3 Days of Family Fun in Barcelona

Read how one family turned a stopover prior to a Mediterranean cruise into an adventure that featured a mime and a reluctant 6-year-old Charlie Chaplin.

Strolling down La Rambla, Barcelona’s main drag, my husband and I, in town with our two kids for three days before the launch of a Disney cruise of the Mediterranean, paused often to take in the whirl of color and sound. The children were fascinated by the vendors selling exotic animals and birds; a street performer who could juggle a soccer ball while changing his jersey; a frozen “statue” of a tree coming suddenly to life.

Indeed, the scene was so entrancing that Remy, my son who was 6 years old at the time, wanted to give a Charlie Chaplin-like mime a tip. The performer had other ideas, however. When Remy approached him to drop a euro into his hat, Charlie grabbed him and, pulling a jacket, hat and a wig out of his handy nearby trunk, transformed Remy into a mini-Chaplin, all without saying a word. He even penciled on a mustache before the kid could think to complain and got him to perform a few moves, including the signature waddle, to the delight of the crowd. Remy was furiously embarrassed, but I haven’t laughed so hard in years.

Attractions From Ancient to Modern

Welcome to Barcelona. Nicknamed at one point in its rich and rather violent history as “anarchism’s rose of fire,” Barcelona today holds the title of the most attractive city in Spain for family travelers. Since hosting the Summer Olympics in 1992, when the more “urban” parts of the metropolis were scoured and enhanced, Barcelona has taken great pains to continue attracting global visitors of all ages. The result is that it’s easy to educate, entertain and feed your kids in this Catalonia capital without becoming bored, distracted or intimidated—no easy feat, even in familiar territory.

If you are looking for something recognizable to put a sulky adolescent girl at ease, though, do head to Parque Güell. Awash with laymen musicians strumming on guitars, this complex is where famed architect Antonio Gaudí installed his whimsical creations. Of course, that’s hardly what my 9-year-old daughter Zoe cared about—she was much more excited about the fact that this is also where the Cheetah Girls filmed scenes from one of their movies.

Like Gaudí‘s architecture, key attractions frequently involve some kind of movement. We rode the Telefèric de Montjuïc, a two-stop cable car, up to the Castell de Montjuïc; this imposing structure provides the best panoramic views of the city, and it is also a repository for military history both medieval and modern. At L’Aquàrium Barcelona, the most thrilling feature was a moving track that takes you through an 80-meter underwater tunnel filled with sharks and stingrays.

Barcelona Dining for Families

With a little foreknowledge, families can also dine with ease. Breakfast is probably the trickiest meal for hearty steak-and-eggers from the United States. Most hotels either supply or offer a Continental-style repast on the premises, so take advantage. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with the coffee bars and nothing more substantial than a pastry. (And the urban sophisticates, who speak the most English and could help you out, are generally night owls and sleeping in at that time of day.)

Lunchtime begins around 2 or 3 p.m., and dinner is no sooner than 8 p.m. (more likely closer to 10 or 11 p.m.), but in the touristy areas you can find food at any time of the day. Near the port where L’Aquàrium is located, plenty of marisquerias or arroserias offer traditional seafood dishes. We enjoyed sidewalk lunching at Nou Can Tipa (Pg. Joan de Borbó Comte de Barcelona, 6), where individual paellas, dotted with peas and decorated with pimentos, come sizzling out of the kitchen.

On La Rambla, you can indulge in traditional tapas such as croquetas de jamón or pollo at Café de l’Òpera (La Rambla 74); while the kids had fried croquettes, the Spanish equivalent of chicken tenders, we adults had pickled white anchovies wound around olives on toothpicks, followed by hand-sliced Iberian ham, chunks of manchego cheese and platters of sautéed squid and octopus.

It can also be pizza for everyone—from standard margherita to a luscious white pizza topped with pears, grapes and gorgonzola—at ex-pat kid-pleaser Pizza Marzano (La Rambla 140), which also has a good wine list featuring vintages from Italy and France as well as Spain. Otherwise, for an entirely in-the-moment and out-of-hand experience, head to La Boqueria (La Rambla 91), the main market that sells everything from raw fish to gourmet candy. (But do note the market closes at sundown.)

Family Friendly Barcelona Hotels

As for lodgings, the city is full of decent to luxurious hotels. We stayed at the clean-lined, family-friendly Hotel Confortel Auditori, which featured a pleasant restaurant in the lobby that catered to the kids’ picky palates (no sauce on this, no cheese on that). Keep in mind that no matter how lovely, though, rooms are meant for two persons only, so families generally have to split up into smaller groups—there’s simply no cramming two adults and two small kids into one room, no matter how much you argue with the management. So don’t bother.

Save your energy for dodging that Charlie Chaplin mime on La Rambla, because you know it’s only a matter of time before he tricks you into being part of his act.

Destinations: Spain, Barcelona

Themes: Family Travel, Urban Endeavors

Activities: Sightseeing

User Comments

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