My husband and I are travelers. It’s always been our “thing,” and even though it’s slowed down a bit since having kids, we still make it a priority to get out and see the world. Adventures are what life is all about, right? It’s long been a topic of conversation between us when a good age would be to start taking the kids on international trips. We’ve traveled with them since they were young, but mostly to kid-friendly locations; beaches and amusement parks have definitely dominated our travel for the last seven years.
But then. Two months ago, my husband, who follows all the travel deal sites religiously, spotted a killer deal on flights to Madrid. We get a week off in February for our winter break, and we had been planning a staycation, taking advantage of the ski resort we frequent. His email to me posed a simple question: would I be okay subbing in a trip to Spain?
WOULD I?! Hah!
We had four tickets to Spain within hours.
This was a big litmus test for us. Were the kids old enough to handle an overnight flight? That significant of a time change? An urban vacation that sprinkled in historic sights and unfamiliar foods with the kid-friendly stuff?
So off to Spain we went. 2.5 days in Madrid, then the bullet train to Barcelona for another 3 days.
And the result? They ROCKED IT.
They slept on the plane. They rolled with the time change. They tagged along to all the things we had planned with mostly open minds and minimal whining (which we kept at bay with lots of gelato and churros con chocolate, obv 😉 ). The food? They didn’t really take to Spanish food (OMG, my heart broke that they didn’t like paella!), but they were fine with pizza and pasta, even though the Spanish versions of such were quite different than what they were used to.
Andalso? WE rocked it. We took “our” kind of trip but were able to adjust it for kids without sacrificing the things that we enjoy. We brought copious snacks and drinks everywhere. Instead of go-go-going, we spent a few hours on some of the days back in our hotel room, giving them some “chill” time with their screens. For most days, we planned one big thing for the morning and left our afternoons open to let the kids pick what sounded good to them.
It was amazing. Really and truly joyful. Bringing my babies to one of my very favorite countries in the world for them to see some of my very favorite sights in the world was priceless. And it proved that we are ready to ease away from being limited to beaches and amusement parks for our family trips. And that is an amazing thing.
Enjoy some of the highlights of our trip!
Day 1: Overnight flight
Day 2: We landed in Madrid around 8 a.m. We were undecided if we should try and find somewhere to nap and take a relatively easy down day to adjust, but honestly the kids were WIRED, despite only having slept about 3.5 hours on the flight. (They did AWESOME, it was just a short flight and 3.5 hours was all they had the lights off for!) So we dropped our bags off and headed for a cool zoo called Faunia, where the kids were able to be in and around the animals for the most part. This kept them engaged and excited for most of the day until we were able to have an early dinner and crash. We were all zonked by 7 p.m.
Day 3: Madrid–El Buen Parc Retiro, row boats, the Crystal Palace, and family pics! We headed for Madrid’s main park the next morning to explore. We rented row boats, which was wet and hilarious. I was *very* thankful for my backpack camera bag that kept all my equipment up off the floor and dry! We had churros con chocolate at a small cafe overlooking the pond, and then headed for the Crystal Palace. We explored the park all day (including some time on a playground) and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for family pictures! One of the photographers I love lives in Madrid, and we were able to set up a session while we were visiting!! There was (of course) a small crisis when my straightening iron exploded and we blew the fuse for the hotel room, but luckily a nearby salon was able to get me in immediately for styling (and my hair ended up looking way better than it would have otherwise!). Phew! Never a dull moment. 😉
Day 4: We spent the morning exploring old Madrid, including Plaza Mayor and Restuarante Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world! I probably was the most impressed with eating there, considering one of the things that had me geeking out was that Hemingway loved it so much he immortalized the roasted suckling pig in The Sun Also Rises. (I was a tad worried it would come out looking like a full baby pig on my plate, but thankfully it was just lovely roasted meat.) My husband got the roasted lamb, and the kids loved their grilled shrimp. They had amazing bread and sangria, and if you hear nothing else about this day, hear this: their chocolate cake is LIFE CHANGING. I’m not even exaggerating. It was the best I’ve ever had, anywhere, ever. I would go back just for the chocolate cake. That afternoon we hopped the high-speed trail and headed to Barcelona!
Day 5: Sagrada Familia and Parc de la Ciutadella. La Sagrada Familia is one of my very favorite places on the whole planet. I will never forget the gasp I made the first time I walked inside it, nor the way it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. This was my third time to visit, so on the whole that first moment when I walked inside wasn’t as monumental as the first time I ever did it, but OMG, y’all. The beauty of Sagrada Familia will never, ever, ever get old. We ended the day playing at Parc de la Ciutadella. The kids found some local Spanish school kids to play soccer with, and we all relaxed by the big main fountain.
Day 6: Catedral, Parc Guëll, and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. We started the morning, again, with the more “adult” activity, the Barcelona Cathedral. When I visited the Cathedral with my husband my last time in Barcelona, I had a clear vision of our kids running around the courtyard in the back. We were seriously considering trying to make a move to Barcelona happen at the time, and though that didn’t pan out, I knew we had to make the visit there with the kids so that I could see my vision become a reality. They were sufficiently impressed with the architecture inside, but their favorite was definitely the courtyard and the friendly geese who live there. After lunch we hit Parc Guëll, my favorite park in the city. The kids made friends with some local school kids and played for a while before we headed into the upper parts of the park to explore. I love wandering the paths and thinking about Gaudi living and being inspired in the same place. When it was our turn for entry into the main area, we took our time and hung out above and below the main observation deck. My family is awesome and they love me (and I bribed them with ice cream), so we stayed until sunset, though it did end up being cloudy. It was so nice to just to enjoy the sights and ease of not having to be anywhere in a hurry. When I’d shot my fill, we caught a cab to the Magic Fountain of Montjïc, amazingly arriving about five minutes before the show began! It was packed, but we had no issues finding a place to sit. The show itself was lovely; the kids enjoyed it a lot more when we actually got up from our seats and danced around. 😉 We ended the day catching the metro to Las Ramblas and having a very late dinner (for us) with two very tired kiddos. This was by far the most we packed into one day!
Day 7: My birthday! It just happened that it all worked out that we got to spend my birthday in Barcelona! After packing up all our bags and leaving them at the front desk, we spent the morning at Tibidabo, the amusement park on the mountains overlooking the city. After the full day we had the day before, we all deserved a little cut-loose fun. 😉 It was super windy (and therefore cold) up on the mountain, and some of the rides were closed as a result, but we found fun nonetheless! The favorite was the Tibidabo Express, a surprisingly fast roller coaster that allowed us to zip along the side of the mountain and look down onto the beautiful city. We caught a cab back to the hotel, grabbed our bags that were ready and waiting, and made it back to the train station in time to catch our high-speed train back to Madrid. We spent one more night by the airport and flew out the next morning for home!