This blog shares the good, bad, and ugly of travel with kids, so I’m going to write my unvarnished opinion of Barcelona as a family destination. I moved to Granada, Spain as a 17 year old, and have fond memories of visiting Barcelona on weekends. I wanted to share Barcelona’s highlights with my kids: the famous paseo of La Rambla, stunning Gaudi Park, and the quirky Sagrada Familia Cathedral.
The past two days disappointed.
17 years ago, La Rambla was a charming, flower filled market with interesting wares, brightly colored birds, and fascinating street performers. Now, it is lined with endless stalls of Chinese produced tourist schlock, pickpockets, and sub-par food markets. And, it is hot. The only redeeming quality of La Rambla is the fresh juice bar at the Carrefour supermarket.
Barcelona is the capital of all things Gaudi, which is great if you are an adult interested in architecture. For kids though, the charms of Sagrada Familia, and the numerous other Gaudi buildings wear thin, especially combined with heat and crowds, which Barcelona has plenty of in summer.
My favorite Barcelona haunt, Gaudi Park, used to be free. Now you have to book online for a specified entrance time to enter the main square. My advice is to skip this paid section of Gaudi Park entirely. It is packed with masses of tourists who are all clamoring for a photo on the main tiled staircase, or tripping over themselves in line for the toilets. In short, it’s a waste of time. The charms of Gaudi Park lie outside the main square, in the quiet, leafy pathways full of cacti, and olive trees and the occasional Gaudi work. Hidden stone staircases are ideal for exploration away from the madding crowds, and are perfect for styling strong photos. Stop by a market for some cold juice boxes and bottles of beer, and have a drink on one of the many shady benches (there are no drinks for sale in the park other than the overpriced cafe in the main square).
Of all the museums and Gaudi buildings, I recommend the Picasso Museum for families. It is in a charming old section of the city, surrounded by interesting shops and boutiques, and very good gelaterias and restaurants- a fun neighborhood to explore with kids. The museum itself is stunning- the architecture reminded me of the Alhambra with its Moorish columns. The kids audio guides do a decent job of explaining Art History to kids- worth the 5 euro fee.
The food in Barcelona is very good, if you avoid the touristy restaurants. (Hot Tip: Do not use Yelp in Barcelona- try Eater.com or ask your Airbnb host- they will send you to their local favorite. If you must Yelp, cross check with a few other review sites so you don’t end up going to the same “top rated” restaurant as every other American tourist)
Mala Hierba (closed Sundays), in a rather unattractive faux mod neighborhood up in the hills behind Gaudi Park, is absolutely worth the trek (just outside of the El Coll de Teixonera Metro). The interior is beautifully done, and the food is truly excellent- the fresh made sangria, fried baby squid with candied lemon peel, and the gazpacho with fresh herbs were all divine, and several steps above your average tourist tapas bar. The patatas bravas (basically giant french fries) were also good, but then it’s hard to mess those up.
My daughters and I also enthusiastically recommend Tapeo, just a few doors down from the Picasso Museum. It’s a tiny little bar/restaurant with a welcoming interior and unusual tapas that are off the hook. (Very clean bathrooms too- always a plus with kids). Just ask for chef’s recommendations and go with it. Don’t miss the candied pork ribs, which were some of the best ribs I’ve ever had. Skip the Sangria, however. There is much better to be had elsewhere.
In short, Barcelona is not my favorite Spanish city with kids, unless they are rabid Gaudi and Picasso fans. There are many more beautiful and charming cities in Europe. If you have to pick between Barcelona and Madrid with kids, I say Madrid every time. Add on Andalucia if you can manage it (or better yet, skip the big cities entirely, and just focus on Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, and Ronda). A morning visit to the Alhambra (Granada), followed by an icy cold Almond milkshake in the old whitewashed Moorish Albayzin neighborhood is a not to be missed life experience.