Of all the places to travel with children, Spain is up there with the best of them.
Generally speaking, the population loves to dote on little ones. Be prepared for abuelas (grandmothers) to coo over newborns, and children's presence is accepted – celebrated, even – in almost every aspect of day-to-day life, from shopping to eating out in restaurants. On balmy evenings, it's common to see families out way past sunset. In pretty plazas, children whizz down slides and make friends despite the language barrier while parents watch over from the terrace nearby, sipping a chilled vermouth.
Is Spain good for kids?
One of the most brilliant things about Spain is the sheer amount of playgrounds. They're everywhere: airports, historic plazas, even next to bars.
Most restaurants in Spain are family-friendly, too. 'Highchair' in Spanish is trona, very similar to trono, which means throne. It says a lot about the attitude towards children in restaurants and tapas bars, where little people are treated like royalty. What's more, restaurant staples like tortillas and patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy tomato sauce) are often a hit with little ones.
While historic city centers are beautiful to look at, navigating them with a buggy can be a chore. A sling may be more convenient for carrying small babies, but the summer months (July, August) are just too hot for them. Overall, the stroller is usually best for breezy naps and sun protection.
Where is best in Spain for kids?
Rippled with mountain ranges, full of culture-charged cities and fringed with a sandy coastline, Spain has a huge variety of terrains for families to get stuck into. For seaside adventures, take a dip in the turquoise water of the Balearic Islands, grab a sun lounger on the Costa Brava or make sandcastles on the lush north coast. For city breaks, Valencia and Palma are well-sized for young families, while Barcelona and Madrid feature zesty galleries and theme parks for older kids.
Best things to do in Spain with kids
Best things to do in Spain with babies and toddlers
Splash on the beach
The Costa Blanca is full of family-friendly beaches, but for a quieter break, try the island of Formentera, only accessible by ferry from Dénia or Ibiza. It has plenty of quiet, clean beaches where babies can take their first dip. Try the milky-white sand of Ses Illetes for starters. Wilder still is Islas Cíes, a tiny archipelago in Galicia with no cars or hotels. Illa de Monteagudo has pristine beaches and simple campsites with pre-pitched tents (and cots to hire) next to the sea. For a more cosmopolitan beach, make tracks for Patacona in Valencia, dotted with laid-back chiringuitos (beach bars) – hire a deckchair and parasol for shade – and brilliant brunch spots.
Potter in plazas
Elegant squares are an idyllic setting for a toddler's first steps. With its enclosed playground in the center, Plaza de Santa Ana in Madrid is bordered by beautiful old houses with ornate balconies and historic cervecerias (bars). In Granada, families head to Plaza de Gracia to find a climbing frame and park surrounded by tapas bars, and in Seville, Plaza de la Alfalfa is one of the prettiest, with colorful architecture and sun-dappled terraces.
Relax in grand gardens
Madrid's Parque del Buen Retiro used to belong to the Spanish monarchy – it has more than 15,000 trees, so you're bound to find a shady picnic spot. There's a refreshing sea breeze in Marimurtra Botanical Garden, just 65km (40 miles) from Barcelona. This dramatic clifftop patch has staggering views of the sea and winding paths past lily pad-filled ponds.
Best things to do in Spain with kids
Kids will be transfixed by the rainbow roof of Casa Batlló, which has undulating tiles like a scaly dragon. It's one of seven UNESCO World Heritage sites designed by Gaudí in Barcelona. Then 350km (217 miles) south is Calatrava's architectural marvel, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia. Here, swooping white IMAX theaters are made to look like the human eye, and Palau de les Arts – covered in twinkling mosaic shards – hosts children's music workshops.
Palaces aren't confined to fairy tales. The red-walled palace of Alhambra, Granada, dates back to the 9th century, and its walls drip with sublime symmetry and Arabic poetry (buy tickets in advance to avoid queues). Real Alcázar in Seville is a sensational royal palace dating back to 913 CE, and has seen numerous monarchs adding outrageous extensions over the centuries.
In Valencia, Centre del Carme Cultura Contamporània gives parents a breather while kids play in the cool, leafy courtyard. There's also a playroom with squishy shapes and lights in the floor that can be hired out for free. Over at the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, kids weave in and out of the legs of Louise Bourgeois' 9m-tall spider, and in OXO Museo Videojuego Málaga, adults get thrashed by kids on retro games consoles.
Best things to do in Spain with teenagers and tweenagers
Budding astronomers should head to Parc Astronòmic del Montsec, around 200km (125 miles) from Barcelona. Set in the mountains of the Serra de Montsec, a guided tour includes a peek at the night sky through the observatory's enormous telescope. Sierra Sur de Jaén in Andalucia is a protected starlight reserve, and local astronomy associations organize regular tours (visit skyandaluz.com for more information).
With its seagrass meadows and colorful sea life, Menorca has some of the best snorkeling in Spain. Cala Macarelleta is a sheltered cove with small caves to explore. And just off the coast of the Costa Brava, Illes Medes is the only marine reserve in the country. Spot coral, starfish, and octopus from a guided tour departing from L'Estartit.
Children under 135cm have to use a car seat, but luckily, taxis often have one in the trunk. Travel by rail is a breeze. The national network RENFE is modern and reliable, and children under six years go free. Their long-distance high-speed trains are particularly nippy and have a roomy buffet car where children can stretch their legs.