Tempt your travel-wary teen with Barcelona’s youthful vibe and culture, funky architecture, vegetarian restaurants and sailing tours.
Changing diapers and nursing on a packed airplane are tough on parents, but they pale in comparison to being a constant embarrassment to your teenaged offspring (think sun hats and photo ops), or trying to rouse a teen who wants to sleep in all morning. Nevertheless, our recent family vacation to Barcelona was a success, thanks to a very cool, teen-friendly venue.
Barcelona is probably the most cosmopolitan and youth-oriented city in Spain. You’ll find students from all over the globe—representing every fashion trend—on skateboards, bicycles, motor scooters and on the beaches. Cybercafés rule, and the clubs are just getting started at 11 p.m., when diners head out for a stroll.
We steered clear of the all-night bars as well as the overly child-friendly aquarium, amusement park and soccer stadium—though some teens may love these. My 16-year-old daughter felt sophisticated as she explored the city—from modern art exhibits to the medieval Barri Gòtic—taking ‘arty’ photographs, watching street theater and navigating the metro. She also appreciated the hills and shores of the surrounding area and was not too urbane to appreciate an ice cream, gelati or a cold horchata (rice water) shake when the afternoon sun got hot.
Even though it is the capital of Catalunya—an autonomous region with its own language (Catalan), cuisine and history—Barcelona still follows most Spanish customs. Since we found snacking on early-evening tapas to be expensive and poorly suited to my vegetarian daughter’s tastes, we opted for light breakfasts and lunches (such as at La Boqueria market) with one big meal at dinnertime. Vegetable dishes at traditional restaurants were hit or miss, but it was easier than we thought to find vegetarian restaurants in this increasingly health-conscious city. We especially liked Organic, with a few Barcelona locations.
Barcelona is an art and architectural dream. The funky designs of Antoni Gaudí dominate the city and its modernista movement. Fans flock to the Sagrada Familia cathedral and the Parque Güell (a must, even for big kids) with such cult-like devotion, these attractions nearly overshadow the more renowned artists’ museums of Picasso—who lived here in his youth—and Barcelonese native, Joan Miró.
My daughter’s favorite museum was the more offbeat Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in the nouveau-hip Raval district. We saw permanent collections of surrealist and ‘visual-poet’ artists and student admission is free on some weekdays, too.
We rented a small (20-foot) sailboat with a captain for three hours, where stiff winds kept us moving across the harbor at a fast clip. We helped trim the sails, steer the tiller and chart the course. It’s definitely worth the €75 (about $95) per person on a warm day. Catamarans and wind-surfing are available, too.
Since hosting the 1992 Olympic Games, Montjuïc has served as the major green zone along with the Olympic Port park. Absolutely take the cable cars up to Montjuïc for great views. We toured the CaixaForum art space, the Fundació Joan Miró and the Jardí Botànic (botanic gardens) while there. Another highlight was Font Màgica (Magic Fountain). While it’s a tourist attraction packed with people, it’s really cool to see this water, light and music show on a hot summer night. Better still, it’s free and you can sit at a nearby café to watch, if you prefer.
If you have the time, I recommend a day trip to Monserrat, site of a thousand-year-old monastery and the Black Virgin. Just as attractive to us was the mountaintop location—scaled by cable car and funicular rail train—where we hiked and had a great picnic lunch.
Also along the Costa Brava, we visited Girona and its Roman and Moorish walled cities and climbed the steep and narrow stairs of El Call, once the largest Jewish ghetto in Spain.
The only real negatives: In summertime the streets and subways swell and are sweltering, and you need to watch your wallets or, better yet, don’t carry one—pickpockets are brazen.
Overall, keeping a busy pace, catering to my daughter’s palate and mixing urban and rural treks in Barcelona worked well for our teenaged traveler—and her parents, too—even if she did have to put up with our sun hats and one-too-many tourist photos.
Thanks for the great article. With two teens who love to sleep in, this might be our next destination!