If you are coming to Barcelona with children there are plenty of things to do. Families share a number of concerns when planning a vacation. They are interested in activities that work for the children, a location that is safe and probably enough space that they don’t feel trapped. Over the years various friends have come to Barcelona with children and lately the children arrive without parents.
Hotel or Apartment
Apartments really work for families, especially if you want some extra space and don’t expect the extra facilities that you sometimes get at a hotel (eg. swimming pool). Hotels work well when you are just staying 2 or 3 nights, as you probably won’t need the apartment’s kitchen facilities.
Areas to stay in
Most areas in Barcelona are quite safe. With children I would probably favour the Exiample over the old town. There is more light and usually more space. Another popular area is the Born, but make sure you are in a main street which isn’t full of bars.
Food is a big part of life in Spain and eating out is very popular. Although Barcelona has become more expensive there are still good options and affordable menus, especially at lunchtime.
For those staying at an apartment, make sure you shop for food at a local market. Supermarkets are good for general supplies, but the experience of the markets is special. Sometimes with kids you just need to go back to base for a while.
During the week I recommend lunch-time menus that many restaurants offer for 10 or 12 euros. This would normally include two courses and dessert, with a drink. If you are in a rush you might skip this as, but when it is very hot outside it can provide a much needed break for everyone.
In the evening restaurants are also popular, but generally they don’t offer a set menu.
If you are visiting a museum it is often easy to eat in the cafeteria of the museum. This is especially the case at the Miro Foundation, the Caixa Forum and the Maritime Museum.
If you are looking for hamburgers, I would recommend Bacoa as a small local chain that has a number of outlets around the city center. It is fast food however, so don’t plan on sitting around too long.
Local food is part of the travel experience. Just remember that the local food offer is now much more cosmopolitan, so for me it is more about having a good dining experience.
There are many factors to take into mind: location, building, street terrace, food quality, price, value for money, atmosphere.
Eating out at a street side cafe/restaurant – there are lots around the Born, or in one of the squares in Gracia.
In the winter months, having hot chocolate and churros at a Xocolateria. There are some traditional places in the old town, such as Career Petritxol or Valor in Career Tapinera just off Via Laietana and by the Cathedral. In the Born there is the Chocolate Museum or the recently opened Xocolateria de Oriol Balaguer in Career Fusina. On Passeig de Gracia you could go to Casa Amatller, once the residence of the Amatller family that built their wealth manufacturing chocolates.
In summer months, try ice-cream. You have everything on offer from Italian Gelato, Haagen Das or the Turron flavoured ice-cream from Valencia and Horchata, a special drink that comes from Valencia which is very refreshing in summer.
Eating seafood or a paella down by the Old Port, Barceloneta or in the Port Olympic. It sometimes feels like eating a paella has become a cliche, but when they are well prepared it is an enjoyable experience and a great family experience. Rice dishes like paella are recommended for lunch as this can be a little too much in the evening.
Walk – my recommendation is to walk and use public transport to move from one area to another.
Bike tour – if the children are old enough, renting bicycles can be a great way to explore the city and have a fun family time.
Scooters, rickshaws, etc. – down by the waterfront you will find many options.
Runnerbean offer a weekly walking tour especially designed for families and particularly for the children.
There are many churches that you can visit in and around the city, including:
Santa Maria del Mar (El Born)
La Sagrada Famila (Gaudi church)
Catedral (Placa Nova in the centre of the Barrio Gotico)
Some churches are hidden away, like Santa Ana, tucked in behind Placa Catalunya, the church of Sant Just, near the Ayuntamiento or Santa Maria del Pi, just off las Ramblas. Some come to life when there are festivals, like La Merce in the Placa de la Merce, by the port, which is a point of reference in the Fiestas de la Merce around 24 September. If you are lucky you may be able to enjoy a concert one evening, but most of the time the churches are closed to the public.
Places to visit if travelling with children
Museums (no more than one in a day)
- Miro Foundation (Montjuic) – the art of Joan Miro seems to reach children better than most art.
- Caixa Forum – usually has interesting exhibitions and the building was previously a factory built in the Modernist (Art Nouveau) style
- Cosmo Caixa (Science Museum) – popular with children and takes you up the hill to the Tibidabo area.
- MacBa – Modern Art Museum worth walking by to see all the skateboarders.
- Museo Maritim (Maritime Museum) – beautiful old gothic building near the bottom of the Ramblas
- Barca Museum/Camp Nou – a favourite with football fans
- Picasso Museum
Parks to visit
- Parc de la Ciutadella
- Barcelona Zoo (adjoining the Parc de la Ciutadella)
- Parc del laberint
- Parc Guell (Gaudi park)
- Parc de Montjuic (large green belt and several parks)
- Gardens of Palau de Pedralbes
- Bosc de les fades (Indoor cafe at the Wax Museum)
Places around the city
- Las Ramblas (atmosphere, street artists, constant flow of people)
- Walk around Old Port and Barceloneta to beach
- Sant Pau Modernist Area
- Streets of Gracia (lots of narrow streets and little squares)
Excursions outside of the city (full day)
- Day trip to Girona (great historic area, easy to visit in a day)
- Day trip to Tarragona (Roman ruins – UNESCO world heritage sites)
- Montserrat (Train and Rack Train to the Monastery and spiritual mountain) – full day
- Vall de Nuria (Train and Rack Train up to a sanctury in the Pyrenees) – full day or overnight
- Sitges – picturesque town on the coast 40 minutes south of Barcelona.
- Monastery at Sant Cugat – 35 minutes from Barcelona on the other side of Tibidabo
In my experience, children generally get bored with shopping unless you are buying something for them. Even then, they can only put up with so much.
So how do you fit in some shopping when you need to keep the kids happy? There is no easy solution. Find an activity that they can do with one parent so that other parent is free for a couple of hours. Combine shopping with some other leisure activity that keeps them happy. Or take them somewhere they want to go (there is no Hamley’s in Barcelona).
Rambla Catalunya (shopping in style) and adjoining streets (C Provenca, C. Rossellon)
El Born (boutique style shops for the discerning buyer)
Portal de Angel to Portaferissa (main shopping streets in the old part of town)
Arenas Shopping Centre (bull ring converted into a shopping centre with rooftop restaurants)