Very often our clients ask us about kid-friendly destinations in Europe. While budget, climate and safety are clearly key factors, parents are also often concerned about selecting a destination that has enough sightseeing attractions to interest both adults and children. Many ask questions like “why fly across the Atlantic Ocean with our kids if we’re only going to go to the beach every day for a week?” or “I want to see the sights and experience the local culture, but will my kids adapt?”
You’ll be glad to know that there is a happy medium in there somewhere. Some European destinations work very well for families – whether the kids are really young or teenagers. Barcelona is one such place. Some of the obvious (but nevertheless important) benefits to traveling to Barcelona with children include the fact that this is a city with great flight availability, which means avoiding multiple flight connections (a major plus with young children).
And due to the recession, right now there are good deals to be had in Spain. Barcelona’s public transportation is extensive, reliable and inexpensive; the same type of ticket works on the bus, metro or tram. And while it may sound silly, we know that little kids can be fussy eaters and loath to eat anything too spicy. In general Spanish food is not spicy at all. They have a few spicy items on the menu – like chorizo sausage – but for the most part, Spaniards only season their food with salt, pepper, garlic and parsley (especially in Mediterranean Barcelona).
So, the question remains – of all of Barcelona’s great sightseeing attractions – which work well with children? Here’s a list of 10 great choices:
1. The Barcelona Zoo
The Barcelona’s zoo first opened its doors in 1892 right inside one of the most beautiful parks in the city, the Parc de la Ciutadella. Even if you choose not to go to the zoo, the park merits a visit in its own right. In addition to the zoo, the park houses a lovely lake (where row boats can be rented), pavilions, playgrounds, cafes and even the Catalan Parliament. It’s an ideal place to have a picnic, rent a 4-seater bike or read a book under a shady tree.
If you decide to go inside the zoo as well, you can easily spend the entire morning or afternoon inside the park. Once inside the zoo, you’ll find a very respectable collection of animals from all around the world – and they even host a dolphin show every few hours. The space is lovely (many Catalan couples have their weddings in the zoo), not overwhelming, and very easy to explore with young kids.
(And if your child didn’t get his or her animal-fix at the zoo, Barcelona is also home to one of Europe’s best aquariums).
2. The Tibidabo Amusement Park
Tibidabo is the tallest mountain of a coastal mountain range called the Serra de Collserola, which borders the northwestern edge of Barcelona. And at the very top of it, you’ll find an old-timey amusement park that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The panoramic views of Barcelona from the park’s 25 rides are the best you’ll find in the whole city.
The park isn’t really a place that teenage-children would go crazy over. That being said, if you’re looking for something active to do with older children, there are many wonderful hiking trails in the Parc della Collserola (which Tibidabo forms part of). And again, public transportation can take you to all of these places; no need to rent a car for some fresh air and exercise while in Barcelona!
3. The CosmoCaixa Science Museum
This is one of the coolest science museums for children in Europe. Inside it you’ll find an Amazonian rainforest complete with birds, piranhas and crocodiles; a geological wall that shows kids firsthand about the different types of rocks on our planet; a “room of matter,” which contains hundreds of interesting, interactive experiments to teach kids about physics and other areas of science; and lastly a planetarium, where kids can learn all about planets and stars. The museum also regularly hosts interesting temporary exhibitions.
4. The Fundació Joan Miró
While Barcelona is rife with truly outstanding art museums (the Picasso Museum, MACBA, the National Museum of Catalan Art, etc.) we know that it isn’t always easy to take young kids to an art museum. If your kids are teenagers, it’s probably pretty easy to visit any of the city’s fine art museums, but for little children – long lines, cramped rooms and stuffy ambiences just don’t work. Therefore, if you have little children and would like to take them to one art museum in Barcelona, we would suggested this one, which is dedicated to the Catalan, surrealist artist Joan Miró. Miró painted in addition to doing pottery and sculpture.
As much of his art is abstract, colorful and full of symbols, it’s great for children. Additionally, the museum is housed in a wonderful modern building designed by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. It’s a truly spacious and flowing space. One last advantage of visiting this museum is that it’s located on Barcelona’s most-appreciated hill, Montjuic. We’re calling it a hill but it’s actually a huge green space filled with gardens, parks and interesting sightseeing attractions. If you pick several sights that you want to visit, you can easily spend a full day on Montjuïc, and during high season in the evenings – at the base of Montjuïc (near Plaza Espanya) there is usually a free “Magic Fountain” water show set to music that children love to attend.
