Barcelona is one of the most aesthetically appealing cities in Europe. The famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí stamped several locations throughout the city with his modern, artistic flair, and Spanish artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dali, have left large treasures of their works at museums here (or nearby, in the case of Dali).
But did you know this culturally rich city of artists, flamenco dancers, tapas bars, outdoor restaurants, music clubs, food markets, shopping, and much more is also super kid friendly? In addition to many parks, Barcelona has playgrounds scattered in various plaças (plazas, or squares) throughout the city. This makes it easy to eat in peace while the kids play right in front of you. Also, Spaniards love kids. So if your little one needs to pee while you’re out exploring, no problem; you can pop into any restaurant and use their bathroom. You can also bring the kids with you to most late night activities.
There is a lot to see and do in Barcelona! Here’s our list of top activities for both parents and kids. I suggest only one or two activities a day, and afterwards, wander through the streets nearby.
#1 Las Ramblas
Ramble down this famed, touristy street from Plaça de Catalunya to the harbor. You’ll pass souvenir stands, live human statues the kids will love, outdoor cafes, and the famous Boqueria Market, where you can witness and sample a lively display of Spanish foods, produce, meats, cheeses, seafood, and more. Sure, Las Ramblas is touristy, but great for people-watching and a good place to start and get a feel for the city. Note that it can get very crowded (like sardines in a can) in the afternoons and evenings.
Metro Stop: Plaça de Catalunya.
#2 Sagrada Familia
Don’t miss this stunning, iconic church designed by Antoni Gaudí, and do get the tickets to visit inside. You will not see anything in the world like the play of structure and light that is inside this building. At this writing, they also have an exposition of how nature influenced and inspired Gaudí‘s shapes and structures. Strollers are welcome.
Tips: Like most popular tourist attractions in Spain, only a limited number of visitors are allowed at any one time. If you want to get tickets at the door for the same day, arrive early (before 10 a.m.) and know that the line moves fast. You can also reserve tickets in advance and get other detailed information here.
Metro Stop: Sagrada Familia
Take a Walk: While waiting for your time slot, walk west along Provenca street to Passeig de Gràcia (street) to see La Pedrera, another of Gaudí’s creative works. You can also go south on Passeig de Gràcia to get in some shopping (or window shopping).
Be your children’s hero by taking them to this fabulous amusement park. Located on the top of a mountain overlooking the city, it’s worth a visit just for the spectacular view. There is a cathedral and large outdoor cafe at the top where you can linger. The amusement park itself is spread over three or four stories, going down the mountain and is more geared for kids under eight. The good news for older kids? There is practically no line for the roller coaster and similar high-intensity attractions. Our son was in heaven riding the roller coaster repeatedly. Open only weekends and some holidays.
TIPS: The website offers three methods of getting to the park on public transportation. If you catch the tourist bus at Plaça de Catalunya, note that it is located exactly at the corner of Rhonda de la Universitat and Rambla de Catalunya (as the map on their website shows), and it is clearly marked as T-2A. We returned by taking the shuttle bus T-2B to the Vall d’Hebron car park, catching the Metro from there.
#4 The Picasso Museum
This is one of the most visited attractions in Barcelona for good reason. It holds an impressive collection (over 4,250 pieces) of the famous Spanish artist’s work. I loved that the exhibit focuses on his early work from the age of nine until about his late 20’s. To see his technical skills as a teenager just blows the mind. The precise line/ink drawing of his dad comes to mind. The museum also includes works from his later, avant-garde period and is housed in a beautiful stone building that is itself a work of art. At this writing, there is also a temporary exhibit of some of Picasso’s works shown alongside Salvador Dali’s.
Tips: While art museums and kids don’t usually mix, find a way to make this one happen. (iPhones and activity books can be useful for this purpose.) I also strongly recommend getting an ART card, which allows you to visit up to six designated museums for 30 Euros. Even if you only see two museums, it’s worth it, especially for the privilege of skipping the lines. By the time we got to the museum, the lines wrapped around the building and the next available time slot for tickets was three hours later. But I had an ART card, and even though the rest of my family did not, we were allowed to skip the line and go right in. You can purchase the ART card online or at any of the six museums supported: Picasso, Miró, the National Museum, MACBA, Tàpies, CCCB.
Metro Stop: Jaume I
Take a Walk: After the museum, walk down Carrer de la Princessa between the museum and Parc de la Ciutadella for a choice of wonderful outdoor restaurants and tapas bars. Also check out nearby Passeig del Born with its outdoor cafes and the El Born Cultural Center.
#5 The Magic Fountain
This huge, impressive fountain flows from the National Museum of Art of Catalunya down to the road that leads to Plaça d’Espanya. Note that the fountain doesn’t operate Monday to Wednesday.
Because it’s quite the climb to the top, escalators aid visitors uphill. From the balcony of the museum, you have an impressive view. The open space in front of the museum has a coffee stand and snack bar with tables and chairs that enable you to relax and enjoy the view. People come even when the museum is closed, and often there is a street musician playing on the stairs.
Metro Stop: Plaça d’Espanya
Take a Walk: As you are already in the area, walk through the hilly Montjuïc Parc to the Joan Miró Foundation (a fabulous art museum), the Olympic Stadium, and the teleferic, which can glide you above part of the city.
There are many places to catch a show of this traditional dance form. I took our nine-year-old son to see the show at Torantos at Plaça Reial, just off Las Ramblas. It’s easy to locate, one of the least expensive (at 10 Euros), and provides a fabulous show of Spanish guitar and flamenco in an intimate bar space. The downside: At 30 minutes, the show is way too short.
Tips: If going to the show at Los Tarantos, arrive early for a good seat and note that they do not allow children under the age of five. For advanced tickets and information on this and other flamenco shows throughout the city, see flamencotickets.com (they do not charge a service fee, and I had a positive experience with them).
#7 Placa Reial
Go for dinner at one of the many restaurants at this plaça, which is also a great space to let the kids run around and listen to street music in the evenings. Afterwards, catch a short, half-hour flamenco show at Los Tarantos or live music at the Jamboree Jazz Club.
Metro Stop: Liceu
Take a Walk: Wander up Carrer de Ferran, just west of Plaça Reial, from Las Ramblas to Plaça Sant Jaume, stopping at Dino’s along the way for some excellent gelato. There are also numerous options for restaurants, sports bars, happy hour, and tourist souvenir shops along this stretch of road, which is closed to traffic. Warning: it gets very crowded, especially in the evening.
#8 Parc de la Cuitadella
This beautiful, expansive park is located near the França train station. It includes a large pond with a fountain and golden statue, a creative play area for babies, snack stands, and an easy walk to the Arc de Triomf. It also includes the city zoo.
Metro Stop: Jaume I or Ciutadella Vila Olimpica
#9 Parc Güell
This park, located in a hilly area north of Barcelona is another place where architect Gaudí had some fun. You can witness his work at various locations throughout the park. There are also playgrounds for the kids and a large outdoor cafe with snacks and beverages (yes, alcoholic ones too). Note: it is a hike to get to on foot.
Metro Stop: Vallacara, and then walk about 15 minutes to get there. See this map for details.
Technically, this is not in Barcelona. Sitges is a resort beach town just south of the city, with plenty of restaurants, cafes, night clubs, and shopping, plus an outstanding beach and lengthy, paved beach path to walk or jog along. They also have a playground that sits atop a cliff with an outstanding view. Come here for a respite from city life, and enjoy the upbeat vibe it offers.
Train Stop: Sitges. Take the R2 train from Barcelona’s Sants station south.
These are our favorite spots in Barcelona. What are yours?