Since we moved to Barcelona, we’ve gotten a lot of requests for kid-friendly recommendations. We still have so much of the city to discover, but we’ve been here long enough to discover some favorite spots and activities with our soon-to-be four-year-old son. If you’re looking for the best things to do in Barcelona with kids, here’s a short list of our budget-friendly recommendations that are slightly off the beaten path.
Tibidado with funicular
You can see Tibidado from anywhere in the city. Just look up towards the mountains, and you’ll spot a cluster of three very disparate attractions: A Ferris wheel, a cathedral, and a telecommunications tower. It’s home of the best views, and the best amusement park, in Barcelona.
The original reason we went to Tibidado was to take the funicular, because our son is obsessed with different kinds of trains. Barcelona has 3 funiculars and it would maybe not be a bad idea to plan your trip to Barcelona around riding ALL of them. After all, the journey is the destination.
There are two routes to get there, both involving funiculars. The first, you take the train to Vallvidrera, and then hop right on board a funicular (included in your metro pass). It will take you to a small town atop the mountain, and from there, you catch a small neighborhood bus to Tibidabo. You’ll have to wait for the bus, but the station is right across from a gelato shop.
The second route, you take the train to Av. Tibidabo. (We thought this would be easier, but it’s not!) You then have to take a bus to the funicular, and pay a separate ticket. Also, this funicular is not as nice as the public one. But the views are still great.
Either way, at your final destination, you’ll find Sacré-Couer, a gigantic cathedral with a set of stairs that will give you a great workout and an even better view. Of course, your kids will be staring at the amusement park, which has been around since 1901. If you want to splurge on tickets, go early and plan to spend the whole day. Also note, it's closed besides for top-level attractions on Sundays. One Saturday, we went with friends who had coupons, but ended up waiting in very long lines for short rides. Suffice to say, we recommend a weekday visit.
Don't worry though: There's thrills a-plenty in an affordable 3.50 euro ride up to the very top of Sacré-Couer, right beneath those high outstretched arms.
The elevator is hidden in the lower level of the church. It will take you up halfway, and then you'll climb a winding set of stairs to the very top. It's dizzying, but the 360 views are worth it! You'll see to the ocean and the mountains - and plot out your next stop.
Parc Güell (the free part)
Parc Güell is one of those “You Can’t Miss It” spots in Barcelona that anyone who has ever visited the city will tell you about. We’re here to tell you it’s a bit overrated – but you should still go. But not to the ticketed, touristy part – go to the part that’s free.
The first time we visited Parc Güell, we’d trudged all the way up the hill with our kid alternating between Daddy Rides and Mama Rides (we left our stroller in the US) only to discover you needed to buy tickets in advance. Disappointed, we hiked all the way back down to buy tickets online for the next day. We made a big mistake. We didn’t realize that most of Parc Güell is not ticketed. That’s right. With no advance planning (our preferred style of planning), you can make a day of Gaudí’s gardens, walkways, playgrounds, viewpoints, and sometimes, live music and spontaneous dance parties.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t see the famous stairway lizard, the Hippodrome, Gaudí’s house, and that well-photographed mosaic bench with a nice view of the city (warning: most of that area is under construction so you’ll have to jostle and angle for the perfect family selfie.) But, you’ll experience in real life what you’ve seen in the pictures. If you buy tickets to Parc Güell, promise us you’ll see the rest of it, too.
Chocolate & Churros
What have you heard about the food in Barcelona? Tapas? Sangria? Your kids don’t care about those things. They’re going to want chocolate and churros, our absolute favorite treat (and Barcelona has a lot of treats).
Picture this: A full cup of thick, warm, chocolate arrives at your table with a plate of long, doughnuty churros, perfect for dipping. Also, there’s a spoon for licking off the last scrapes. Chocolate and churros will put a chocolate-stained smile on the face of even the weariest small traveler.
Okay, time for adult beverages. Let’s talk about “vermut.” You probably know it as “vermouth,” a drink that’s a bit of an acquired taste. But vermut is also the Barcelona version of weekend brunch, and it doesn’t necessarily imply drinking vermouth.
On Sundays, the city (outside the most touristy areas) mostly shuts down. The shops are closed, the markets are closed, everything is quiet. But a few bars remain open, and that’s where you go for vermut in the early afternoon. Basically, you order a drink (or a bottle of wine) and a bunch of tapas come with it. And that’s it. It’s simple, a great way to relax and take it easy on a day everyone else is taking it easy.
