After only living here a month, I was looking at the calendar and realized we should probably book something if we planned to go abroad for the kids term break in April. We wanted to go somewhere that warm, new, and kid friendly. Barcelona is warmer than London, Spain was a new country for all of us to visit, and Barcelona is always on lists of where to take kids in Europe. So we booked our plane tickets and Airbnb. We were thrilled when Calie decided to join us for our first trip to Spain. Even more so once the trip began and we realized how helpful an extra adult and set of hands would be when traveling abroad with kids.
Life got extraordinarily busy just after booking the trip – our shipment of stuff arrived, I was unpacking, Matt had a work trip, and then we had visitors. Unlike other family trips, I just did not have time or energy to research and plan out all the logistics. For someone who likes to plan – I make a spreadsheet of ride order before we go to Disneyland – this began to stress me out a lot as the days for our departure drew near.
Fortunately I got some good advice from friends who have traveled with kids a lot. They briefed me about what you need to work out ahead of time (lodging, airport travel logistics) and what you can figure out on the fly (which sights to see the next day). In the day or so before departing we came up with a few specific things we wanted to explore, then off we went. It was a tiresome trip, with some fun adventures, and also a lot of learning about what it means to travel abroad with 4 kids.
What we did:
Drove an hour and half from our house to an airport car park then took a shuttle to Gatwick Airport then took an airplane to Barcelona then took a taxi to our Airbnb. Somewhere in all of that we ate some food. The Airbnb was in a great location not far from La Sagrada Familia and right next to a METRO stop.
|View from our Airbnb (taken from the website). The view was even better in person.|
What we learned:
- Just because we live in London, much closer to the rest of Europe, travel there still takes a significant amount of time. Certainly not as long as if we were flying in from the US, but it was a LONG travel day.
- Even though the UK is part of the EU, it is not part of the Schengen agreement so you have to go through immigration every time you travel. Which is tiresome with a family of 6. Matt had to cut the line to get Abby to a toilet. Luckily they made it in time.
- Pack light - thanks to some friends excellent recommendations we had great luggage for easy travel. We were able to pack the whole family for 5 days with 2 large backpacks and 2 small carry on suitcases. Plus a small backpack/diaper bag and stroller. It was nice not to have too much to worry about.
- It is worth doing a lot of research to find an Airbnb with plenty of space in an excellent location. Our Airbnb was excellent.
What we did:
Ate fresh baked goods on our balcony with incredible views. Walked to La Sagrada Familia and viewed the outside. Played with bubbles, ate popsicles, and played on a playground. Took the Metro and a bus to Montjuic Castle and enjoyed the views walking around the outside of it. Had lunch while wandering along La Rambla. Made it to Barcelonita for some beach time. Ate a spaghetti dinner back at the Airbnb.
What we learned:
|La Sagrada Familia with mi Familia|
|Playtime across from La Sagrada Familia. The kids enjoyed soaking their heads in the fountain.|
|Castell de Montjuic - the photos really can't capture the spectacular views of the city and the sea.|
|La Rambla. Matt and Kaylee dined together at a more authentic spot. The rest of us ate KFC. |
The kids liked this human statue. Calie was the best - the only adult who did not succumb to hangry.
|Barcelonita Beach at last. The water was cold, but it didn't stop our PNW kids from taking a dip.|
- Chocolate croissants are good in any country. They are especially good when eaten on a sunny morning with a view of the city.
- Give the kids time to play. I really enjoyed letting the kids play with the bubbles and play on the playground. And they appreciate a little free time to run and explore. They go along with the plans we've made so I'm glad to give them a little freedom once in a while.
- We should decide ahead of time what we do and don’t want to spend $ on. I wanted to pay and go into the Castle. Matt didn’t care to see it at all. We were both frustrated with miscommunications about this.
- Research transportation ahead of time. We didn’t know until we had waited 10 minutes for an Uber that they would not transport 7 (the one from the airport broke the rules for us since I was wearing James at the time). More than once we found ourselves waiting and waiting for buses in Barcelona.
- Pace the children. We picked sights that were not particularly close to one another so by the end of the day they were exhausted and we had spent a significant amount of the time on public transportation trying to get from one place to another.
