Family Holidays in Spain: The Ultimate Guide
You want rich culture? Friendly people? Passion? Deep-rooted history? Incredible food and inexpensive wine? Spend your family holidays in Spain.
Spain has it all and more. It’s is a country full of amazing sights, sounds, smells and tastes. It’s history predates Roman times. Having been to several other countries across Europe, I have to say that Spain was one of the best. It’s hard to come up with a culture that is more passionate about their heritage and life. It’s easy to get swept up in the romance of the flamenco dancers. Their food is rich and flavorful, and they serve sangria like it’s water. Spain has some of the most incredible cathedrals, mountain vistas, beaches, and everything in between.
It’s easy to get around the big city by metro, and it’s even easier to get lost in the wandering streets on foot. Either way, give your Spanish a shot and ask a local. They will happily point you in the right direction.
Traveling to Spain with kids is very straightforward and safe. Just make sure you shift your day back a few hours. Lunch starts at 3pm and dinner’s at 9pm. You’ll be out late with the kids, but they’ll sleep in too. If you’re bringing a stroller, many of the city streets are cobblestone, so it might not be the smoothest ride.
Lay of the Land
Give Spain at least 2 weeks visit. Any shorter and you won’t be able to fully take in the culture and country’s diversity. Be sure to hit both Barcelona on the coast and Seville in the South to get the different flavors of the country. Other worthy stops include Madrid in the middle, Granada a few hours Southeast of Seville, and Bilbao on the Northern coast. Barcelona offers a unique culture, with both beach city vibes. Seville is the birthplace of both Flamenco dancing as well as bullfighting. Spring and Fall are the best seasons to spend your family holidays in Spain. You’ll have less crowds and will avoid the hot summer temps.
The culture in Barcelona is a bit unique from the rest of the country. It’s a little faster pace of life here, constantly showing off it’s vibrant city. Most locals don’t consider themselves Catalans, representing their state, rather than Spanish. The speak their own language and have their own history and traditions. Be sure to experience their traditional Sardana dancing outside the Barcelona Cathedral every Sunday at noon. It’s their expression of unity and pride for their state. There’s also some incredible artist influence here with names like Picasso and Gaudi, and is seen weaved into their culture.
Soccer, as in the rest of Europe, is life here in Spain…especially in Barcelona. They have arguably one of the best soccer clubs in the world. If there’s a FCB game happening, expect every bar to be showing it and crowds of loud, excited fans. If you can catch a game while you’re there, do it. Get tickets on their official FC Barcelona site. Note that children pay full price.
Be sure you spend at least a day strolling through the vibrant alleys and streets of the city, and exploring the different neighborhoods. Strolling around after dinner (after 10pm) you’re likely to run into a few street performers singing opera or maybe you’ll see a flamenco dancer. Who knows what fun things you’ll run in to. Safety isn’t much of an issue as long as you’re being aware. Pickpockets are notorious in Barcelona especially in Las Ramblas and going in/out of the metro stations…so be extra cautious.
You absolutely must visit Sagrada Familia, which is quite possibly the most beautiful church in the world. This was architechtected by Gaudi, but he died before he could finish it. It is still in construction, and estimated to be completed in 2026, which will mark 150 years since it first started. Although it has tower cranes surrounding it’s cathedral towers, the cathedral is just breathtaking, both inside and out. Reserve tickets at least a month ahead of time for cheaper and faster entry. Get a time slot for the late afternoon. This gets you in the church when the sun pours in through the stained glass windows and paints all the walls and pillars with shades of orange, red and green. It is truly a masterpiece.
There’s plenty of water around in Barcelona, the first place coming to mind is it’s beautiful beaches. This is a wonderful place to enjoy the temperate water and have your kids play in the sand. Just be mindful that this is Europe, and culturally, some women don’t wear tops, which may not be appropriate for your children, depending on their age. If you’d rather do more swimming, head up to Montjuïc, the Southwestern hill that overlooks Barcelona. The 1992 Olympics were held here, and what better place that to swim in the Piscina Municipal Montjuïc that has incredible city views. It’s only open during the summer months: late June through early September. If you make it up to Montjuïc, you can take the cable car up to the castle, or you can take a separate Port cable car back down to the beach. Finally, you can end your day with a spectacular water fountain show at the Magic Fountain, located at the base of Montjuïc on Thursday – Saturday nights (more nights during the summer).
