Local travel company, BCN Accestour
Hotels: We highly recommend using BCN Accestour for accommodations. Having them make reservations in hotels in both Madrid and Barcelona alleviated a lot anxiety! Note that hotels make an assumption that, if you’re disabled, you will require separate beds. If you are a couple and want one bed that’s larger than a twin, you will need to let the hotel know in advance or you will have two twins. This seems to be common practice.
Money: Tipping doesn’t seem to be expected. When you put meals on your credit card there’s not even a space for that when you sign. But be sure to do so when you feel that you’ve had really good service! Watch out for pickpockets! Someone almost stole our phone off of the table but the quick waitress realized what was happening and saved it. We also saw someone get his wallet stolen.
The high-speed train (Ave or Renfe) within Spain is amazing! It took 2.5 hours going about 300km/hour to go between Madrid and Barcelona. The employees were not very friendly, but the ride was smooth. The bathroom on the train was amazing and fully accessible.
VERY IMPORTANT: If you take the high-speed train, you must tell someone that you are in a wheelchair so that they can accompany you and make sure the ramp is in place so that you can board the train. NO ONE WILL TELL YOU THIS IN THE TRAIN STATION. Go to the Renfre/Ave office upon arrival and tell them that you need assistance (even if you don’t think you do). If you don’t, they will give you a very hard time when you get to the gate to check in or the platform. In both directions, a code on our tickets indicated that we had a wheelchair, but for some reason that wasn’t enough – we were supposed to go physically ask for assistance.
The Airport has a super-cool service called Sin Barreras that helped us get from the plane to baggage claim, and would have taken our bags in a cart to the taxis if we had needed it. The service will be there waiting for you when you arrive, and they will accompany you from the ticket counter to the gate when you leave. The way to get to baggage claim if you are in a wheelchair is different and requires assistance, so don’t refuse it!
The roads in Madrid are fairly even, although there are a few hills. Robert had a SmartDrive, which was really helpful for some of them! The sidewalks were very accessible; although occasionally a motorcycle was parked there causing him to have to go out into the street, but this was rare. Some stores had steps up which made it difficult or impossible to enter. This is not very common but to be expected in a city with buildings as old as the ones in Madrid.
Taxis are really easy to get and very accommodating – drivers are very friendly and helpful. If you are travelling with someone who can put your chair in the trunk, it’s better as the taxi drivers don’t really know how to take care of them. Important note – if you use a credit card, they charge the driver 1€ for each transaction. You don’t really need to tip, but we would encourage you to tell the driver to add that to your bill. Very few of them speak English, so if you don’t speak Spanish, just carry around Euro coins for this purpose.
The Madrid Metro appears to be about 50% accessible (click here for a list of accessible stations). When we returned from Barcelona for our last day in Madrid, we took it from the train station to the Vodafon Sol metro stop. There was an elevator on the other side of the tracks, but not on our side. We ended up having to go 5 additional stops to an accessible station, go up to the street and back down to head in the other direction, and then we were back at our stop on the other side of the tracks where we could take the elevator. The good news is that, even though it cost us an additional 30 minutes or so, the trip was only 3€! It’s also important to be assertive. The metro can be very crowded so you may just need to barge your way in. You will often not even be able to get to the designated wheelchair spot, so be prepared.
Attractions + Activities
It’s a great experience to see Real Madrid play at Estadio Barnabeu. They have wheelchair seating down on the level of the field, but we were fortunate enough to get VIP tickets (they were a gift, but cost about €300). Getting to the VIP lounge was a bit of a challenge as no one really knew HOW to get us there, but they figured it out – take the elevator around Gate 50 and go through a restaurant, and there you are.
If you’re in a car, there is a big parking lot exclusively with handicap parking – probably about 30 spaces.
