This is a city that could have been designed for children, by children. With its mix of bright paint-box buildings, parks full of crayon-coloured sculptures and museums stuffed with crazy modern art, it’s a perfect break for all the family. In the centre, there is a zoo and an aquarium, and throughout the city there are winding alleys that lead to quirky shops and tasty tapas bars. The central boulevard, Las Ramblas, leads to the beach and is lined with street performers and toy stalls. You can also visit a castle on a mountain top, a theme park and a world-famous football stadium. For budding engineers, there is a port with boats, trucks, and freight trains, plus a funicular railway and cable car. Even the museums are child-friendly. The Picasso museum is so small that even the most museum- phobic child will be won over, especially with the promise of sticky cakes in the courtyard café, while the Miro Museum is fill of vivid colour and fantastical forms.
The key to enjoying Barcelona with the family is to take the trip on the open-top Bus Turistic which runs a Red and Blue Line. The Red Line heads north into Gaudi territory. Look out for the reptilian Casa Batllo and the bizarre wave-like Casa Mila with its unusual seaweed-style balconies. Stop off at Gaudi’s still unfinished masterpiece, the breathtaking Sagrada Familia. This monument to individualism with its broken crockery and glass tile mosaics, bottle tops and strange carvings, never fails to amaze.
Next stop is Parc Guell where Gaudi let his imagination run riot. Beyond the dragon that guards the entrance is a serpentine bench – the longest of its kind in the world – that writhes above a plateau offering panoramic views of Barcelona. There’s plenty of space here for children to run around, but the hike up the hill from the bus stop is not for the faint-hearted. For even more eye-popping views, as well as a theme park and science museum, take a tram, then the funicular railway to the top of Tibidabo mountain, or stop at Nou Camp for a tour of one of the biggest and most impressive football stadiums in Europe.
The Blue Line on the Bus Turistic route offers a completely different picture of the city as it transports passengers up to Mountjuic, past the Olympic stadium and the city’s zoo via the harbour area. Stop at the zoo to visit Snowflake, a rare albino gorilla, or to watch the popular dolphin and whale show. A giant sea tunnel at Port Vell harbour is alive with sharks and moray eels, while the large Marine Museum allows children to experience conditions in the first submarine and imagine life as a galley slave. Maintain a fishy theme for lunch at Noroeste, a great family-friendly restaurant on the waterfront that offers a huge array of tapas. If you stay for longer than a weekend, take time to explore the winding streets of the Barri Gothic and El Born. They are full of little shops, artist’s studios and tapas bars. Discover Fargas, Barcelona’s most famous chocolate shop on a corner in the Barri Gothic, or tucked away on a corner of Ample you will find Papabubble, a tiny sweet factory where children can watch as artisans roll the candy before cutting it into humbugs. With its brightly-coloured architecture and family-friendly vibe, Barcelona is a veritable sweet shop for all the family to enjoy.
British Airways, tel: 0844 493 0 787; www.ba.com and Iberia, tel: 0870 609 0500; www.iberia.es offer flights from Heathrow, Gatwick and Newcastle.
EasyJet, tel: 0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Bristol and Liverpool.
Aerobus from the airport to Barcelona runs every 12 minutes and takes 30 minutes.
Alternatively, visit www.catalanculture.com for more accommodation ideas.
£££ Opposite the Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter is the fantastically situated Hotel Colon. Tel: +34 93 3011404; www.hotelcolon.es
££ Hotel Banys Orientals is a cool calm haven in the centre of Las Ramblas. Tel: 0034 9 3268 8460; wwwww.hotelbanysorientals.com
£ The Gaudi Hotel is a child-friendly well-located hotel with reasonable rates. Tel: 0034 9 3317 9032; www.hotelgaudi.es
£££ Talaia, Anexo Torre Mapfre, Carrer de la Marina. You can order half portions at this fabulous but expensive restaurant. Tel: 0034 9 3221 9090.
££ Noroeste, Passeig Don Joan de borbo Comte de Barcelona. Family-friendly, jolly restaurant. Tel: 0034 9 3221 1938.
£ Taller de Tapas, Calle de I’Argenteria 51. Classic tapas. Tel: 0034 9 3268 8559.
Spanish Tourist Office, tel: 020 7486 8077: www.barcelonaturisme.com