No one loves skimping on a town like Barcelona. But if you’re short on time, you can see the best Gaudi’s for kids – Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo & Park Guell – in one day. Here’s how.
By Darya Mead
While planning our long-anticipated family adventure in Spain, we decided it would be best to start in Barcelona. Our trip would mainly be in the country, coast, and city near Valencia (click here to read all about our trip), but we thought Barcelona would reel in our teen boys – and quick. They are both soccer players and big fans of the Spanish National and Barcelona teams.
I had visited Barcelona as a student in the ‘80s, but knew things had changed tremendously, and was eager to explore the Barcelona of the 21st century. We only had a few days, and luckily the apartment we rented was centrally located near the Passeig de Gràcia.
The heat was brutal in the middle of August — not the best month to visit any part of Europe. But there we were, accommodating two teens with varying summer job/school schedules and sweating it out as a family.
A drink with a mom friend, before we departed, enlightened me to a little Gaudi secret. She had visited Barcelona with her kids in June and told me to make reservations to visit all the Gaudi spots in advance. I tend to like to wing it, but I really didn’t want to miss these Gaudi extravaganzas. She also explained that if you go to Park Güell before 8:00 a.m., it is open to the public for free. We figured it was a good plan to get up and out early to beat the heat and see Güell for free without hordes of tourists.
Well, we tried. But the combo of our younger teen’s dawdling and the heat, meant we arrived at about 8:10 a.m., after a circuitous hike around the hilly park in which the famed site resides. I was livid and drenched in sweat. I then became determined to return the next day for the free, early morning visit. So despite already booking tickets to the Sagrada Família and the Casa Batlló for that day, destiny conspired for us to do a Gaudi trifecta in a single day; a tall order but we proved it doable. Here’s how.
1. Park Güell
Built in the early 20th century on Carmel Hill, the park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most iconic spots in Barcelona. Gaudí, a beloved architect, visionary and the father of Catalan modernism, created a magical oasis and public space. Unfortunately, compared to my visit 30 years ago, it is now a well-trod tourist must see necessitating the pre-paid tickets. Despite major renovations going on, it was splendid to visit early, in the hazy morning fog, with a few other in-the-know travelers, as locals walked their dogs jogged past. The crowds of tourists and the selfie jockeying did detract a bit, but still it is an amazing spot to behold, with tremendous views of the city. We walked down a different way than we entered, discovering some sweet gardens, striking murals and found a spot to have a sort of Catalan brunch which was perfect since we had lunchtime reservations for our next Gaudí.
Once inside the cathedral, I realized the heat was getting to me so I opted to sit and just drink in the majesty of the massive, ever evolving structure while downing some electrolyte potion my husband always carries with him. I had already been feeling a bit woozy after the hike up to Güell, but the blazing heat of the metro transfer tunnel did me in, and my hand-held fan did not cut it.
The cathedral was stunning therapy. To say it’s a feast for the eyes sounds trite, but if you can imagine a mix of a fantastical movie set, high-end pastry creations with a dash of the Gothic and stylized Art Nouveau touches, that barely describes it. The exterior reminded us of the old Italian restaurant wine bottle candle drippings. Gaudí’s guile, his creative vision and mastery of his craft is truly a unique delight to experience.
Don’t miss the exhibits underground; we only discovered them because my husband’s swiss army knife was confiscated and we had to retrieve it. (It was also really cool down in the basement!)
After a shower and a siesta back at our air-conditioned apartment, we were off again for our tour of Casa Batlló and our Gaudí trifecta. Luckily it was just across the street, and a 6:00 p.m. ticket meant it had started to cool down a bit.
A modernist, Art Nouveau masterpiece, the colorful, bodacious shapes made this home almost my favorite of the three. I hate the word ‘whimsical’ — it often connotes a sense of playfulness and capriciousness in a Disney-kind-of way — but Gaudi’s work has such intention and is so backed up with engineering and forethought, on top of the whimsy and fun. From the mushroom shaped fireplace, to the dragon spine roof, the sensuous handrails and balustrades, to the mesmerizing elevator and tantalizing lightwell, you could spend hours roaming this house.
The tour includes a headset and a 3-D immersive component that really makes the visit special. I could have done without the selfie balcony, branded water bottles, for sale in a machine, and the formidable gift shop, but I enjoyed the visit immensely and it was well worth the price.
My college student was entranced, and I was sorry we had agreed to let our high schooler stay back with his phone at our air conditioned apartment. We reunited for dinner nearby and a walk home. I have to say among the heat exhaustion, garlic and the Gaudí gluttony of the day, my dreams that night were quite fantastical.
We also visited the marvelous Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya perched up on a hill and walked in the old Gothic quarter. We explored the Mercado de La Boqueria and spent an evening near the beach. (Click here to read more tips for traveling with kids in Barcelona.)
I wish we had had a couple more days to explore, as we didn’t get to the Picasso or the Miró Museum or the Mont Juic cable car. Honestly, it was so hot, we lost a bit of steam – but that’s ok: Hanging out in cafes and taking it easy was also nice. Barcelona makes something as simple as rinsing my face in a public fountain extremely memorable.
Darya Mead – July 2019
Growing up in NYC and attending the UN International School gave Darya a head start as a global citizen. But her extensive travel and media experience now takes a back seat to raising two boys in San Francisco. Darya loves the outdoors, cooking, teaching yoga and the fact that her boys have taught her to be a sports fan. Follow her travels on Triporati.
© ROAM Family Travel 2019 – All rights reserved
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