We were a little nervous to visit the Colosseum on their monthly free day. The Colosseum is the most popular tourist attraction in Rome and it is busy on any given day. Were we crazy for trying to visit it on the first Sunday of the month when all visits were free? Maybe, but it would save us a pretty penny and we are trying so hard to stay on budget in Europe!
When I posted in a traveling family Facebook group asking for advice on what to do in Rome, I was told about the free Rick Steve’s audio guide walking tours. Oh my, I wish we would have known about these in Barcelona! We downloaded all of the guides for Rome and we did almost every single walking tour available. Our kids loved learning about the history and Rick presents in such an easy going and funny way that the guides kept us all engaged. We saw things that we probably would have missed without the guides and we learned so much from them. I highly recommend them if you are coming to Europe and they are available for many of the main European cities.
Rome was made for wandering. Little alleys that open up to stunning piazzas. Hole in the wall restaurants, sandwich shops, and gelaterias are tucked around every corner. Thousand-year-old buildings, opulent churches, and stunning statues await to be discovered. Four of our seven days in Rome were spent just wandering and those days were made more interesting with Rick Steve’s audio guides.
In order to make a three and a half month trip to Europe affordable, we have decided to only choose a few destinations and rent apartments on Airbnb for between one week to one month at a time. This allows us to save a HUGE amount on accommodation (we are averaging just over $50 CAD per night) and allows us to cook our own food in our apartments. Slow travel is a great fit for our family. We like to travel deep instead of wide. Slow traveling allows us to visit countries we might not be able to afford otherwise.
Our family of four is staying in Barcelona for an entire month. We have rented an apartment here for about a 60% discount over the nightly rate because we are staying so long. The neighborhood we are in is well outside the tourist zones which means it has a lovely local feel and local prices.
We have the option of three grocery stores in our immediate vicinity, two fruit and vegetable stores, countless bakeries, and a few butcher shops. These are all within a five-minute walk of us. Shopping for groceries in a foreign country is super fun and we love the mom-and-pop feel of all of the specialty stores in Barcelona. We can pop out our door to fulfill our cravings of croissants and fruit or hit up the patisserie for a fresh baguette to make our picnic lunches.
When we first got to Barcelona, we started to wonder if our neighborhood was a bit rough. Graffiti was EVERYWHERE. I’m not talking a little bit on abandoned buildings and under bridges, I am talking on almost every single building. We soon realized that the graffiti was not limited to our neighborhood, it is all over the city. Nothing is out of bounds, including the beautiful old doors and buildings, delivery trucks, street signs, and anything else within easy reach. And while some of the graffiti I would consider art work, most of it is vandalism in my books.
Have you been to Barcelona? Did you notice all the graffiti?
After spending three of our four weeks in Barcelona, we decided it was time to get outside the city and see what we could get up to in a day trip. We soon realized that, because we are a family of four, it would actually be cheaper to rent a car for four days than it would to take public transport to see the sights on our list. So we researched our prices and got a great deal on a little car from Enterprise. We rented the car on the website doyouspain.com which was actually about 20€ cheaper than anywhere else on the web.
The four destinations we chose were all about our passion for history. We have two boys who love Medieval Times as well as all things Roman, so instead of hitting up the beach towns or the hillside monastery of Montserrat, we went to the Medieval walled cities of Tossa De Mar, Pal, and Girona, and the Roman ruins at Tarragona. We absolutely loved all of these day trips and we highly recommend all of them.
The Sagrada Familia is the most famous of Gaudi’s buildings and I would hazard to guess one of the most famous basilicas in the world. It is pretty much the top attraction in Barcelona and for good reason. After three weeks in Barcelona, we decided we had better go see what all the fuss was about. 🙂
Construction on this monstrous Catholic church began in 1882 and IT IS NOT YET FINISHED! Think on that! Completion is estimated in 2028.
As with all Gaudi buildings, it is whimsical, intricate and kind of over the top. Every inch is detailed. Some of it we found beautiful, some of it we found gaudy (and no, gaudy did not come from Gaudi…we checked.)
Yes, that is a night throwing babies to their deaths. Hrrmmm.
Gaudi modeled these columns from trees. They do look like trees, don’t you think?
We loved all the light dancing in the stained glass windows.
We spent a long time looking UP!
- Buy your tickets online. Otherwise, you will waste your day in line.
- Kids 10 and under are free. Bonus!
- Be prepared to spend at least an hour here.
We have been trying to intersperse our Barcelona city explorations with days at parks. While our family really enjoys visiting cities, we are not city people. To maintain a healthy balance for our one-month stay in Barcelona we have been seeking out areas of the city where we can get a dose of nature and fresh air (well, as fresh as you can get when inside a major city).
Barcelona is a port city that is surrounded by hills. On one of those hills lies Parc del Guinardó. We spent a day wandering up the many paths in this park, slowly making our way to the top where we were rewarded with an amazing vantage point over the city of Barcelona.
When figuring out our activities for the day we decided to check out Montjuïc Fountain. When looking on Google Maps I noticed that it seemed quite close to Montjuïc Cemetary. After a quick google search which showed beautiful sculptures at the cemetery we decided to combine the fountain with a side trip to the cemetery.
Our day soon turned comical as we tried to navigate our way over the hill from the fountain, through the eerily abandoned Olympic village, and then up a hill that at one time must have been beautifully manicured but now lays in neglect with overgrown pathways and dead ends. My advice to you is to come to the cemetery from the front side instead of the back. If you come from the back, like we did, you may be greeted with a slightly eery feeling of being in an abandoned area where the locals don’t seem to venture. Indeed, we were beginning to wonder if we had stepped into the twilight zone!
So, this is a diversion from the type of posts I usually write, but I must tell you all about the dogs of Barcelona because I just can’t get over how strange I find the dog culture here!
There are ALOT of dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, purebreds, mutts. I have never seen so many pet dogs in a city before. And there seems to be a dog park around every corner. We continuously come across them when we are out and about exploring the city. People here must really love dogs.
Now comes the part I find fascinating. All of the dogs we have seen are SO well behaved. I’m not talking dogs that are nice and friendly, I am talking about dogs that completely ignore everyone but their owners. Dogs that walk past other dogs with barely a sniff. Dogs that walk past people without a glance. We have yet to have one single dog come up to us in greeting. They stick to their owner’s side and they mind their own business.
Now I don’t know what dogs behave like in your neck of the woods, but we are used to dogs coming over to say hello, having a sniff, checking out other dogs, and maybe even a little misbehaving.
And the strangest thing of all is that I would say about 40% of the dogs we have seen are off leash….IN THE CITY!
There must be one heck of an obedience school business in Barcelona.
Have you been to Barcelona? Did you notice the well-behaved dogs?
Barcelona’s Gothic District is breathtaking. For our new-to-Europe family, we are amazed the by the quantity of beautiful, old, intricate buildings, the vast squares filled with cafes, and the amount of art that greats us around every corner.
Think narrow alleyways, grand gothic churches, boutique shops, cheesy tourist memorabilia, and beautiful buildings one after the other. There are so many beautiful buildings in this district that every single one deserves to have its picture taken. I wish my pictures did it more justice…I am not a photographer, I am a point-and-shoot iPhone kind of family travel blogger! Ha!