A last-minute decision to add a visit to Barcelona to a European holiday proves a great idea for one family.
Despite being a last-minute addition to the end of a month-long family trip, Barcelona was a holiday highlight.
We had no expectations of Barcelona but as soon as my husband and I and our six-year- old daughter Lily arrived, we were impressed with the vibrancy, energy and friendliness of a city that has merged its historical attributes with youthful attitude.
We stayed in the El Born district, which has an inner-city grittiness in its narrow streets and a healthy splattering of bars, cafes, restaurants and boutique stores.
Every night from our second-storey apartment, we watched over a square with busy cafes and bars where families were enjoying ice-cream and a saxophone- playing busker was the icing on the cake.
El Born’s tourist attractions are limited, which helps it retain authenticity.
The Picasso Museum is tucked away in one of the narrow streets and is definitely worth a visit as it leads you through the artist’s progression.
A 15-minute walk from the big rose-shaped stained-glass windows of Santa Maria del Mar church, the beach stretches 4km north from Barceloneta to Port Olimpic.
We ventured down one afternoon and found a tiny patch of pebbly sand amid the masses drawn by the afternoon heat. We opted not to rent a reclining seat and umbrella and instead rubbed shoulders with the hordes. Once you accept a Mediterranean beach experience is far from any West Australian beach visit, it’s great to revel in the liveliness of it.
El Born is also close to La Rambla, the wide avenue of human statues, buskers, stalls and souvenir kiosks.
Once you’ve tired of the rumblings of La Rambla, branch off to Placa Reial where late 19th-century elegance meets sangria-drinking cafe society — one of the city’s most entertaining squares.
It’s great for watching street performances and relaxing at one of the cafes and restaurants on the palm-lined square.
I also found a flamenco dance venue, Los Tarantos, where Lily and I had front-row seats to a 40-minute evening show — just the right length to keep my daughter enthralled.
It wasn’t the most skilled flamenco I’ve seen but its simplicity allowed the performers to show a raw and engaging energy.
Having travelled to Spain as a young girl with my mother, I was thrilled to be able to show my daughter the beauty of flamenco.
With Lily dressed in her own flamenco dress, we lingered in Placa Reial after the show as she tried out a few dance moves, inspired by the show and egged on by some spectators who shouted out the trademark Spanish cheer “bravo”.
It was one of several “Barcelona” impromptu moments we experienced and captured the spirit of this lively city.
If you only have time to see one Barcelona attraction, then head to Parc Guell, which boasts some of Antoni Gaudi’s most colourful and imaginative works. But make sure you plan your visit as limited tickets are allotted to certain entrance times to control the large number of tourists.
For a bird’s-eye view over the city, we took a cable car to Castell de Montjuic, a castle dating back to 1640 which was later used as a prison and torture centre for political prisoners. Part of the way down the hill, near one of the cable car stops, is a nice park area which we used as a picnic spot.
Like any European city, there are several churches to choose from and
Barcelona’s most famous one is Sagrada Familia.
Gaudi’s church has been under construction since 1882 but is due to be finished by 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
It’s much more impressive from the outside — the inside is sterile and the noise of construction is practically deafening.
My preference was the more traditional Barcelona Cathedral, which dates back to 1298 and is an amalgam of architectural styles which dominated over several centuries. Interestingly, it has a flock of geese that are kept as the cathedral’s permanent residents.
For an impressive display of aquatic life, the Barcelona Aquarium is worth a visit.
It includes a massive shark aquarium that you travel through on a travelator.
For an extra ticket, you can even dive in with the sharks.
On our last night, we dined in one of the many tapas restaurants in El Born, followed by a treat from our favourite ice-cream shop. After five short days in Barcelona, I was sad to be leaving — there were so many more attractions and activities we didn’t get time for.
We’ve vowed to come back, make it our starting point and give ourselves even more time to explore what Barcelona has to offer.
Top picture: City view by Regina Titelius
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