Looking for Suggestions in Spain

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My mom, daughter, and I are leaving on a girls’ trip to Spain in the near future (hurray improved exchange rate!), and as I often like to do when we go on big trips, I’d love to hear if you have any suggestions for the trip!

Suggestions in SpainI will be the first to admit with the job search, baby on the way, and resulting massive house re-organization project to clear space for kid #2, we haven’t exactly prepped as much as I usually like to for this Spanish adventure.  When traveling internationally with a little one, I actually prefer not going anywhere with too much of a real plan, but I do want to make sure we aren’t accidentally stumbling into a bust of an attraction, or missing some must do (or must eat) suggestion in the process.

We will have a few days in Barcelona and a few days in Madrid, and given our limited time, we want to stay in the cities for the duration (so no side trips elsewhere).  When traveling with a kid I like to basically just pretend we live in the cities we visit for a few days, so that means a heavy emphasis on parks and everyday family friendly attractions rather than focusing on lots of tourist attractions that would probably have lines, crowds, and bore her anyway.  The one exception is that my mom really likes getting a feel for cities on the bid double-decker bus tours, so we will be giving that a shot for sure.

Obviously with a kid and a pregnant lady we sadly won’t be taking full advantage of the nightlife and bar scene in Spain, and instead will tend to pick up food we can eat in the park or enjoy in laid back casual restaurants and cafes.

Some of the things on our radar for Madrid are Casa de Campo (really cool looking park with lake, restaurants, cable car, and more), Retiro Park (former park of the Spanish Monarchy, near the Prado), and maybe the Royal Palace.

In Barcelona we are considering the Magic Fountains, Parc de la Ciutadella, and CosmoCaixa (really cool looking science museum).

Of course we also plan to just take it easy, walk around looking at beautiful buildings, and soak in the just being in Spain.

If you have any kid friendly (or just generic) suggestions for Madrid or Barcelona, I would love to hear about it!  Can’t wait to do some exploring and report back on what we find in Spain!


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  1. I know you love the Olympics and while in Barcelona, try to go to Olympic Park. It’s part of the double decker bus tour route and it’s absolutely amazing! It’s not crowded at all but if you remember 1992 olympics, I think you and your family would enjoy it! If it’s not too cold, go to the beach!!!
    While in Madrid, check out the Prado’s “Touching the Prado” exhibit. It’s only there until June and quite fascinating especially for those who do not know what it’s like to be blind.
    Enjoy Spain! During the afternoon, try to partake in the Spanish siesta! 😉

  2. In Barcelona, La Sagrada de Familia is a must along with viewing other Gaudi architectural gems. In that same vein, a visit to Parc Guell would be recommended.

    A stroll through the Gothic Quarter may be of interest, along with a quick visit to the Cathedral. It’s not far off the Ramblas, a famous pedestrian street with vendors, etc. Be mindful of pickpockets here! The Boqueria Market is just off this street. Quite colorful and with places to eat, as well.

  3. Second the bus tour for Barcelona (there are a few routes). Check out La Sagrada de Familia from the outside as lines are long. Paella is the dish to try.

  4. A great place to eat in Madrid is Mercado San Miguel. It’s an indoor market with lots of different vendors, so there are plenty of options to please everyone. You didn’t mention whether this is your first time in Madrid or not but, I think you’d really be missing out on something great if you don’t visit the Royal Palace. I’d also highly recommend the Prado. My husband and I were in Spain with our 2-yr old son and he was fine visiting these more sophisticated places with us. So, your daughter may be OK with it too. I agree that the Parque del Retiro is a good idea for the little ones.

    In Barcelona, Park Guell, a great example of Gaudi’s architecture style and The World’s Fair Fountain will be sure to please young and adults alike. La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, La Sagrada Familia are all really great stops. I’d recommend seeing at least one of them.


  5. A Must see is “El Escorial ” in Madrid and see all the importance and historic value and the golden ceiling where most all of Europe royalty is buried.

    Also a must see is The famous Painting “las Meninas” in the museum

  6. The bus tour is actually great! Las ramblas is fun to just walk along. There’s a massive open market with delicious fruit drinks that kids (and adults will love). The beach towards the W is fun too, albeit very man made. La sagrada familia is of course amazing (buy tickets before). Fun city to just explore.

  7. The bus tour in Barcelona is fabulous. Definitely do that.

    In Madrid, the Retiro and the Royal Palace – pay for the tour, it’s worth it. Also in the retiro, you can take a paddleboat out – it’s lovely and relaxing. each of the museums has different free hours (The Prado, the Reina Sodia and the third one) – so don’t pay to get in.

