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Barcelona Itinerary Advice

We are a family of 4 with 2 boys 13 & 15. We'll be in Barcelona starting 12/25 and leaving first thing on 12/31. We are looking to do a mix of outdoor, cultural, and art activities - combining more active/tactile and museum experiences while immersing ourselves in the city and culture. This is a vacation, though and we don't want to be rushing around every minute. The schedule is a bit complicated with holiday and weekend closures, but we are weighing a couple of different itineraries.

The first would keep us lodged in Barcelona (we've reserved a hotel on Las Ramblas) for the whole timeframe with a day trip to Girona:
12/25: arrive, get settled, visit Parc Guell, Christmas Dinner
12/26: El Born - Picasso Museum, Santa Caterina Market, Church of Santa Maria del Mar, Chocolate Museum; Mosaic Art Class
12/27: Modernista Walking Tour in l'Eixample (we're thinking of doing a guided tour with an architect), Sagrada Familia, Hospital de la Santa Creu & Sant Pau
12/28: Day trip to Girona - wall walk, Cathedrals, Museum of Jewish History, Arab Baths, enjoy the town
12/29: Palau de la Musica Catalunya, Barri Gotic - Walk, History Museum, Sardana Dance, Barcelona Cathedral, Montjuic for the Castle & Miro Museum
12/30: Street Art Walking Tour, options open for Casa Mila, Casa Batilo, Biking Tour in Parc La Cituedella or on the beach, Tibidabo view & amusement park

The second option would give us more time to enjoy Girona and incorporate a visit to Figueres to see the Dali Theater-Museum. In that itinerary we would leave Barcelona Sunday morning, drop our luggage and tour in Girona while museums are open till 2pm. Then we would travel to Figueres in the late afternoon/early evening (the Dali museum is open till 6) and return to Girona for the night. We would finish sightseeing in Girona on Monday morning and return to Barcelona sometime Monday for our final night. If we did this option we would definitely drop Monjuic/Miro, the Palau de la Musica, and the Hospital complex, and I'm thinking we might not have time for Casa Batilo or the History Museum either. I have tentatively made lodging reservations in both Girona as well as for the last night in Barcelona (near Playa Espana) to preserve our option here.

So with that background here are my questions:

  • What do you think of these itineraries? Any significant things that I have missed which we should consider squeezing in? Any logistical issues that I should try to attend to?
  • Should we opt for more time in Girona and try to squeeze in the Figueres visit? At the moment I'm leaning toward skipping it - it creates logistical challenges in requiring us to stay in 3 different places, and as I laid it out, there are a lot of great things that I feel like we'd have to drop to go there. However, if we can "fit more" into our Barcelona days without being stressed out, I would love to be able to see the Dali museum.
  • Should we visit Sagrada Familia in the morning or the afternoon? I think we'd like to see a tower, in case that affects things.
  • We will definitely lock in Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum before we leave the States -- these are absolute must-sees and I know they will book up if we don't. Aside from these, given the time of year, to what extent could we keep our options open? It's definitely our preference to be able to make adjustments and reprioritize once we have a better "feel" for what the kids will enjoy and what our schedule can absorb. For example, could we book Casa Mila and/or Casa Batilo either a day or so out or even on the way over? Do you think we can/should risk uncertainty about the weather to reserve Parc Guell before we leave, given we want to visit on the first day?

I would of course greatly appreciate any other advice or input you have as we finalize our planning.

Posted by
760 posts

I would just stay in Barcelona the whole time. I do think a day trip to Girona sounds good. I've been to Barcelona three times and never got around to it despite it being on 'my list' cause there was so much I wanted to do in Barcelona it self. The places you propose to drop in order to do an overnight in Girona are some of my favorite so I wouldn't want to do that. And two extra hotel switches are definitely not worth it. By staying the whole time in Barcelona (as long as you are flexible) you can opt for the best day weather wise to do the Girona day trip and the outside activities in town and do museums on rainy days.

Posted by
613 posts

Day one: if that's your first day is EU, do ntot ho Parc Guell. This is too good to mess up with max jet lag.