Puerta del Sol was just a block or so from our hotel, and considered Kilometer 0 and from which five roads emanate like spokes on a wheel to other areas of Spain. We spent time in the Plaza Mayor, which is a major tourist area with lots of shops and street entertainers – great for people-watching! Mercado San Miguel is often advertised as a market to visit. It appeared to be accessible, but was SO crowded that we chose not to enter.
The Prado was amazing. We had not purchased tickets ahead of time, and when we arrived, the line stretched around the museum! Fortunately, they let us in without having to wait. The Prado was very accessible with elevators and ramps, so we were able to see everything we wanted.
If you’re interested in Flamenco, there are lots and lots of places to see it. We went to one at Torres Bermejas. We made reservations and indicated that we had someone in a wheelchair, but when we got there, it was completely inaccessible with multiple steps down to a basement. However, the employees there were very accommodating and carried Robert down and back up the steps so that we could all enjoy the show. Be sure and ask specific questions when you’re making reservations, as they are all too happy to say that they can accommodate without necessarily knowing what that means.
Hotels may or may not be accessible, so again, we recommend using BCN Accestour for your accommodations. The one we stayed in (Hotel Regina) was very accessible with accommodations specifically for people in wheelchairs. The one where Laura Lea taught a class (Hotel Gran Velazquez) was NOT accessible – Robert couldn’t even get past the lobby.
Hotel Regina in Madrid was super accessible – our room actually had TWO bathrooms! One was moderately accessible and the other one specifically for wheelchair users, although Robert said it was actually overly accessible – such as the toilet seat being situated too high. A friend had a regular room, and it was tiny. Ours felt small compared to US standards, but was palatial next to hers! One downside to this hotel is that the accessible rooms overlook an alley where there are a couple of bars and the garbage men come EVERY NIGHT at 3am. Sleeping with the windows open will not allow you a full night’s sleep.
Other than the nighttime noise (which you can avoid if you close the window), it’s great. It’s very centrally located next to Puerta del Sol and easy to walk to almost anywhere.
Barcelona is a pedestrian city, completely designed for people who are not in cars. The sidewalks and crosswalks are extremely wide (10-20 feet), with gentle curb cuts that make it very easy to get around in a wheelchair (some of them are steeper than others, but not too bad). Given the age of the city, some of the shops/restaurants are not accessible, but most seem to be.
It is very easy to get around Barcelona on the public buses. They all have ramps and spaces for wheelchairs. They come every few minutes, so it’s the recommended way to get around – would be especially better than taxis for power chairs. At times the bus may stop too close or too far from the curb, but they will move if necessary.
The Metro is also a great way to travel. According to their website, it is 93% accessible, and we usually had no problems getting around the stations or on/off of the trains. However, we did wind up in one of the 7% inaccessible stations (Espanya) and got stuck. We had to find people to carry Robert up a LOT of steps to the streets. If you go to the metro website, you can get a list of which stations are accessible. We highly recommend that you print this list and carry it with you everywhere or at least mark the inaccessible stations on your metro map – it could have saved us a lot of trouble. Once in the stations, it is not always a smooth transition from the platform to the train and vice-versa. Sometimes the train was up to 6” higher than the platform. The metro can be very crowded so you may just need to barge your way in. You will often not even be able to get to the designated wheelchair spot, so be prepared.
Estacio Sants is the train station, if you take the high-speed train into or out of Barcelona. It’s very plainly marked and easy to get around, but again, when you arrive there to take the train out of the city, be sure to ask for assistance.
When we were leaving Barcelona to return to Madrid, we took the Metro to Estacio Sants to catch the train. The Metro was very confusing in terms of accessible access to Estacio Sants, but we eventually figured it out. It’s too complicated to explain here, but if you take the metro to the train station, be sure to allow extra time figure out the elevators.
We took one of the hop-on, hop-off buses one day to see the city. It was a good way to spend an unplanned day, just getting off wherever the mood hit us and seeing the sights, then hopping back on. The good thing is that all of these buses are wheelchair accessible. The bad news is that the company that we used, Barcelona City Tours, had one wheelchair space in each bus with no seat next to it – meaning that we couldn’t sit together.
