If you’re considering traveling to Barcelona with teens or older kids, I can help! As a diplomatic family now living abroad in Germany, we have the amazing opportunity to live and travel around Europe.
Traveling with kids at any age brings a certain set of challenges, but we have entered a new stage with our teenagers who are 13 and nearly 15 years old. The days of strapping them on our backs or plopping them in the stroller to cart them off to a playground are long gone.
Now, our kids want to be entertained and educated on vacations. Interspersed with checking their phones, of course.
Last month, we took our traveling teens to Barcelona or five days over winter break and came away #winning, according to my daughter. As you probably know, there is no higher praise from teens.
If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona with kids, here are a few of my best travel tips – Linda Kerr, author of the new travel blog, TravelTeening.
All original photos unless otherwise noted © Linda Kerr
1. Let your teens play travel agent
As far as I’m concerned, any kid with internet access can provide input toward an upcoming trip.
Since Barcelona literally has something for everyone in the family – art, sports, beaches, churches, architecture, food, music — I put my kids’ online expertise to work. They combed through TripAdvisor and travel blogs to create lists of five to eight things they were interested in seeing
(Pro tip: Google “Barcelona with teens blog.”)
While sometimes requests cannot be granted (FC Barcelona was not playing at home the week we were there), for the most part, I welcome the input and research from someone other than me.
2. Consider an apartment over a hotel.
You may prefer the full-service amenities of a hotel. But several years ago, we abandoned hotel rooms in cities and began using Homeaway and Airbnb to locate great two- or three-bedroom apartments instead.
With a teenage boy and girl who are now bigger than we are, cramming into one European “family” hotel room wasn’t cutting it. And if you have more than two kids, you should definitely consider apartment rentals as well. Not only will you save money on expensive hotel breakfasts and other amenities, but it gives you a better feel for the neighborhood you’re in, and a chance to engage with locals more than other tourists.
I would also say that location is critical, so keep that in mind, even if it costs a bit more than staying on the outskirts of town.
For a great price, we found a 3-bedroom/ 2-bathroom apartment in the Eixample district, in the heart of town. Not only did we have easy access to lots of sights and activities, plus a metro conveniently right across the street, the location gave us the flexibility to head back in the afternoon to relax.
We even had some opportunities to head out for a date night, while the kids hung back at the apartment.
3. Plan ahead. Book activities online. But don’t over-schedule.
Barcelona is busy all year due to its amazing climate, and it’s important to know that major tourist attractions require online booking in advance, sometimes even a week or two ahead of time.
Once you have your wishlist of sights, book the must-see activities and attractions first — then build your schedule around those locked-in places.
My kids’ personal preference is only one museum a day. If yours are the same, and you spend all morning in the Sagrada Familia on one of their fantastic tours, then move along to the park, the beach, some shops, find some street musicians, or just walk around a market (bonus: food!) to have some unstructured time.
While it’s great to visit museums and check out the pretty views, my teens prefer to do other kinds of things. And Barcelona has so much for families to do together. Since sports aren’t really our bag — although I hear the Barcelona stadium tour is amazing — we decided on a Flamenco show (inquire ahead about teen discounts) and a guitar orchestra performance at the Palau de la Música Catalana theater.
Budget tip: Booking activities online in advance can often save you money. Additionally, many of Barcelona’s smaller museums offer free admission for children under 18, while some museums are free for everyone on particular days.
It’s also worth it to check into the Barcelona Pass which will save you a decent amount if your family likes seeing lots of sites and attractions. It gives you 2 or 3-day access to a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, and 20 different museums and sites including the zoo, aquarium and Catalunya en Miniatura
4. Get to know the whole city early in your stay — either by foot, bike or Segway
Our family enjoys starting every trip with a free walking tour, as it gives you a great overview of a city, and helps provide an understanding of the history, culture, and politics. Plus, most tour guides will offer restaurant recommendations and other ideas for things to do.
You can even ask them for off-the-beaten path ideas, should you want to get more local flavor than the top guidebook recommendations.
Other transportation options include taking a bus tour, a Segway tour, or a bike tour. And of course, there’s always the Barcelona Metro, which is pretty cheap and easy to use. The metro costs 10€ for 10 one-way trips, and our whole family just used the one card, passing it back and forth among us we passed through the turnstiles.
Honestly for four people, a cab may be nearly the same cost and does give you some above-ground sightseeing opportunities, but I think the metro is just more fun. And fast.
But in the end, I find that simply walking gives us a slower pace, and the opportunity to chat between locations.
Just be aware that paying for city tours can add up for a family, and I’ve found that in many cities, the sights they each tour may overlap.
Tip: Sandemanns is our favorite free tour company; please remember to tip! We have provided gratuities anywhere from 10 to 60 euros, depending on the guide and the length of the tour.
5. Schedule in downtime!
Photo: richard hewat via Unsplash
Even with older kids like my teens, you’re going to all want time to just relax and recharge.
There’s a delicate balance between keeping kids busy and giving them time to just chill. We found that heading back to the apartment mid-afternoon each day for a two-hour break for kids to check their phones and retreat into their corners helped break up the day and keep the peace.
