City Breaks with Kids: Barcelona

Barcelona is the Spanish city the whole family will fall in love with. It makes a great choice for a city break with children not least because there is such a wide variety of things to do, from playing on the beach to admiring Antonin Gaudi’s flamboyant modernista architecture or visiting one of the world’s largest football stadiums.

Barcelona is a great city to get your kids excited about art and architecture – the bright colours and fantastical animals of Gaudi’s buildings really appeal to children. What’s more, the food is fantastic. Here’s my selection of the best activities in the city for families.

Take the cable car up to the castle

When travelling with children, I’m always looking for fun ways to get around and the Telefèric de Montjuïc is a great way to get to the castle. The Castell de Montjuïc was built as a military fortress and is perched on the hillside overlooking the port. There are wonderful views from here over the whole city. Under 14s can visit the military museum free of charge.

The Telefèric de Montjuic runs daily from 10am until 6pm (November to February), until 7pm (October, March to May) and until 9pm from June to September. Adults, €12 return; children, €8.80.

The Castell de Montjuïc is open every day from 10am until 8pm; until 6pm from November until March. Adults, €5; children, free.

Be inspired by the Sagrada Familia

My 10-year-old was so inspired by the beauty of the Sagrada Familia that he announced he wanted to be an architect after our trip. Visiting the Unesco World Heritage site is an extraordinary opportunity to see a church in the process of being built. I first saw it 15 years ago and was stunned by the progress that had been made on my last visit.

Gaudi devoted himself to the project from 1908 until his death in 1926, sleeping on site and working long hours. The Sagrada is laid out like the great Gothic cathedrals of the past. The interior is breathtakingly beautiful. You can really appreciate Gaudi’s use of light in the stunning colour of the stained-glass windows. Eight of the 18 towers planned have now been finished.  It is hoped that most of the structure will be completed by 2026.

The Sagrada Familia is open every day from 9am until 8pm, until 7pm in March and October, until 6pm from November until February. Adults, €15; under 18s, €13; under 11s, free. An audio guide is available for children aged between 6 and 12.

Buy the food for a picnic from La Boqueria food market

Your kids will love wandering down La Rambla, Barcelona’s most famous street, stopping to watch the numerous human statues, musicians and dancers and visiting the animal stalls. Two thirds of the way down you’ll find La Boqueria, one of Europe’s largest food markets, where you can buy freshly squeezed juices, hams, cheeses, olives, tapas and mini fruit salads. Give older children some euros and get them to choose and order a selection of treats for the family. They’ll love the independence and it’s a fun way to get them to practise some Spanish. Then take your goodies to the grand Plaça Reial, just off La Rambla, and enjoy your picnic beside the fountain and palm trees.

Take a tour of Europe’s largest football stadium at Camp Nou

City Breaks with Kids: BarcelonaFC Barcelona has played at Camp Nou since 1957 and the tour of the stadium and museum is one of the most popular attractions in the city. You get to go through the players’ tunnel and see the changing room, president’s box, players’ benches and press conference area. In the museum, you’ll find the trophy cabinets with the European Champion’s League Cup and the five Ballons d’Or, confirming Lionel Messi as the best football player in the world.

Tickets for the Camp Nou Experience Tour cost from €23, adults; €18, children; under 6s, free. Check out the website for opening times.

Explore the magical gardens at Park Güell

You’ll feel as though you’ve entered a magical world when you wander around Park Güell. The two fairytale gatehouses at the entrance to the park certainly look like they could be made out of gingerbread – they’re based on designs Gaudi made for the opera of ‘Hansel and Gretel’.

Venture down the twisted pathways and you’ll find goblin shapes, a staircase flanked by multicoloured battlements and the huge mosaic lizard. Even the park benches are beautifully decorated with colourful shattered tiles. It can get really crowded in the park so it’s worth climbing further up the hill where you’ll find some peaceful shaded woodland with great views over the city.

Park Güell is open every day from 8am until 8.30pm, until 9.30pm from May 2 until August 28, until 6.15pm from October 30 until March 26. Tickets, adults, from €7; children, €4.90; under 7s, free.

Build a sandcastle on the beach

Barceloneta beach in the city’s old fishing district is only 10 minutes away from the centre. The large, sandy beach has a children’s games area and is also a great place to try seafood and tapas after a day on the beach.

Eat churros with chocolate

City Breaks with Kids: BarcelonaYou can’t come back from Barcelona without trying churros, the Spanish version of doughnuts, dipped into a cup of thick and creamy hot chocolate. They’re normally eaten for breakfast but they make a great afternoon treat while you’re exploring Barcelona’s historic quarter. One of the best places for churros and chocolate is Granja La Pallaresa, Carrer de Petritxol, 11, on a picturesque street in the Barri Gòtic.

Find all the animals hidden in the Casa Batlló

Children will love searching the inside and outside of the Casa Batlló for dragons and other animals. Some people say that in ‘The House of Bones’ Gaudi was representing the story of St George killing the dragon. Its colourful exterior is covered in dragon’s scales, with the skulls of his victims shaped into the wrought-iron balconies. The hump-shaped rooftop evokes the monster’s spine and even the banisters on the stairs are carved into the shape of a huge animal’s spine. Look closely and you’ll notice that the skylights are shaped like tortoise shells.

We also loved the central atrium of the building where tiles in varying shades of blue make you think of the surface of a lake with waterlilies on top.

The Casa Batlló is open every day from 9am until 9pm. Adults, from €22.50; children, from €19.50; under 7s, free. The price includes an audioguide. 