- Think ahead about meals – if you wait until you get hungry it’s too late. Hangry will kick in at once and you’ll find yourself far from any restaurants or snack shops. Danny was on total meltdown mode. We finally made it to a KFC for lunch and he ate about 5 whole pieces of chicken in less than 10 minutes. He was like a brand new kid after that.
- Lack of sleep, not speaking the language, and keeping track of 4 kids can cause stressful moments. Miscommunications can be both a cause and effect of this. It is going to happen so just be prepared for it.
- Dinner at the Airbnb is a good idea. The kids were able to unwind and relax rather than sitting still in a restaurant. I was able to put James to bed while Matt cooked. And it was much cheaper than eating out.
What we did: Traveled by train to the Montserrat Montestary. Took a cable car up the mountain to the montestary. Had a picnic lunch by the cathedral. Took a funicular to the top of the mountain. Hiked 5k around the mountainside enjoying breathtaking views. Had a stranger miraculously give us a bag of chips that helped give us energy for the whole hike. Ate a cone of cheese. Just missed a train and had to wait for the next one. Ate dinner at Subway at a local shopping mall.
|In the top left you can see the yellow able car we took up. Calie, James, Danny, and I actually went into the cathedral at the monastery. Our trail map. Views from the top of the mountains after taking the funicular up.|
|The monastery in the background. You can see why that final climb up was tough! |
James was an outstanding little climber. Calie too. :)
|Post hike treats. A cheese cone for me and frozen treats for the kids.|
What we learned:
- The reviews don't lie. Again and again, people talked about visiting these mountains. We almost bagged it because the idea of nearly 2 hours each way on a train didn't sound great. But it was totally worth it. It was a fantastic day!
- Packing a picnic is a great way to avoid hangry. When we were stuck in line for an hour waiting to go up the cable car right at lunch time, we busted out some of the picnic. It saved us from some serious complaining.
- Our family loves the mountains. It was different than Mt. Rainier, but having our family together hiking around on trails felt so familiar. We even tried to teach Calie some of our hiking songs.
- It's OK to eat familiar food. Yes, we were in Barcelona, but sometimes the right option is to skip the paella and tapas and just get meatball subs that you know the kids will eat and enjoy.
What we did:
Woke up and took a bus to Park Guell. Did a scavenger hunt through Park Guell. Ate lunch at a local fast food place, recommended by a friend, and loved the Bocadillo con Espana. Split up in the afternoon for a while - I stayed home so James could get a nap and Calie and Matt took the kids to the beach. Met up later with the group at Barcelonita. Got frozen treats. After baths and an early bedtime, Calie babysat so Matt and I could have a date night out getting some local cuisine and exploring the Gothic Quarter. Discovered the churro stand.
|Exploring Gaudi's wonders with a scavenger hunt through Park Guell|
|Pans & company - our new favorite restaurant. Delicioso!|
|Churros! SO good we went back for a second helping. Before we went out to dinner.|
|Date night dinner out. So tasty! And such a fun night out.|
What we learned:
- If you have early admission tickets, don't stay out too late the night before. Everyone was pretty tired heading into Park Guell.
- Scavenger Hunts are a fun way to see museums and parks. I threw one together in just a few minutes. Each kid had their own adult to explore with. Everyone was able to see everything, but it was less overwhelming trying to herd a large group through all the sights. At the end, we enjoyed swapping photos of what we'd seen.
- Despite being the most chill, layed back, flexible baby in the world, James is still a baby. He struggled (and therefore we struggled) to sleep at night on this trip. I could have hauled him along to the beach, but decided I had to give him some time too and let him sleep. He was so tired that afternoon and slept even through construction work going on in the neighboring flat.
- Topless beaches in Europe are the norm. Even in the family friendly areas. It's just the way it is.
- Sand and sea and sun are a pretty great way to relax in the afternoon.
- Fresh, hot churros with chocolate sauce cannot be beat. They were SO cheap and SO delicious. We ate SO many.
- Whenever possible, travel with another adult. It was such a treat to say goodnight to the kids and then go off on our own for the evening. We wandered at our leisure, ate octopus and steak, and then wandered more. It was romantic and fun and wonderful to have a date night in a new city.
