On the edge of the glimmering Mediterranean, Barcelona holds something for everyone. From the medieval Gothic Quarter with its labyrinth-like streets, to the unique Art Nouveau houses in the l’Eixample District, to the great restaurants and friendly atmosphere, it’s easy to fall in love with this vibrant city. Here are 8 mix-and-match suggestions of things to do in Barcelona with kids for a full and fun day of activities.
La Boqueria Market, Barcelona’s biggest food market, is not to be missed. In Barcelona, these covered open air markets (44 in all) are more than just the places where locals do their food shopping — they’re also part of the social fabric of day-to-day life. Today, most Barcelonians do not have time to do their shopping on a daily basis, but will stop once or twice a week to purchase fresh foods. Shoppers routinely return to the same vendors, making shopping a personal interaction as opposed to just another household chore.
La Boqueria Market is an adventure for the senses, with freshly prepared foods, fresh fish, spices, wild mushrooms, cheeses, wines and even stalls dedicated only to candy. Tapas bars dot the market, but if you want to snack along the way, there are plenty of prepared foods to eat on the go. London chef Thomasina Miers has said, “At the Boqueria people, eat, shop and gossip together, doing what the Spanish excel at: living well and enjoying a sense of community.” Dive in and be part of it!
The Cathedral of Barcelona towers above the Gothic Quarter, so it’s easy to find. As you approach the exterior, don’t forget to look up — the cathedral is known for its 250 gargoyles, which in medieval times were meant to protect the building from evil spirits. Challenge kids to count these remarkable stone creatures, including the active waterspouts on the back side of the cathedral. While there, they may notice vertical marks, almost like claw marks from a large animal. Get the kids thinking about what could have made these marks, then let them in on the secret: The grooves were used by the less fortunate to sharpen knife blades in the Middle Ages.
Inside, the beautiful, still-functioning 16th-century organ can be seen from certain angles. An elevator in the side chapel to the right of the organ takes guests to the roof, offering an aerial view of the cathedral itself as well as incredible views of the city. Back on ground level, don’t miss the cloister, which houses 13 white geese (fenced in, thankfully). It’s a fun way to end the visit.
TIP: Guided tours of Barcelona are worth their weight in gold, really bringing to life the stories behind the stones. For help booking a vetted, kid-friendly guide as part of a complete itinerary, reach out to our Family Vacation Consulting Team.
La Casa dels Entremesos is a not-so-big museum filled with big figures, known affectionately as giants. The giants are a concept dating back to the Middle Ages, when most of the figures were religious and were used in acting out stories from the Bible — important at a time when most of the population was illiterate and when Christians were trying to spread the word.
The giants are still part of current traditions in Catalonia, though they are now secular rather than religious in nature. Weighing 55 kilos (115 pounds) on average, they’re carried on men’s shoulders. Underneath each giant’s skirt is a wooden structure with padded parts that fit onto the carrier’s shoulders and head; a screened cutout in the skirt acts as a window for them to see out. Every neighborhood or town has at least one couple who represent them in festivals and parades, and several downtown neighborhoods store their giants in La Casa dels Entremesos. Pick up a leaflet on the way out to check the giants’ schedule while you are in town.
One of the largest aquariums and oceanographic museums in Europe awaits in Barcelona’s Port Vell. Built as part of the renovations of the inner harbor for the 1992 Olympic Games, L’Aquarium Barcelona is world-renowned for its investigative work. The 35 water basins and 11,000 fish are enough to keep anyone entertained, but one of the coolest features is the shark tunnel, an 80-meter glass tunnel through the center of the shark tank. Visitors will feel as though they’re swimming with the sharks.
For younger and more sensible visitors, the Explora! children’s area is filled with more than 50 interactive games to help children understand marine life. It emulates three areas: the marshes of the nearby Ebro Delta, the secluded beaches of the Costa Brava and the underwater caves of the Medes Islands. In this part of the aquarium, everyone becomes an explorer.
Famous architect Antoni Gaudi’s unique designs can best be compared to the illustrations in Dr Seuss’ books. Casa Batllo is Gaudi’s most uninhibited and artistically free work, where he makes even the most practical elements beautiful. His design is said to have been based on the legend of Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia, who slew a rather pesky dragon, thus saving the life of a princess.
Tickets include a wonderfully interactive video guide that draws in even the most stubborn of travelers. Combined with gentle audio, the video is filled with animated versions of the nature that inspired Gaudi’s designs, from swimming sea turtles to a mushroom-shaped fireplace.
The house is open until 8p and is less crowded after 6p, making it a nice after-dinner activity. Buy tickets in advance online.
Sesame Street fans who love Mr. Snuffleupagus will want to put the Mammoth Museum on their list. This surprisingly small but very fun museum is housed not far from the Picasso Museum and the Chocolate Museum, so it’s easy to combine a stop with either one.
Mammoths roamed this part of the world during the Ice Age two million years ago. Their bones were found throughout the following ages, but were often thought to be from Roman heroes or, later on, Biblical figures. Fortunately for today’s visitors, this fine collection shows all sorts of mammoth bones, tusks and teeth that can be touched.
No day in Barcelona would be complete without trying Spain’s best sweet snack, churros and chocolate. The cultural equivalent of the French crepe, churros (small rings of freshly fried dough) are dipped in cups of creamy, fondue-style dark chocolate for breakfast or a snack.
Churros are not all equal, so try them at a place where they are delivered regularly throughout the day, hot off the griddle from a nearby churro maker. There are two churros cafes open in the mornings, from 9a until 1p, and then in the late afternoons from 4:30 to 8:30p. Both are located on Carrer Petritxol, a tiny side street very near Santa Maria del Pi Church. Just be warned: churros and chocolate are habit-forming!
With three miles of oceanfront boardwalk, renting bikes is an ideal way to enjoy the beach and the water views. There are plenty of places to stop along the way to enjoy an ice cream or lunch, or even a dip in the sea. This is a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon. Make sure to rent bikes with locks to guard against theft during stops.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Nancy Daum Dailey.
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