See some of Picasso’s childhood drawings at the Museu Picasso

You can see some of Pablo Picasso’s earliest sketches at the Museu Picasso, set in five medieval stone mansions near the Barri Gòtic. Picasso lived in Barcelona as a young man and this collection concentrates on the work from his early years although one of the highlights are the 57 canvases he painted based on Velásquez’s ‘Las Meninas’.

After your visit it’s well worth going for a wander around the Barri Gòtic, the oldest part of Barcelona. Its streets grew inside the original Roman walls and it’s one of the best preserved medieval centres in the world.

The Museu Picasso is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9am until 7pm, until 9.30pm on Thursdays. Adults, €11; children, free.

Tip: It’s well worth booking online for a lot of the sights mentioned. You can usually get a small discount and it should save queuing up for tickets when you arrive.

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City Breaks With Kids: Seville

This is the first in a new series on the blog, ‘City Breaks With Kids’, which aims to provide guides to the best cities to visit with your children, with suggestions of things to see and do in each.

Seville is the perfect size for a city break: it’s small enough to walk around yet big enough for there to be plenty to do. Seville is everything you ever imagined about Spain: flamenco dancing, bullfighting and roads lined with orange trees and jacarandas. It’s beautiful and elegant, with stunning architecture and a fascinating history.

What’s more, it’s a great place to visit now. It’s not as crowded and the temperature is very pleasant in winter and spring – Seville can get very hot in July and August.

Climb up the Giralda Tower and visit the Cathedral

The Giralda, the bell tower of Seville’s cathedral, was built as a minaret in medieval times when the city was occupied by the Moors. It was used as an observatory and to call Muslims to prayer. Climb up the tower for some of the best views of Seville. It’s much easier to climb than most towers because there are 35 gently inclining ramps wide enough for two horsemen to ride up to the top.

The 15th-century cathedral is well worth a visit as well. It’s the largest Gothic church in the world and inside, you’ll find Christopher Columbus’s coffin.

Seville Cathedral and Giralda Tower is open from 11am until 3.30pm on Mondays; until 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; 2.30pm until 6pm on Sundays. Tickets, adults, €9; children under 14, free; students under 25 and over 65s, €4.

Walk around the Plaza de Espana

The Plaza de Espana is one of the most impressive public spaces in the whole of Spain. Star Wars fans will recognise it as the city of Theed on the planet Naboo from ‘The Attack of the Clones’.  Designed in 1929 as the centrepiece for the Fair of the Americas (which never happened due to the Wall Street crash), it is absolutely stunning, full of exquisite tiles, fountains, bridges and grand stairways. Send your children on a hunt around the crescent to find scenes and maps from all the provinces in Spain. You can even hire out little boats on the tiny canal.

Watch a Flamenco show

City Breaks with Kids: SevilleThe gypsy art of Flamenco has been danced in Andalusia for nearly 500 years and Seville is a great place to watch a show. El Museo del Baile Flamenco, the flamenco dance museum, has hour-long flamenco shows every evening with incredible dancing, singing and guitar playing. It’s a particularly good place to take children as it’s small and intimate and the dancers and singers explain what they are doing in English (and other languages).

El Museo del Baile Flamenco has daily performances from 7pm. Tickets, adults, €20; children, €12.

Visit the Alcázar Palace

The Alcázar Palace is stunning. It’s a real mix of architectural styles from Moorish and Renaissance to Gothic. Seville’s rulers have occupied this site since Roman times and your children will love some of the more gruesome stories. It was originally built as a Moorish fort and it had to be enlarged under the Moorish ruler al-Mu’tadid to house his harem of 800 women. He decorated the terraces of the palace with flowers planted in the skulls of his decapitated enemies.

The Alcázar was the favourite residence of the Spanish kings for four centuries and the upper floors are still used by the current king and queen when they visit Seville. Visitors can explore the many courtyards and reception rooms and wander around the beautiful gardens. Don’t miss the amazing red, green and gold dome in the Salon de Embajadores.

The Alcazar is open every day from 9.30am until 5pm (until 7pm from April to September). Tickets, €9.50 for adults; children free.

Take a horse and carriage ride

City Breaks with Kids: SevilleYou’ll find the traditional horses and carriages all over the city and it’s a great way of seeing all the sights on your first day – and so much fun for children. Your driver should be able to explain what you’re seeing as you go past. The carriage rides take in all the main sights as well as the lovely Maria Luisa Park with its gorgeous palm trees, pines, flowers and orange trees.

 

 

Buy a picnic from the Mercado de Triana

If you cross the Triana bridge you’ll get to the Triana district which is much less touristy than the centre and the area where all the flamenco artists, bullfighters and sailors used to live. Here you’ll find the wonderful Triana market, an indoor food market where you can buy the most delicious hams, olives, cheeses, fruit, fish and bread. It’s a great place to try out a little Spanish. You could give your children a few euros and see if they can choose and buy some food for a picnic. Then take your goodies to the banks of the Guadalquivir River or one of Seville’s lovely parks for a foodie feast.

The Mercado de Triana is open from Mondays to Saturdays, from 8am until 2pm.

Visit the Bullring and Museum

The matador with his cape and sword is an iconic Spanish image and bullfighting is an important part of Spanish culture, particularly in the south. Seville is the second most important centre for bullfighting in Spain (after Madrid).

The Plaza de Toros Real Maestranza was built in the 18th century and is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. You can learn all about bullfighting and its history by taking a 20-minute tour of the bullring (in English). It’s a fascinating tour. You’ll visit the chapel where the matadors pray before a fight and the museum where you can see the elaborate costumes and swords.

The Real Maestranza is open daily from 9.30am until 7pm (until 9pm from April until October). Tickets, adults, €7; under 7s, free; children aged from 7 until 11, €3.

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