What we did:
Matt went for a long adventure run. The rest of us had a leisurely morning at home and explored the park across the street, including introducing the kids to the churro stand and riding a little tiny carousel. We returned to La Rambla, explored the Gothic Quarter, and visited Ciutadella Park. Matt and Danny went on a tour of Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona and Danny's favorite player, Lionel Messi while the girls spent a bit more time exploring the park and doing some souvenir shopping. Calie, Kaylee, and I had a girls night out and saw the Magic Fountain at Montjuic while Matt got the rest of the crew to bed.
|Matt's morning adventure run.|
|Exploring the neighborhood park and carousel and introducing the kids to the churro stand.|
- It's OK, and sometimes good to split up. Most of this day we were not all together, but everyone was able to do things that they wanted.
- When possible, have one on one time with the kids. Danny really loved his special date with dad and Kaylee felt special getting to stay out late with Calie and Mom. It was nice to focus on just one child at a time, particularly the older ones who are so often forced to go with the flow when the younger ones become needy.
- Souvenir shopping is important to the kids. Limit it for my sanity. It is a wonderful tool to teach budgeting. Danny was so frustrated that he didn't have enough $ for a leather wallet he really wanted. I reminded him he had chosen to buy a new LEGO set a few weeks prior, despite my urging that he might want $ in Spain. Lesson learned.
- Reviews are not always right. Because sometimes your tastes are not the same as others. We found Ciutadella Park to be crowded, dirty, and a bit sketchy despite many rave reviews.
- Pickpocketing is legit. We got too casual and careless with my wallet in our backpack and someone swiped the wallet right out of the backpack on the METRO. Luckily I was smart enough not to have too much in it (more of a mini travel wallet) and Matt was able to cancel everything right away.
- Sometimes it's worth spending $1 for something ridiculous that will make your kid really happy. The carousel at the park and bird photos at Ciutadella were pretty silly and I might have preferred more churros. But boy did the Kaylee and Abby get excited about both.
- Having an Airbnb out of the city center can be a perk. It was pleasant to stroll the local park and be away from the busiest touristy areas. We got a better feel for the people who really live in Barcelona. We were literally at a METRO stop, so could be to any sights in very little time, but we enjoyed the quieter local feel. And the churros.
What we did:
Packed up and cleaned up the Airbnb. Walked by Casa Batllo, another Gaudi building. Wandered through a square and down La Rambla. Ate lunch on La Rambla. Found La Boqueria Market and regretted not finding it earlier in our visit. Made our way back to the airport via train. Hung out in the lounge for quite a while awaiting our flight. Sat on the plane for 90 minutes while they did extra maintenance & security checks since the plane had been hit by lightning during its previous flight. Finally made it to Gatwick. Filled out 6 immigration forms at midnight. Rode a bus to the car park. Drove our car 90 minutes home. Put the kids to bed.
What we learned:
- 5 days is enough. Yes, there was more we could see and explore in Barcelona, but we were all tired by this point and ready to be home. We saw a few sights, but there was much less enthusiasm by day 6. I think a better option would have been to get an early flight Saturday so we could have time at home Saturday afternoon.
- Book earlier flights. I knew it would be a late night, but was not anticipating the delay. This made it an insanely late night. We didn't get home until 2 AM.
- Airline travel with 6 may not be the best. Though the flight itself may only be 2 hours, the added time of travel to and from the airport, arriving early for check in and security, and dealing with immigration makes road and train travel as fast or perhaps even faster. We will certainly consider this more as we continue to explore.
I think we are all glad we took the trip, and count it as a learning trip to prepare us for future travel. Was it exhausting? Yes. Were there stressful moments of contention, miscommunication, or hangry? Yes. Was it harder than we thought to travel abroad with 4 kids? Yes. Will we do it again? Yes.
Our Favorites in Summary:
M – Mountain Hike C – Montserrat Mountains D – Camp Nou Beach K – Mountain AJ – Beach J - Nap at the Airbnb
Cultural Sight –
M – La Sagrada Familia C – La Sagrada Familia D – La Sagrada Familia K – Park Guell AJ - Carousel James - Park Guell
M -Foot C – Funicular D – Taxi K – Cable Car AJ – Cable Car J - Bjorn
M – Dinner with Carrie C – Octopus D – Churros K – Churros AJ – Churros J - Crunchy breadsticks
Did not like –