There is nothing like a best friend. Best friends take great things and make them even better!
As amazing as it has been for our family to live abroad for nine months, sharing our Barcelona life with dear friends from home makes it so much more special! It's fantastic and fun to act as tour guides... to share all of our little discoveries and treasures with people we love.
This past week our nine year old son Soccer Dude's best friend Mini-Müller traveled halfway around the globe with his lovely, adventurous mama during their Spring Break. They came to spend time with us in Spain and explore all that beautiful Barcelona has to offer.
For six splendid days we got to share our new Catalan world with them both; and Barcelona certainly rose to the occasion! The weather was varied but always beautiful - lots of sunshine, a little rain, some misty mornings... even a rainbow!
We packed each day full to the brim with various adventures and experiences; most of which were child-centered, hands-on and fun. From hiking the challenging Sant Jeroni trail at Montserrat on a perfect sunny afternoon to cheering wildly for Barça under steady rainfall, we kept all four kiddos busy and entertained from morning until night.
If you've ever considered a trip to Barcelona and wonder about fun things to do with kids here, please enjoy highlights from our week-long itinerary! Most of these activities would also be fun for adults traveling on their own or with friends. We hope you love the Aventura Family's "Best of Barcelona" tour as much as we enjoyed giving it!
Montjuïc is a verdant, lush mountain rising dramatically from the Mediterranean Coast of Barcelona. It towers over the sprawling city and provides sensational views in every direction!
A funicular ascends from sea level to take visitors to the top of its summit, which would be an especially great way to see the mountain if you are touring by foot.
We happened to be driving... so on the gray Friday afternoon when we collected our friends from the Barcelona airport we decided to drive them to their Pedralbes hotel via Montjuïc to give them a first glimpse of the city's complex beauty.
Montjuïc is surely many things to many people.
In the summertime it hosts an outdoor movie festival from June through August. Throughout the year its popular Palau Sant Jordi attracts hordes of visitors for indoor sporting events and big rock concerts, among other occasions.
This lovely mountain is also the perfect place to bring a picnic! Are you an archery enthusiast? If so, you can practice hitting paper targets on the side of the Castillo at the top of the mountain.
Montjuïc was the site of the Barcelona Olympic Park, first built in 1927 for the 1929 international exposition (EXPO). A few years later, the new republic of Spain organized an 'alternative Olympics' to protest Hitler's pre-Berlin Olympics propaganda... but the alternate games were canceled 24 hours before the athletes were due to compete when Franco and the fascists and nationalists began their revolt against the Spanish republic, starting the Spanish Civil War.
The Olympic park was later completely remodeled in 1985 and inaugurated in 1989 to become the host of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games!
No surprise then that our first stop on the mountain last Friday was the 1992 Olympic Stadium. Soccer Dude and Mini-Müller marveled at the architecture of its enormous open structure (and even more at its athletic field). From there, we walked toward the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, to show our friends its magnificent facade.
Heading a little further up the mountain, Soccer Dude and his best buddy spent fifteen minutes whipping down the long metal slides built into the side of the mountain. The boys had such a good time racing and sliding despite how exhausted Mini-Müller surely must have been after his long journey from California!
Next we hiked to the very top of Montjuïc with Mini-Müller and his mama, Amiga Simpática. From there we gazed out upon the busy port of Barcelona, watching the ships come and go. We were amazed by all of the movement and action down at the port!
Due to its height and phenomenally clear view of the harbor, Montjuïc has often been used for defense purposes throughout history. Several fortifications have been built over centuries at the summit of the mountain, including the current Castillo de Montjuïc (pictured below) which was used as the site of many political executions during the Spanish Civil War by both the Republicans and the Nationalists. There is a thoughtful historical castle tour you can take which houses many photos and videos from this time period, but since we were hanging out with nine-year-olds and it is a visually graphic display featuring the war and real executions, we chose to save that for another time.
Montjuïc is full of green space, trees and flowers... it gives a lot of room for children to run, play and explore. Ours certainly did! You could spend an afternoon, a day, or many days exploring this amazing mountain... and there would still be many things left to discover! Highly recommended!
Camp Nou Experience
The major fútbol stadium in Barcelona is called Camp Nou, a fact well-known to anyone around the globe that follows the famous FC Barcelona fútbol team. Over the last ten years, this special club (home to such world class players as Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suárez) has powerfully dominated the international scene and made the city of Barcelona synonymous with phenomenal fútbol!
FC Barcelona has made the most of this opportunity and offers to its fans the chance to tour the inside of Camp Nou via the "Camp Nou Experience". Our boys were ecstatic about this opportunity, and though the price tag is a little high, it was worth it.
If you take this tour, you'll have the chance to see historical artifacts from FC Barcelona throughout the years, admire its massive wall of beautiful trophies, check out Lionel Messi's special golden boots and the team's gleaming Ballons D'Or while enjoying fantastic photos and videos about the players.
You'll have the chance to sit in the stadium near the field, walk just a few feet away from the turf ("Look Mom, it's real grass!" Soccer Dude exclaimed) and even sit in the player's special stadium seats! You'll tour the locker rooms, see the massage tables and jacuzzi, and enter the small press room where FC Barcelona answer questions at press conferences. Movingly, you may even catch a glimpse of the chapel where the players can pray before their games.
We really had a great time at the Camp Nou Experience, while our little men spun big dreams for their own futures in professional fútbol! A word of caution... the tour ends in the FC Barcelona Megastore! You should prepare to leave with a lighter wallet as there is almost zero possibility of steering your children out of the building without at least buying a tee-shirt or keychain! (They retail everything there... from FCB baby diapers to women's bathing suits to turf from their soccer field, anything you could dream of is essentially available.) It's all good though... you'll honestly be glad to have a souvenir from this special tour!
Sant Jeroni Trail, Montserrat
The Aventura Family has made no secret of our profound love for the special mountain of Montserrat, home to the Virgin of Montserrat (one of the few Black Madonnas in Europe) aka "La Moreneta". We take all of our visitors to this amazing mountain for so many reasons... it's unforgettable vistas of the Catalan countryside, the delicious food in its buffet and restaurant, the sacred and elegant church, monastery and museum, the boy's choir that sings on Sundays right at twelve... and above all, the incredible hiking!
In honor of Mini-Müller and Amiga Simpática, who are both very fit and active, my husband Señor Aventura wanted to explore a new and more challenging route we'd never hiked before... the Sant Jeroni Trail! We discovered together that it is a well maintained path with a lot of stone stairs helping you to ascend the mountain, and it leads through shady vegetation to the very summit of the mountain. The views from the top were spectacular... better than we could have hoped for, and well worth the long hike which (for one speedy gentleman patiently waiting on two mothers and four young children) took us about three hours in total.
In fact, it began to grow a little darker and colder as a surprise storm approached the mountain. Happily we were able to catch the Funicular at St. Joan back down to the base, and from there a 'Cremallera' all the way down Montserrat to our car. We made it into the warm, cosy car and were back on the road toward Barcelona before the first big raindrops began to hit... and were thrilled to see a massive rainbow heralding our re-entrance to the big city!
There really is nothing like Montserrat... it offers so much to adults and children alike. This is a MUST SEE on the Aventura Family's 'Best Of Barcelona' tour, and it's less than an hour's drive (or a short train ride) from the city. You can experience the entire thing free of charge or spice it up with a lovely lunch and museum visit!
Tapas y Fútbol, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia
Since they were staying with us in the quieter suburbs of Pedralbes and Sarriá, we wanted to show Mini-Müller and Amiga Simpática a different (fun, energetic) side of Barcelona. On Monday evening we met up with them in Plaça Catalunya to walk together up the elegant boutique-lined Passeig de Gràcia heading toward incredibly charming Gràcia.
We were especially excited for Mini-Müller and Soccer Dude to enjoy a pickup fútbol match in the Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, home to the 33 meter high Torre del Reloj (bell tower).
Before moving to Spain we'd visited and stayed in this particular plaça for a total of six weeks over the course of a few years. Its lovely square is the administrative center for the neighborhood of Gràcia, and on one side of it you can find the district's headquarters.
The plaça itself is lined with shops, restaurants, bars and gelaterias. Several of its restaurants set up outdoor seating, and our favorite of these has always been Nou Candachú. We love to sit there for lunch or dinner while watching our children play fútbol with native Catalan children along with the children of other tourists who have stumbled upon this beautiful spot.
How fantastic it was to share wine and tapas under the stars with Amiga Simpática while our four little whirlwinds exhausted their energy in a multi-hour match! The restaurant turned on its outdoor heaters making the cold April evening quite pleasant. Every table was full, with diners full of smiles and good cheer. Before we knew it, an entire evening had flown by.
This is one of the most relaxing experiences we can recommend for your family trip to Barcelona. Such a perfectly lovely, authentic way to spend a night in Catalunya! Whether you visit Gràcia at the height of summer when nothing could be better than a double scoop of gelato for everyone... or dine under the stars on a chilly night as we did... the combination of hot tapas, wine, fútbol and conversation bubbling around you (in multiple languages!) will warm your heart.
