8 reasons Barcelona is great for kids

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Barcelona's rise as one of Europe's top city break destinations has been meteoric. It's no secret the city stacks up brilliantly for groups of friends looking to enjoy its famously rowdy street scene and nightlife, and cool couples looking for savvy urban romance.

The famous Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
The famous Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain © Manuel Milan - Adobe Stock Image

But what about families? I returned to Barcelona* for the first time with my kids in 'tow' to see how the Catalan capital stacks up for kids. I'm glad to report Barcelona is a child-friendly winner. Here are eight reasons why.

Getting to Barcelona: check out the very best family-friendly deals on holidays to Jet2CityBreaks, which offers departures from across the UK.

Bountiful beaches

Barcelona is not as naturally blessed with ace beaches as the famous Spanish Costas resorts, but nothing holds the dynamic Catalan capital back. They have shipped in sand, set up retaining systems to stop it being swept away and made sure it is kept looking great north up the coast from Barceloneta, the city's seafront neighbourhood, for miles.

At the coast in Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
At the coast in Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain © Brian Kinney - Adobe Stock Image

The beaches tend to get quieter as you head away from the centre so walk until you find one that appeals. Watch out as the bottom can be rocky and rough despite the smooth sand façade. There are myriad cafés and restaurants lining the sands to keep all of you refreshed, with watersports options on hand too.

Great for Gaudi

The brilliant imagination of Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona's architectural superstar, ensures that visiting cultural sites in Barcelona is an utter joy. I wasn't sure how much my own daughters would soak up his landmark Sagrada Familia cathedral.

They were utterly intrigued by the news that he died back in 1926, never to see it finished, and it remains unfinished: you can show your kids and tell them when they next come back they can look out for the changes. I've noticed a multitude of those since my first visit in 1993.

Beware as this iconic cathedral's popularity has meant a ticketing system has been brought in that tries to put off people just turning up on the day. We used the ace Tiqets* app to snare our discounted tickets online in advance and then just had to scan a phone on entry. We used the same system at the Park Guell, another Gaudi gem, and it helped there too.

Mosaic lizard fountain at Gaudi’s Guell Park, Barcelona
Mosaic lizard fountain at Gaudi’s Guell Park, Barcelona © Fazon - Adobe Stock Image

Otherwise, our walk up the steep slope from the Metro would have been in vain as it was for another family we met, who were turned back. Our own effort was worth it to explore Gaudi's tree-shrouded wonderland.

He wove in and around nature perhaps more than any Spanish architect, his brightly painted terraces and craggy cave-like shaded walkways are just gorgeous. My two kids reckoned it "feels like being inside a fairytale"; I knew exactly what they meant.

Catalan culture

The schools may be out and you're on holiday, but that doesn't mean you cannot stretch your children's grey matter. Barcelona is very much a city of two deeply different, sometimes opposing, cultures, similar to that you can find in Scottish cities.

Yes, this is Spain's second-largest city and the imprint of Spain is everywhere. But Barcelona is also the capital of Catalonia, or Catalunya in the widely spoken language here of Catalan.

The capital of this autonomous region is not content to play second fiddle to Madrid and this tension and energy are fascinating for kids and parents alike. My girls were really interested in the dual language signs and in spotting words that looked familiar from our Spanish language app, but turned out to be Catalan.

Sharing with your wee ones this different, vibrant culture adds a rewarding element to your holiday and will give them something to chat about back at school beyond all the usual attractions.

Transport treat

Getting around a city as a family can be stressful. Not so in Barcelona as the easy-to-use buses and Metro system are spot on. Backing this up is a glorious network of funiculars, boats and cable cars that make getting around a veritable theme park in its own right, for kids and adult transport geeks alike.

Get high in the Montjuic Cable Car, Barcelona
Get high in the Montjuic Cable Car, Barcelona © Kalman89 - Dreamstime.com

Don't miss a boat cruise into the Mediterranean to appreciate the city's epic setting. Nor the cable car ride out across the revamped port. The funicular up to the epicentre of the 1982 Olympic Games is also worth it on Montjuic, as is the funicular up to Mount Tibidabo, an otherworldly escape with great views back across the city.

Park life

Barcelona is a city blessed with parks that back up Gaudi's finest. Parc de la Ciutadella is a firm family favourite with its zoo, walkways and impressive outdoor art spread across 17 acres.

The fountains at Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona
The fountains at Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona © Mistervlad - Adobe Stock Image

It's close to the beaches if you want to cool the wee ones down once they've had a runaround. Then there is the Horta Labyrinth Park, the antithesis of glitzy modern theme parks.

The old-school charms here come courtesy of Italian architect Domenico Bagutti, who laid out his cypress maze designed in 1791. There are walkways and ponds too; it's free on Sundays.

Family-friendly sleeps

As a popular city break destination Barcelona has myriad accommodation choices. I would be wary of the likes of Airbnb here as I've had some poor experiences and reports from others that great-looking places turned out to be tiny when they arrived. Best stick to a hotel and here you are spoilt for choice.

On our visit we stayed at Hotel Arts Barcelona*. This five-star gets it spot on with kids. They're welcomed all over this tower resort and you get an 'Arts Kids' sheet when you check in showcasing free kids activities, including an arts club that mirrors the city's rich cultural roots.

They were great with my demanding teen too. The staff were keen to emphasise that across the city hotels really take families seriously. Hats off to Barcelona's hotels.

Family-friendly dining

Barcelona may not be the home of tapas, but it's a brilliant city for tapas (especially the old Barceloneta quarter) and all types of Spanish, Catalan and international restaurants.

Kids are more than welcome in family-friendly, family-focused Catalonia. We loved exploring the stalls and the eateries at the famous Boqueria market.

Bustling Boqueria Market, Barcelona
Bustling Boqueria Market, Barcelona © G0DeX - Flickr CC BY 2.0

Even dining at our hotel was a joy with Japanese restaurant Roka on hand with tastebud-tingling sharing plate delights, such as Wagyu beef and yellowfin tuna spiced with truffle.

My girls loved both and being Barcelona they were more than welcome, even during a busy weekend dinner service.

Day trips better than Disney

You don't need Disney in Catalonia, not when they have their own brilliant world-class theme park PortAventura World to the south of Barcelona. Beyond theme parks, myriad day trip options tempt.

Wandering around the ancient walls of Girona is a real fairytale experience, as is the cable car high into the mountains to the mysterious mist-shrouded monastery of Monserrat.

There are, of course, beach resorts on the Costa Brava* to enjoy; the Costa Dorada* too, for that matter. Barcelona boasts myriad delights, not least the swathe of family-friendly day trips within easy striking distance.

Weather in Barcelona

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Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
Sea temperature °C

The above guide shows the climate in Barcelona. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the climate in Spain.

Ready to take your family to Barcelona? Browse current online offers and deals on urban escapes with Jet2CityBreaks*.

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Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie

Robin McKelvie is a Scottish travel writer, author and broadcaster. He has visited over 100 countries and regularly writes about Scotland and the Canary Islands. As well as frequently contributing to Weather2Travel.com, Robin writes for publications including The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times and Wanderlust, and has authored more than 30 guidebooks.

Posted on Wednesday 11th October 2023 in: City Europe Family

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