Barcelona is an amazing city. The architecture alone makes it a worthwhile addition to your itinerary, but when you add in the vibrancy, the delicious food, and the California-like weather, and you have the beginnings of a delightful family vacation. We visited with our kids in 2016.
Our First Day
On our first day in a new city, we usually like to spend a bit of time walking outside and getting a feel for the city. Since we were staying right next to La Rambla, we decided to concentrate on activities in this area, avoiding spending more that an hour or so in museums to help get over jet lag.
After a late evening arrival, we managed to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and get up for a morning of sightseeing. Since our apartment was very close to La Rambla, a tree lined street in the city center, that was a logical start to get a feel for the city. Along the way, we found a cafe to get some breakfast.
Plaça de Catalunya
After a short walk, we made it to Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square), where the kids enjoyed running around.
Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia
At this point, we decided to take a detour to the gothic styled Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, which was started in 1298, consecrated in 1339, but the cloister was not complete until 1448. It is really a basilica and is also called the Barcelona Cathedral and La Seu, which is short for the seat of the diocese of Barcelona.
Both the exterior and interior were quite nice, but what I really liked were the covered exterior areas of the cloister that gave it a very Mediterranean feel. Public spaces used shade quite strategically to keep the sun’s heat away. We spent quite a while simply soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying a place that felt a lot like California, but with an Old World flair.
Mirador de Colom
We then continued towards the water, making sure to stop at the Mirador de Colom (Columbus Monument), which commemorates Columbus’ arrival in Barcelona after returning from America. The monument was pretty cool, but it was the lion sculptures that really captured the kids’ attention.
At this point, jet lag was really kicking in, so we decided to find some lunch, then head back to our apartment for a nap. Even if your kids are past the napping stage, take advantage of jet lag and show them that while in Spain, the whole family is going to take a siesta every day. The added advantage is that you won’t be out sightseeing during the hottest part of the day.
After our siesta, having heard that it was a free day at the Picasso Museum, we decided to see what the kids thought about his art. Unfortunately, on arrival, we found out that they only have a limited supply of tickets and they were already gone.
Park de la Ciutedella
Having failed our first idea, we decided to continue on to the Park de la Ciutedella. We simply enjoyed wandering and exploring. The kids enjoyed the playground, and I enjoyed looking at the architecture. Even though we didn’t actually go in, the building that houses the Museum of Natural Science really caught my eye.
Once we all started running out of steam, we decided to wander back to the apartment and pick up some snacks on the way. Pizza and bakery/pastry items are always an easy choice.
Basic Travel Tips: Arrival in Spain from the U.S.A.
If you have an evening arrival to Europe from the the United States, avoid sleeping on your last flight. You want to be very tired immediately after check in, so do what you can to ensure this. Our kids are always delighted with a straight 10+ hours of TV. It’s interesting to note how many times your kids can watch the same movie in a row. Our record is 5 times with “Frozen”!
Getting over Jet lag
When traveling with kids, or even by yourself, the temptation can be to sleep and eat at the wrong time. As much as it hurts to force yourself to stay awake and eat at the right times, the first day is critical to make sure that you enjoy the rest of your vacation:
- Get up at a reasonable hour.
- Regardless of how hungry you are, eat a bigger breakfast if you wake up early, a small snack if you wake up late.
- Get lots of morning sunshine. On your first day, avoid dark museums and other things that prevent sun from hitting your skin. This will encourage your body’s internal clock to produce melatonin at the right time.
- Do as the locals do, and wait until 2:00 for lunch, but if you can’t wait this long, don’t have more than a small snack if you get hungry at noon.
- Take a short nap after lunch, but keep it to a maximum of two hours. If you are traveling with small children, wake them up and deal with their poor behavior if you must. One day of poor behavior (from them) and irritability (from you) is much better than a week of it.
- If you can’t stay awake until the “civilized” Spanish dinner hour of 9:00pm, pick up a snack and head back to your accommodations for an early bedtime.
- Avoid afternoon/evening performances in dark theaters. You are likely to fall asleep.
- Take a melatonin tablet each night until your body starts producing it at the right time on its own. Note that melatonin isn’t advised for children and if you have other medical concerns, you should talk to your doctor first.
- Repeat this until you are on the local eating/sleeping schedule. Your body’s clock revolves around sunlight and food, so if you get this right on your first couple of days, jet lag will disappear quicker.
- The second day, a few hours of museums are okay if you got a good night sleep, but make sure to get at least an hour or so of morning sunshine first.
- With super late dinner times, and hot summer afternoons, ensure that the entire family gets used to a late afternoon siesta. Keep this for your entire vacation.
When on the go, often times your travel plans will go awry. It is always wise to make a contingency plan if this happen. When you start to figure out where to go:
- Prioritize what you want to see and pick 1-2 major sights per day.
- If you suspect jet lag will be an issue, avoid doing all the best things on the first day. You might be too cranky to enjoy them.
- Study the map, see what is nearby, and plan a walking/transportation route.
- If something goes wrong, know what is near each destination and be flexible about changing your plans.