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How to split time between Barcelona, Costa Brava and Lisbon

Our family is flying to Barcelona for a 12 night trip (wish it could be longer). We have an 11 yr old and two teens (all boys). Want a mix of city, nature, beach, villages. I know we can't do it all so want a nice balance. Things I think we want to do in Barcelona is...Gaudi!!! and flamenco dinner experience (my kids are musicians) exploring food and areas (especially the Gothic area), and the Miro museum. I think we are staying in the Gracia area. I think hiking around Monserat would be awesome too (my kids are climbers and hikers). We then plan to take a train to Girona and then rent a car for the Costa Brava time. I am interested in all thinks Salvador Dali, Girona, kayaking around coves, villages like Begur and of course good food. Then we will return car and fly from Barcelona to Lisbon. I am interested in a Fado experience, food, history, and was thinking to see Sintra and something in Algarve area (kayaking in the caves). I know that is a lot for such a short time. Would love thoughts on this. I don't know if we should do 3 nights in Barcelona and 5 nights in Costa Brava and 4 nights in Portugal or another way would be better. My kids won't want to see every building in Lisbon but I want them to learn the history and importance of the area. We don't want to be in the super touristy area of Costa Brava but it will be in June so I am sure that is a challenge. I was thinking a family surf lesson would be fun too (Cascais?). Clearly I need help. Thanks in advance.

Posted by
20836 posts

I think you need to drop the Algarve; it's just too far from Lisbon, given your schedule. I'm hoping others can suggest an interesting water activity on the Costa Brava or near Lisbon.

Since Barcelona is your arrival point, your 3 nights will be basically 2 days. Some of you are likely to be severely sleep-deprived or jetlagged on your arrival day. The Dali sights in Barcelona require timed entry tickets, so you can't just trot from one to another to maximize your sightseeing time. I think you'd be sorry to have only 2 real days in Barcelona, but I understand the draw of beaches when you're traveling with kids.

If you decide to go to Montserrat you'll need to add a day in Barcelona for sure.

Posted by
796 posts

Is this 12 nights on the ground? If so, that gives you 11 days. You also need to remember that taking the train to Girona, then flying to Lisbon, and checking in and out of hotels takes up a lot of time. 3 nights in Barcelona is not nearly enough. That only gives you 2 days. And you will have jetlag. I think you need 5 nights in Barcelona to get over jet lag, see some of the Gaudi sites, the Miro, and go to Montserrat. We didn't have time for Montserrat, and we were in Barcelona and Costa Brava for 10 days. I think getting to/from Montserrat and hiking there will take the greater part of a day.

Girona is a wonderful, fascinating Medieval city, and the Costa Brava is gorgeous! Be sure to visit Dali's home in Port Lligat; it's so quirky. Cadaques is a wonderful place to spend a few nights and is located right on the Mediterranean. There is also Cap de Creus, a natural park with a lighthouse. The scenery is beautiful! We visited this park while staying in Cadaques.

Honestly, I would drop Lisbon from this itinerary. Concentrate on Barcelona and Costa Brava.

Posted by
3285 posts

Amen to dropping Portugal. You just don’t have enough time. You said 12 nights. That’s 11 days. You will expend an entire day checking out of your Costa Brava digs, driving to Barcelona, returning the car, checking in at the airport, flying, getting from Lisbon airport to your new lodgings, and checking in. P-f-f-t! A day is shot.
My recommendation is to add at least 2 nights to Barcelona. There is so much there there. Since your boys are musicians, you should check the offerings at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Even if you go to a performance, I suggest taking the guided tour. The building is over the top fabulous.
The Miro is in Montjuic. You can also do some hiking there. Be sure to get advance reservations for the attractions you want to see.
I’ll add the Dali Museum in Figueres to the sites mentioned by the previous poster. I don’t even like Dali’s work, and I thought the museum was fascinating.
There are plenty of villages and small towns that you can visit, both from Girona and from Barcelona, up in the mountains and down by the sea. You won’t lack for things to fill your time.

Posted by
652 posts

We spent 5 nights in Barcelona a few years ago and it was perfect! We took advantage of the day we landed and did a wonderful walking tour around the Gothic Quarter then a great dinner in the area. The other days were broken into:

-La Sagrada Familia
-Biking tour through Barceloneta
-Day trip: Train to Sitges for lunch and the beach
-A free day that I wish I had used for Monserrat or Parc Guell or both!

Remember things are closed on Sundays and there are lots of Monday Bank Holidays. We missed a few things because I didn’t plan for the closures.

Posted by
3623 posts

I second the recommendation to attend a concert at the Palau de la Música Catalana. I am not a musician, yet it is one of my best travel memories ever.

