Travel with Children
Spain is a family-friendly destination with excellent transport and accommodation infrastructure, food to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters, and an extraordinary range of attractions that appeal to both adults and children. Visiting as a family does require careful planning, but no more than for visiting any other European country.
Best Regions for Kids
- Mediterranean Spain
Spain’s coastline may be a summer-holiday cliché, but it’s a fabulous place for a family holiday. From Catalonia in the north to Andalucía in the south, most beaches have gentle waters and numerous child-friendly attractions and activities (from water parks to water sports for older kids).
Theme parks, a wax museum, a chocolate museum, all manner of other museums with interactive exhibits, beaches, gardens… Barcelona is one of Spain’s most child-friendly cities – even its architecture seems to have sprung from a child’s imagination.
- Inland Spain
Spain’s interior may not be the first place you think of for a family holiday, but its concentrations of castles, tiny villages and fascinating, easily negotiated cities make it worth considering.
Food and children are two of the great loves for Spaniards, and Spanish fare is rarely spicy so kids tend to like it.
Children are usually welcome, whether in a sit-down restaurant or in a chaotically busy bar. Indeed, it’s rare that you’ll be made to feel uncomfortable as your children run amok, though the more formal the place, the more uncomfortable you’re likely to feel. In summer the abundance of outdoor terraces with tables is ideal for families; take care, though, as it can be easy to lose sight of wandering young ones amid the scrum of people.
You cannot rely on restaurants having tronas (high chairs), although many do these days. Those that do, however, rarely have more than one (a handful at most), so make the request when making your reservation or as soon as you arrive.
Very few restaurants (or other public facilities) have nappy-changing facilities.
A small but growing number of restaurants offer a menú infantil (children’s menu), which usually includes a main course (hamburger, chicken nuggets, pasta and the like), a drink and an ice cream or milkshake for dessert.
One challenge can be adapting to Spanish eating hours – when kids get hungry between meals it’s sometimes possible to zip into the nearest tasca (tapas bar) and get them a snack, and there are also sweet shops scattered around most towns. That said, we recommend carrying emergency supplies from a supermarket for those times when there’s simply nothing open.
Spain has a surfeit of castles, horse shows, fiestas and ferias, interactive museums, flamenco shows and even the Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, to name just a few highlights for kids.
When it comes to activities, quite a lot of adventure activities – including rafting, kayaking, canoeing, canyoning and mountain-biking – can be done at easy beginners' levels suitable for children, although check before you book in case there are age minimums. Surf and ski schools also cater to kids.
Spain’s beaches, especially those along the Mediterranean coast, are custom-made for children: many (particularly along the Costa Brava) are sheltered from the open ocean by protective coves, while most others are characterised by waveless waters that quietly lap the shore. Yes, some can get a little overcrowded in the height of summer, but there are still plenty of tranquil stretches of sand if you choose carefully.
- Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián This is Spain’s most easily accessible city beach.
- Aiguablava & Fornells Sheltered, beautiful Costa Brava coves.
- Cala Sant Vicenç Four of Mallorca’s loveliest cove beaches.
- Menorca Quiet north-coast beaches, even in summer.
- Zahara de los Atunes Cádiz-province beach with pristine sand.
Architecture of the Imagination
Some of Spain's signature buildings look as if they emerged from some childhood fantasy, and many of these (such as the Alhambra and most art galleries) also have guidebooks aimed specifically at children. And then there’s live flamenco, something that every child should see once in their lives.
- Alcázar, Segovia The inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
- Park Güell and Casa Batlló Gaudí’s weird-and-wonderful Barcelona creations.
- Castillo de Loarre, Aragón The stereotypically turreted castle.
- Casas Colgadas, Cuenca Houses that hang out over the cliff.
- Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and Camp Nou Football, football, football…
- Museo Guggenheim Bilbao Watch them gaze in wonder.
Theme Parks & Horse Shows
Spain has seen an explosion of Disneyfied theme parks in recent years. Parks range from places that re-create the era of the dinosaurs or the Wild West to more traditional parks with rides and animals.
- Dinópolis, Teruel This is a cross between Jurassic Park and a funfair.
- PortAventura Fine amusement park close to Tarragona.
- Terra Mítica, Benidorm Where the spirit of Disneyland meets the Med.
- Oasys Mini Hollywood, Almería Wild West movie sets in the deserts.
- Zoo Aquarium de Madrid Probably Spain’s best zoo.
- Parc d’Atraccions, Barcelona Great rides and a puppet museum.
- Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre Andalucían horse shows in all their finery.
- Caballerizas Reales Another excellent horse show, this time in Córdoba.
For general advice on travelling with young ones, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children (2015) or visit the websites www.travelwithyourkids.com and www.familytravelnetwork.com.
What to Bring
Although you might want to bring a small supply of items that you’re used to having back home (this is particularly true for baby products) in case of emergency (or a Sunday when most pharmacies and supermarkets are closed), Spain is likely to have everything you need.
- Baby formula in powder or liquid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, can be bought at farmacias (pharmacies).
- Disposable pañales (nappies or diapers) are widely available at supermarkets and farmacias.
- Fresh cow’s milk is sold in cartons and plastic bottles in supermarkets in big cities, but can be hard to find in small towns, where UHT is often the only option.
When to Go
If you’re heading for the beach, summer (especially July and August) is the obvious choice – but it’s also when Spaniards undertake a mass pilgrimage to the coast, so book well ahead. It’s also a good time to travel to the mountains (the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada). The interior can be unbearably hot during the summer months, however – Seville and Córdoba regularly experience daytime temperatures of almost 50ºC.
Our favourite time for visiting Spain is in spring and autumn, particularly May, June, September and October. In all but October, you might be lucky and get weather warm enough for the beach, but temperatures in these months are generally mild and the weather often fine.
Winter can be bitterly cold in much of Spain – fine if you come prepared and even better if you’re heading for the snow.
Most hotels (but rarely budget establishments) have cots for small children, although most only have a handful, so reserve one when booking your room. If you’re asking for a cuna (cot), it can be a good idea to ask for a larger room as many Spanish hotel or hostal (budget hotel) rooms can be on the small side, making for very cramped conditions. Cots sometimes cost extra, while other hotels offer them for free.
In top-end hotels you can sometimes arrange for child care, and in some places child-minding agencies cater to temporary visitors. Some top-end hotels – particularly resorts, but also some paradores (luxurious state-owned hotels) – have play areas or children’s playgrounds, and many also have swimming pools.
Spain’s transport infrastructure is world-class, and high-speed AVE trains render irrelevant the distances between many major cities. Apart from anything else, most kids love the idea that they’re travelling at nearly 300km/h.
Discounts are available for children (usually under 12) on public transport. Those under four generally go free.
You can hire a silla infantil (car seat; usually for an additional cost) for infants and children from most car-hire firms, but you should always book them in advance. This is especially true during busy travel periods, such as Spanish school holidays, Navidad (Christmas) and Semana Santa (Holy Week).
It’s extremely rare that taxis have child seats – unless you’re carrying a portable version from home, you’re expected to sit the child on your lap, with the seatbelt around you both.