Barcelona is well known for Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, but it's also home to a cathedral of a sporting kind that draws fans of all ages.
The wealth of red-and-yellow striped flags draped from balconies reminds us this is not just any Spanish city — it’s the capital of Catalonia.
It may be the first time any of us has visited Barcelona but, with apologies to Antoni Gaudi whose architectural genius delights so many in this fabulous port city, the building my three boys are interested in is the cathedral to football stars such as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Yes, Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona, whose motto of “Mes que un club” — “More than a club” — is more than a clever marketing gimmick.
Of course, Barca is one of the most recognisable sporting brands on the planet. Last year, Forbes listed it as the third-richest club in the world but it remains the heartbeat of a staunchly independent region which suffered much during the political turmoil of the past century.
The stories of how authorities closed the previous ground for six months, the murder of a club president and the forced removal of the Catalan flag from the crest are all told in the magnificent FCB museum. There are tributes to the modern-day greats and past heroes. An ocean of trophies is on display — clear evidence this truly is one of the world’s greatest clubs.
Then there’s the tour of the stadium itself. The official capacity at Camp Nou is 99,354, making it the largest football ground in Europe. Naturally, pictures aplenty are taken from high in the stands with the fabled motto as a backdrop. Close up, the venue looks each of its 50 years and would lose none of its charm with a fresh lick of paint but it’s still truly fantastic.
We then pass through the bowels of the stadium for the dressing room experience before walking past a players’ chapel. Then it’s down the tunnel to emerge pitch-side for a chance to give instructions to imaginary players while sitting on the coaches’ leather seats.
The press area, unsurprisingly, is immense. You can even take in the Roma 2009 restaurant and relive Barca’s third Champions League triumph with a glass of Estrella Damm, Barcelona’s official beer partner. It’s a football fan’s dream and even the least likely cule — Barca fan — loves every minute of the nearly four-hour visit (well that’s what she told the boys).
Before we get too misty-eyed, though, we’re reminded Barca is a business as we finish the tour by passing through the club’s two-tiered official merchandise store. I know, I know, you don’t have to buy. Anyway, three replica shirts later — we’re original and go with Suarez 9, Messi 10 and Neymar Jr 11 — and I’m hankering for those two-bob efforts on the beach at Seminyak.
In fairness, the boys love the attention from waiters when they hit Las Ramblas in their spanking new apparel in the evening. And they do look “boss”, as the 10-year-old’s Year 6 school mates tell him when he returns home.
- Going to Barcelona? Be warned — you're going to be warned! Everyone who had been gave us the same advice: take care on Las Ramblas, it’s full of pickpockets. Barcelona’s main drag is chockers with locals, tourists, hawkers and, no doubt, opportunists.
- Europe is great for its cheap air fares and our trip was no exception. We flew on easyJet from Liverpool John Lennon Airport at 7am on Sunday to Barcelona El Prat — about 15km south-west of the city — and returned at 10.50am on the following Wednesday. For two adults and three children aged 13, 10 and five, it cost £145 ($250).
- We bought the tickets for the Tour Camp Nou Experience online directly from the club before we went. It was well priced at €25 ($36) for adults and €20 for kids (children four and under are free).
- The train and Metro connection from the airport to our apartment at Placa de Tetuan worked a treat — a T10 ticket, which was two rail trips each, cost €9.95. The spacious apartment, in the MH Apartments Tetuan building, was in a great location, right outside the Metro station and offered very good value for a family of five at £278 for three nights.
- We knew there would be a lot of walking, so we borrowed a relative’s stroller for the youngest. It was welcome, as we were about a half-hour walk from the centre. There was also the bonus that when the airline check-in staff saw a family with a kid in a pram, we were bumped up the queue. That pram is now coming with us everywhere until he’s 16.
- The hop-on, hop-off tourist buses that run from east to west are a great way to enjoy the city. Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the 60m Columbus monument, the 1992 Olympic Stadium: this city on the Med has so much to see. One-day tickets cost us €25 for an adult and €14 for a child.