Our Global Adventure recently visited Barcelona, the second largest city in Spain. From our current base in Ireland, Barcelona is just a quick 2.5 hour flight away, so it made the perfect destination for a getaway week. This was the second time that Simon and I had visited Barcelona, but it was the first time that we have taken the kids. We knew that they would love the city. It is very beautiful, with wide clean boulevards for strolling along, and plenty of cafes for a pause, plus a mixture of great architecture and green spaces. The Spanish are incredibly friendly, and love to share their culture and language with others, and the local cuisine is great! What’s not to love about this fabulous city?
Visit in the shoulder seasons, Spring and Autumn.
This time we visited Barcelona in the Spring and the weather was absolutely perfect! Hovering between 21 and 25 centigrade, with plenty of sunshine, we thought that the weather was just right for sightseeing, not too hot, or too cold. Last time Simon and I visited Barcelona it was in mid July and it was incredibly hot (even for Australians!) with temperatures soaring to around 40 degrees. Now, as much as I like the heat, that’s just a bit too hot to enjoy being out in the middle of the day, it’s no wonder that the Spanish enjoy a siesta!
Another reason to visit just either side of Summer is to avoid the crowds. Barcelona is a very popular European destination and it can get incredibly crowded when the schools are on their summer break. To be honest we were still quite surprised about how many tourist there were about in April, but were very lucky that wait times were low wherever we visited.
We use Skyscanner.com to find the best flights.
This is a great tip for all air travel, not just to Barcelona. We had been watching the flights to Barcelona on Skyscanner for a couple of months prior to our departure. The ability to search prices for an entire month is a great tool when you are not stuck with having to fly on a particular day. We would also suggest that you not hold out too long waiting to book. When I began the search about six weeks prior to our trip, the prices for flights were a little bit cheaper than when we booked just four weeks before, and they continued to go up as it got closer to our departure date. We flew with RyanAir with just carry-on luggage to keep costs down and still got a great deal. For a family of four this meant that we could have 40kg of luggage, that’s more than enough for a week for us!
Get an International Drivers Licence for cheap day tripping.
Whilst we had planned to spend an entire week in Barcelona, we also wanted to take a day trip out of the city to Montserrat, to see the Monastery on the mountain top. A return trip on the train for the four of us cost about €80. We also considered hiring a car just for a day to drive up there instead, because great deals on Skyscanner.com started at an amazing €3.70 for pick up and collection in the same day! (Read here how we get great car hire deals) Unfortunately though we learnt that Australians need an International Drivers Licence to drive in Spain which we had not bothered to get because we knew that we would be in Ireland for a few months where it would be unnecessary. Luckily though Simon is in the process of getting an Irish Drivers Licence which means that he will be able to drive anywhere in the EU soon! Next time, we’ll be driving!
Travel on the Metro is cheap and easy.
If you are going to be spending a few days in Barcelona we recommend purchasing a T10 Metro ticket. These cost €9.95 for 10 trips on all metro and buses in zone one (all major tourist sights are in zone 1). A trip lasts 75 minutes and you can swap metro trains or buses within that time. Our tickets lasted us nearly all week, and we only had to purchase an additional ticket on our sixth day in the city. Metro trains are clean, airconditioned and efficient, with one stopping every few minutes. In peak times they can get a little crowded, but as tourist we had the luxury of sipping coffee in a cafe when everyone else was trying to get to work.
Eat out for lunch and picnic for dinner.
Many cafes in Barcelona offer great lunch set menus for a really good price. For around €10 we were able to find deals for lunch that included a choice of 2 entrees, mains and desserts, plus a coffee/tea and a beer/wine/soda. Our kids often shared a meal as well, which meant that for around €30 we had a great meal out in the middle of the day. This suited us travelling with kids because many restaurants in Barcelona do not start serving dinner until 8pm at night, which is a long time for little tummies to wait. Our favourite spot in the city was Alsur Cafe on Sant Perre Mes where the coffee and service was excellent. We were lucky that our apartment had a large balcony where we could enjoy a picnic style dinner in the evenings with supplies of local goodies from nearby supermarkets, all washed down with cheap Spanish wine and beer – the perfect end to the perfect days!
Find great accommodation with Booking.com
Booking.com has become our favourite site to find the best prices on accommodation when we travel. The phone app is excellent for both searching for the best prices and storing all of the details when a booking has been made. Our two bedroom apartment had two bathrooms, balcony and a kitchen living area with a dishwasher, fridge, cooktop and washing machine. It was in a nice suburb, just 15 minute walk to the nearest metro station and surrounded by plenty of small city supermarkets and cafes. It cost us €400 + €30 cleaning fee for 5 nights which is a great deal when you can prepare 1-2 meals a day yourself and save on eating out.
Get yourself an up-to-date travel guide.
We have always used and loved the Lonely Planet travel guides. They are hands down our favourite for excellent, unbiased advice and travel tips. For our recent trip to Barcelona I borrowed the Lonely Planet City Guide from our local library rather than purchasing another book just for a one week trip, (we’re all about less stuff here!). In hindsight though I probably would have been better off buying the most recent version as an EBook version because whilst most of the advice in my library copy was bang on, many of the prices were well out of date. Lesson learnt, and next time I’ll be getting the latest edition from LonelyPlanet.com
Keep your valuables safe!
As great as it is, sadly the city of Barcelona does have a reputation for pick-pockets. Keep your valuables safe and close to you at all times. In crowded areas, men should keep wallets and phones in their front pockets and women should use over the shoulder zipped up bags, (or do as I did and just not bring one). We carried a small camera bag which we had over our shoulder, and kept fastened tight on the front of us. We only kept snacks and non-valuables in a small rucksack on our back. Be especially vigilant when exiting the metro at popular tourist sites. Common sense is the rule, there are thieves in every major city around the world, and there is only so much we can do to keep our belongings safe, so remember not to carry too much cash, only travel with the cards you need and always have travel insurance.
Pre-purchase an online ticket for Parc Guell.
If you are planning on visiting Gaudi’s Parc Guell (we highly recommend it) definitely remember to pre-purchase your ticket online first. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed in the monument section of the park at a time and in peak times there are often no tickets available at the gate. Some of the park is free to enter at any time, but it would have been disappointing to have gone for the day and not have been able to enter to main section.
Take your time.
Barcelona is a wonderful city very worthy of a good few days exploration time. We stayed five nights and six full days this time and did not tire of all that there is on offer – in fact we’d go back again! As mentioned we did take a day trip up to Montserrat on the train, but even without that, there would be plenty to keep visitors busy. Another travelling family Meandering Family recently spent a whole month in Barcelona and we can definitely understand why 🙂
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