Spend the day at Parc de la Ciutadella, with its boating lake, its extravagant fountain with gilded statues including water-spouting dragons, its mammoth statue, its free-flying green parrots and its two natural history museums. It’s also home to the Zoo de Barcelona.
Head for Parc Güell, designed by Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and full of mesmerising stone structures including a bench in the form of a sea serpent and vibrant tiled mosaics, one of a salamander (dubbed ‘el drac’ or the dragon).
Marvel at Gaudí's masterpiece, the fantastical Sagrada Familia, finally nearing completion almost a century after the architect's death. An audio-guide brings it to life for kids 6–12, while over-fives can climb its spindly towers. Book well ahead to circumvent the lengthy queues.
Don’t miss another Gaudí masterpiece, La Pedrera or Casa Milà with its topsy-turvy roofscape of chimneys that kids love to race around. Inside you’ll find displays on the natural inspirations for the building's design (which included snakes and sea sponges), a mock-up of a period apartment, and occasional events including workshops and puppet shows (some in English by request). Don’t miss the giftshop with its charming old-fashioned toys or the excellent ground-level bookshop.
Go up Montjuic hill by funicular or cable-car for amazing views over the city from the 18th-century castle, a swim in the outdoor pool built for the 1992 Olympics (open to the public in July and August), child-friendly cultural venues including the Catalan National Art Museum and the Fundació Joan Míro, and several remnants of the Modernist building experiment. On certain evenings, Montjuïc also hosts a famous Magic Fountain sound-and-light show
Enjoy the charmingly old-fashioned Tibidabo amusement park in its stunning location beside the neo-Gothic hilltop Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (30 minutes from Plaça de Catalunya via the Tibibus from outside El Corte Inglés department store). The fairground rides, rollercoaster and surreal museum of automatons come with 360-degree views over the city.
Make for a beach. The closest to the centre, Barceloneta, is naturally the busiest. A good alternative is Mar Bella, where you can play ping pong or volleyball before refuelling at a chiringuito (beach café). It’s about a 15-minute bike-ride along the seafront from Barceloneta; bike hire is widely available.
Take an evening stroll along the Ramblas with its stunning architecture, street performers and food, trinket and pet stalls. Locals do this en masse before or after dinner, often with an ice cream in hand.
Don't miss a visit to La Boqueria market just off the Ramblas, even if you're not self-catering – this colourful place appeals to parents and kids alike with its quirky little stalls and larger-than-life characters. It's the perfect place to stock up for a picnic, or you can install yourselves at a little counter and order an array of tapas tasting dishes – the ultimate family-friendly sharing meal.
Soak up some history with a two-hour Dragon Hunt family orientation walk with Context Travel, aimed at those with children under 13, spotting the mythical creatures on façades and in the form of statues all over the city.
Sign the kids up for a chocolate workshop at the Museu Xocolata, or just dive into the café or shop for pastries and chocolated-based treats.
Get design inspiration at Vinçon, a Gracia store with fabulous homeware plus a children’s section with imaginative toys and items of decor.
For themepark thrills, head for PortAventura an hour and half south of the city (with dedicated trains from Barcelona Sants train station; train tickets include park admission).