With its seaside location, whimsical architecture and tasty tapas, Barcelona is an obvious choice for families. Vibrant and constantly evolving, the city is consistently at the forefront of what’s happening right now in fashion, design, art and gastronomy. Which means there’s always something new to discover — a very good excuse to keep coming back! Here’s how we’d make the most out of quick weekend with the whole family.
Where to Stay
While you may not be getting an authentic Catalonian experience by staying at the Hotel Arts way out in Port Vell, what you are getting is a comfortable home base from which to explore Barcelona, a pretty amazing rooftop pool and the outstanding five star service you’d expect from a Ritz Carlton property. Staff are always on hand to hail you a taxi, recommend an excellent tapas joint with space for a stroller or bring you a midnight bellota and manchego snack. We like over-sized corner room 1508 which has two queen size beds, views of the Sagrada Famiglia on one side and the marina on the other. Another great choice for families is Casa Camper, located in the once-seedy Raval, with suites that feature a separate sleeping area for the kids, 24/7 complimentary snacks from the lounge and bold design choices (vertical gardens! bright red walls! in-room hammocks!) throughout the hotel.
What to Do
With limited time we’d recommend you skip the zoo, give the aquarium a pass and avoid a potential pick-pocketing along La Rambla in favor of the following:
Go Gaudi Hopping
You can’t walk around Barcelona without constantly running into works by Antonio Gaudi, the city’s most famous architect. Even kids will be able to identify his joyfully unique and distinctive style after a day or two. Start at Park Güell, a magical park that wouldn’t be out of place in a Dr. Seuss book, where the littles can dance around gingerbread-style houses, play alongside the multicolored mosaic dragon and run through the sloping colonnaded hall. Sagrada Familia, a giant basilica that has been under construction since 1882 and will not be fully completed until 2026, is perhaps his most ambitious project and Barcelona’s number one most visited attraction. Peek inside the cathedral to see his truly stunning vision of a rainbow aura through its stained glass windows. You can purchase tickets on your phone for a specific time slot to avoid waiting on line, and note that children under 6 can not go up to the towers. Casa Batlló, an interesting and unusual modernist building along Passeig de Gràcia is famous for its “skull and bones” balconies. Worth a stop on the way to check out El Nacional (see below) across the street.
Tram it up Mount Tibidabo to a Retro Theme Park
At the very top of Mount Tibidabo, you’ll find a charming little amusement park of the same name, built more than 100 years ago with amazing views over the entire city. Don’t worry — new rides have since been added since Tibidabo‘s 1889 opening, including a few roller coasters, a colorful giant ferris wheel and some great rides for little kids. To get there, take the Tramvia Blau, a quaint old tram service opened at the turn of the century, from the center of the city and connect to a funicular that whisks thrillseekers all the way up to the park.
Hit the Beach and Check out a Chiringuito
Barceloneta’s waterfront is lined with “chiringuitos,” the local name for beach bars, where beachgoers can take breaks between dips in the ocean to dine on tasty tapas like patatas bravas and drink cervezas in the golden sand. La Guingueta, where we ended up, is considered one of the best — a culinary notch above its neighbors — with gourmet sandwiches, salads, tapas and ice cream.
Check out El Nacional, Barcelona’s New Spot for Foodies
Opened in October 2014, El Nacional is a multi-restaurant complex a la Eataly where visitors can choose from 4 different restaurants and 4 different bars to sample traditional Spanish dishes made with the highest quality products, regional wines and hand crafted cocktails. There’s La Braseria for meat, La Llotja for fish, La Taperia for tapas and La Paradeta for cafe fare, as well as separate bars for beer and preserves, wine and cured meats, oysters and cava and signature cocktails. The space, formerly a parking garage, is an architectural gem with elaborate tile work, soaring ceilings and sleek design throughout. El Nacional is the first of its kind in Barcelona and definitely an exciting culinary destination. Don’t miss it.
Catch a Nighttime Show at Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain
Built in 1929 for the International Exposition and restored for the 1992 Olympics, the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc is definitely worth a visit, especially with kids in tow. On summer evenings, hundreds of spectators gather round for a thrilling display of jumping water and colored lights set to music; shows are every half-hour from 9 to 11 p.m. and they are magical indeed.
Where to Eat
It’s possible to eat very well in Barcelona — even with your kids — if only you know where to go.
Cal Pep is the granddaddy of tapas bars — the one all of your foodie friends will tell you to go and reportedly the inspiration behind New York’s Casa Mono. There’s a reason that its twenty counter barstools fill up as soon as the doors open. On our last visit, Pep himself was still at it behind the counter, filleting whole fish and grilling up pulpo a la plancha. Eating here is a real treat, with a fun atmosphere, delicious food, friendly service and perfectly paired wines. Closed for dinner Saturdays and all day on Sundays, so if you are actually here only for a weekend, try to get there early and make that 1pm to 3:45pm lunch.
“I am your menu,” is how our server introduced himself at Eixample’s Bar Mut, an upscale tapas bar with a fun hipster vibe. This worked out fine for us, as dish after dish of stellar tapas emerged from the kitchen, all recommended based on our preferences and what was fresh that day. Their signature “carpaccio huevos frito” (pictured below) is on everyone’s table and all of their creations are inspired. PS If you happen to be dining sans enfants, try to score entrance to Bar Mutis, their exclusive private club located upstairs.
Our concierge recommended Tapeo in a pinch and got us last minute 10pm reservations in the busy tapas joint’s secret back room, where we were in good company with three other sleeping babies. Late night tapas is tough to pull off with a stroller, but Tapeo came through not only accommodating our growing family, but with excellent, creative tapas at really reasonable prices. (We commented that a dinner like that in New York would have cost double.) Standouts were their “fideua” black catalan cuttlefish pasta and truffled eggs with foie gras and mushrooms.
Grab a seat at the long bar overlooking the open kitchen at Bar Canete, a perpetually packed tapas spot off La Rambla that’s popular with both locals an in-the-know visitors. Dishes here are traditional Catalan with a modern twist and all are outstanding. Prawns baked in rock salt and tuna tartar topped with crispy onions and salmon roe are favorites.