Barcelona is the ultimate walking city. So much can be seen from the street from Gaud's modernist treasures to the wild social scene along the open boulevards flneurs can momentarily forget that this is the most expensive city in Spain. Still, there are a number veritable steals to be had in this Mediterranean city.
Away from the crowds in the popular L'Eixample area you'll find cutting-edge and affordable Me, (Carrer de Paris, 162; 34-93 4194-933; www.catarsiscuisine.com) a seven-month-old hybrid of New Orleans, Vietnamese and Catalan cooking created by Thang Pham. A four-course lunch menu is 14 euros. At Mosquito (Carders, 46; 34-93-268-7569), tucked away on a Born side street, tapas for 2 to euros apiece are made with an Indian or Asian twist. The Museum of Contemprary Art (Macba) flipped the neighborhood around Carrer Doctor Dou and brought in some cool new restaurants. Carmelitas (Carrer Doctor Dou, 1; 34-93-412-4684) is a lofty space with basement prices for traditional Catalan tapas. On the Barceloneta waterfront, hole-in-the wall Bar Venta Manchego draws a daytime crowd seeking big plates of fried sardines (6.50 euros) and other seafood specialties.
If you happen to hit the city during the July sales, you can find designer clothing at 80 percent off retail prices. Last July at high-end Como Agua de Mayo (Carrer Argentera, 43; 34-93-310-6441), which sells hot new Spanish, Basque and Catalan designers (like Miriam Ocariz), a red leather clutch was marked down 85 percent. For those looking for unusual women's wear, newcomer Garden (Carrer Escudellers, 56; www.akepica.com) sells one-of-kind designer jackets and A-line skirts, for a mere 30 euros apiece. Along Carrer Avinyo, small shops display everything from schlock to designer at wallet-friendly prices.
Unlimited travel cards for two to five consecutive days (9.60 to 20.80 euros) can be purchased online (www.tmb.net) good for Barcelona's extensive bus, tram and subway network. But before you whip out the credit card, consider the T10 travel card, which buys 10 trips on buses or the metro for only 6.90 euros. Add to that the 20-euro Articket (www.telentrada.com and for sale in participating galleries), which buys entry into practically every major art museum and gallery in town.
Seville - Somber Gothic cathedrals dont usually top the list of child-friendly attractions, but Sevilles, (Plaza Virgen de los Reyes; 34-95 421-4971), built on the site of a former mosque, should not be missed. It has a cheerful courtyard filled with bitter orange trees and, inside, larger-than-life statues support the tomb of Christopher Columbus (DNA tests recently confirmed that his remains are indeed inside). But the highlight is the Giralda, a 35-story bell tower that was originally a minaret. The climb is surprisingly painless; the Moors built the tower with ramps instead of stairs, so that the top could be reached on horseback. Open daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Sunday 2:30 to 6 p.m.); 7.50 euros, or about $9.75 at $1.30 to the euro; children free.
If conquering heights is still on the agenda, the 13th-century Torre del Oro, or Tower of Gold, (Paseo Cristbal Coln; 34-95 422-2419) is a quick and fun visit. It sits along the now-tame Guadalquivir River, across from the old sailors district of Triana. The tower once served as a medieval prison, and gold from the Spanish colonies was stored there when Seville was Spains trading hub with the New World. Now its narrow winding stairway leads to a small naval museum containing model ships. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m.; 1 euro.
A must-see for most adults is the Reales Alczares y Jardines (Plaza del Triunfo; 34-95 450-2323), a Muslim palace that was taken over and expanded by Christian kings. It is filled with lacy plasterwork and ceramic tiles. Children can run around the exuberant gardens and patios or search for stars, animals and Arabic inscriptions hidden in the rich dcor. There is a playground outside the walls. Open Tuesday to Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (until 5 p.m. on Sundays); 7 euros, children free.
