My Family’s Experience with a Terrorist Attack on a Family Vacation to Barcelona

My Family’s Experience with a Terrorist Attack on a Family Vacation to Barcelona

This past August my family and I took a vacation to Spain for 10 days. The first 5 days we spent in Barcelona. The day we arrived to Barcelona was the day of the terrorist attack on La Rambla. Many people still ask about how we coped with our two young kids during such a horrific time in a foreign place, so I decided to write this post to address questions and curiosities.

To give you some background, we took an overnight flight from New York to Barcelona, arriving around 8:30 a.m. Our room at our hotel in the Gothic Quarter wasn’t ready so we explored around the area, eventually getting into our room around 11:00. We let our girls, ages 9 and 7, take a nap, and we did too actually. A couple hours later we were refreshed and ready to go out and discover beautiful Barcelona.

It was a sunny day, we were finally on vaca, and we were all excited. We started off walking around some more in the Gothic Quarter, slowly making our way to La Rambla. Honestly, on my last trip to Barcelona – albeit 20 years ago – I wasn’t too keen on La Rambla. But it’s on all the lists, and I figured, let’s just go so we can say we did it, and maybe it will be fun for the girls. And so we went. Just as I figured, there were lots of crowds and people, so we walked down it for about 5-10 minutes and then decided to leave and head to the water.

Walking on La Rambla on the day of the terrorist attack in Barcelona.

I was walking with my older daughter, and my husband was with my younger. At some point my younger daughter came running up to me and said “Mommy, we just saw a really fast police car”. When I asked my husband about it he said he had never seen a police car drive that fast in a city before. We kept walking and made our way back to the hotel so one of our daughters could use the restroom. It was then that we learned about the terrorist attack.

Having just been on La Rambla shortly beforehand, we were shook up a bit. We immediately turned on the news and gave our daughters the IPad to distract them. Then the texts started to pour in, as well as us contacting people, to let everyone know we were ok. It was hard to shield what was happening from our girls.

What did we tell our girls? Is the most popular question people ask. Well, at first we told them there had been a car explosion and some people were killed. But by the time we got up to the rooftop pool, where we wanted to get them busy with swimming, it was hard to hide. Everyone was up there talking about it. So, we told them there had been an attack, and unfortunately some people lost their lives. We told them they were not in danger, and the chances of that happening to us was so miniscule, and not to worry. And, honestly, they didn’t.

Swimming at our hotel rooftop next to the Barcelona cathedral.

Somehow my girls took the news in stride. I’m not sure whether it’s due to the fact that they’ve seen books on the twin towers (kids books) and have that previous knowledge, but my fear of them being scared while we were in Spain did not come true. I like to think it’s because they felt safe with us as parents, but I think it simply had to do with the fact that they’re young and not as prone to worry. In writing this post, I asked my older daughter again if she was scared in Barcelona after the attack, and she said she wasn’t because we had already left La Rambla when it happened. Her answer was very matter of fact. There was no worry about whether or not it would happen again. Maybe that’s just how her mind thinks, or maybe it’s because she’s a kid. Or maybe a combination.

Going back to the rooftop, we hung out there for a while because the girls were swimming and having fun, and people were gathering up there to commiserate. It was a place of comfort for us – talking with other travelers and trying to get a handle on the situation – yet it was also eery. Our hotel was located across from the Barcelona Cathedral and square, a central location normally hopping with people, but up there on the roof looking out, there was not a soul or sound in site. It felt a lot like September 11th. Of course they’re two very different attacks, but that’s how it felt.

Terrorism sign the day after the Barcelona terrorist attack.

The night of the attack was the most worrisome for us. We had stayed up on the rooftop for so long – as the girls were happy and distracted – that by the time we changed and went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, it was a 2 hour wait. No one wanted to leave the hotel. But we had to get our girls food. So we asked reception if it was ok to go out in the streets to a restaurant, and they said absolutely yes. But how did they know? Was all I could think. We wound up going out.

Walking around the streets of Barcelona with our two girls that night was nerve-wracking, for me (my husband on the other hand wasn’t nervous). No one knew the scope of this attack, and whether or not another one was coming. And here we had our girls out and about at night. Once we got to the restaurant, however, I felt much better. There were plenty of people in our same shoes, the restaurants that were open seemed to be busy, and we came across other Americans and shared stories.

The next morning we had tickets to the Sagrada Familia, and things were still uncertain in the city. The hotel was unsure if it was opening its doors or not, so we decided to just hop in a taxi and go and see for ourselves. It was definitely open. Swarms of tourists were everywhere, just as it would be on a regular day. We continued with our itinerary that day, which included the church and Park Guell, and before we knew it, things had started to normalize again.