Probably save big bucks by not staying on the greatly overrated Las Rambles, a pure celebrity sight (celebrity: famous for being famous but in reality worthless. Think Regis Philbin). We prefer Ave Parallel near metro. Don limit Gaudi to the Pack& Church. The best stuff after the Park is the apartment house, palace, and the residence on P. Garcia (Diagonal Metro stop).

Also see: Gothic quarter, beach area, hill where they had the Olympics, and park eats east of the Gothic area. Great cathedral which is hand to get into on Sundays because of services.

Our favorite: walking the streets of Example to look at the Art Nouveau buildings.

Posted by
18704 posts

Parc Guell now requires tickets purchased in advance; tickets are not sold at the park at all. So that's definitely not an arrival-day site. Tickets to the Gaudi sites are rather expensive, so you don't want one to go unused if your flight is delayed. I'd recommend a walk around the Eixample as one possibly; you could track down some modernista buildings and enjoy the exteriors. At least some of the buildings are marked on city maps.

I have never been to Europe in the winter, much less over the holidays, so I have no experience to guide me in responding to your question about the need for pre-purchased tickets. However, from what I have read on this forum, Barcelona hardly has a low season, and it's clear from posts here that traveling around Christmas/New Years is very popular, at least for Americans. I would not risk having to stand in a long line (could be over an hour) and possibly being told to come back 3 hours later to get in, or that the day is a total sell-out. I always advise folks to buy tickets in advance for any of these places they want to see: La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Casa Mila/La Pedrera, Casa Batllo, and the Picasso Museum. Note that the Picasso Museum may well be totally mobbed once you get inside; it was a nightmare for me three years ago. I actively discourage people from going unless they are big Picasso fans. Barcelona has many other art museums. The Miro is much more pleasant to visit, and the (large) MNAC has some especially interesting (to me) things you don't see just anywhere: medieval frescoes rescued from churches in the Pyrenees and a modernism collection (heavy on furniture, decorative arts and jewelry).

English-language tours at the Palau de la Musica Catalana might sell out; they don't run every hour. I didn't observe a line at the Palau ticket booth, so if you're OK with maybe not getting to take the tour you want, trying to just walk up might be workable there. Check the tour schedule on the website, though.

I think it's safe to just walk up to the Sant Pau modernista site. I did that in May of this year, and no one has reported encountering a significant line there.

If you haven't already done so, you should go to the individual websites of the places you want to visit to verify that holiday closures will not conflict with your plans.

I believe your second option--the plan to include Figueres by staying one night in Girona--would be too rushed. Travel time from Girona to Figueres is 29 to 38 minutes by regional train or 14 minutes by AVE. But first you have to get to the Girona train station--perhaps a 15-minute walk from the historic center. On the other end of the trip, the two types of trains use different stations in Figueres, neither of them particularly close to the Dali Theatre-Museum, though the AVE station (Figueres Vilafant) is a bit farther away (1 mile vs. 0.6 miles). You might snag a bus or a taxi from Vilafant, but it's a bit risky to rely 100% on those options. If the train is late, the bus doesn't wait (in my experience).

The Theatre-Museum is larger than I imagined it to be and can take quite a bit of time. It gets bus tours, which can cause crowding in some areas, leading you to need to alter your plan of attack. There's also the fabulous jewelry collection in a nearby building, covered by the same ticket. I spent about 30 minutes looking at the jewelry on a rainy day when I was about the only visitor; in more crowded conditions it might take a bit longer.

There's a lot to see in Girona, so unless you are big fans of Dali in particular, I'd recommend not splitting your time since you have so little of it. Perhaps you'll have an opportunity to return to the Barcelona area and will be able to spend a few nights in Girona, using it as a base to see Figueres and such other interesting spots as Cadaques and Besalu.

Posted by
2168 posts

With 5 nights available, I'd just stay in Barcelona and use the AVE to day trip to Girona, so it's itinerary 1 for me! If possible I'd also look for another hotel, farther away from Las Ramblas, that place has become tourist central these past few years, consider areas of El Born, Gracia, or the Eixample.

I'd probably re-arrange it a bit, to include some of my own picks, with your info provided in mind:

12/25: arrive, get settled, explore Barrio Gotico/Cathedral/Santa Llucia Christmas Market, Christmas Dinner (reserve restaurant in advance - in Spain it's a bit difficult to find open places on Christmas eve/day).