Attend a bullfight at your own risk. Besides the matter of the blood, corridas can be rather tedious if you dont understand the matadors moves. You can, however, give the family a taste of the action with a guided tour of the elegant Real Maestranza bull ring (Paseo Cristbal Coln; 34-95 421-0315, www.realmaestranza.com). It includes the stables, a matador chapel and a display of sequined matador suits and capes. Open daily, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., 4 euros.
Anyone who likes to play dress-up will enjoy wandering through the quaint Santa Cruz district, the medieval Jewish quarter. The narrow streets are lined with gift shops selling polka-dot flamenco dresses for about 20 euros. At Las Moradas, on Calle Rodrigo Caro, you can take a picture of the family in dance costumes worn to Sevilles April fair (12 euros for womens costumes, 8 euros for mens). For real flamenco, forget the stiff and expensive dinner shows and reserve seats at Casa de la Memoria (Ximnez de Enciso, 28; 34-95 456-0670; 10 euros, children ages 5 to 10: 6 euros).
OUTDOORS Mara Luisa Park is an expanse of tropical gardens, fountains and romantic pavilions. To explore it, you can rent a bike or buggy at Cyclotour (Avenida Hernn Corts; 34-95 468-9666, www.cyclotouristic.com), near the brick-and-tile Plaza de Espaa. A shaded, four-seat buggy is 13 euros an hour.
Budding explorers can embark on a one-hour cruise, offered by Cruceros Torre del Oro (Paseo Marqus del Contadero; 34-95 456-1692; 15 euros, children free), past the former docks where explorers such as Magellan began their voyages. The ships have shaded decks and leave from the Torre del Oro every half hour, year round, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Along the same river bank, Pedalquivir (look for the snack bar on the water) rents pedal boats for 12 euros an hour from 9 a.m. to nightfall.
DOWNTIME It is unlikely that a young horse lover will fail to notice the handsome horse-drawn buggies stationed at most monuments. The 45-minute circuit costs 40 euros, but it offers a romantic overview of the city.
A slow 10-minute spin on the Ferris wheel outside Mara Luisa Park also puts everyone in a good mood and the cabins are air-conditioned; 8 euros, children ages 4 and up: 5 euros.
Isla Mgica (34-902 161-716, www.islamagica.es), an amusement park with a looping roller coaster and several water rides next to La Cartuja monastery, where Columbus stayed before his final voyage, is a good place for children to let off steam. Not surprisingly, the park is filled with references to the discovery of the Americas, including a mock Spanish galleon. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, and until 10 p.m. weekends. High-season admission is 23.50 euros; children older than 5: 16.50 euros.
WHERE TO EAT Tapas bars sound forbidding, but many have outdoor seating and the small portions are handy for tasting new foods. Near the cathedral, Bar Campanario (Mateos Gago, 8; 34-95 456 4189) serves tapas of pan pizza (2 euros) and Spanish potato salad (2.20 euros) along with more exotic fare like salmorejo, a creamy gazpacho (2.20 euros).
For a traditional meal with a great view, try La Primera del Puente (Betis, 66; 34-95 427-6918), where children can watch the boats on the Guadalquivir River from a shaded terrace. You can order half portions of many dishes, including grilled chicken and fried shrimp, for 7.50 euros. Some ice creams come in a Mickey Mouse cup.
Across the street at La Cosa Nostra (Betis, 52; 34-95 427-0752, www.cosanostraristorante.es), children can watch the chef flip pizzas (5.50 to 8.70 euros) in a nonsmoking dining room.
The fancy sundaes are a good incentive for a clean plate at El 3 de Oro (Santa Mara la Blanca, 34; 34-95 442-6820) in the Santa Cruz district. The rest of the menu includes bland crowd-pleasers like fried eggs and pork chops along with Andalusian specialties such as fried cod or squid. Dinner for four with wine is about 60 euros.
WHERE TO STAY Driving is difficult and parking nearly impossible in the old part of the city, especially with recent road work near the cathedral, so it is best to stay central.
