Seeing Barcelona in two days with two teens was as much a challenge as an adventure, writes
It had been hectic: two days to discover Barcelona with two teenagers who had no idea about the city except Gaudí, soccer and pickpockets. It was not nearly enough time to see everything, but we gave it our best shot.
Travelling with teenagers is different. It means impulse. The hotel pool is never too cold. It’s never too late for anything, ever. It means ice cream at midnight, sleeping through sunrise and a high, jumpy energy that runs and runs. It’s zero tolerance for small, fact-based museums – “That’s just a 10-minute Wikipedia browse, Mam!” – but endless time to wander the labyrinth of childlike art in the Fundació Joan Miró.
It also means Miró ranks equally with the giant interactive Apple store on Catalunya Square, or the narrow gothic alleyways near the Picasso museum, full of little cake shops, goths and grannies. It’s high energy, indiscriminate and endless fun. And so is Barcelona, so they made a good match.
The random, modern street art and oranges growing on pavement trees amused the girl, while the boy kept busy staring at ludicrously expensive sports cars prowling the streets, hoping they contained Barça players.
A city centre walk is full of surprises: modernista buildings like hallucinations in the middle of a staid street, all colour, glass, and soft shapes. La Padrera is the famous one, Gaudí’s last residential project is a curvy and gorgeous apartment building in warm stone. It’s well worth a detour to admire its rippling balconies and melted metal railings, sitting there on a corner at the top of a designer shopping street like an afterthought. There are, however, hundreds of buildings around the city showing a Gaudí influence: mosaic dragon-skin roofs, twisted metal detail, care taken in the appearance of things.
As two-thirds of our travelling party were teenagers, architecture was not top of our list, it was but Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC. The boy is a Real Madrid fan, making this enemy territory, but that didn’t deter him. The place is a temple, and the slogan, “more than a club”, seems true in the way it’s true of Munster, say.
I start a lecture on Catalan identity, but no, I’m told, it’s just about the fans. The place is single-minded. It even smells like a sports shop, rubbery and clean. There are unexpected touches such as the tiny chapel just off the players’ tunnel, which must be a drop of calm on intense match days.
Las Ramblas, the popular pedestrian street with tons of local colour, was another big hit. The human statues at the port end are creepily authentic in their dull metal paint. There are street artists and scam artists, vendors of crafts and fake designer gear. There are lots of cafes too, though it’s not really a good place to eat.
A better option if you’re feeling peckish is the big indoor market, Mercat St Josep de la Boqueria, half way along the street. It sells exotic juices, punnets of mixed berries, Iranian pistachios, artisanal chocolate, fried fish and chips.
In the afternoon, you can pick up raw prawns and take them to one of the tiny beer stalls where the bartender will grill them for you while you perch on a high stool with a cool drink and watch the world go by.
It feels more like a film set than a market, with the produce arranged as carefully as art: musky expensive mushrooms piled on a cabbage leaf, honeyed nuts heaped beside colourful piles of spices, chill impassive fish, hideous folds of tripa blanca – which is like salami – overflowing their bowls. Even the meat stall is striking with local sausages in reds, greens and blues.
A highlight, though they didn’t expect it to be, was La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s masterpiece church, his obsession, which is still under construction more than 100 years after it began. Outside, massive gold letters high on the facade spelling out “Sanctus Sanctus” make it look modern, like a 1980s folk mass turned to stone. The queue is long and snakes around the corner, testing their teenage patience.
“I can’t believe we’re lining up in a queue this long to see a church that isn’t even built yet when there’s a perfectly good McDonald’s across the road.”
Inside, though, it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful like an enchanted forest, a magical space that dwarfs you with tree-like pillars stretching up to a ceiling of flowers, eye-like glass and coloured light. And you can’t beat teenagers for open-hearted wonder: “Movies should be set in this place,” said one.
“Yeah, it makes you feel like you can fly.”
With limited time, a hop-on hop-off bus tour is a great way to get the lie of the land. Both Bus Turístic and Barcelona Tours have one-day tickets you can buy on board, and they cover all the main sights, which is especially useful for far-flung landmarks.
The central area is well served by the metro, and a 10-trip ticket costs just €9.45. Conveniently, you can share the pass with everyone in the group as long as you validate it for each person travelling, and it also covers buses and trams.
Having said that, you can’t beat walking. There’s so much to see on foot, with little cafes everywhere and lots of public seating, much of it beautiful or whimsical.
Two days was far too short to see everything, but more than enough time to fall in love with the place.
Barcelona makes you smile. That was the verdict of the older teen. They’re already making plans to return.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
Barcelona has several direct flights from Dublin. Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly into Barcelona airport close to the city centre, while Ryanair also connects to Girona and Barcelona Reus, both 100km away but linked by the Ryanair bus. Bear in mind the €22-€25 return fare, and the 90-minute each way journey to the city.
Near Camp Nou, Hotel AC Victoria Suites is a good choice. It's a chic, friendly hotel near the metro in a quiet street. Prices are per spacious room (breakfast is pricy), and run from €120 upwards. victoriabcn.com
Casa Camper Hotel Barcelona, just off Las Ramblas has everything: hammocks, balconies, a free all-day buffet, funky minimalist decor and a chef fresh from El Bulli. Prices from €200. casacamper/barcelona
For self-catering options, see oh-barcelona.com/en/barcelona-apartments
For the prettiest pastries in Catalonia try Foix foixdesarria.com. Piscolabis serves great tapas in their two restaurants on Rambla Catalunya and closer to Camp Nou on Avenue Diagonal. Tel: 0034-93 410 54 95.