12/26: Picasso Museum, Church of Santa Maria del Mar, Chocolate Museum; Mosaic Art Class, MUHBA Plaza del Rey (underground Roman ruins), Palau de la Musica, El Born tapas crawl.

12/27: Modernista Walking Tour in l'Eixample (we're thinking of doing a guided tour with an architect), Sagrada Familia, Hospital de la Santa Creu & Sant Pau, Parque Guell.

12/28: Day trip to Girona - wall walk, Cathedrals, Museum of Jewish History, Arab Baths, enjoy the town.

12/29: Barceloneta neighborhood walk/bike tour, Museu d'Història de Catalunya, teleferico to Montjuïc Castle, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, El Poble-sec food tour.

12/30: Gracia neighborhood walk, Parque del Laberinto de Horta, Tibidabo view & amusement park.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks all for the quick feedback. Appreciate the confirmation of my bias toward skipping Figueres, I'll proceed with that in mind.

Also appreciate the reminder to re-check opening hours - I had done that but lost track of it as I was rearranging things. Unfortunately a bunch of things are also closed on 12/26 so I will need to make some adjustments there. Carlos, thanks for the suggestions I will review them as I do my next "shuffle".

Regarding the pre-booking of sites: to clarify my question here, I'm completely happy to book online and skip the ticket windows. What I want to understand is how booked up things are likely to be: can we book on the way, in the morning or a day or so ahead? Or do we actually need to lock in times for these popular sites before we set foot in Spain? The Palau is not on our "must" list, and we decided not to do a concert there, so that's one that if we can't get in I wouldn't sweat it much. Parc Guell IS a must see - so I will book it ahead if need be, but the later I can wait to book it the more I can be sure we go on a nice day. Restaurants I typically would never reserve ahead -- but since it is a holiday I have already made reservations at a couple of different places.

As for the hotel, on this one I'm a bit stymied. We are only a few weeks out from our departure and hotel availability was already limited when I booked this place a few weeks ago, which is how we ended up where we are. That said, with so many voices against being on the Ramblas, I will look again.

For anyone else who wants to provide feedback on the itinerary, our flight lands at BCN on 12/25 at 08:40 - so we will have most of that day available and it's best for jet lag if we make sure to do some things, outside if possible. And we actually depart BCN on 12/31 at 14:15, so while I'm not going to put anything official on our itinerary for that day, we should be able to at least do one more walk around a neighborhood before we head to the airport.

Again, appreciate the input.

Posted by
6 posts

Carlos regarding your suggested itinerary, could you please clarify something? On 12/26, you're suggesting that we cover El Born from top to bottom with Picasso Museum, Church of Santa Maria del Mar, Chocolate Museum; Mosaic Art Class, MUHBA Plaza del Rey (underground Roman ruins), Palau de la Musica, El Born tapas crawl. And on 12/27, you have the L'Eixample walk, Sagrada Familia, Sant Pau and Parc Guell. I actually had consolidated things in that fashion initially - I totally get it due to the geography of it. Part of the reason I had it laid out differently is that I was worried about the pace feeling really rushed. It seems like you know a TON about Barcelona and the sights so I'm hoping you can explain how we might break up the time so I can see how it could work. [per my note above that there are a bunch of things closed on 12/26 in El Born, but if it's feasible to do it all in 1 day maybe I can shuffle things around.] Thanks!

Posted by
18704 posts

It's difficult for anyone not working in ticket sales at the high-traffic sites to know when is a safe time to buy tickets. Be especially cautious about taking advice from someone who hasn't been to Barcelona within the last two years, and preferably within the last year. Even with that proviso, the situation can change from day to day. All the Gaudi sites are popular and crowded. My usual advice is to put one of them in the first time slot every day so you won't walk into a place that's already full of holdover visitors. That also means you have no risk of needing to leave a previous site before you're ready to, to be sure not to miss your Gaudi-site entry time. Those first time slots are justifiably popular and I would not count on getting one if you wait until you arrive in Barcelona to buy the ticket.

Although total sell-outs may or may not be an issue (pretend you want to buy a ticket for this week on each website to get an idea; also check your actual proposed date of visit), when you have a packed schedule like you do, you can't afford to zigzag back and forth across town based on the spotty availability of last-minute tickets.

Posted by
2168 posts

Hi Jodi, I was actually born and raised in Barcelona, so I have a bit of local knowledge about the city 😉However, I may draw some blanks when it comes to some tourist specific info, as I've never been a tourist in my own city lol!

If you find many things are closed in El Born on the 26th, for Saint Stephen's Day (public holiday in Catalonia), then I'd swap it for what I had down for the 29th: Barceloneta neighborhood walk/bike tour, Museu d'Història de Catalunya, teleferico to Montjuïc Castle, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, El Poble-sec food tour. And do El Born sights on the 29th instead.

For your El Born visit, I'd break it up like this:

Spanish Churros and Hot Chocolate @ Xurreria Laietana
Morning tour Palau de la Musica
MUHBA Plaza del Rey (underground Roman ruins)
Santa Caterina Market
Lunch nearby with a Menu del Dia
Picasso Museum
Mosaic Art Class
Go back to hotel to rest (mini-Siesta), go out later in day
El Born Cultural Centre
Church of Santa Maria del Mar
El Born tapas crawl (with stops @ Bar Celta Pulperia & Cal Pep)

Hope this helps :)

Posted by
6 posts

Carlos thank you so much, and especially appreciate the restaurant recommendations! It definitely seems like a very full day but you make it seem feasible.

Posted by
2168 posts

Glad to be of assistance, I agree that the day will be fully loaded but feasible. If the load is too heavy, you could probably drop Santa Caterina Market and El Born Cultural Centre, they are nice add-ons but not essential.

Posted by
83 posts

I just got back from Barcelona, I found it not overly crowded. We bought our Sagrada tickets well in advance, but for Parc Guell we just got them the night before and they actually let us in waaay before our timed entry because they park wasn't filled to capacity.
It might be more crowded around the holidays, but you can check their website to see what ticket availability is like a few days ahead and then make your decision. There is some renovation going on right now, but I don't think it is covering up very much so it is still very much worth going.
We did go to Figueres, I'd say don't feel bad about skipping it. You'll likely spend more time in transit than you'd spend in the Dali museum once you factor in walking, trains, metro, and bus.
Montserrat was my favorite day trip, the hiking and the monastery are amazing, but it might not be your cup of tea which is fine :)
The biggest hit with our pre teen travelling companions was the maritime museum, if your boys are into pirates in anyway, might be worth looking into when their free hours are. The same goes for the Frederic Mares museum in the Barri Gotic. It was so weird and wonderful.

We had a great Paella lunch at Bodega Joan in the Eixample, as far as I can tell we were the only tourists there.
Our other favorites were Granja Dulcinea (near Las Ramblas) for the best chocolate and churros and Hoffman's which is in the El Born ( right between Santa Maria Del Mar and El Born cultural center. They have insanely good pasteries, the mascarpone filled croissant is what they are most known for, and it is divine.

A pricey, but wonderful way to eat is a food tour. We did the Devour tour of the Sant Antoni neighborhood and it was great! Enough food to feed even the hungriest of teenagers, and non alcoholic drink options (as well as beer, wine, cava, and vermut) We tried a non alcohol vermut that was terrific. Food tours are pricey (this one was around $50 p/p) but you get to try a lot of things at multiple bars and restaurants. And they are usually in the evening, so it doesn't cut into sight seeing time!

Posted by
6 posts

Great thoughts and ideas, thank you! Appreciate the feedback on the Maritime Museum and the Frederick Mares Museum - I hadn't looked into that one before. And the food tour is definitely an interesting thought to consider. Thanks for sharing!

Posted by
55 posts

We may cross each other! I’m there that same time with boys 14 and 12 and am following this thread with interest. We had planned to stay in Barcelona and explore the cities, parks and neighborhoods. The boys just want to eat and climb up stuff! I was thinking Parc de la Cuitadella, Montjuic and Sagrada for sure. I was advised to skip Guell. It’s our first trip and hope weather is better there than Chicago and there are no demonstrations( it’s Christmas so I doubt that)
Safe travels!