Don’t worry about feeling like you’re “wasting” your vacation time not being active 24/7. Better to skip a few activities here and there so you can better appreciate the ones you are doing.
Besides, the really cool thing about Barcelona in this regard is that it sits on a beach, which was the perfect spot for us to escape to after activity-filled days. We actually ended two of our five days there, toes in the sand, doing handstands, and chasing away sea gulls.
Remember, you’ll create plenty of memories just relaxing, too.
6. When it comes to food, follow your nose
Photo: Bar Ramblero
We’re a foodie family, with teens who are open to experimenting with all types of foods. While Spain’s cuisine is dominated by ham and sausage, whether you have picky kids or vegetarians, the city offers a wonderful array of food choices to satisfy any appetite.
Traditional tapas bars — as opposed to restaurants with tapas menus — will generally offer different foods each day depending what’s fresh and on hand. You’ll see the items displayed behind the bar in covered dishes, and if one doesn’t look right for your kids, just move onto another.
If you’re looking for kid-friendly tapas fare, consider patatas bravas, slices of Manchego cheese, meatballs, dishes of ripe olives, and croquetas, which might as well be called “mini fried cheese sticks.” (So good!)
Kids may also enjoy the Tortilla Española, which is described as an omelet but is more like a quiche (not a burrito!) made of eggs, potatoes and onions and served cold. It can hit the spot when you need something light to get you between meals.
If you want fresh, authentically local food, there’s no better choice than Barcelona’s wide array of food markets including the Mercat de la Boqueria. The Boqueria includes more than 200 vendors showcasing everything from beautifully arranged meat and fish to colorful candy and peppers, plus hot, prepared foods, tapas, and of course, beer and Cava.
Combing the aisles is a great way to get perspective and learn about the food culture in Catalan. My teens loved wandering the market and choosing their own fun snacks to try.
While the markets are a great place to grab an affordable bite to eat, I suggest you go early if you want to sit, as the counter seating can get very crowded at several of the better-known stalls like Bar Ramblero or Bar Pinotxo — though you can always take out or put together a picnic from the market’s offerings if it’s a nice day..
The smell of churros throughout the city may stop you in your tracks, and you should stop. And eat them.
Spanish churros aren’t like carnival churros; they are long strips of freshly fried dough dipped in warm, gooey chocolate that’s too thick to drink. Kids of all ages — and you too — will likely just dip fingers in once the churros are gone.
When to Eat
Be prepared, as the Spaniards eat late! Breakfast places open later in the morning, which can make it hard to find much beyond coffee and a pastry before 10 AM. (Another good reason to stock the kitchen a bit if you’re staying in an apartment.)
Lunch is the main meal of the day, and restaurants may serve lunch all the way until 4 PM. It’s a good idea to try to make lunch your main meal, because dinner is extraordinarily late by US standards. That said, tapas are served for the most part in the early afternoon until late evening, so you can always feast on small bites. (Just know that it will add up if your teens are hungry.)
As for dinner, many Barcelona restaurants don’t reopen for dinner until 8 PM or later — in fact, don’t be surprised if you have a 9PM reservation and you’re the first ones seated in the room! Most locals eat at 9 or 10PM, and that’s during the week. So you can see why lunch is the biggest meal, supplemented by some tapas late-afternoon.
This is not to say there aren’t plenty of places to find food throughout the day, particularly in the tourist areas, but you’ll likely need to adjust your expectations and eating schedule with your kids.
7. Give your kids time to explore and figure out the city on their own
Travel pushes everyone outside their comfort zone. Giving your teens some freedom in a new city — even with something as simple as figuring out the metro map — helps them grow and learn. My youngest typically shoves us aside to purchase metro cards on our behalf, and Barcelona was no exception. Don’t be nervous: the kiosks are in English, and map-reading is a skill everyone should learn.
It may be surprising to us Americans, but in Europe, kids roam the streets and take public transportation at a very young age. In cities, towns, and villages of all sizes, it’s perfectly acceptable for Spanish children to run errands for parents and to play outside unsupervised.
In that very European vein, you might consider splitting up on some of your days. If your teens want to see something you don’t — and they feel comfortable heading out on their own — give them the opportunity to explore, whether it’s hitting your neighborhood for a snack by themselves, or wandering through the park without parents.
The Bottom Line on Barcelona with Teens
Barcelona has enough to see and do for a few weeks. While you may be inclined to cram as much as you can into your trip, keep in mind that as adult-like as your teens may seem to be, they are still kids. Meltdowns can occur. Our motto is: We go home when the fun ends. So we pack in as much as we can in the time we have — but the real goal is to leave with minimal arguing, and maximum memories.
Linda Kerr is a longtime blogger, marketing pro by background, and the author of the new blog, TravelTeening, detailing tips for family travel, particularly with teens. To get more tips on planning a Barcelona vacation, plus lots more travel advice, visit her site or @travelteening on Instagram
Stay tuned for more traveling with teens posts here on Cool Mom Picks.