Looking for inspiration and recommendations for a child-friendly holiday? Consider Barcelona, a perfect combination of beach, city, and family fun.
Barcelona is a traveler's feast: of sunshine, colors, architecture, cultures, history, and of course tastes. Both adults and children will love the imaginative world of Gaudi, the vibrance of the Catalonian culture, and the relaxed seaside atmosphere. For kids of all ages, here is the best of what Barcelona has to offer.
The Short List:
- Dig for sea glass on the beach: Barceloneta and the Olympic Village are popular with families, and the easiest to reach by metro.
- Watch the Magic Fountain in Montjuïc Park: An evening water and light show choreographed to popular music, on the site of the 1929 World Fair. Free and well worth staying up past bedtime for. Days and times vary by season.
- Ride a cable car: The two (pricey) cable car options, one over the harbor and one up to the Montjuïc Castle, offer the best views of the city.
- Visit Gaudi's Park Güell: It's a trek to get to, and the city has recently implemented fees and time limits for visitors in the main square, but still worth the trip. Book tickets online.
- Tour the Sagrada Familia: This is one church in Europe that even children love. Book tickets in advance online, and consider going late in the day to avoid crowds. There is a nice audio guide for kids, but you might need to follow along with them, as it doesn't quite follow the same route as the adult audio guide.
The Long List:
- It would be a crime to suggest skipping La Rambla, Barcelona's famous boulevard, but be warned: the crowds make it stressful with children. Visit in the early morning or in the late evening to avoid the masses. The market Boqueria is a favorite and a perfect place for a snack.
- Watch a candy-making demonstration at the original Papabubble. They're not just candy makers, they're caramel artisans.
- Row boats at Ciutadella Park, picnic, play, and perhaps go to the zoo.
- Tour the Santa Eulalia Schooner in Port Vell for 1 euro, or for free with a ticket to the Maritime Museum.
- Visit the rest of Montjuïc Park: besides the cable car and magic fountain, this sprawling hillside park is topped by a castle (more impressive on the outside), and has much to offer families, including Poble Espanyol (a touristy open-air museum), Fundació Joan Miró (for the modern art fans), playgrounds, gardens, and paths to get lost on. Note: the distances might be long and hilly for little feet.
- Get your thrills at Tibidabo. Set above the city on a hilltop, the trek to this amusement park is worth it.
- Mini football fans might enjoy a tour of the FC Barcelona stadium, or perhaps even take in a match.
- Let the experts bring the old center to life, and try the Runner Bean Family Tour: a guided walk through the Gothic Quarter, especially designed for kids.
The No-Guilt Skip List:
- Aquarium: unless you have a budding marine biologist, you might find the Barcelona aquarium overpriced and disappointing. Weigh your time constraints with your child's interests before you go.
- Gaudi Houses: Definitely view from the outside, but kids will likely be unimpressed by the interiors. Sagrada Familia and Park Guell are better Gaudi experiences for kids.
- Museum Picasso: OK, a little bit of guilt here. The good news is, it's compact and has a wonderful collection of Picasso's early works. The bad news is, they do nothing to make it interesting for kids. My 11-year-old daughter enjoyed the museum, my younger boys found it, ahem, challenging.
Tastes Kids Will Love:
- Tapas: small servings of snacks and appetizers, combined to make a meal.
- Horchata: a refreshing beverage made with tigernuts, water, and sugar.
- Queso Manchego: sheep cheese from La Mancha.
- Patatas Bravas: fried potatoes served with a spicy sauce.
- Flan: also known as crème caramel, and similar to its cousin crème brûlée.
- Churros: do not leave Barcelona without trying fresh churros dipped in chocolate sauce.
Play "I Spy":
- Dragons and bats, symbols of Barcelona, are hidden throughout the city.
- The Catalan Flag is a strong symbol of independence for the people of Barcelona.
- Caganers, little pooping figurines of celebrities, politicians, and beloved characters, are used in Nativity scenes throughout Catalonia. I'm not making this up.
- Use the inexpensive and extensive metro system. A car is just a liability in the city, and the airport is easily accessible via public transport.
- Or, rent bikes! One mama recommends Locker Barcelona near Plaza Catalunya for bike rentals with child seats. Enjoy the new bike lanes throughout the city, or go for a long ride along the waterfront.
- Barcelona is known as a pickpocket capital. Be smart with your valuables.
- Dinner time is late (really late), but it's not so hard to find cafés and bistros open until 6.
- For more tips on city trips with kids, read my 10 lessons learned.
Looking for family-friendly accommodation in Barcelona? Book your stay via booking.com/amsterdammamas and we'll receive a portion of the reservation value. Find the perfect accommodation for your family and support Amsterdam Mamas at the same time!
About the author: Donna Bardsley lives in Amsterdam, and is the travel-loving mother of three homebodies who hate to leave the house. You can read about her family’s adventures and misadventures on her blog, Bardsleyland.
photo credit: Donna Bardsley