Laidback, beachy and easy to stroll, a Barcelona trip with toddlers isn’t as overwhelming an undertaking as one might think. True, this coastal city along the Mediterranean boasts UNESCO World Heritage sites and Michelin-starred restaurants, but much of the appeal is soaking up the atmosphere and more relaxed pace of life the Spanish are known for. Plus, with temperate weather year-round and many open-air attractions, the city gives families the freedom to explore on their own terms. It’s also worthwhile to combine a few days in Barcelona with a coastal getaway in the Costa Brava region. Below are our toddler-friendly suggestions on how to explore and enjoy the Catalonian capital.
Among Barcelona’s major attractions is, of course, Gaudi’s imaginative architecture, which even toddlers will find appealing. Turn observing colors, shapes and animals into a game. At awe-inspiring La Sagrada Familia, opt for a fast-track ticket, which allows you to skip lines for a bit of a premium price — more than worth it with a little one in tow. If possible, visit on a weekday and during the morning time frame, which is often less busy than later in the day. A guided tour will be tricky with a toddler, but you can still read up on the architecture and symbolism of the basilica in advance. Atop a hill, Gaudi’s Park Guell is a large park with architectural elements such as mosaic terraces, viaducts and even a mosaic-tiled salamander. Before visiting the city, consider reading the picture book Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi aloud together to get everyone excited.
In the El Guinardó neighborhood, the Sant Pau Art Nouveau complex — a former hospital designed by Spanish architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner — is quite stunning and features many open-air areas that make it easier to visit with a toddler. Don’t miss pointing out the stained glass ceiling dome!
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All parents of toddlers know how much young ones love transportation, whether it is trains, boats, planes or buses. And so, take your toddler aboard the hop-on/hop-off bus — it’s a thrill ride for him or her, and a quick overview and lay of the land for parents.
In southwest Barcelona, Montjuic is a hill that’s home to several museums and a fountain known for the nightly color and light show. These are found halfway up; get to this point by funicular, metro or bus, and explore the Poble Espanyol, an open-air living museum with performances and craft workshops. Or visit Tibidabo, an old-fashioned amusement park with a Ferris wheel (including great views!).
Afterward, take the cable car all the way to the summit, where you’ll find a castle that once served as a military fortress. Walk the exterior of the castle if it’s of interest, or just head back down and enjoy the views and ride.
Another way to see the city is by getting on the water, though each family should decide if a 2-hour boat ride around the harbor would work for them. Blue Magic Cat runs private sailboat excursions that are relaxing and offer a different view of the city.
Though sections of the city are cobblestoned, Barcelona is generally quite easy to explore on foot. Based on your toddler’s age, keep a carrier or lightweight umbrella stroller with you and hit the town. You’re traveling, and so bribery with ice cream cones is not only acceptable, it’s encouraged.
Parc de la Ciutadella, the most central park in the city, is home to a zoo, a lake, a large fountain and several museums. This is a great spot for little ones to run and burn off some energy.
Since it lies right on the coast, it’s no surprise that Barcelona has several beaches. Barceloneta Beach is close to the city and most of the attractions visitors want to see, but can be extremely busy during the peak summer season. If you plan to make a day of playing in the sand and splashing in the water, consider Bogatell Beach (purpose-made for the 1992 Olympics), which is more of a local beach with fewer crowds. The nearby up and coming Poblenou neighborhood is charming and worth a stroll after a bite to eat.
In Spanish culture, dinner tends to be a very late meal — interestingly, this is due to the country never changing back their time to Greenwich Mean Time after World War II. With many restaurants not open until late in the evening, families with young ones are better off making lunch the biggest meal. Consider beachside xiringuitos, casual bars-cum-eateries on the sand, that sell mostly drinks and tapas. Xiringuito Escriba is family-friendly and delicious!
Explore public food markets too, such as La Boqueria along La Rambla, where you’ll find everything from seafood and fruits to cheese and olive oil. Another great option, Mercat de Santa Caterina, is a covered market with bakeries, butchers, cheesemongers and more.
Come dinnertime, buy provisions from a neighborhood market and have a tapas-style picnic at a park. This is bound to be a hit with a toddler who can move around and isn’t confined to a high chair. Also consider embarking on a churro crawl through the city with your toddler in tow. Churrerias are cafes that specialize in churros, and Barcelona has several favorite stops for those doughy spirals coated with sugar and cinnamon, then dunked in thick chocolate. One we recommend: the iconic La Granja la Pallaresa in the Gothic Quarter.
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