  8. One of the most fun and unique things we ever did in a city was in Barcelona. We took a tour with Brightside Tours (ridebrightside.com). They drive you around on a vintage motorcycle and sidecar with a guide. I am NOT a motorcycle person, but this one is obviously stable as it has a side car, and you are only in the city so very slow moving. Our guide (a young woman) was fantastic and it was such a fun way to see the city. You wear a helmet that has a microphone so you can talk to/hear the guide. Very personalized and really fun!

  9. I just got back from a 6 day vacation in Madrid with my wife. As far as accommodations, hands-down the absolute best place to stay is the Westin Palace. When we arrived there the Prime Minister of Singapore was staying there, and towards the end of our trip the King of Spain was there giving a speech to a group of business leaders. Beautiful decorations inside the hotel and the rooms are very nicely appointed.

    It’s truly the best place to stay, even over the Ritz.

  10. there are alot of different day trips you can do by train from either barcelona or madrid.
    the train is really nice and once you get the hang of it really easy to navigate. the town of Girona north of barcelona is about an hour away. Toledo less than an hour from madrid. you get the real feel of being in spain away from the crowds. if you can manage the Al Hambra in Granada that would be great.

  11. Forgot to mention… watch your stuff like a hawk and dont’ set it down. Sat my backpack by my foot in an internet cafe off La Rambla; had my foot near it the entire time and somehow still managed to get it stolen; guy went under the table, crawled down, swiped it, and took off… Lots of pickpocketers as well and gypspies on public transport that distract you with their babies while they pick your pockets

  12. We are going to do the same during July, with nine days total in Barcelona and Spain with family of 4, so it would be lovely to hear what others tell you, and to learn what you decide to do.

  13. Madrid is a little more compact than Barcelona, so I’d definitely recommend the couple day pass on the tourist bus in BCN. In Barcelona, I’d highly recommend Gaudi’s Parc Guell. And also the rooftop of Gaudi’s Casa Mila/La Pedrera. A little pricey, but informative & magical – almost Disney-esque! I also like the new port area in Barcelona at the bottom of Las Ramblas. In Madrid, you must try chocolate and churros! Don’t miss it! Go to Chocolateria San Gines. Share a cup or two of the thick hot chocolate & a plate of churros among the three of you! Take a lunch or snack break in the beautiful Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Go to El Rastro flea market if you are there on the weekend – it’s in the streets of an old section of the city. Go to the rooftop eatery at the Mercado de San Anton – either have a drink on the terrace or dine. HAVE FUN!

  14. Segovia! Roman aqueduct and suckling pig! UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are organized day excursions through Viator for Segovia and Avila, so you don’t have to drive. There’s plenty for everyone in Segovia to wander through and explore. The massive church on the edge of the city is impressive, it was used to crown royalty and houses an amazing pipe organ. The Roman aqueduct is right there in the middle of the city, unlike many other ancient items this one you can actually touch! If you’re up for it, try the suckling pig, Jose Maria! So tender they cut it with a dinner plate.

  15. Just walking around the old section of Barcelona is a delight. I would definitely try to fit in La Sagrada de Familia. It is amazing and just a completely different experience from any other cathedral, especially the interior. People make a huge deal about the Picasso Museum — I really like Picasso, but I don’t think it would be worth it for your group. We were there over a Christmas break, and it, the palace, and the Sagrada de Familia were the only places in Barcelona where we experienced any lines at all. With a little one, maybe you don’t want to do too much more Gaudi, although the private houses are really interesting also, and expensive. I would vote against a side trip to Girona, pleasant but in your circumstances, not that much too do.
    In terms of Madrid, personally I find the art museums the most stellar attractions there, but clearly that could get tedious for your daughter. Other than the art museums, I’m not that crazy about Madrid, although I’m sure many others will disagree. The palace is certainly interesting, but again not sure it’s going to be a hit with a young one and it is a whole lot of fancy rooms to walk through. I did absolutely love Toledo, which is a short train ride from Madrid. I know you said you didn’t plan on day trips, but I would urge you to at least consider Toledo. It’s delightful and easy to walk around. We stayed in a Hilton on the outskirts and it was nice, and Toledo is gorgeous at night. Would highly recommend against El Escorial in your circumstances.

  16. Sagrida Familia, Casa Batlo, Casa Mila — make sure you buy the ticket ahead of time, online, and pick your time slot.
    eat — La Boqueria has many small eateries, eat “tomato bread”, fresh seafood
    La Rambla — be careful of your purse

  17. Unfortunately, C. is unlikely to appreciate La Sagrada Familia very much. Long lines to see architecture and artwork that’s probably not of interest to children (I think my own daughters would back me up here). For a dose of Gaudi that might go over better, try the Parc Guell.

