Spain: Our Family Holiday Itinerary

Spain Itinerary

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.

December 17

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.

December 18

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.

Spain Itinerary

December 19

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.

Spain Itinerary

December 20

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!

December 21

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.

December 22

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.

December 23

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.

Spain Itinerary

December 25

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.

December 26

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!

Spain Itinerary

December 27

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.

December 28

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.

December 29

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.

Dec 30

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.

December 31

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.

January 1

Down day, enjoying our last bit of time with Gran and Grandad before they departed

Spain Itinerary

January 2

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

January 4

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.

Spain Itinerary

January 6

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!


  1. You’ve been staying in some of my favourite places! I bet it was wonderful over the Christmas and New Year period, although sad that some of your group weren’t well enough to enjoy it all. I loved the tall ship; that was definitely a bonus sight on the trip. And fascinating to be there for the elections too.

  2. What a great idea to spend Christmas in Spain. I think it’s a great place to run away from the snow.

  3. That’s a lot of things packed in one itinerary! But Spain has so much to offer, that’s not surprising.

  4. This looks like so much fun and I’ve never been to Spain but it looks beautiful! We travel frequently with our young kids and love to watch them learn and grow from each new international experience! It’s such a blessing to be able to give the gift of travel to your family!

  5. Spain is on my bucket list! I love all the different things you did on your vacation. I hope to finally make it there one day.

  6. Oh, how fun! I love Spain and now after reading your article, I want to go back!
    Thanks for sharing.


  7. I def need to visit Spain. The architecture is amazing! So sorry to hear the flu kept getting passed along. I’ve never tried the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours, but it sounds like a great option for Barcelona.

  8. Oh my goodness what an adventure you all went on! How nice that grandpa and grandma got to go too!

  9. Marcie

    Spain is such a family-friendly place! I’m glad your VRBO worked out in Barcelona. Our AirBnB canceled on us 2 hours before we arrived in Barcelona 🙁

  10. Aww, Spain is on the list for sure! Seems like you all made the most of it!

  11. You have to love when you’re forced to stay on vacation a little longer! Spain is so amazing I almost moved there a few years ago. Can’t wait to go back and see some of these places you’ve highlighted. Looks like I will need to rent a car next time.

  12. Going to Spain for Christmas is a great idea, I’m never spending it in the UK anymore xD

  13. This sounds like a packed itinerary! How did you and your kids do it without feeling exhausted every day? I think my kids would absolutely adore the Chocolate Museum.

    1. crysta

      Hey Astrid! To be honest, even though we did something most days, it felt like a pretty light itinerary most of the time! It definitely wasn’t one of those situations where you are dragging people around to see the next thing.

  14. What a fun family vacation! It sounds like you covered a lot and had a great time over the holidays.

  15. We loved Barcelona and considered travelling around to nearby towns but ended up just sticking to Barcelona. My favorites were the Picasso Museum, Montjuic castle and Casa Batllo, oh and you can’t forget an audio tour of Sagrada Familia, spectacular. We walked everyone (including all the way to Park Guell) but I heard great things about the hop-on-hop-off bus you can cover so much ground that way.

  16. What a fabulous sounding tour and so cool you got to have it over the Christmas and New Year period too. Looks like you managed to tick off the major sights. I would absolutely love to see a Flamenco show! That would be high on my priority list there.

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