You can fly to Barcelona with numerous airlines, including low budget ones. There is only one airport near Barcelona (El Prat) and all of them land there. It is a very busy airport not very far from the city (12 km) with good public transport connections to the city center (train, metro, bus).
Barcelona was a nice choice for summer vacation because it has a beach for the kids, and a lot to see around to enjoy the trip. We had an apartment at Barceloneta right on the beach. Barceloneta is an old fisherman neighborhood with old charming buildings with steep staircases. It can be a problem if you have large suitcases. The place still smells like fish from everywhere, but they have very good fish market with good prices and a great choice of seafood. During the summer this neighborhood is very vibrant and touristic.
The beach is long over 4km and it is a place for swimming, sunbathing and partying. It can be dirty sometimes even though we saw them cleaning it everyday. The water can be quite cold even when the air temperatures are very high. Our kids, Matej and Luka were happy there. Luka was playing in the sand while Matej was waiting for the waves to bring some “junk treasures” at the shore. He became proud owner of one pair broken glasses, one pair of good glasses and a not working blackberry.
Treasures from the sea
Park della Cituadella
Barcelona is big enough to keep you busy for longer period. Everywhere you go there is something to see and enjoy and most of it for free, making it a very good budget destination.
Walking around is fairly easy. For the kids, the Park della Cituadella is very nice, with lots of greenery, a lake, the stunning Cascada fountain and of course the ZOO.
Barri Gòtic and La Rambla
The charming Gothic Quarter was at a walking distance, also known as Barri Gòtic, with its narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalan restaurants. The Museu d’Història de Barcelona shows remains of the Roman city. This was our favorite place for walk. When it was too hot here we could of find a breeze of fresh air. We weren’t searching for anything specific just enjoying the walk around. A large group of tourists standing somewhere will show you that there is something from the tourist map. We liked the hidden little squares surrounded by buildings with central fountains and charming restaurants. Here for the first time we saw a bench for one person. Artisans sell leather and jewelry near the Cathedral of Barcelona, while flower stalls and street-food vendors line busy avenue La Rambla. La Rambla stretches for 1.2 km connecting Plaça de Catalunya in the centre with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. It is the famous street in Barcelona where everything is tourist oriented (artistic performance, musicians, souvenirs market etc.). It is very crowded and a lots of pickpockets search for their victims here.
At Port Vell you can find the Aquarium (very nice one) and a shopping mall. The aquarium is a real treat for kids and grownups too. The tunnel through the aquarium, where the fish swim above your head is just out of this world, and great for selfies.
It has a great variety of fish, sharks, sting rays and other exotic species, and has lots of places for you and the kids to monkey around.
Next in line is Montjuïc hill with the Montjuïc Castle on top, that is an old military fortress, with roots dating back from 1640. It has some walking to the top but nice observation points on the way. They have funicular and cable car available but at our opinion it was to expensive for such a short ride. We managed to get to the top even with the stroller. Entrance to the castle was free and the kids were running and enjoying the time spent there. Beautiful views of the sea and the numerous planes approaching El Prat.
At the other side of the hill is the Olympic stadium and further down the Magic fountain of Montjuïc with the National Palace. We all loved the fountain and went several times to watch the light and music show. It is indeed magical. Be aware that the water splashes go very high and if you are standing near you will be all wet. We were getting wet on purpose :-).
Sagrada Familia (still in construction at year 2013) is a must see, at least from outside. It is remarkably beautiful church and maybe the best peace of Gaudi. A church that’s been 300 years in the making, there’s something in every corner of the church whether for everyone, whether you’re an IT guy or an architect. I found things that looked like low poly graphics which are popular on 3D printers these days and was amazed that Gaudi designed that in 1882.
More of Gaudi
We saw La Pedrera and Casa Batllo (more houses designed by Gaudi) from the outside too, but most interesting for us was the Parc Güell that was built between 1900 and 1914 and today is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. This is a garden complex that houses a series of dynamically designed buildings, including Gaudí’s house. Most buildings have the “trencadis” (surfaces covered with irregular ceramic pieces) that is characteristic of Gaudí and Art Nouveau. The colonnaded hall and the terrace with serpentine shapes are the most famous places in this park. This park is the perfect place to take a peaceful stroll while enjoying nature and looking at Gaudí’s art.
For best panoramic view of the city of Barcelona, you can’t do better than Mount Tibidabo. Visible by its church spire from literally anywhere in Barcelona, Mount Tibidabo is Barcelona’s tallest peak at 515m and has some of the city’s best views. It also has its own amusement park but it is old and not very well maintained. The church is absolutely stunning. We had an interesting anecdote with our son Luka at one cathedral where he went to blow on the candles and started singing “happy birthday”. It was a revelation for us when we found electronic candles at Tibidabo church. You put a coin, and a candle lightens up. We were lucky to see the wedding ceremony with cute bridesmaids and the happy newlywed couple.
There is a bus that goes to the top, so no need for climbing.
Barcelona is a shopping paradise during the sales. All major brands can be found here. Nice malls all around the city, with discounts if you can pick the right time of the year. We had to leave old clothes behind to make space for all of the things we bought there. Actually we saw people coming to Barcelona with empty suitcases just to fill them up.
If you are fan of football, Barcelona will gladly present you their team Barça. You can visit the stadium or buy an original dress. We haggled at one Indian store and got better price than the original stores. But maybe it was fake, who knows. If they have a match during your visit it will be great occasion to shout, cheerlead and if they win to celebrate with Barça’s fans.
The food here is very tasty, but still check restaurants reviews before going somewhere. Different cousins are available it’s no problem evan for picky eaters. We enjoyed a lot of Mexican, Spanish and Italian food. Supermarkets have everything and at the open markets you can find fresh fruits and vegetables. If you like to cook seafood go early to a fish market.
Barcelona has a metro system but we used the buses because we had a bus stop at the corner of our building and that way we were able to look around. Google maps gives you the connection lines, the times and the prices.
They have ticket controls very often so don’t try to go without a valid ticket. If you have accommodation at the central neighborhoods it is very easy to walk for most of the time.
Citizens of Barcelona deserve big credit for their efforts to share the city with huge number of tourists on daily basis. They are nice, happy, smiling people that love to chat and will help you if you need something. We felt save walking at day or night (although during summer months it gets dark after 10pm) but you need to be cautious around the big tourist attractions or at the beach, a lot of pick pockets circle around. It is possible to arrange for a day trip to better beaches near Barcelona, but we didn’t feel it was necessary.
Overall Barcelona is an amazing city with an incredible amount of things to see and do there. We’d definitely recommend this as a city you have to see before you die.