Finally, you can always take taxis. The drivers in Barcelona tend to not be very friendly, and are very particular about their cars. They will want to take your chair and put it in the car in a way that will not damage it (the car), so you have to be very assertive to let you or your companion handle it.
Attractions + Activities
Parc Güell is an amazing place to go while in Barcelona, but very difficult for someone in a manual chair. There are five entrances to the park, and it is very confusing to know where to go to enter if you need to avoid steps. We spent probably 45 minutes trying to figure it out. The park is made up of a large free area, along with an area full of monuments that you have to pay to get into. It is recommended to purchase your tickets online in advance as it is a very popular attraction. The rate to enter is free if you are in a chair, and highly reduced if you are a companion. If you go to the monument part, you will need to take your first left upon entering the park (Before Antoni Gaudi’s house), where you’ll get on a long, winding ramp that will take you down to the entry. They will give you a special map with the accessible route, as you will not be able to go to all parts of the park. This park is VERY difficult for a manual chair due to all of the hills. The SmartDrive was a life-saver!
Casa Batlló is a not-to-be missed attraction. It was built by Gaudi in the early 20th century and is amazing. All of the tour with the exception of the attic and roof is accessible. However, the elevator was originally built with the house and is VERY small. If Robert’s chair had been even an inch wider or longer it would not have fit. It would not be feasible for someone in a power chair, although they told us that they have smaller manual chairs that they can loan for the tour.
The Erotic Museum was kind of a fun place to go in the Gothic Quarter. It had the history of erotica throughout the ages and throughout the world, culminating in works by Picasso and Dali. It was on the second floor of an old building – we had to go around the block to get to the back side of the building and into a narrow and messy hallway to get to the elevator, but we made it up and back.
The Picasso Museum was interesting. It is very low-profile – difficult to find down a couple of narrow alleys in that part of town, but worth a visit. We got to skip the line and got reduced rates to enter. It is on the 2nd floor, but they have elevators. Once inside, it’s completely accessible.
Sagrada Familia is definitely not to be missed. You can spend hours inside and outside trying to make sense of this amazing building. There are ramps to get in and out which are long and quite steep, but totally worth it. You could easily spend hours there, so go prepared to do so. Once inside you can see the entire main cathedral. There are also towers that are open to the public, but they are not accessible at all.
If you want to go to a game at Camp Nou to see FC Barcelona play fútbol (soccer), there are very few wheelchair seats. Even though it was a relatively unimportant game, we were unable to get tickets. We took the metro to the stadium and tried to even buy non-wheelchair tickets in the hopes that they’d find a place for us, but it didn’t work out. If you want to go to a game, be sure to go online as early as possible and get your tickets that way or you may be out of luck. Getting there on the metro is easy; the station is fully accessible and then it is about a 20-minute walk to the stadium (downhill there but uphill back). Camp Nou also has tours and a museum. The tour is not at all accessible, but the museum is.
Our hotel was very close to Passeig de Gracia, which is like the Rodeo Drive of Barcelona – VERY expensive shops! We ate dinner there our first night, which was pretty expensive, then learned that if we eat off of that main road the food is much more reasonable.
We stayed in the Evenia Rosselló hotel. Our room was very spacious, one of four in the hotel that also had a balcony. The bathroom was fully accessible, and they brought in a chair that sat on the bathtub for showering. The bathtub was big enough that the chair could just stay there all the time and Laura Lea had room to take her showers as well; we didn’t have to keep moving it in and out. It is a great location and short walking distance from two of Gaudi’s most famous houses (La Pedrera and Casa Batlló). One important note: it is categorized as a four-star hotel, but it is at best a three-star. We were very happy with it, but it’s fairly basic.
This was an amazing trip with very few hiccups. We would highly recommend it!