    Definitely do the cable-car ride between the port area and Montjuic (Jew Mountain — they don’t even have that at Disneyworld!). I recall a fun playground part way up the walk to Montjuic with a great slide, but I can’t find it on a map and the walk itself would probably not be a lot of fun for C.

    The highlight of Barcelona is the food markets, La Boqueria (off La Rambla) for sure but also some of the more neighborhood ones (we went to our local, Santa Caterina, when we had an apartment for a few days). Most markets will have sweets-and-candy-by-the-pound stands which can perhaps be used as an enticement if you’re not above bribery (I am not). Because of the great markets and generally high cost of eating out Barcelona is a great city in which to rent an apartment but you can also buy picnic food at the markets and eat in a park.

    Barcelona is ground-zero for two kinds of street art: human statues and buskers (street performers). There are a lot of each along La Rambla. C. can have her picture taken with the human statues for a euro or two. There are also buskers in the pedestrian area between the port and Barceloneta. We had several hours of free entertainment from these sources. I have also heard, unfortunately, that with the economic downturn there are also now people begging on La Rambla.

    The Picasso museum is not large and is probably doable with a child. If properly prepared it can be kind of fun for kids (“How many eyeballs can you find in this painting. . .”).

    The City Museum has a large subterranean excavation of Roman Barcino which is definitely good for kids. Make sure to check out the washing and dyeing shop and read about the various liquids that were used (C is sure to get a kick).

    It may not be of interest to your family, but there’s a very cool recently discovered and restored ancient synagogue near the other museums. It has the advantage that the whole site is about 20 feet square so you can visit in ten or fifteen minutes.

    The most fun neighborhood for wandering in the Barri Gotic.

    There’s a beach just past the downtown port area at Barceloneta that you can walk to if it’s warm enough. Near the beach when we were there people were doing really cool sand art (castles, dragons, etc). In Barceloneta facing the port area are some gelato shops with outrageous flavors.

    A common day trip from Barcelona is Montserrat — very cool cable car to the monastery and then funiculars to get up and down the hill. However, this is an hour or so from town by train.

    Finally, there is the Tibidabo amusement park on a mountain overlooking town — we didn’t make it there, but I’d love to hear what it’s like.

    Have a great time!!!!!

  18. Bar Lobo was our favorite restaurant in Barcelona. If you are staying at Le Meridien it is literally across the street. It had a beautiful, yet laid-back atmosphere and was so delicious yet inexpensive! Catch the morning sun at a table outside Bar Lobo (Carrer del Pintor Fortuny, 3; grupotragaluz.com/rest-barlobo_en.php), a pleasant all-day restaurant on a tiny plaza a block from La Rambla.

    Cabs were a lot cheaper than we expected so be sure to treat your tired feet! Enjoy!

  19. I recommend the HoHo buses in Barcelona – there are different routes, so you could do parts of different routes or the whole thing. I second the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. And even though you said no day trips, you might consider Segovia. In addition to the aquaduct, there’s a castle there that is one of the inspirations for the Disney castle. The town itself is picturesque everywhere you turn. It was easily our favorite part of Spain and worth it even though we only had 3.5 days in Madrid. We took a bus that was faster and more direct than the train and had free wifi, reclining seats with foot rests and air conditioning.

  20. My husband and I took our then three year old daughter to Spain a few years ago (Barcelona and Andalucia). We loved La Sagrada Familia – great playground right in front and guys making big bubbles for the kids to play around in the square right there. The neighborhood around La Sagrada Familia is really great with lots of nice restaurants and tons of playgrounds. We also loved the beach area Barceloneta, the old Gothic quarter, and Parcc Guell (several playgrounds in there along with parakeets flying around!) The Olympic Park was awesome as well with a lighted fountain show at night. The gypsies ignored us for some reason, maybe because we were pushing a stroller around, who knows?

  21. I went to Madrid with our 18 month old in November. Mercado San Miguel was one of our favorite places. Also went to the Prado many times at night since it was right across from our hotel. If you stay at the Radisson, the cafe/bar right outside has great Sangria and tapas. We finished every night out there on their patio and there was a small playground a block up the street which our daughter loved hanging out on with the local kids. Reterio park is excellent!

  22. In addition to the major downtown art museums, check out the Sorolla Museum in Madrid. Sorolla is relatively unknown, but once you’ve seen his artwork you’ll never forget it.

  23. Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Park Guell.

    Honestly Madrid is a nice, big city, but if you want to see the richness of its history – and let your daughter see a COOL castle- go to Segovia. Seriously. I have been twice and it is a quaint town that you can walk the streets and tour a beautiful castle and see a cool aqueduct.

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