Posted by
20836 posts

Fortunately, a lot if not all of the Gaudi [not Dali!--edit] sights in Barcelona have long hours and are open nearly every day. Still, having to lock in the exact time of your visit is limiting. And in my experience (pre-COVID), even with a ticket purchased in advance you weren't guaranteed to get into the building at the specified time. Both Casa Mila/La Pedrera and Casa Batllo seemed to be letting people in only after an equivalent number of people exited. Don't schedule yourselves too tightly! It takes time to take in the interiors of the buildings, and interior crowding will slow you down to some degree. Note also that these are expensive tickets; you'll want to allow time to get full value from your visits.

My top recommendation is to book one of the indoor Gaudi sights first thing each morning (first time slot) so you know at least one thing will come off on schedule. Conditions will probably be a bit less crowded for you, at least initially, if you're near the front of the line for the first entry period. The Picasso Museum can also be monumentally crowded. I didn't have a problem at the Miro and would be surprised if you did, either. I also basically walked right into the larger MNAC, also on Montjuic. The MNAC has a couple of special collections worth mentioning: a modernisme collection that focuses on jewelry, furniture and decorative arts and some large medieval frescoes rescued from churches in the Pyrenees.

Posted by
7 posts

All these replies to my inquiry have been very helpful. We are taking Portugal off the trip. Portugal deserves a trip of its own in the future. Now we have 12 nights in Spain between Barcelona and Costa Brava. We don't want to rush through and not enjoy but we are used to active trips. I think Monseratt will be a day on its own with travel and allowing hikes/exploration and maybe wine somewhere (can we do that with kids?). I think Montjuic with the lights, Miro and hiking could be a day too. Guidi...Sagrada Familia, the homes and Park Guell sounds maybe too much for one day??? Exploring Gothic Quarters a show at Palau de la Musica also is a must. I also want to explore food (maybe a food or tapas tour) and flamenco music somewhere. The beach isn't a must because we will be doing the Costa Brava area. La Rambla maybe for lunch but not our must see either. This seems to sound like four days minimum...does that sound possible?

This would leave us with seven days in Costa Brava. We were going to take the train to Girona and rent the car there. Another thought was to rent a car in Barcelona on our way to Costa Brava and take an early drive and do a 1/2 day in Andorra (kids may get a kick out of entering a different country) and then a 1/2 day in France somewhere and finishing the day by settling into a hotel in Costa Brava somewhere (Roses? or Cadaques?) In Costa Brava I want to see Figueres, Rupit, Besalu, Girona, Volcanoes of Girona, Banyoles Lake, L'Estit, Pals, Begur, Pallafrugel, Palamos, Tossa de Mar...oy! In your opinions are any of these musts and/or not necessarily. We don't want just touristy beach but rather the feel of Catalonian Region of Spain. If you also know of good kayaking, beginner surf lessons, caves, hikes, coves that would be teen and family delights I would love to hear. We are going to skip all the water parks as we have them here too. Thanks again for the wonderful advise.

Posted by
796 posts

miriam.parker,
I think you have made a very intelligent decision to drop Portugal! And 7 days along the Costa Brava!!! Wow!!! I am jealous. We only had 3 nights for our roadtrip: 2 nights in Girona and 1 night in Cadaques. We loved Cadaques; it reminded us of a Greek village. Be sure to make advance reservations for the Dali house in Port Lligat.

I recommend staying in 2 different places while in Costa Brava and Northern Catalonia: Girona and Cadaques. Other people on this forum might have other better places to stay but that is where we stayed and it worked for us. We didn't visit Begur but I know a lot of people love it and recommend staying there.

Of the places you mention along the Costa Brava, we visited Tossa de Mar and I highly recommend it. The medieval town is wonderful and is situated on a hill with gorgeous views. Marc Chagall nicknamed Tossa "Blue Paradise". We had lunch in S'Agaro at a restaurant across from the Mediterranean. We also made a brief stop in Callela Palafrugell, a small fishing village. We visited these places on the way to Cadaques.

After checking out of our hotel in Girona, we drove up through some of the Pyrenees. We had breakfast in Besalu. A highlight is the medieval fortified bridge. Then we drove over the Eastern Catalan Pyrenees to Ripoll to visit a 9th century monastery. I think this was the furthest we drove. The scenery along the way is spectacular! On our way back to Barcelona, we stopped in Rupit, known for its medieval stone houses. Then we made a quick stop in Vic, known for its main square with its dirt floor.

As you can see, there are many, many lovely places we didn't get to see. I would love to return to Costa Brava and Catalonia, but I have so many other places on my bucket list . . . .never enough time to see everything.

Posted by
17 posts

Once you have firm dates, check the Palau de Musica’s schedule. We were fortunate to see a Flamenco performance there. Another beautiful building with amazing history is the old Hospital Modernista de Sant Pau. We did a guided tour there that I think kids might find interesting. Also the Museum of History or MUHBA, right behind the Sé or Cathedral, has impressive Roman ruins underground — wine vats, laundry area, mosaic floors.

Posted by
20836 posts

I thought the tour of the Barri Gotic offered by the tourist office was very good. The tour group was considerably smaller that those of the commercial tours I saw in the area (this was pre-pandemic).