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
FC 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
You 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.