Plazas with playgrounds
In the States, finding a place to eat where your kid can also play is like discovering a diamond in the rough. In Austin, we’d resigned ourselves to the tradeoff of mediocre food and drinks for proximity to a playscape. In Barcelona, about a fourth of plazas have a small playground – with at least three different restaurant choices surrounding it. Also, in Barcelona, it’s legal to drink on the street, like New Orleans but not seedy and sloshy. So buy a couple beers from a supermercat (this is the super budget friendly option, as you can buy a single can from a six pack for 50 – 80 cents), and relax as your child wrings their energy out on a spring-loaded elephant.
Note: If you have the choice, try to avoid eating a full dinner on the plaza and just have tapas. Dinner isn’t really the focus of these restaurants, and there’s also a 10% surcharge for eating on the “terrace.” Of course, sometimes it’s totally worth it.
Barceloneta boat rides
Barceloneta is the “beach” neighborhood of the city. Before we even arrived in the city, we were warned away from the actual beach. It’s a party scene, best avoided by families. So don’t go to Barceloneta for the beach. Go for the harbor.
Across from the infamous Columbus statue, there’s a beautiful pedestrian bridge. And next to the pedestrian bridge, you can find six or seven different boats that leave on the half hours for tours. We took our son and a friend on a catamaran (ticket prices), just out of the harbor and back. There’s a snack bar, but you can also bring your own food. Some of our boat mates sat on the front of the boat with a bottle of champagne and basically had a pretend yacht party. The kids were fascinated by the waves, the docked cruise ships, the harbor. Everyone had a good time.
Montjuic with gondola
If you make it to Barceloneta, another thing you’ll see is Montjuic, with its two gondolas. One goes across the harbor to the top of the mountain, and another goes up the side of the mountain from the subway station. Both offer amazing views, and end with a trip to a REAL castle. It’s basically a no-brainer.
Montjuic means “Jewish mountain” and it's an incredibly important site in Barcelona's history. The exhibits inside tell the story of what happened during the War of Spanish Succession, and how the castle continued to play an important role in Barcelona’s history, through Franco’s dictatorship. It’s a really interesting way to understand Catalonia’s history with Spain, written from a very Catalan point of view. Kids will love climbing up to the roof (and further still, clocktower climbs run on a schedule).
After you’ve been on top of Montjuic, go underneath it. If you’re interested in the Spanish Civil War, you won’t find a better way to understand its impact on Barcelona than visiting the bunker, or refugio, that’s built into the mountain. It’s open to the public on the weekends.
If you’re in Barcelona for warm weather, you’ll want to take a day off from pounding the pavement to relax in the sand. As we’ve mentioned, the beach in Barcelona is not recommended for kids. But it’s only 20 minutes to get to Badalona, one town up the coast where the train will literally drop you off at the beach. Better yet, it’s within the core transit zone of Barcelona, which means your ticket to the beach is just over one euro.
You could do this with any town up or down the coast from Barcelona. Sitges is a popular resort beach town, but it’s a little bit further and more touristy. Badalona could be a half day – perhaps a reward for your kids making it through some art and architecture?
You can’t avoid Gaudí, even if you tried. He’s a brilliant architect who left his aesthetic on the city with several amazing landmarks – Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo, Casa Mila, and more. The “mosaic all the things” attitude of most souvenir shops? That’s Gaudí (make sure you don’t pronounce it “Gaudy”). It’s worth it to make one or two dates with a Gaudí design.
But to be honest, the only way we got our three year old through Sagrada Familia was to give him a game on our phone while we followed the tour guide around the building. Gaudí is a better fit for an older crowd. If your kid is mature enough to pick up on lessons of architecture, math, history, and culture, the whole family could come away inspired.
There are many neighborhoods worth wandering, with no particular objective in mind. There’s the narrow streets of The Born and The Gothic Quarter, the wide avenues and shopping in L’Eixample, and so much more. But we think our neighborhood is the best: Gracia.
Gracia used to be an outlying suburb of Barcelona, and even though it’s now in the middle of things, it still has the feeling of a self-contained town. It’s easily the most pedestrian-friendly area of Barcelona, with narrow streets where people walk down the middle of the road, swerving to the side for the occasional bike, scooter, or delivery van. Adorable shops, playground plazas, and great restaurants are around every corner. It’s tourist-friendly, but not touristy.
We recommend going to Fontana on the L3, and wandering down Asturies, having some tapas and watching the scooters and soccer games on Placa de Vila de Gracia, stopping into La Nena for chocolate and churros, Gelatology for gelato, and taking your time to discover your own favorite spots in the neighborhood. You’ll be glad you did. We are!