City Treasures: Picasso Museum & La Sagrada Familia
On Tuesday while Mini-Müller attended school with Soccer Dude, Amiga Simpática and I treated ourself to tours of the Picasso Museum and La Sagrada Familia. We had the best time!
The line for the Picasso Museum was very long (I recommend buying tickets in advance) but we finally made it into the lovely historical building and its permanent collection, managing to see every single painting, sketch and painted sculpture within a fairly short span of time.
We were surprised and delighted to learn that, in addition to his blue and rose periods, Picasso had a pigeon period! We loved the small collection of his paintings featuring pigeons!
My friend and I were having a very fun time viewing the art and taking photos when a guard asked us to put our cameras away. Whoops! It was a great morning anyway.
Racing to La Sagrada Familia cathedral without a minute to spare, we made it on the dot of our 13:00 appointment and audio tour.
Amiga Simpática and I spent a lovely hour+ listening to the comprehensive audio guide explaining the history of the church and its construction, with a focus on its chief architect and visionary, Antonio Gaudí.
A UNESCO world heritage site, La Sagrada Familia is a colorful, other-worldly spin on the notion of a cathedral.
Inspired by shapes and forms from nature, including trees and foliage, Gaudí began this famous project in the Eixample in 1882.
Work has continued, even after his death, and its projected completion date will be 2026. How incredible to work continuously on a building for over 140 years!
Since Gaudí's death in 1926 several other architects and artists (including Josep M. Subirachs) have also made their mark on the impressive edifice, creating its splendid stained glass, beautiful bronze doors and more.
A new set of bronze doors created by Gaudí enthusiast and talented Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo has recently been installed at the Sagrada Familia. (Sotoo has been collaborating on the construction of the cathedral since 1978!)
These new doors contain leaves, insects and flowers and give a decidedly abundant feeling to guests who walk through them. Tuesday was my first time seeing the new doors and I was fascinated by the insects within the leaves.
Construction on the Sagrada Familia is due to finish in just eight years... but tourists and native Catalans are likely to adore this impressive edifice for many centuries to come.
A magnificent work of engineering and imagination!
Amiga Simpática and I gazed in rapt silence upon the towering columns and exquisite use of light. She'd wanted to see this special cathedral since her high school days, and it did not disappoint! We left feeling joyful and hungry, making our way by metro and foot to the delightful Catalan restaurant Semproniana, which has become one of Señor Aventura and my favorite spots for a comida. What a great 'Moms Day Out'!!!
Parque Santa Amèlia, Monestir de Pedralbes & FC Barcelona Game!
Our week with friends flew by far too quickly, as time tends to do when you are happy and having fun. Before we knew it, we'd reached the final day of Mini-Müller and Amiga Simpática's vacation. The weather report promised us a day of full sun followed by an evening of rain.
This presented a minor complication, as we were eagerly looking forward to attending an important fútbol match that night at Camp Nou - FC Barcelona vs. FC Sevilla! Soccer Dude and Mini-Müller had been counting the days to this match for many months... nothing, not even a little rain, could stop us from attending!
Still, we realized that it might help to invest in a few inexpensive rain ponchos at our favorite low-cost sporting goods store, Decathlon. One poncho could make the difference between a fantastic night and a miserable, cold, damp one.
On our way to Decathlon, Amiga Simpática and I took our boys through several beautiful and enjoyable outdoor locations... Parque Santa Amèlia, Parque de Pedralbes, and the gorgeous Monestir de Pedralbes. The bright blue sky made a stunning complement to the blooming trees in the parks, and our boys spent many hours swinging, running around and kicking around la pelota.
Every second of the journey to find rain ponchos was worth it! At 19:30 we celebrated together at a sensational FC Barcelona game, enjoying Camp Nou this time as local enthusiasts! The fútbol club was playing in fine form, with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi scoring three goals, one of which was such an exciting 'Chileana' or bicycle-kick into the 'gol'! Final score, 3-0!
Despite a steady downpour during the game, the seven of us were warm and dry in our jackets and rain ponchos... with four children taking turns with the binoculars! They discovered that Lionel Messi was wearing gold colored soccer boots for this game, which gave the entire evening yet another touch of magic.
If your children love fútbol, there can be no finer gift than to bring them to witness the wonder of 2017's FC Barcelona team playing live. As the British father sitting behind us told his chilly, wet son (they had no rain gear) - "I know you're cold but let's stay until the end. You'll be able to tell all of your friends that you watched some of the very best fútbol players who have ever lived, winning a fine match!"
It was a night to remember, and the perfect way to complete an amazing week touring Barcelona with best friends. We loved every single second!
We hope our 'Best of Barcelona' family tour recommendations and experiences may help inspire YOUR next Barcelona vacation!
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