What an awesome city!
It was the first time any of the family had been to Barcelona and we can't wait to go back. We stayed at the Majestic Hotel in one of the four bedroom apartments. They are located looking over the Passeig de Gracia to the main hotel with the Sagrada Familia in the background. On the balcony you can see the tourists visiting Gaudi's Casa Mila. The buzz of the street below, the smell of delicious food and the vibe the city projects is electric.
Hotel Majestic & Casa Mila from our balcony
Whenever we travel I make sure that I have all bases covered. We hate it when time is wasted planning the day or just wandering around and not really achieving anything. Therefore, I spend a lot of time looking up websites, speaking to people who have been and booking as much on line as possible.
I had heard that if you want to see Barcelona properly then get on one of the open-air buses that tour the city. This isn't usually our thing, however in Barcelona I agree this is a must! You can hop on and off and since Barcelona is surrounded by hills it really saves your legs.
The bus took us up to the MNAC Art Gallery where we decided to alight. The Art Gallery has an amazing view over the city and a welcoming cafe where you can get an ice-coffee or cold drink. From here you can either hop back on the bus or do what we did and walk back down the hill. Fortunately for us we found the Montjuic Restaurant directly opposite the funicular that takes you up to the Castell de Montjuic. From the outside it doesn't look like much, but the food was incredible and the wine even better. The uninterrupted views are well worth the stop for lunch.
The view from the MNAC Art Gallery
Looking over the city from Montjuic Restaurant
I love travelling with the children.Their energy is endless and they absorb everything around them with a totally different perspective to us. My kids are particularly good at walking. In fact they are more like dogs that zig-zag across the path, run up and come back, slow down to a dawdle and then skip past with a giggle. So when we are organising family holiday's, I always keep in mind that we have to do something for the kids each day. In a city like Barcelona there are endless things to do with children, however on this trip the pool at the Majestic Hotel, albeit small, would have to have one of the best views of the Sagrada Familia and the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, the kids took more interest in their Coke and chips than they did of the view!
The view from the Hotel Majestic Pool
Gaudi is everywhere in Barcelona. His architecture is unbelievable and what a forward thinking city to allow his ideas to be built. They really make the city. From the street lights, parks, buildings and of course the Cathedral, without these quirks I'm afraid it would probably be just another city. We visited the Casa Mila/La Pedrera at dusk (about an hour before closing). It was the perfect time to go as it was cool, uncrowded and the lights and shadows made the visit all the more special. You can book tickets in advance to the Gaudi museums, however be aware that the queues are huge from a very early hour.
Casa Mila/La Pedrera at dusk
We had dinner at Cintos Jonas, which was in walking distance of the hotel and very nice.
When people talk about Barcelona they always say you have to walk down La Ramblas and visit the market La Boqueria. The La Ramblas on a really busy day, you will find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other tourists trying to navigate the tree-lined street, with vendors selling baby turtles and ice-creams (not together!). Fortunately, we were in Barcelona at the end of the summer when the streets weren't so packed.
La Boqueria is a sight for sore eyes. Even if you don't like going to the butcher or fish market, this is a must. Just to see how they display the food is unbelievable. Do not miss this whatever you do, so make sure it is open the day you want to visit. From memory it is closed Sunday. There are tapas bars skirting the market or you can just sit up at the counter and have a coffee. The sweets, cold press meats... my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Two happy little piggies welcoming you to the market
The magnificent displays of produce are a must to see
Take time to really have a wander around the back streets and different quarters of Barcelona. It definitely well worth dedicating a day to doing nothing but wandering. There are treasure troves in the back streets of shops and cafes.
My father-in-law is a boat fanatic, so whenever we travel together I always try and find something maritime to do. Barcelona's Maritime Museum is located at the end of La Ramblas in the Old Town. It has the largest collection of figureheads of any Maritime Museum. Unfortunately 90% of the museum was closed for renovation the day we visited. We were gutted - it was going to be one of the trips highlights and we'd set aside a good amount of time to visit. What we did see, however was very interesting and we have made a vow to return when it re-opens.
One of the figureheads on display
The restaurant Escriba is to die for and fantastic for a seaside lunch of paella. The view over the ocean instantly transports you to a resort destination and its hard to believe you are on the outskirts of a major city. It was still warm enough for the kids to swim (albeit in their undies as we hadn't packed their swimmers!) and there were still a couple of umbrellas and chairs set up so that when they had finished lunch and got bored they went and lay down and hired a local girl to give them a massage. What a life.
Paella and seafood at Escriba
After lunch roll onto the beach for a massage
Parc Guell is another fine example of Gaudi's work. Overlooking the city it has a maze of walkways and paths. Buskers play throughout the park and when we were there there was a local school children's choir filling the Sala Hipostila with all its columns and mosaics. Take a picnic and enjoy all the features the park has to offer.
Parc Guell is a fine example of Gaudi's incredible work
Its incredible how much you eat when you are travelling. Our days revolve around where we are going to get our next meal. Barcelona constantly impressed us with the food on offer. Even the croissants were better than what we'd had in France! Tapas bars are fantastic, however be prepared to wait a while to get a table at the popular places. My advice is to get there close to opening time, put your name on the waiting list and go and have a drink somewhere else or at the bar. They will usually give you an indication of the wait time.
We had a fabulous tapas at Cerveceria Catalana. The bar had a great atmosphere and the service was fast and food and wine exceptional.
A typical tapas bar
The Castell de Montjuic was built in the 1700's and was again used during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. It's a fascinating and interesting fortress with spectacular views of the city and Med on one side and the port and airport on the other. The funicular takes you up to the fortress or its an uphill 10-15 minute walk.
By this stage it had started to rain, so we opted for a nice lunch and spot of shopping. Zara was a huge attraction for my daughter and then my son (after he'd seen what 'she' got). Oysho is another great shop and of course espadrilles are a novelty!
The Sagrada Familia Cathedral is unbelievable. If you can, get tickets online or at least a day before you go as the queues are huge and even when we visited at 5.30pm there was still a large crowd of people both inside and out. From a distance the Cathedral is awe-inspiring, but close up and inside it is breathtaking. You can take a tour up to the top of the Cathedral, however for some reason the tower wasn't open when we visited. Just to sit and take in the ambiance is enough.
We had been recommended the Fish Shop for dinner and as it was just down the street from where we were staying it was the perfect choice. Below street level, it was very relaxed and the food sensational.
Our last day in Barcelona was lunch at Sagardis which was recommended to us by the doorman of the hotel. It is located in the La Ribera quarter. La Ribera is a really buzzy part of Barcelona with tourists, shops and boutique hotels. I will definitely push to stay in this area when we return.