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What to Do in Barcelona With Kids

Aug. 21, 2019
9 min read
Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain.
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Barcelona hosts more than 30 million tourists a year, but it can be challenging to find kid-friendly things to do in a city known for starting dinner at 10pm. Still, our family found plenty to love about this city and we think you will too. This list of some of the best family-friendly activities in Barcelona is by no means an exhaustive guide to the city, but should give you a good jumping-off point for a long family weekend there.

Visit Sagrada Familia

Ask anyone about Barcelona and the first thing they'll mention will likely be the Sagrada Familia, and for good reason. It is an active Roman Catholic church, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that began construction in the late 1800s and is still under construction today, with a 2026 estimated completion date. (My daughter just reminded me to be sure to tell you to plan a visit for then.)

Inside La Sagrada Familia. (Photo by Eleonora Albasi/Unsplash)
Inside La Sagrada Familia. (Photo by Eleonora Albasi/Unsplash)

Architect Antoni Gaudí worked on the project for 43 years until his death in 1926, with the full knowledge that he would not see it completed. Its very unique design is breathtaking whether you are a church-goer, a fan of architecture or just like rainbows.

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Failing to buy an advance ticket to see the church is TPG's #1 mistake tourists make in Barcelona. We saw at least five unfortunate families turned away because tickets were sold out. I bought mine two months in advance, and even then some times were no longer available. Adult admission is 17 euros and children under 11 are free.

Even young kids should appreciate the sheer immensity of the Sagrada Familia. I would recommend spending a little more (26 euros) for the hourlong guided tour if I had kids with a longer attention span. Sagrada Familia is all about the details, and having a guide point them out added much-needed clarity to our visit. My 12-year-old daughter later told me that she would not have enjoyed the site nearly as much if we had skipped the tour.

With our timed admission tickets purchased in advance, we didn't wait more than five minutes or so to get into the basilica. That said, don't try to get in early. We arrived 10 minutes before our stated 5:45pm entry time and were not allowed to even enter the line until 5:40. (And definitely don't be late: You will be turned away.)

If you're picking a time of day to visit, I would recommend as close to the end of the day as possible. The stained glass windows are gorgeous any time of day, but the sun on our 6pm visit lit up the cathedral in an ethereal manner.

I would not recommend planning to dine near the Sagrada Familia, though. Within a block of the cathedral we saw not only a McDonalds and a KFC, but also a Taco Bell (the first one of those I've seen in Europe).

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Explore Park Guell

Park Guell is an excellent companion stop to the Sagrada Familia, as Gaudi also had a firm hand in its design. The chameleon fountain (or is it a dragon?) at Park Guell is an unofficial mascot of Barcelona; you'll see it everywhere.

(Photo by Phil Wilson/Flickr)

Portions of the park are free to visit, but the Insta-worthy spots are in the section of the park that costs 10 euros to visit (free for kids under seven). Note that both the Park Guell requires printed tickets for kids under seven, even though they are free. The site maintains a strict head count in the restricted area.

This is another case where I'd highly recommend the guided tour for an extra seven euros -- we wouldn't have found half the highlights without it. The guide was also an absolute wealth of amusing anecdotes about the park and the history surrounding it. Our favorite fun fact: The park is actually the result of a real estate project gone belly up.

Park Guell is a site I would visit in the early morning in tourist season, both for better weather and to avoid the crowds.

Shop on La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter

The second site you'll probably hear when you ask people about Barcelona will be La Rambla. La Rambla is just one street, but its name recognition is also its downfall as there's so much to see right around it.

Day scene at Las Ramblas close to Plaça de Catalunya at rush hour. (Photo via Getty Images)
Day scene at Las Ramblas close to Plaça de Catalunya at rush hour. (Photo via Getty Images)

We had enormous fun just strolling around the Gothic quarter shopping and snacking. Be aware that most shops are closed on Sundays, so a visit to the Gothic quarter will be more fun the rest of the week.

Our favorite snack stop was Chok Kitchen at 3 Calle del Carme. The shop is tiny, but the selection of donuts, cakes, chocolates, and coffee creations was worth the effort to find it. Vacation Mom may have allowed a cherry topped cronut to be lunch. That counts as a fruit, right?

(Image via Chok Kitchen)

Our favorite shopping discovery was Ale-Hop, a Spanish chain with locations all over the country. Its life-sized cow mascot made Ale-Hop locations easy to find. I was at a loss as to how to describe it, so I asked my daughter. She responded with a haiku:

Cow in the store front
Useless things are everywhere
This is a cool store

We visited twice and ended up with four bags of the most wonderful assortment of office supplies, plastic wallets, water bottles and ephemera. It's as if Ikea married Spencer gifts: Everything is useful, but also a little off-center.

(Image by figmentsimagination/Flikr)

Do be aware that La Rambla is known for pickpockets and other unsavory characters, especially at night., Be alert and don't have your valuables, phones, passports, etc. easily accessible. We did not (thankfully) have any issues with this on our trip, but we did get warnings from virtually everyone we encountered to be vigilant in this area. It is not known for violent crime, but most of us don't want to deal with petty theft on vacation.

Eat and Drink at La Boqueria

Another "must visit" is the La Boqueria marketplace right off La Rambla. This market has origins dating back to the 1200s -- yes, the 1200s. That alone makes it a must-visit, but it is also very alive and vibrant today. The market has seemingly endless stalls that sell everything from fish, to ham (of course), to eggs, fruits, vegetables, breads, pastries, artisan crafts, wine, fresh fruit smoothies and more.

Our personal favorite item was the 1 and 2 euro fresh fruit juices that were sold at many of the stalls. I wish we had fresh juices that easily available and affordable back home. We couldn't decide what to try, so we bought about 10 for a euro each and had an informal tasting on a nearby park bench. Our recommendations? The mint-infused lemon and the kiwi-watermelon.

There were many other stalls that were fun to look at as well, though it is worth mentioning that the stalls selling "ready to eat" food were less than 50 percent of the total. That said, we had no trouble Macgyver-ing up a dinner of croquetas and empanadas to go with our juice festival.

Fresh juice for sale in Barcelonas La Boqueria markets
(Image by babomike/Flikr)

Take a Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour

Barcelona is big, so unless you have a lengthy visit, you are unlikely to be able to see all the parts of the city. Since we only had three days, we only saw some of the parts of the city by bus. In our case, this included viewing parts of the city that hosted the 1992 Olympics and getting a glimpse of the Mediterranean. I wish we could have spent more time there, but being able to at least see these different areas from a bus gave us inspiration for our next trip. Be aware that since the city is so big, the bus route takes a couple of hours to go all the way around.

Bottom Line

Even though we didn't get to take part in everything Barcelona had to offer on this first trip, we had a great time and didn't have any trouble finding things to entertain us on our journey.

What are your favorite Barcelona activities?

Looking for more Barcelona advice? Here's some:

Featured image by Getty Images/iStockphoto