At the end of the school Summer holidays (2018), we took a city break to Barcelona! A last chance for some sunshine, before the long winter stretch ahead! I chose Barcelona as it seemed to have something for all of us. I was travelling with my two Son’s (aged 3 and 9) and my Mum who is approaching 70! Barcelona’s mix of iconic attractions, gorgeous weather and fabulous food, all just a 2 hour flight away, was a definite winner!
We stayed at the Petit Palace Boqueria Garden, which was situated in the Gothic Quarter, just a few metres from Las Ramblas. The hotel is tucked away from the hustle and bustle but is very central, an ideal place from which to explore the city easily. Liceu Metro Station is a 1 minute walk away and you can reach both Plaça Catalunya and Barcelona Port within a few minutes walk. I am a big fan of the Petit Palace hotels, having stayed in one in Madrid last year. Boqueria Garden is set in a 19th-century building and has very spacious, clean rooms with fabulous showers! There is a private courtyard and garden where you can enjoy a drink or snack and the hotel even offers free use of iPads and bicycles.
My first port of call on a city break with the kids is always the hop-on hop-off bus! I find it a good way of getting a snapshot of all of the big attractions, and the kids both enjoy sitting on the bus without too much drama! I booked the two-day pass with ‘isango!’ for the Barcelona City Tour (the red buses). It cost approximately £90 for the four of us for the two days. There are two routes, with over 30 stops covering all of the top attractions. The routes start at Placa Catalunya, however you can board the bus at any stop. You can get on and off the bus as much as you like or simply relax for the whole journey and listen to the commentary through the earphones provided. The East or Green route takes you to the Port and beach areas of the city, as well as many of Gaudi’s famous landmarks (La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Casa Mila). The West or Orange route takes you above the city to landmarks such as the site of the 1992 Olympics and Poble Espanyol, as well as the city’s shopping areas and the Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC. We completed both routes on the bus and also used it as a form of public transport to get to certain attractions, so we made very good use of our tickets. I’m not a fan of the Metro with my youngest and his buggy, so it was an ideal way for us to get around. In the Summer, the buses run very frequently from 9am-8pm.
Having done the bus tour, it was time to choose which attractions we wanted to explore further. The kids choice was the Aquarium, situated in Port Vell. This was bit overpriced, although we did make a saving via the money off vouchers we were given with our bus tickets. The highlight was the shark tunnel, where you get taken 80m on a conveyor belt and get up close to the sharks and rays. The kids enjoyed, and afterwards we strolled around the picturesque old harbour.
The oldies choice was ‘Museu Picasso’, where Picasso’s works are displayed in a series of medieval stone mansions. Although many of his best-known works are displayed in museums elsewhere, this collection gives you a thorough impression of his versatility, whilst concentrating on his formative years, some of which were spent in Barcelona. We were lucky that the museum was quiet the day we visited, as very long queues can form here! It is advisable to book online at peak times.
Not far from Museu Picasso is Parc de la Ciutadella. I’d promised the kids a game of football here! The park allows an escape from the bustle of the city and has it’s own set of attractions, including an ornamental lake and the zoo. We relaxed here with our picnic of fabulous produce bought at our mornings visit to Mercat de la Boqueria.
Boqueria market is situated centrally on the Rambla and is open 8am-8pm, but many stalls close by 2pm. We headed here early as it can get very busy around lunchtime, apparently they get up to 40,000 visitors a day! There were a mix of Tapas bars and produce stalls selling a wide variety of Catalan cuisine. A visit to the market is a must for a foodie! It is a kaleidoscope of colour, sound and smell. My one must buy item here was “Jamon Iberico de Bellota’, which is jamon with a nutty flavour due to the pigs foraging for wild acorns.
Speaking of food, the thing I enjoy most about holidays is sampling the local cuisine. However this can be hampered by travelling with kids who are fussy eaters! Each day I would find myself googling the nearest McDonalds to fuel the kids before I could enjoy the local produce on offer! I did manage to get them to indulge in ‘Churros con Chocolat’ for breakfast each day! In fairness, this was as Spanish as their tastes got! Saying that, whilst in Barcelona you’ve got to have Churros!
Luckily we were staying near ‘Calle Petrixol’, a narrow street famous for it’s cafes and Churros. We visited ‘La Granja Pallaresa’ (which first opened it’s doors in 1947) for the aforementioned Churros and made a return visit one evening for their Crema Catalana, which is apparently the best in the city. I wouldn’t disagree!
Also worth a visit on Calle Petrixol, or ‘chocolate street’ as it’s known, is ‘Petritxol Cocoa’, where they sell a tantalising array of chocolate bars, truffles, pastries and other sweet treats.
I was determined to find a decent Paella whilst in Barcelona and my research suggested that I avoid the picture food restaurants of the very touristy areas and head to the Barceloneta district. This is an eighteenth century neighbourhood with the harbour on one side and a sandy beach on the other. There are many famous seafood restaurants here, using freshly caught local seafood in their dishes. We ate at ‘La Mar Salada’, situated on Passeig Joan Borbo. As you’d imagine the Paella was fabulous, especially when washed down with an ice cold Rueda.
Another market that is worth a visit is ‘Mercat Santa Caterina’ which is situated fairly close to the Gothic Cathedral.
It’s smaller but less busy than Boqueira and it was here that we sampled Tapas at the market restaurant ‘Cuines Santa Caterina’. Our Tapas selection included croquettes, whitebait, calamari and grilled vegetables. Another tick off my Barcelona foodie list.
Of course when I’m on my travels I have to find speciality coffee! Situated near Museu Picasso, on Career de l’Argentina, is ‘Cafes El Magnifico’.
This is a third generation, family-run coffee roaster where they’ve been sourcing and grinding quality beans since 1919. There are over 40 blends on offer and a variety of brew techniques.
As it was late afternoon when I visited, I enjoyed an espresso. Ordering coffee with milk after 11am is not the done thing in Spain! Something that is completely acceptable however is ordering an ‘ensaimada’ to enjoy with your coffee. This is a round spiral of pastry dusted with icing sugar, and I was happy to oblige!
So, all in all, a wonderful few days spent in the city which really does have something for everyone! From it’s architecture to it’s beaches to it’s fabulous food, Barcelona is a real gem! My only regret is that I didn’t have a day or two longer to explore, as I feel I only had a chance to scratch the surface! Never mind….. I’m sure Barcelona has not seen the last of the me!