5. Montjuïc Castle
At the very top of the hill of Montjuïc stands this impressive, 17-century fortress. In the past, it has played a major role in Spanish history. Today, it’s an amazing historical playground for everyone to enjoy. There are always many children there, running round and climbing on the various iron cannons situated around the castle. The views from there of Barcelona are just incredible and well worth the trek. There are many ways to arrive to Montjuïc. Many walk from Plaza Espana’s metro stop. Others catch a public bus up or go as part of their Hop-on, Hop-off sightseeing tour bus. There is also a funicular train that you can take using your regular metro ticket, which will bring you about half-way up. To then ascend to the castle, some walk from the funicular train station; however, the most fun way to go (certainly for children) is to take one of the teleferic sky buckets (or cable cars) to the very top. There is also a variety of sightseeing tours that feature Montjuic.
6. The Football Club Barcelona Museum
Love it or hate it, “football” is deeply engrained in European culture, and Barcelona’s team Barça (as it is commonly called) is one of the best soccer teams in the world. If your child is a major soccer fan, touring Barça’s Camp Nou Stadium and Museum to see where Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández take the field is likely an experience he or she will never forget.
7. Antoni Gaudí Architectural Sights
Most visitors to Barcelona cannot imagine traveling all the way to Barcelona without seeing at least one of the architectural works of Barcelona’s father of modernista architecture: Antoni Gaudí. If you’re bringing your children, try to squeeze at least one Gaudí masterpiece into your itinerary. If your child is old enough to remember and appreciate it, going inside of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is the cultural, spiritual and artistic experience of a life time. However, if you feel that your kids are too little to wait in line, that’s okay too – but make sure you take a nice walk around the periphery of the site to admire the facades. Again, if your children are old enough to handle a heavier sightseeing schedule, other fantastic Gaudí sites like Parc Güell , Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and the Casa Batlló are all well worth a visit.
8. The Chocolate Museum (Museu de la Xocolata)
While most children might groan for a few seconds when they’re told that their parents are taking them to a museum, they won’t with this one! Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum is located in a historic monastery in the Born neighborhood, one of the loveliest areas of Barcelona’s Old Town. (It’s also very near Ciutadella Park in case you’re thinking of combining it with the zoo or a picnic in the park).
The museum explains about the origins of chocolate, how it made its way to Spain in the 15th century from the New World, and how a chocolate confectionery tradition developed in Barcelona.
9. The History of Barcelona Museum – Plaça del Rei
Again, this depends on the age of your children, but if they’re school-age – this museum is history come to life! It’s a museum, but it’s also a 2000-year-old archeological site. Barcelona was founded by the Romans, and in the gothic quarter of the Old Town (just down from the Cathedral) several stories down lie the excavations of Barcelona’s Roman Forum. The way that they’ve created the museum is amazing as you are completely underground and walking on plastic or metal bridges atop the ruins. This is a great experience for children to learn about what life was like in the original Roman colony of Barcino.
10. The Beach!
And after all that sightseeing, everyone deserves some beach time! If you’re coming in the summer (and the water temperature stays warm into September), the beach is an ideal place to take your kids after a morning of sightseeing. If you prefer to stay in the city limits of Barcelona, go to the Barceloneta, Icària or Bogatell beaches. All of them are accessible by metro, and you’ll find that it’s quite easy to rent chairs or umbrellas. If you want less-crowded beaches, a short train ride of 30-40 minutes will take you to some beautiful spots like Sitges, Castelldefels or El Masnou.
We hope we’ve managed to convince you that Barcelona is a good European vacation destination for children! If you’re interested in booking a vacation to Barcelona with go-today, please click here to take a look at all of our vacation packages to Spain, or if you would prefer to speak directly to one of our expert reservation agents please kindly call (800) 227-3235. And keep in mind that all these places that we recommended are in the city of Barcelona. Outside of Barcelona there are many wonderful excursions that are also ideal for families with children (click here to read about an unusual one!) If you want to know about interesting excursions from Barcelona – and we can recommend many – just let us know so that we may help you create the perfect Barcelona itinerary for your family.
Note: Spain was also featured in a previous blog post on affordable travel to Europe: 9 Tips for Vacationing in Europe – On a Budget! As most families traveling with children are on a budget, please feel free to peruse this post to learn about the cheapest destinations in Europe, good-value vacation deals to Europe and the cheapest times of year to travel to Europe.