For many travelers, it doesn’t get any better than Spain. With incredible history, beautiful destinations, and a friendly atmosphere, I can totally understand why.
Holly and I took our kids to Spain (ages 6 & 8) in October, and we had a wonderful time. It was the first time any of us had been there, and I definitely want to explore the country more.
Because it takes so much effort to get across the pond, we decided to combine our Spain trip with a few days in France. We allocated about a week in Spain, and saved the rest for the Loire Valley and Paris.
After doing some research, we found that many tourists considered Barcelona to be their favorite spot in all of Europe. So, we decided to make a quick stop in Madrid before hopping an early morning train trip to Barcelona.
Barcelona at a Glance
Barcelona is the capital city of Spain’s semi-autonomous region of Catalonia. Home to about 1.7 million people, Barcelona is a huge cultural and economic hub. Its beautiful man-made beaches sit right on the Mediterranean Sea and are a very popular spot for tourists from around the world.
The people of Catalonia have always had a fierce independent streak, and that was on full display during our stay. We briefly considered changing our travel plans as the region was set to declare independence from Spain during our time there. The announcement was delayed, which was a relief to us at the time, but the region eventually declared independence a few weeks after we left. Since then, the Spanish federal government temporarily stripped Catalonia of its leadership, and new elections were held in December 2017.
Barcelona: The Vibe
Everywhere you walked, Catalonian pride was on full display. The Catalonian flag was flying everywhere, and we even witnessed a large holiday parade/protest marching down one of the city’s major thoroughfares.
Thankfully, the tourist areas were largely unaffected by the political turmoil. If I didn’t know that a declaration of independence was nearing, I’d never have guessed that there was anything out of the ordinary happening.
With that said, I found the people of Barcelona (and the people of Spain as a whole) to be extremely welcoming. They were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The locals were happy to give directions, suggestions, and lend a helping hand – even helping us with our bags up the stairs from the subway. Even better, they always seemed to do everything with an easy smile.
Communication was also relatively painless. In Barcelona, people generally speak Catalan first followed by Spanish. I know enough Spanish to get by, but English is also spoken fairly commonly – especially in the tourist areas.
From what I experienced, the atmosphere in Barcelona is different than in most European cities I’ve visited. With the possible exception of the Gothic Quarter, the city feels very modern. It’s also got a very artsy vibe, punctuated by the whimsical architecture of Anotni Gaudi that is peppered throughout the city. Love it or hate it, Gaudi has definitely left his mark here.
Where We Stayed
Finding hotel rooms in Europe that can accommodate four people gets pretty tough, and renting two separate rooms is neither cost effective or family friendly. When traveling to Europe with our kids, we generally try to rent an apartment that has at least 2 bedrooms. With an apartment, there is plenty of room for us to spread out, plus it gives us a little more privacy.
For our trip to Barcelona, we used some of our Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book an apartment at the Aspasios Rambla Catalunya Suites. (You can do this through the Chase portal.) The apartment was extremely clean, had a full kitchen, and even came with a washer and dryer. And believe me, when traveling for two weeks at a time, a washing machine can be a total life saver!
The location of our apartment was absolutely perfect! It was right on the “Rambla de Catalunya,” a major road filled with trendy restaurants and shops. We were also right around the corner from the famous “Block of Discord,” a collection of buildings designed by Gaudi himself. From the apartment, it was also about a 10 minute walk to the famous “La Rambla” pedestrian mall.
If you’re traveling to Barcelona, I’d highly recommend checking this apartment out – especially if you have points you can use to do it! Start earning points by checking out our favorite rewards cards here.
Barcelona Places of Interest
Barcelona is full of incredible art, architecture, and things to do. Here are a few places we took the kids while we were there:
Basilica de La Sagrada Familia
When traveling to Barcelona, visiting La Sagrada Familia has to be on your list. It’s the most famous attraction in the city, even though construction on the building still isn’t completed. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, this is the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world. I found the extravagant exterior to be a bit gaudy, but the simple elegant interior is stunning. Regardless of what you ultimately think of it, this church is a “must see.”
The aquarium is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re traveling with kids. The Mediterranean exhibit is very good, but the crown jewel of the site is the oceanarium. While riding a conveyor around a gigantic 4-million liter tank, you’ll get up close and personal with thousands of fish, rays, and sharks. It’s a really cool experience. Tickets are about €20 per adult and €15 per child. Admission is included if you’ve got a Barcelona Pass.
Our family took a day trip to Montserrat, a mountain-top monastery just outside of Barcelona. The abbey is famous for being home to “The Virgin of Montserrat,” a wooden statue of the Madonna and her child. Pilgrims come from around the world to pay tribute and rub her orb for a blessing. From Montserrat, you can also enjoy some incredible views of Barcelona in the valley below. (Side note: The photo above is not the Virgin of Montserrat statute. I just liked this picture better than any of the photos we snapped with its more famous roommate. Ha!)
Park Guell is a failed housing development designed by Gaudi that has since been turned into a park. There are a few different levels of tickets giving you varying degrees of access to the park. Entry with all tickets are timed, so be sure you’re there on time. I wasn’t blown away by this site, but it’s worth a look if you’re in town. It’s also a great spot for selfies!
This is the most “touristy” spot in the city. I think we walked down this pedestrian mall every night we were in Barcelona. The street is full of little shops and restaurants, but you can typically get a better deal (and better food) just a few blocks off the main road.
The Gothic Quarter was our favorite area of the city. The narrow streets, old buildings, and funky shops oozed with character. I think we visited this area of town every day as well.
Barcelona is a food-lovers dream! Tapas is offered at nearly every restaurant, so you can try a ton of different foods without getting overly stuffed. The food was delicious, and sharing the tapas dishes makes it relatively cheap.
Like the rest of Spain, ham lovers are going to love Barcelona. Being on the Mediterranean, Barcelona restaurants offer a lot of fresh seafood options, but ham selections still fill nearly every menu.
Being vegetarians, we skipped the ham and enjoyed a ton of vegetarian and vegan food. We stumbled upon a great little spot called Vegetalia. It is a vegetarian restaurant with several full vegan options, and it was some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had. Vegetarians should try the seitan with rice and mushroom sauce. It was incredible! Holly had the vegan Thai curry with tofu and vegetables. She loved it as well!
While in Barcelona, we also booked a vegan food tour which was deliciously fun! We visited 4 different restaurants (including Vegetalia for a second time!) and had a wonderful evening. Even the kids, who are not vegetarian, liked it. Again, we booked the vegan food tour through the Chase portal using our points.
Our Trip to Barcelona: Final Thoughts
If you’re a fan of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, or Antoni Gaudi, you’ll love Barcelona. With great food, friendly people, and a laid-back atmosphere, this city is certainly one of the most unique places I’ve visited in Europe.
Overall, I have to say that I really liked Barcelona. Was it my favorite place in the world? No. However, it’s a great place to bring your family, and we’ll certainly be going there again.
Thanks so much for reading, and happy traveling!