giant hamburger from the cafe. We made a stop by the playground before climbing the stairs up to the unrestricted part of the park.
The nice part about the unrestricted part is all the buskers who are quite talented. I especially appreciated one who was playing a steel drum with a didgeridoo which somehow made the perfect soundtrack for Parc Guell. We also really enjoyed our hike up to Turo de les Tres Cruces which we were able to do with a stroller and offered an awesome view of the city.
We spent about four hours exploring Parc Guell. It could certainly be done in less time, but we spent a while playing on the playground, waiting for a hamburger, and climbing to the vista at the tippy top. We also did not go into any of the houses or museums, so you could also spend more time here.
After Parc Guell, my plan was to cool off at Jardines de la Torre de Les Aigues, but that was a total bust. I had seen photos of a magical baby pool against a backdrop of a beautiful brick tower, but what we found was a run down version of that with signage asking people not to swim.
So instead we spent the rest of the day exploring the Parc de la Ciutadella. This is where Barcelona’s Arc De Triomf is located along with the zoo, some other interesting buildings, and a gorgeous fountain. We had a great time wandering aimlessly, eating ice cream, going for a row boat ride, and popping bubbles.
As we were leaving Parc de la Ciutadella, preparations were being made for an evening concert. So while that didn’t fit into our plans with our two littles and early bedtimes, this appears to be a lovely place for evening events as well. We ended our evening with a walk through Parc de l’estacio del Nord on our way home.
Day 3 - Montjuic
Getting to the Montjuic area of Barcelona was a fun adventure in itself. We took a bus, train, and funicular to get to Montjuic and then took a gondola to get to the Montjuic Castle. While that sounds like a lot, it only took us about 45 minutes to get to do the first three things. Waiting in line for the Gondola took about 20 minutes even though we had purchased our tickets beforehand, but then the Gondola ride to the castle was only another seven minutes.
Our first stop in Montjuic was the castle which was a military fortress that later became a prison. We were visiting with children and did a lot more chasing them around and a lot less reading signs, so that's all I got on the history.
The castle has a very decent cafe with an extensive menu. We ordered a paella and some patatas bravas before heading on to our next adventure. After our gondola ride back down the mountain, we took a quick stroll across the street to visit the Piscina Municipal de Montjuic. This pool is pretty easy to miss. I was standing literally in front of the entrance when I asked someone on the street where the pool was. Pool time is pretty essential for a fun vacation with kids, and I am always on the lookout for unique swimming experiences that we could not get at home. This pool fits the bill as it was used for the diving competitions in the Barcelona Olympics and also offers a great view of the city.
The one challenge with this pool and small children is the depth. It is about 10 feet deep all around. There is no shallow end. So even with the kids in puddle jumpers, I was always low key drowning when they were climbing on me. Most everyone else enjoyed the opportunity to sharpen their diving skills. I was also bummed that there wasn’t a place to get food and drinks, but then realized on our way out that the restaurant at the top of the bleachers serves that purpose.
After our pool experience we went back to our apartment to shower and prepare for a fancier dinner at Gigi Von Tapas. We took the approach of each ordering a different item and sharing everything, so I can say with some confidence that the ceviche and cava sangria are the best menu options.
Day 4 - Las Ramblas, Gothic Quarter, and La Barceloneta Beach
I can say with some confidence that no one needs to visit Las Ramblas on their Barcelona trip. Maybe this place was once cool - but now it is just a string of chain stores and hawkers selling things no one needs.
There were some shoppers in our group which is why I included Las Ramblas on our Barcelona trip. I had also read that there would be lots of buskers which I thought would be fun for the kids. But the shoppers in our group didn’t have any interest in shopping here and we did not see one busker. So again, I can’t see any reason to go here.
I did enjoy our brief stroll through La Boqueria market to see all the pretty displays and to buy a juice and an empanada. But, I really felt like tourist scum when we left the market and I deposited my plastic juice cup in an overflowing trash can along with a zillion others.
We continued our stroll into the Gothic Quarter which I would have also been fine skipping. It was however much prettier and pleased the shoppers in our group more than Las Ramblas.
After an unremarkable lunch in the Gothic Quarter, we took a quick bus ride to La Barceloneta Beach. This beach is crowded and an interesting melting pot of cultures. We were taking guesses on the number of nationalities represented at this beach and came to a mean guesstimate of 50. There beach is split by a pier. On one side is where the childless adults congregate and the other side is where you will find more families and a bit calmer water. There’s also a good amount of nudity on this beach in case you are squeamish about that. Our 2 year old is all about being naked and so quickly assimilated.
The bathroom options here are pretty limited, so I would recommend putting all your beach gear on before you get to the beach.
The numbers below reflect the amounts paid for our family of two adults, a 1 year old, and a 2 year old.
Flights - I ended up paying $1,322.90 for our family of four to travel from Charlotte to Barcelona and from Barcelona to Washington, DC. We were in the Charlotte area for a wedding and so that’s why we started there. I cashed in 90,000 American Airlines Miles for three tickets from Charlotte to Barcelona. Petra was 15 months old on this trip so flew as a lap infant. Ironically, her ticket cost the most for this portion of the flight as we had to pay the full taxes on her ticket which totaled $284.20. The remaining amount was for our three return tickets to Washington DC on TAP Air Portugal. We lucked out and both of our flights were pretty empty. We effectively had 5 seats for our family of four on each flight. So I was really glad that we didn’t buy a seat for Petra.
Transportation in Barcelona - This totaled $76.20 which included taxi rides to and from the airport and our the fares we paid with our T10 Transport Tickets. I include the gondola ride in our activities expenses.
Lodging - We paid $1382.67 for a four bedroom apartment in Barcelona for five nights. We split this with another family, so our portion was $655.50. This amount also includes the $28 we paid for crib rental.
Food and Drinks - $255. We generally ate at one restaurant once per day and the rest we prepared in our apartment. This includes our baby supplies such as diapers and wipes.
Activities - $102.10. This includes our tickets to La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Montjuic Gondola, Montjuic Castle, boat ride in Parc de la Ciutadella, and busker tips. Our 1 and 2 year old are obviously still free everywhere.
Total for our family of four - $2411.70. Since we also visited other parts of Catalunya during this trip, subtracting half of our flight fee seems more accurate. So that brings us to $1750.25 or $87.51 per person per day.