If you have time, there are a couple adventures that are off the beaten path that are totally worth the effort. The first is Montserrat Monastery that is tucked high up in the mountain cliffs. This is more of a day trip, since it’s about 1.5 hour train ride each way. Buy your tickets in Barcelona at the train station, and also pre-select either the Aeri Montserrat cable car (recommended) or the Funicular train that transports you to the top of the mountain cliff. The highlight is the boys choir, who perform daily (except Saturday) in the afternoon and evening. Make sure to grab a seat in the Basilica at least 45 min before performance time, since the seats fill up quickly.
Next up is the CosmoCaixa Barcelona Science Museum. It’s 25 min metro ride from town, just past Park Güell. This is more appropriate for school-aged kids, but has some great exhibits including a Flooded Forest, which is a re-creation of an Amazon rainforest ecosystem and an immersive Planetarium. Tickets are inexpensive (€4) and kids under 16 are free.
Further Northeast about 30 min from town by metro is Labyrinth Park, or Parc del Laberint d’Horta. This is just what it sounds like. It’s a park with a huge maze made of landscaping shrubs. Entrance fee is around €5, but is a fun palace to explore and get lost. It has a much more peaceful feel, as opposed to the bustling city.
Sevillians are very friendly and passionate people. They are deliberate, emotional, and strong, much like their expression through Flamenco dancing. You have to see a Flamenco show or two while you’re here. Check out the Centro Cultural Flamenco (Casa de la Memoria) for a well-produced, professional show. They put on shows nightly and is about 18€. Unfortunately children under 6 are not allowed. Alternatively, La Carboneria is a local gem that serves drinks and does free Flamenco shows most nights. It is tucked away in an alley, but it is a great local gathering spot. Note that it gets packed out for most shows, so grab a seat early. The other well-known Flamenco bar is Lo Nuestro situated on the other side of the river.
Just as you will witness the Flamenco artists dance with such passion and intention with the music, you may notice the direct crossover of the matador’s dance with the bull. Bullfighting is not something you see much of outside Spain and Mexico, but it is a long standing tradition here. As an outsider, it’s hard to understand the beauty of the sport, but doing a tour of the Plaza de toros (bullring) explains its history and place in Spanish culture. The tour might be a good way to learn about this Spanish tradition without attending an actual bull fight, since a fight might be a hard for kids to watch and understand.
There are several Catholic churches around that have a nunneries attached to them. Most of the nunneries, called Convento Dulces, make different types of pastries and sell to the public to help support their living. Once you find one, you’ll walk up to their menu pasted on the wall as well as a lazy susan. You won’t actually see a nun, but there’s one on the other side of the wall. You just tell her what you want, she puts it on the lazy susan and spins it over to you. Then you just put your money down and spin it back to her. It’s an honor system that she’ll get paid, and the pastries are unique to each nunnery. They are all across Spain, but the ones in Seville are usually open mid-morning, then they break for mid-day siesta, just like the rest of the country. Some of these in Seville include Convento de St Agnes, Convento de San Leandro, and Convento de Santa Ana.
The Seville Cathedral is something you must visit when you’re here. To say this cathedral is big is understating it’s scale. Sure, it’s styled a lot like other Gothic churches in Europe, but the sheer size of the church makes it a must see, not to mention it’s the burial site of Christopher Columbus. It’s best to get in line before they open since the line grows later in the afternoon. The other strategy would be to try and time naptime in the stroller with your visit, so that you can take your time and not stress. Right next to the cathedral is the Royal Alcázar, which is a Moorish royal palace with fountain-filled gardens. This is the other major tourist attraction of the city, which has long lines. It’s worth seeing, especially if can’t make it to the Alhambra in Granada.
Roaming around this area, you’ll see many horse and buggies ready to take passengers. This is fun for little ones to see and maybe take a ride themselves. Also nearby is Taberna Álvaro Peregil, which is a wine bar where the hand make wine aged with orange peels. Have a glass…trust me.
