Compiled by Rhonda Carrier
Great beaches and parks, sublime architecture, and fabulous eating and shopping – what’s not to like about Barcelona? Blue skies for the most part and mild winters make it a fantastic place to bring the kids year-round. In fact, out of season you’ll enjoy fewer crowds as well as lower flight and accommodation prices. And even if rain does strike, there are so many child-friendly museums and other indoor attractions, you won’t know where to start (unless you read on).STAY
Ship ahoy! Don’t be surprised if the kids use the telescopes in the duplex penthouses of this 44-storey seafront landmark to espy imaginary pirates out on the gleaming Med. There are rooms and suites, but for space to play, the light-flooded apartments – up to three-bedroom – can’t be bettered. Butler service and a Mini Cabrio for exploring the city are available, for family time there’s a pool and hot tub in the terraced gardens, and the a top-floor Natura Bissé spa boasts the city’s highest sea-views. All five restaurants (one Michelin-starred) have kids’ menus; the most laid-back is the all-day Bites.
(Two-bedroom apartments from €2,000/night)
iPads, PlayStations, DVDs, kitchenettes and a personal assistant (who will ensure supplies ranging from nappies to teen nibbles await your arrival) make ‘the little palace’ a surprising family haven. The listed Modernistà building has six two-bedroom suites, all white, with furniture by Jacobsen, Eames and Van der Rohe, chromatherapy bathtubs and a luscious rooftop spa complete with waterbeds for some parental respite.
(Suites from €499/night)
These self-catering apartments in an early 20th century mansion just by the chic Paseo de Gracia stand out in a crowded rental market for their location and cool uncluttered interiors. Sleeping four or six, they include the Seneca Attic with a spacious terrace, perfect for long lazy breakfasts in the sunshine.
(Four-person apartment from €60/night)
La Paradeta Born
Just the ticket for refuelling after running amok in nearby Parc de la Cuitadella (see below), this no-bookings fish restaurant draws long queues. If you don’t speak Spanish or Catalan, be ready to use sign language to order from the gleaming fresh-fish counter at the front before taking a table. Don’t miss the divine chanquete (like tiny whitebait). Ocean-themed colouring sheets are on hand for junior diners. Cash only.
It’s famous as one of the world’s most colourful and charming produce markets, but it’s also a great place for child-friendly dining, with lots of tiny bars and restaurants offering tapas from their counters – just pull up a stool and point. Cash only.
Skip breakfast or lunch in favour of a paper cone bursting with Spanish doughnuts from this tiny, no-frills churros shop on Banys Nous in the Barri Gòti. Munch them as you window-shop or ogle the wonderful buildings, or take them into the Art Nouveau café La Granja on the same street, to dip into one of their almost obscenely thick hot chocolates.
(No website. Carrer dels Banys Nous 8, 08002)
The sleekest ice-cream parlour and chocolate shop in town, Vioko uses the finest ingredients in its dreamy confections, including French violets and Iranian pistachios. Grab a cone to take to nearby Barceloneta beach.
Charmingly old-fashioned, this amusement park lording it over the city has rollercoasters, fairground rides and a surreal museum of automatons among its many quirky delights. While you’re here, get an eyeful of the lavish interiors of the neo-Gothic Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor that shares the mountaintop.
This UNESCO-listed hilltop collection of gardens and Modernist buildings and other structures is the place to introduce kids to Gaudí – surely the most child-pleasing of architects for the way he took inspiration from the natural world. Send kids on a hunt for the mosaic animal motifs, including a bench in the form of a sea serpent and a giant salamander dubbed ‘el drac’ (the dragon).
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona’s most central park is a great day out come rain or shine – it’s home to the city’s zoo and several museums, one of them dedicated to zoology. When it’s fine, hit up the boating lake, the fountain with its water-spouting gilded dragons and the massive mammoth statue, and see if you can spot the free-flying green parrots.
More than just a hill with views (what views, though), Montjuïc is home to an 18th-century fortress, an outdoor pool built for the Olympics (open to the public in July and August), and the child-friendly Catalan National Art Museum and Fundació Joan Míro (a great artist for kids). Best of all, perhaps, is how you get here: by funicular railway or cable car over the harbour. Time your visit to catch Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain sound-and-light show (March–Oct Thur–Sun 9pm, rest of year Fri and Sat 7pm, plus on certain special occasions).
Kids adore Gaudí’s UNESCO-listed, wavy-fronted apartment block, especially its fairytale-like rooftop with its topsy turvy chimneypots – great for a game of hide and seek with a cultural twist. Inside you’ll find a model apartment with period decor plus displays on Gaudí’s inspirations, which included snakes and sea sponges. Don’t miss the excellent gift shop with its old-world toys and the fantastic street-level book shop.
Best with older kids (you have to be over five to climb the spindly towers), Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece and most famous work resembles a medieval spaceship crash-landed in the heart of the city. Children get their own audio guide to fill in the historical background. Reserve well ahead – queues can be hours-long.
Don’t come here for the ho-hum displays – Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ rendered in chocolate seemed a bit tasteless to us. Come instead for the fun chocolate-making workshops tailored to a range of age groups, and for the great café and shop.
Kids get as excited by this iconic Gracia design store as parents – its children’s section is a treasure trove of imaginatively conceived toys and home decor that will leave you wishing you’d brought an extra suitcase.
In a space combining clean minimal lines with inspiration from the Pippi Longstocking books, this kids’ clothing boutique in the Eixample district is great for beachwear with a retro feel, classic stripey T-shirts and more.
Sweet shops don’t come much chicer than this artisan store with outlets in the Barri Gòtic and Sarrià. Pop in not only to buy its scrumptious caramel and fruit candies but to watch its sweet-makers in action.
LIKE A LOCAL
Steer clear of Barceloneta beach in high summer, and join local families at Mar Bella a 15-minute bike ride along the coast (cycle hire from www.biciclot.net). While the kids play table tennis or volleyball, build sandcastles or splash in the pristine Med, you can keep a watchful eye from a chiringuito (beach café).
WHEN TO GO
As with any southern European city, avoid July and August unless sweating among busloads of crowds is your thing. Instead, aim for spring or early autumn, when the weather is still glorious and the beaches are mercifully empty.
Know Barcelona like the back of your hand? Disagree with any of our picks? Head to the comments below and let us know where you would go in Barcelona.