A visit to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona the day after the terrorist attack.

Barcelona bounced back quickly, and so did we. What had been an anxious night before turned into us wanting to explore more and more of this amazing city. We had the absolute best trip to Barcelona, and while my heart goes out to the victims, we continued on with our trip with gusto.

They say you can’t let terrorism prevent you from traveling. While I believe that now more than ever, I do understand why people are nervous to go to certain destinations, especially with kids. We are our children’s protectors, and it is our responsibility to keep them safe. But we can only do so much..we live in New York and were just in the city the day before the recent terrorist attempt in Times Square. At a certain point we have to let faith play its course and experience all the world has to offer. If anything, our time in Barcelona let us learn to embrace just that.

You May also be Interested in:

The Best of Barcelona with Kids

Barcelona: Experiencing the Magic of Gaudi with Kids

Barcelona: The Old World Charm of the Gothic Quarter

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My family's experience with the Barcelona terrorist attack and how we got through it and embraced this beautiful city.

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40 Comments

  1. Jean Bartlett
    December 13, 2017 / 10:31 pm

    What a wonderful post. I am certain this will be an educational read for families who worry about international travel in 017 and beyond. Very insightful Corey

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Jean.

  2. December 14, 2017 / 12:47 am

    Thank you for this. While it was a terrifying situation you handled it all as well as you could and in my opinion perfectly. One never knows what the future will bring, precisely why its import to live in the moment and enjoy life to its fullest. Good for you!

  3. December 14, 2017 / 3:41 am

    Beautifully written Corey! It must have been terrifying to experience such horrific events, but you marched on like troopers, defying the very thing they want to take away from us, the way we live our lives. Bravo! #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:21 pm

      Yes, exactly Lori! Thanks!

  4. December 14, 2017 / 4:58 am

    Well done for carrying on, it must have been very scary. We should take a leaf out of our kid’s book and think more like them sometimes, I’m impressed how your kids felt. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:23 pm

      If I could think more like my kids, I would! A carefreeness that only comes with being a kid ;).

  5. December 14, 2017 / 6:36 am

    Oh gosh, I didn’t realise you were actually in Barcelona when the attack happened. I cannot imagine the uncertainty after the attack. Glad to hear your kids cooped with the situation so well. Thank you for sharing your experience! #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:23 pm

      Thanks so much Urska!

  6. December 14, 2017 / 6:53 am

    Wow! What a terrifying experience! But you handled it so well. I’m sure part of why your kids coped so well is because of the way you and your husband handled it. They’re kids, they’re resilient, but they also take their cues from you. If you’re calm, they’re calm. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:25 pm

      Thanks so much, Allison. That’s a good point – kids can be so reactionary so it’s important to keep calm!

  7. December 14, 2017 / 9:49 am

    Wow, that is such an interesting post. I would absolutely not know what to do a situation like this – especially with kids! I love how you handled the situation and I’m happy didn’t let terrorism ruin your holiday!!! #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:26 pm

      Thanks so much Lisa Marie!

  8. December 14, 2017 / 11:12 am

    Oh wow, that must have been an unwelcome experience. One of my work colleagues was there too and she said it was strange how everything went back to normal really quickly. It’s something I try not to think about too much, but I do get paranoid travelling on the underground in London too. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:27 pm

      I hear you – I do too in the NYC subway. But that’s also do to my claustraphobia in general. Thanks for the comment!

  9. vdaltonbanks
    December 14, 2017 / 12:08 pm

    Very well articulated and thank you for sharing your experience. I can imagine it was a worrying time, but I’m so glad you still got to enjoy Barcelona. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:28 pm

      Thanks so much! I appreciate the comment!

  10. December 14, 2017 / 4:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience, that must have been scary. I get nervous now in any very crowded place in a large city and on public transit, but I haven’t let it change our travel plans. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:31 pm

      That’s how I feel too – but there’s potential danger anywhere. I keep thinking of all the natural disasters this year in the U.S. No place is worry-free.

  11. Miriam
    December 15, 2017 / 5:52 am

    Corey me encanta la forma que escribís los artículos, muy simples, muy informativos! Sigo tus post desde Argentina, teniendo niños me es muy útil leerte. Hermosa la vista desde la piscina de ese hotel! Cuál es? Besos, miss you!

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:38 pm

      Gracias Miriam!!! Y gracias para leer mis articulos! El hotel es Hotel Colon – perfecto para familias y no muy caro. La piscina es muy pequena – similar a una “spa” piscina. Hope you and your beautiful family are well – I think about our old work days in Soho all the time!! Sending lots of love, xox

  12. Clare Thomson
    December 15, 2017 / 9:42 am

    It’s so interesting reading about your experience when in Barcelona this summer, Corey. It sounds as though your family handled it just right. I like to think we’d have done just the same. Got on with having a good time in a beautiful city. We always feel safe when we visit London despite the attacks that have happened there. #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:40 pm

      Thanks so much, Clare. Seems we’re in similar boats with living outside a major city and taking trips in. I really don’t think about a terrorist attack happening when we’re in NYC so why would I when traveling? It’s good to be aware, but we can’t live in fear.

  13. December 15, 2017 / 11:05 pm

    I’m glad that things turned out OK for you and your family. I leave it to fate for these kind of events. If we are constantly worried about terrorism, murders, robberies and pickpockets, we will never leave our homes or houses for that matter. My former work colleague had assumed before that Greece and Italy were not safe during the economic recessions a couple of years ago because he assumed that the locals would go all out to rob tourists of their money and possessions – the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard! Thanks for sharing your story. In the meantime, happy travels! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:42 pm

      Thanks Kat! It’s so true – if we made a list of all the things we have to be fearful of, that might just paralyze us! Important to focus on the good things.

  14. mymeenalife
    December 16, 2017 / 9:36 am

    I love your response and your kids response to this situation. I’m so glad that you all were safe and it didn’t ruin your trip! #FarawayFiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 17, 2017 / 10:43 pm

      Thanks so much, and for the comment!

  15. December 17, 2017 / 11:37 am

    Bravo Corey. Thank you for sharing your family’s experience. I think we would all do what was best for our family, but it’s hard to disavow the sense of underlying anxiety that it creates. We’ve definitely felt on high alert in places like Paris, but haven’t put it off our list to visit. #FarawayFiles

  16. December 17, 2017 / 11:47 am

    The thought that you left the area only minutes before is very frightening. I do think you’re right about your children’s attitudes being down to their youth. My 12 year old has girls in her class who were caught up in the Manchester arena bombing, and she has never been in the slightest bit afraid herself. Children are a great example of how to carry on but the weight of worry remains with us parents. It’s so important not to change the way we live because of these incidents. #farawayfiles

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      December 19, 2017 / 10:14 pm

      The view was the best 🙂

  17. January 10, 2018 / 10:02 pm

    Thank you for this insight into a very tragic event. My hubby and I happened to cross (unknowingly) into Israel on the day that Hamas leader Jabari had been assassinated. We didn’t learn what happened until much later on when we finally arrived in Jerusalem. What ensued was 2 bomb scares, rockets being fired on Jerusalem for the first time, and a real education into what it’s like to live in these kinds of countries. We also made the trip over to Bethlehem and met a few young Palestinians who took us to the wall, where tear gas was being used and one of their friends had been shot. However, we were there pre-baby, and I can’t imagine what I would’ve told her about what was happening. It’s already almost beyond comprehension for me that people can treat each other that way. 🙁 But glad you went on to enjoy Barcelona and that your girls had a great trip without fear. #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      February 5, 2018 / 10:43 pm

      I thought I had responded to this, but just found it in my comments. What an absolutely horrific story! So glad you’re ok!

  18. January 10, 2018 / 11:25 pm

    What a frightening experience for you all. It is so difficult in the world we live in today to not feel worried at times when we are travelling and visiting cities. My daughter lives in Manchester and heard the sirens the night of the recent terrorist atrocity there. I think you dealt with it well. We must all keep travelling and exploring our world and maybe just be that little bit more alert. #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      January 11, 2018 / 4:32 pm

      I completely agree. That must have been scary for both you and your daughter in Manchester, so glad she’s ok. Being aware and alert is the best we can do.

  19. January 11, 2018 / 11:42 am

    Such a great post and I couldn’t agree more – it sounds like you handled a very difficult day as well as anyone could have. As parents we do want to keep our kids as safe as we can but while there’s an amount of risk you can avoid and plan for, sometimes it really is down to chance. Living in London, I wouldn’t avoid the centre with her so I try to act the same when we travel. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      January 11, 2018 / 4:45 pm

      I feel the same way about living in New York..it really does come down to chance. Just as long as we’re aware and alert that’s the most we can do.

  20. January 14, 2018 / 5:03 pm

    I can imagine it was a scary and surreal experience for you but you handled it perfectly, making your kids feel safe and secure. Unfortunately this kind of event seems to be happening more regularly around the world and you have taught your children a valuable life lesson in how to safely respond in the face of terrorism. Fab post!
    #CityTripping

    • fifi + hop
      Author
      January 17, 2018 / 10:17 am

      Thanks so much! We did the best we could, hard to know how one would react in this type of situation..

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