Apartamentos Murillo (Reinosa, 6; 34-95 421-0959, www.hotelmurillo.com) has 16 air-conditioned apartments with equipped kitchenettes in the Santa Cruz neighborhood, one block from the Murillo gardens. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom is 156 euros a night including tax.
Nearby, Las Casas de la Judera (Callejn de Dos Hermanas, 34-95 441-5150, www.casasypalacios.com) is tucked into an alley off Santa Mara la Blanca square, lined with outdoor cafes. It is a maze of colorful patios with a cave-like underground passage. The 23 junior suites sleep three with a cot (190 to 230 euros plus tax).
Husa Los Seises (Segovias, 6; 34-95 422-9495, www.hotellosseises.com) has a small pool on its rooftop terrace with a restaurant and a splendid view of the cathedral. The stylish triples, and one quadruple, are 230 euros plus tax.
cruisinred - what an impossible choice! I won't go into the wonderful detail here that LH did - but really these are two of my favorite cities. For a family with members who may never have been to Europe, I would choose Barcelona, as it is easy to navigate, beautiful in a more modern way and all-around fantastic. For those looking for the true Spanish feel, it has to be Sevilla as it has the history, architecture and all-around feel. You expect people to begin dancing in the streets there. Both are in fact "easy" cities in terms of travel, both quite walkable and safe-feeling. No way to combine the two? Honestly, not sure what your travel plans are but I'd even choose these two over Madrid if that helps at all......
Oh, just noticed you are going in February and weather-wise Sevilla would definitely be better.....
Thank you for the most informative info on Spain. I am sending my daughter to Spain in August for two weeks before she begins her 6th month music program in Hungary. Your suggestions are wonderful and mostly affordable for a college student...
My daughter lived in Barcelona for a year and 1/2 and met her fiance there. They arer getting married in Baiona (in Gallicia) this summer. Barcelona is wonderful. If your daughter goes to Barcelona, have her take a day trip to Girona, a walled city about an hour away. Barcelona, as a big city, has more than Sevilla but both are wonderful. In Barcelona I particularly like the Gaudi architecture (especially Sagrada Familia), the Barrio Gothic (and the Bourn where we usually stay, th Miro Foundation (art museum), the Picasso Museum, Barcelonetta and the food.
Seville is one of my favorite cities also. Among other things, it has wonderful flaminco dancing. Well worth a night at a flaminco bar/club. The gardens , plazas and Moorish architecture are spectacular. If she goes to Seville, she must take a side trip to see the Alhambra in Grenada. To be so close and not see it would be a sin.
Rounding out my favorite places in Spain (and my daughter's personal favorite, even over Barcelona) is San Sabasian. Its a Basque city near the French border and also near the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Spectacular waterfront, terrific food, wonderful tapas, a great place to walk around.
Hope your daughter has a wonderful time in Spain this coming August. There is lots to do and to see for young college students, and if you look you can still find bargains and affordable prices. Good luck to her. What a wonderful chance to study music for 6 month in Hungary.
Being spanish, I have been to both of them but If I have to choose I 'd go to Seville, since it's got more of the spanish touch most foreigners come looking for, from the bullfighting to flamenco dance, to tapas, nices little white houses with flowers, wonderful architecture(Not that Barcelona doesn't have this but I find it more european and cosmopolitan than Seville) besides that you can easily go from seville to Granada to see the Alhambra or to Cordoba, Costa del sol or take a boat and visit Tanger in Morocco.
I am from Seville and also lived in Barcelona, theyre my 2 favorite cities in Spain. Barcelona is very modern and fashionable, theres everything and great nightlife.Seville is smaller, still big but keeps the charm of a small city, no hurries and people rushing by, and the place to be for tapas.
I recommend Barcelona for fine dining, museums and arquitecture. Seville is perfect for a romantic getaway, culture and local gastronomy.