Make your way to Plaza de España for a great place to run around the expansive open courtyard. This was one of the top highlights of our trip. Plaza de España is breathtaking for its architecture, beauty and grandness. It has a canal going around its interior, which you can cruise around on boats. Fun fact: it was featured in a Star Wars movie (Episode II: Attack of the Clones). It’s adjacent to two big open parks, which provide a great place to run around and get away.
If you head North from the Cathedral and just past the shopping district on Calle Sierpes, you’ll find the Metropol Parasol, which is a large wooden structure locally known as las setas (the mushrooms). This is fun to see and explore, especially if you get up on top balcony and take in the view of Seville. You can access the roof balcony from the street level (not up the stairs) next to the entrance of the Antiquarium. As an added bonus, there’s a playground at the platform level directly underneath the structure for your kids to play.
Further North is an area called Alameda de Hércules. This district has a long pedestrian-only center island in the middle of district, covering the length of several streets. It features a couple playgrounds as well as fun fountains to walk through, get wet, and let out some energy. There are a plethora of restaurants surrounding center island, and this district has a more local feel since tourists don’t venture up this way. Fill up on some tapas and let your kid run up and down the playground. It’s a win-win.
If you cross the river over one of the Puente de Isabel II bridge, you’ll find yourself in the Triana district, which has a slightly different feel from the main part of the city. There are some quaint little shops around, so be sure to check out La Antigua.Abaceria (wine and cheese shop) if your toddler is napping or Dulceria Manu Jara (sweets) when they’re awake. Then crossing either bridge to get back to the main part of town you’ll get to see the beauty of the river, and maybe even catch a river cruise boat strolling thorough. Spending your family holidays in Spain, Seville is a must stop since it really captures the essense of many deep-rooted traditions of Spain.
If you’re going to Seville, you must venture to Granada. It’s slightly out of reach for a day trip since it’s about 2.5 hours drive away, but it is a must-visit overnight, even if only for the Alhambra. Tickets for the Alhambra must be booked over a month in advance, but if you don’t get it in time, you can always do a guided tour closer to the day of your visit. The tours are a little pricey, but absolutely worth it, since you get much more context for everything you’re seeing. Tours are available also as a package deal that includes transportation from Seville, but this turns into a really long day without much flexibility. The town of Granada has a lot of great little shops and restaurants, and you’ll notice more of a Northern African influence as well. The street of Calle Calderería Nueva and the surrounding area lie a bunch of little pedestrian-only alleyway that have a ton of tea shops, hookah bars, and other fun little mercantiles. Also head up the hill to Mirador San Nicolás at evening time to see breathtaking views of the sun setting on the Alhambra.
Driving yourself in a rental car is a good way to visit Granada, since you have flexibility to make any stops you want. One worthy stop along the way is Rhonda, which is one of many white hill towns along the countryside. Rhonda is a quaint small town that is home to the oldest bullring in Spain, it’s also known for the picturesque Puente Nuevo bridge. You have to drive down a narrow dirt road to see the bridge from down below, but it’s an incredible view, and you can even hike up towards the base. You won’t find too many tourists down below, since most are above in town.
Spain was great for our toddler. He really enjoyed seeing street performers do their tap dancing and flamenco. Other performers made large bubbles that the kids couldn’t resist. The beach is always a good time for kids, and while the water isn’t that warm, it’s perfectly fine to wade in. Between the massive courtyards like Plaza de España or the large grassy parks, there’s plenty of space to roam around. With all these open areas, there are usually other kids around, and a fun place to run free and just be kids. On our trip to Granada, during the tail end of our dinner, our toddler got restless, like with most meals. We were inside a courtyard and he saw some other kids kicking a soccer ball back and forth. He joined their impromptu game, which gave us a nice respite to finish dinner. These types of interactions are common and easy here in Spain.
I’ve always wanted to go to Spain and experience all that it has to offer. I found this country to be one of my favorites among Europe because the people are friendly, their strong culture, and it was more inexpensive overall that what I expected for Europe. Spain had a lot of opportunities to do things that are enjoyable for both adults and kids. Although it can be a little harder visiting museums, cathedrals, and sitting down for meals with a toddler, you can try to plan around nap times in the stroller. The many courtyards and parks interspersed throughout the cities as well as many old pedestrian-only walkways make it great to navigate the city with plenty of places to take a little break from your explorations.
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