“I like paella,” my two year old declared after a night of gluttonous feasting. We had spent hours at dinner, trying whatever dish came recommended- spicy patatas bravas, grilled vegetables with romesco sauce, succulent lamb stew, and of course, a giant iron skillet of paella, placed right on the table. Let’s just say that I am not known for my culinary abilities, so eating this way felt extravagant. We stayed an unforgettable five weeks in Barcelona over the summer, exploring every attraction, park, playground and restaurant that served authentic Spanish tapas. We began to feel like locals and I quickly realized that Barcelona had some amazing sites worth visiting, especially when traveling with children. When my kids (ages 10, 8, 6, 2) were asked about their favorite experiences, the votes were unanimous. Here is their list of must-do activities in Barcelona with kids. (unfortunately, eating paella did not make the cut)
La Sagrada Familia
It’s with good reason La Sagrada Familia is the most visited attraction in Spain. This unfinished Modernist masterpiece is the vision of the famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1883 and is expected to be completed by 2026 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Each year, millions of tourists flock to this basilica to marvel at the stunning stained glass artwork, the iconic sculptures, and unique design. When buying your ticket, opt to include a ride up one of the towers for far reaching city views. Just be prepared to walk down since the elevator only goes one way. Battling hordes of tourists for selfie stick opportunities is exhausting, so grab a gelato and let the kids play at the nearby playground afterwards.
Know before you go: Make sure to buy your ticket online beforehand to avoid being turned away. Only a certain number of visitors are allowed each day.
El Mercado de San José de la Boquería
A visit to Mercado de la Boqueria is a feast for the senses. Located in the heart of the the old city, directly off of the famous Las Ramblas Street, this bustling indoor market is a must-do for anyone visiting Barcelona. Wander from stall to stall, sampling some of the delicious Spanish cheeses, jámon, and olives. My children loved the freshly squeezed juices (only 1 Euro) and crusty baked bread. Just make sure to keep the kids close because it gets crowded!
Know before you go: Bring a backpack or reusable shopping bag to make lugging around your purchases easier (think- glass bottle of local olive oil). You WILL buy more than you anticipate. Also, try to have some Euro coins handy to make transactions faster.
If the kids need a break from being dragged from site to site, consider spending a day at Mount Tibidabo. A vertical ride on a funicular brings you to the top, where a surprisingly sizable amusement park and amazing views await. By American standards, the rides here are not incredibly exciting (they go for height instead of speed), but all of my children had a blast. I recommend it for the 12 and under crowd. While you are up there, check out the Roman Catholic church at the summit, Temple de Samrat Cor. On the dome of the church is an impressive bronze statue of Jesus, looking towards the sea, arms wide open.
Know before you go: Avoid price gouging at the top and make sure to pack ample snacks and water. It’s always nice to find an amusement park that lets you bring in your own food.
Parc de la Cuitadella
Pack a picnic and spend an afternoon exploring the Parc de la Cuitadella. Known for its impressive fountain, peaceful walking paths, and wild parrots, this park is a welcome oasis in the center of Barcelona. Kids will love the myriad of venders peddling trinkets and making giant bubbles or checking out one of the several playgrounds. Limited time? Walk under the Arc de triomf and through the park on your way to the Gothic Quarter.
Know before you go: There is a small lake in the park with seemingly happy couples leisurely rowing about in rented boats. My kids begged for us to do the same. As we got closer to the lake, the trash floating in it became visible…lots and lots of trash…and dead birds. A scene repeated each time we went to the park. This is something to skip!
The Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter)
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without wandering through the narrow, pedestrian-only streets of the Gothic Quarter. Around every corner are unique and colorful boutiques, tapas restaurants with traditional Catalan dishes, and stunning medieval churches, plazas and architecture. Make sure to stop at a ‘xurreia’ to try a fresh churro dipped in a thick, hot chocolate and bring home authentic Spanish made pottery from one of the local venders.
Know before you go: The streets of the Gothic Quarter can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Download the google maps app onto your phone and save a map of Barcelona. Even without using data, the app can use your gps signal to show you where you are and help you find out where to go.
Don’t think a summer in a foreign country is possible for you? Check out some of my money saving strategies: