We spent a lovely family holiday (though an awful lot of the family was sadly spread all over the world doing their own thing and couldn’t join us) in Spain. We were joined by Justin’s parents, and split our time between Barcelona and the Andalusian region, following this Spain itinerary.
Our plan did undergo some changes, as my father-in-law arrived in the country with a bout of the flu and Mum soon followed into the land of illness, with Justin not far behind. Plus Bria and I ended up extending our trip to be longer than originally planned! But this is the itinerary for our amazing first trip to Spain – flaws and all.
Fly from New York’s JFK to Barcelona on Delta Airlines
Our flight was scheduled from 8:16 pm to 10:10 am, and the plan was to sleep as much as possible. We did manage quite a lot of sleep, but an airplane is not the most relaxing of atmospheres, so we still arrived exhausted.
Arrive in Barcelona! Woot!
Shuttle to the Barcelona Airport Hotel
We were so grateful they checked us in at 10 am without batting an eye, because we were absolutely zonked. Justin had heard an interview on a podcast about how to avoid jet lag when flying across the Atlantic, so the plan was to follow the advice heard there and try to sleep on the plane, then stay awake until bedtime the day we arrived. No such luck – we did nothing but eat and sleep that first day. The Barcelona Airport Hotel was the perfect place for that, with convenient restaurants on the bottom floor, comfortable beds, heavy curtains to keep the lights out, and lots of quiet.
Gran & Grandad arrive – We took the shuttle back to the airport, where we met their flight (arriving from the UK) and picked up our rental van. We chose a full-size passenger fan to make sure there was plenty of space for comfortably traversing the country and carrying luggage for five people.
Explore Hospital de Sant Pau – Modernist architecture, historical immersion, and a beautiful walk – this museum was a great way to spend a few hours as we waited to check into our accommodations. (The cover photo on our blog is from one of their exhibits.)
VRBO apartment near La Sagrada Familia – This second floor apartment was spacious enough for us all to feel like we had our own space (we even ended up with a spare room for storage), and had a well equipped, simple kitchen. It was very centrally located and easy to get to, which was perfect for us while we explored the city.
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour of Barcelona – we chose to go with City Tours, and selected a two-day tour which allowed us to see the entire city. These are useful for getting a good overview of a place, and hearing some history and commentary before deciding which places you want to go back and visit on your own.
Las Ramblas – We went to Las Ramblas to get started on an activity book we brought along for Bria, Mission Barcelona. Catherine Aragon’s book is a great way to engage young travelers as they explore. And Las Ramblas had so much to see and do!
Day two of the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour
Election Day – We were in the Catalan region during a very exciting time, the parliamentary election. With all of the excitement that had happened with the previous election, we knew it would be an educational experience for us to share with our worldschooler. There weren’t marches in the street or anything like in previous days, but the signs were all around town, and we were able to have some really interesting discussions about independence and what it means to the people of Barcelona and the region.
Park Guell – One of many works of Gaudi throughout Barcelona, this sprawling attraction offers an opportunity to experience the art the city is known for up close.
Flamenco Show – Flamenco is a Spanish art form that includes guitar, song, and dance. It originates in the south of Spain, but Barcelona also has many great shows. We went to La Bodega Flamenca, taking advantage of the dinner and a show option.
Birthday Food Tour – We have found that food tours are an amazing way to dig in and really explore a community. While the entire group wasn’t up for it, we celebrated my 39th birthday with a Devour Food Tour. This was a pretty great tour of the Gracia Neighborhood in Barcelona. I will be sharing a guest post on this tour at 52 Perfect Days, so come back for a link to that post!
Chocolate Museum – Museu de Xocolata is a small museum, featuring the process of making chocolate, chocolate making supplies, and a wide range of sculptures made of what else but chocolate.
Arc de Triomf – Very near the chocolate museum is the Arc de Triomf, built as the gateway to the 1888 Universal Expedition. There are few better places for people watching.
Christmas Dinner – We had a spectacular dinner at Tragaluz, a beautiful Mediterranean-style restaurant in the Eixample district. This treat was much anticipated, and definitely lived up to expectations.
Barcelona Cathedral – After dinner we went to see the incredible Gothic architecture of the Barcelona Cathedral, and explored the surrounding area.
Checked out of the house and started on part two of our adventure, a drive down the coast to Valencia.
Valencia Hotel – We stayed at the lovely Hotel Primus Valencia, located near the harbor. Down duvets on big, cozy beds were just what the doctor ordered for our sick companions, and the bakery in the lobby made for a yummy breakfast the next morning.
Valencia Bus Tour – I did this one by myself because no one else was feeling up to it. But I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see this city!
Brief drive around Valencia to see the historical highlights, then off to Cartagena
El Castell de Montesa – This was an “added on the fly” sort of an piece on our itinerary. As we were driving from Valencia to Cartagena, we were drawn to stop and check out this hulking beauty on the hill.
Lunch in Elche – It was still early in our trip, and we hadn’t needed much Spanish in Barcelona. So this was our first real experience with menu dia, and it was bumpy! But lots of lessons learned for later.
Cartagena Hotel – We opted for a little something different here, staying at Las Lomas Village, a condominium resort outside of Cartagena. There were tons of amenities, but we weren’t there long enough to experience most of them. (Justin and I did hit up the Turkish baths.) We had a two-story, two bedroom townhouse with lots of space and an attentive housekeeping staff.
Exporing the Roman ruins of Cartagena – We spent the morning hiking through the ruins, checking out the Forum, Theater, and lots more. This is a place with tons of history on offer, and we hadn’t set aside nearly enough time for everything.
Drive to Mijas
Mijas Apartment – Our location for the remainder of the family trip was this condo with a great view in what was actually Calahonda, not Mijas as we had expected. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a small kitchen, and a great big deck with gorgeous sun.
Gibraltar – About 2 ½ hours from Calahonda, Gibraltar was one of the things my father-in-law was looking forward to seeing, but his health wasn’t up for it. So we explored this interesting piece of English history on our own, and spent the night at a nearby Holiday Inn in preparation for our day trip to Tangier in the morning.
Tangier Day Trip – We booked a day trip through Viator, with pick up outside of Gibraltar. It was quite a full day, more than 14 hours from pickup to drop off, with lots to see and do in between.
Exploring Mijas – Time on the beach, exploring the restaurants and shops of the pueblo.
We had intended to attend one of the many New Year’s Eve celebrations in the area, but we opted instead for following the tradition of the twelve grapes at home in the condo.
Down day, enjoying our last bit of time with Gran and Grandad before they departed
Malaga – We had some to spare once they were checked in, so we went to the pier and saw El Galeon, an old ship temporarily docked there.
Mum & Richard leave for New Zealand – time to say our good-byes, until next time!
Burgers Nomadas – Online reviews led us to this hip little spot with great burgers and insane fries in Malaga.
Sunset on the beach
Justin was planning to drive to Barcelona, but a huge storm in New York meant his flight was cancelled and we got him for a couple more days. So we went on a little road trip, stopping briefly in Ronda (where we missed SO much – check out this post for more on that) and Seville.
Justin drove back to Barcelona to return the rental van (this ended up being by far the cheapest option), with a brief pitstop to see Circuit de Barcelona, a race track he was excited to see.
And Bria and I started our adventure in Spain on our own! We’re going to separate that out into its own posts, because it really is an entirely different trip. So watch for more on that soon. We have a lot to share!