In May half term this year, we spent a week on the Allure of the Seas cruise ship in the Mediterranean. With the ship departing from Barcelona, we took advantage of a couple of school inset days, and spent a few days exploring Barcelona with the children - Harry was 6 and Mia nearly 4.
We had a great time, and these were some of our highlights:
The Sagrada Familia church
Ram and I visited the Sagrada Familia church on a day trip to Barcelona about five years ago, and it was quite amazing how much it had changed since then. Construction on the church began in 1882, and has progressed slowly over the years, with an anticipated completion date of 2026. When we last visited, the basilica was filled with scaffolding, now that has all gone and you can really appreciate it.
The stained glass windows are absolutely beautiful. We visited late afternoon and the sun was streaming through and the colours were everywhere. The children's favourite part was the doors at the entrance. There are moulded leaves, and in amongst them are all sorts of insects and bugs. They loved hunting for them and picking them out, we spent ages here! Harry was also fascinated by the museum inside which has the original plaster models for the church, it's also a good way to have a look at some of the details close up.
The Sagrada Familia is very popular and you need to buy a timed ticket for your visit. You can do this easily in advance on the official Sagrada Familia website, where you can also check how many tickets are remaining - we found that mornings were busy but early evenings less so. We bought our tickets when we arrived and we had to wait about 15 minutes to buy the tickets then another half an hour or so for our time slot. An adult ticket without guide costs 15 Euros and you can pay an additional 4.50 Euros to visit the towers, although we weren't able to on this occasion as Mia was too young - only children 6 and over are allowed. Children under 10 are free to visit the church.
Montjuic - by Cable Car
The Montjuic Cable Car links the city to the top of Montjuic and Montjuic Castle. We took the funicular from Paral lel Metro station. The funicular isn't as exciting as it sounds, the train just goes up the hill inside a tunnel so there aren't any views, but it's included in your Metro ticket. Then we boarded the cable car directly outside Parc Montjuic station. We bought one way tickets (Adult 7.80 Euros, Child 6 Euros), return tickets are available for a little bit more.
It's a lovely ride up, it wasn't busy and we had car to ourselves. The views across the city to the hills and sea are amazing, and were were able to pick out our hotel and some of the places that we had visited.
Once at the top it's a short walk to the Castle with cannons to see and views across the city and the docks. We saw the cruise ships, and the cranes loading boats and trains.
Montjuic - Exploring across the top
We bought our one way tickets to the top of Montjuic, planning to walk down. It's not a long walk (although steep with steps) if you go back the way that the cable car takes you, but Ram wanted to visit the Olympic Village, so after a look at the outside of the Montjuic Castle we walked across the top of the hill and down through the Olympic sites, descending via escalators to the Magic Fountain in Placa d'Espanya.
The Olympic Stadium is open free to visitors, so we popped our heads round for a quick look.
Then you can walk down the hill past some very impressive cascades and fountains which the children loved.
It's a really pretty walk, I loved these tiled steps off to one side of our route. There are quite a few steps to go down, but the escalators were brilliant for us at keeping the children interested while we hunted for the next one - it was a long trek for our reluctant walkers but they managed really well!
At the end of the walk was the Magic Fountain, which is impressive enough during the day but is really something special in the evenings - see below!
The Magic Fountain
At night time, the Montjuic fountain comes alive with a musical fountain show. It starts quite late, but we managed to keep the children awake and were glad that we did because they loved it. You can see a timetable for the Magic Fountain shows here (English), but we found that although the shows are timetabled half hourly in reality it was running pretty much continuously, with just a few minutes break between songs. The nearest Metro stop for the fountain is Placa d'Espanya, and there are plenty of places that you can watch the fountains from all sides.
La Boqueria Food Market
The food market is located about two thirds of the way up the Ramblas on the left, and it is one of Europe's largest and most famous food markets. It's a maze once you are inside, packed with fruit and veg, meat, sea food, chocolate, biscuits - all sorts of things! I loved the displays of fresh fruit and we enjoyed some mango smoothie for just 1 Euro a cup.
The most fascinating part for me was the sea food, even though I won't eat it - as well as plenty of fish there were shelves full of crabs and lobsters, all still alive and twitching. We even saw an octopus. We managed to visit while my parents looked after the children, which meant that we could have a proper look around - it was very busy and it would have been hard work trying to steer little ones around without losing them. I think they would have found it interesting though!
There are plenty of beaches to visit in Barcelona, starting right in the city centre. We took a tram from our hotel to Barceloneta Beach, which is very central. On a weekday in May it wasn't too busy but I can imagine that during the summer it's packed. It's a nice sandy beach with a calm sea, and we spent a couple of hours here digging around.
When I'm at the beach I love walking along the shoreline hunting for shells and other treasure, and I was delighted to find that Barceloneta beach was a fantastic place for finding beautiful, elusive sea glass! I brought a little pot full home and I've plenty of crafty ideas for it.
Our hotel - The Novotel Barcelona City
We stayed four nights with my parents in the Novotel Barcelona City. It was a nice hotel, a bit too far from the centre for little legs to walk to the main sites, but it is close to Metro and Tram lines and next to a large shopping centre with various shops and places to eat. The hotel itself was lovely, with a rooftop swimming pool and terrace, and our room was high up, with wonderful views out across the whole city to the hills beyond. The breakfast was very good (children eat free) and it had free wi-fi too, I'd definitely recommend it!
If you are visiting Barcelona I'd recommend a visit to BarcelonaTurisme to help plan your trip!
I received a Barcelona Press Card from Barcelona Turisme which gave me complimentary admission into the Sagrada Familia and to the Montjuic Cable Car.