Posted by
6 posts

We're just over one week out! Thank you to everyone who has provided input on our plan thus far - it's been really helpful. Those of you who advised against staying on Ramblas may be pleased to know that I found an apartment right by the Urquinaona metro instead. It was more expensive but I feel really good about both the location and accommodations.

Below is one final update of our trip plan in case there is any last-minute feedback. I'll be making reservations for critical sites this weekend - it was fine last week but all of a sudden Sagrada Familia towers tours are booked up! :(

12/25 Wednesday - arrive, tour Guell Park, wander around and admire Modernista sites in l'Eixample, Christmas dinner (we have reservations at both Avinyo and Cera23 - if you have a recommendation between those two that would be helpful so I can cancel one) - HOLIDAY, lots of things closed

12/26 Thursday - El Born - Palace of Catalan Music, Picasso Museum, Church of Santa Maria del Mar, and time permitting, Barcelona History Museum. Tapas dinner tour (not booked yet) - HOLIDAY, lots of things closed

12/27 Friday - Boqueria Market and Maritime Museum in the morning, Modernism in the afternoon with Sagrada Familia, Sant Pau Hospital Complex, and Modernista walking tour (self-guided) in l'Eixample. We are currently open in the evening.

12/28 Saturday - Girona day trip, wall walk, Jewish Quarter, Jewish History Museum, Arabic Baths, Onyar River Walk, Cathedral visit

12/29 Sunday - Santa Caterina Market visit in the morning, then Barri Gotic sites, History Museum (if we didn't see it on Thursday), the Cathedral and hopefully Sardana Dances in the square at 11:15. Potentially Tour Casa Mila in the afternoon. Mosaic art class at 16:00 in l'Eixample. Evening open. Lots of things closed in the afternoon/evening

12/30 Monday - very flexible to catch anything that overflowed from earlier days, plus a number of optional activities: Visit to Tibidabo, rent bikes and ride around in Cituadella Park, Casa Batilo, Street Art Walking Tour, Chocolate Museum. A number of sites are closed

12/31 Tuesday - morning open to wander around, leave for airport around 11 (flight is at 14:15pm)

Most evenings are open for exploring the city at night. There are a lot of places where we can view Christmas lights in the evenings and I saw on the city's Christmas page that there is also a sound show in Placa Catalunya from 18-21:00 daily. That said I'd be open to other recommendations of fun evening activities.

I feel like this is a good balance with lots of time that is pretty flexible and open to walking around and exploring the city. Big things sacrificed in this itinerary are: Montjuic (challenging since the sites there are only open on 12/27-12/29 and it's lower priority to us than exploring history and culture in El Born and Barri Gotic); Dali, Palau Guell. Any final thoughts/suggestions?

Posted by
18704 posts

I think you've got plenty on your agenda. I'd be inclined to try for the first time slot at the Picasso Museum, so at least you won't walk into a museum clogged with people who arrived 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes earlier. It can be miserable.

Stop by the tourist office beneath Placa de Catalunya and look for flyers about special events or tours of interest that you haven't yet uncovered. Also watch for posters in public places.

I needed every minute of the 3 hours I had allowed at BCN when I flew home from there in August 2016. I would plan to head to the airport a bit earlier than 11 AM for a 2:15 PM flight.

Posted by
2168 posts

Overall the itinerary looks ok to me, very packed, but doable. The holiday on the 26th, Dia de San Esteban, is throughout Catalonia, and there are a number of closures of shops and restaurants, especially at night. You may find it difficult to do a full-on tapas tour on that day. The typical dish of this day are Canelones de San Esteban, a baked pasta dish, very typical of the holiday time in Barcelona, you may find them on some menus.

Posted by
904 posts

Jodi - How did your schedule work out? We are working on an early March trip and similar sites to yours, including a day trip to Girona. Feedback would be appreciated. Also, do you have any restaurant recommendations? TIA!

Posted by
7 posts

I am curious too about what you liked and didn't like as much as you anticipated. We are going in April with our 14 & 16 year olds. Also curious about the mosaic art class ... where can I find more information on that and did your kids enjoy it? Thanks!