Barcelona – laid-back, beautiful and right on the beach – is a great city to bring the kids, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Many of Barcelona’s top attractions won’t cost you a penny. Long, sandy beaches overlooking the Med, fairy tale Modernista architecture, fun-packed museums full of attractions, shady parks with labyrinths and giant slides – Barcelona has got a load of things that appeal to children, and all for free!
Mad Modernista architecture
You can’t come to Barcelona and not check out the city’s amazing Modernista architecture – especially if you’re travelling with kids. These gorgeous, story book buildings will delight children with their crazy shapes – like dragon bones and witches hats – and dazzling colours. It’s a sure-fire way to give your children a shot of culture without watching their eyes glaze over. Take a stroll up the elegant Passeig de Gràcia to gaze up at La Pedrera, one of Gaudí’s most famous buildings, which has a swirling façade that looks as though it was made of ice cream. There’s another Gaudí masterpiece a short stroll further up the avenue: the Casa Batlló. Locally known as the ‘House of Bones’, the story goes that Gaudí was inspired by the legend of St George (Sant Jordi in Catalan, the region’s patron saint): the windows are supported by bone-shaped struts, the facade shimmers with dragon-like scales, and the roof undulates in the shape of the dragon’s back. Casa Batlló sits next to another Modernista gem: the Casa Amatller, which looks like a gingerbread house and was built for a chocolate baron. Step into the lobby (it’s free) to check out the sculptures, including (a particular favourite) one depicting some greedy little monkeys over-indulging in chocolate and making themselves sick. The Park Güell has introduced an admission fee to the ‘Monumental Area’, but you can still enjoy the Hansel-and-Gretel-style entrance pavilions, and stroll up through terraced gardens to a spectacular viewing point at the top of the hill.
Play areas, open spaces and gardens
Even in the tightly packed streets of Barcelona you’ll find plenty of playgrounds where your kids can let off steam. But some are particularly fun: there’s a fabulous dragon slide in the Parc de l’Espanya Industrial, a boating lake with ducks to feed in the Parc de la Ciutadella, and most of Montjuïc is carpeted with gardens and parks that are perfect for picnicking and for letting the kids run wild. Top parks for kids on Montjuïc include the Jardins de Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer, with lily ponds full of tadpoles (or frogs), while the shady paths of the Jardins Joan Brossa, right opposite, are dotted with fun, outdoor musical instruments. If you’re in Montjuïc, don’t miss the Font Mágica, a dancing fountain complete with sound and light show that begins at sunset. Kids of all ages – including the coolest of teens – will enjoy the Laberint d’Horta (free Wednesdays, Sundays and always to under-5s). The centrepiece of these deliciously cool and shady 18th-century gardens is a surprisingly tricky maze.
Museums and galleries
Even in sunny Barcelona you might come across the odd rainy day. At first, your kids may not thank you for dragging them to a museum – but many are packed with fun-filled activities that will ensure all is soon forgiven. The CosmoCaixa science museum and the Museu Blau natural history museum are both free for under-16s: the first has an amazing slice of the Amazon rainforest to explore, while the second is one of the city’s newer, high-tech museums with lots of interactive exhibits. Art-mad kids will enjoy the Museo Picasso (free on Thursdays from 6–9.30pm and the first Sunday of the month) and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (free to under-16s and to everyone on Saturdays from 3pm), which has a millennium’s worth of Catalan art and amazing, city-wide rooftop views. Would-be pirates will enjoy the Maritime Museum (free on Sundays from 3pm), where they can scamper over an enormous reconstruction of a 16th-century galleon.
Fun on the beaches
Barcelona’s sandy beaches stretch for almost 5km along the gorgeous Mediterranean coast – and are one of the best free days out the city has to offer. Kids can enjoy oodles of sun, sea and sand, but there's more – climbing frames and ping pong tables (bring your own bats and balls), a skateboard park (behind Platja de la Mar Bella) and beach volleyball pitches – all completely for free! You’ll almost definitely be stung for an ice cream or two, though, so don’t forget your wallet!
Barcelona is an Instagrammer’s dream, and you can earn some kudos (maybe) from your teens by showing them the city’s best Insta hotspots. Easily the best – and a favoured hang-out of local hipsters – are the Carmel bunkers on the Turó de la Rovira, the site of a civil war aircraft battery. It’s a hot, dusty climb up through a scrubby park, but worth it for the panoramic views of Barcelona and unforgettable sunsets. The whole city is filled with fantastic street art, and the Jardins de les Tres Xemeneies in Poble Sec is one of the main hubs for graffiti artists – perfect for that edgy summer-in-the-city Insta shot.
Need more ideas? Check out these best free things to in Barcelona. Subscribe to our Lonely Planet Kids newsletter and get 30% off your first Lonely Planet Kids book purchase.