Seven years ago or so, one of my bestest friends moved to Barcelona. I was gutted that she would no longer be around the corner, but there began a love affair with the Catalonian capital, a city that whilst I was living in London became my second home.
It’s been harder to visit as frequently now that I’m living in Devon, though it’s a short flight from Bristol, or a seriously cool adventure by ferry and road from Plymouth. Last summer we managed to make it out with Arthur for the first time, and discovered just what an awesome city it is with a toddler in tow.
I’d already been used to traversing the streets with my friend’s own children, but I’d panicked a little at the prospect of visiting with an eighteen month old, especially in the height of summer. I needn’t have worried though.
He loved toddling down tree-lined streets, eye-catching graffiti, a handy play park or an intriguing piece of public art on almost every corner. The whole culture is just perfectly set up for kids: no-one looked twice when we took him out in the evening for dinner, and with the help of the sling we could get everywhere we needed to on public transport.
On top of the general infrastructure though there are lots of things to do that are just perfect for keeping little people entertained. Having just booked our flights for this summer’s trip, I thought it was about time I revisited them!
1) The beach
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Barcelona is right on the sea. In fact, when I first visited as part of an InterRail trip nearly twenty years ago, I’m not sure we actually made it to the beach at all. The coastline has been developed loads in the intervening years and there are now a range of beaches to choose from, becoming quieter and cleaner the further you venture from the centre.
It was a real bonus in the August heat to be able to go and chill out and cool off – though actually the sea is lovely and warm in summer, especially for a little boy used to swimming in the bracing seas of Brixham!
2) The Olympic pool
The sea is not the only option for a swim. In fact my favourite place for a refreshing dip has to be the Olympic pool high above the city in Montjuic.
The water is delightedly cool on hot skin, it never gets too crazy busy, and there is something brilliantly surreal about the setting. The views across the city are pretty much impossible to beat.
3) The Miro foundation
Whilst you’re up in Montjuic, it’s well worth paying a visit to the Fundació Joan Miró. The art is big and bold and beautiful – just right to capture the imagination of a toddler. And as an added bonus there is a roof terrace with more wonderful views and the chance to get up close and personal with some striking sculptures.
4) The cable car
If you’re still hankering after more views, the cable car back down the mountain is pretty special. I’d love to take Arthur back now that he’s babbling away – I’m so curious to know what was going through his mind as he stared wide-eyed at the world below.
5) The Sagrada Familia
For something completely different, it’s well worth checking out Gaudi’s magnificent church – a masterpiece which is still under construction.
From the outside it is unusual and impressive, and the soaring space of the interior is fantastic too. It is a welcome respite from the heat: Arthur was flaking as we waited outside, but soon perked up with the cool air and space to explore.
Make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid the massive queues – you can do this online right up to the day of your visit and I would definitely recommend you do.
6) The Aquarium
More respite from the heat can be found at the aquarium down in the old harbour. It was crazy busy on the day we visited, but that didn’t bother Arthur: he was entranced by the different coloured marine life and would happily have stayed for hours if we’d let him.
7) Parc de la Crueta de Coll
One other place that’s well worth a visit for some watery fun is the paddling pool in the old quarry at Parc de la Crueta de Coll. It’s a bit out of the town centre, but totally doable on the metro. You’re much more likely to be rubbing shoulders with locals than tourists, and for most toddlers it is a little slice of heaven.
(I know he doesn’t look too happy in the second pic, but I think he was just in a deep state of relaxation: basking in the sun whilst standing chest deep in cool water.)
8) La Boqueria
After all you adventures, you are likely to be in need of some refreshment. Barcelona is awash with great tapas bars and restaurants of almost every variety you can imagine, but it is the markets I love most, and La Boqueria is my favourite of those.
For little ones it is a feast for the senses: from fresh fish piled high to fabulous fruit to eat on the go. Definitely worth popping in, if only to soak up the atmosphere.
Even with all this, I feel like we have only scraped the tip of the iceberg of opportunities Barcelona offers for young families. It’s a good thing we’re going back in a couple of months: I cannot wait for more adventures – or for the blissfully deep sleep they inevitably induce.