School holidays can be a difficult time if you are stuck in the sweltering city with kids to entertain. It can seem as if everyone you know is out of town and half the city is closed. As the temperatures soar and school holiday boredom sets in, you need a plan for getting out of the house with the kids that isn’t going to cost you a fortune.
Here are six of the best school holiday activities for kids in Barcelona:
Carrer Comerç, 36, 08003 Barcelona (map)
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Located on the edge of El Borne district, near Parc de la Ciutadella, the Chocolate Museum is an initiative of the Gremi de Pastisseria de Barcelona (confectioners guild) and exists to promote artisan chocolate making in Barcelona.
The main exhibition tells the story of the arrival of chocolate in Europe and the history of chocolate making in Barcelona, but the best thing about this place is they offer cheap hour-long workshops for kids (in Spanish and Catalan). That’s right, you can sit in the air-conditioned comfort of the café, eating chocolate with your favourite mummy-friend, while someone else entertains your children for a whole hour! Bliss! Workshop places fill up fast so book ahead online. Entrance to the museum is €6 and under-sevens are free.
Carrer de Roger de Llúria, 56, 08009 Barcelona (map)
Surely one of the easiest and best value days out with kids to be had in central Barcelona, this platja de l’eixample (city beach) is just a short walk from Girona Metro station and easily accessible by bus.
Almost invisible from the street, you emerge from the access tunnel to find that the interior of this manzana (city block) has been turned into a unique public space with benches, magnolia trees and large sandy play area. The space is dominated by a giant tower; built in the 1860s to provide drinking water to nearby homes and now surrounded by a large, shallow, paddling pool.
From the 25th of June to the 8th of September the place buzzes with families trying to escape the city heat by splashing around in the pool and building sandcastles in the shade of the tower. Entry prices are very agreeable – just €1.55 per person and there are various discounts available. But be warned: On hot August days be sure to arrive early, before 11.00, or you may be turned away if it gets too full. Alternatively, try going around 2pm as people leave for lunch. There are changing rooms and toilets (both are basic but good enough) and a posh bakery next door if you can’t be bothered to pack a picnic.
Montjuic picnic and swim
For a cheap day out with kids you can’t beat Montjuic. There are so many things to discover there but one very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day is to take a picnic to Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer Gardens and then follow it up with a swim at the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc.
Kids love taking the Funicular up from Parallel Metro station – sit at the front and they can pretend to drive. When you come out of the station onto Avinguda Miramar, turn right, then right again under the cable cars to get to the Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer Gardens. Named after a Catalan poet, the gardens are delightful and are one of the few places in the city where you will be able to enjoy actual grass under your feet (as opposed to that dusty sand you find everywhere). There is a large pond with a fountain and plenty shady spots to spread out your picnic. The kids will love exploring the series of lily ponds full of tadpoles and other creatures, while you relax and enjoy the view.
When you’re ready for a swim, cross the road to the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc. This is the former Olympic diving pool where the iconic photos of divers with the spectacular view of the Barcelona skyline behind them were taken back in 1992. The Olympic glory is rather faded now and the facility is a bit run down but the pool is fine and entry is only €6.50 for adults and under 5s are free.
Carrer d’ Isaac Newton, 26, 08022 Barcelona (map)
Cosmocaixa is a world-class science museum which opened in 2004 and is sponsored by the Catalan bank La Caixa. Huge, airy and blissfully air-conditioned, it is the perfect place to spend a day in the holidays. The main exhibition on the ground floor is a world of science-themed discovery for all ages, with plenty of opportunity to touch things and experiment. At the back you can walk through a rain forest to see giant fish, ants, turtles, tarantulas, caymans…even a simulated tropical downpour. It’s brilliantly designed and very well maintained. Best of all are the activities, which need to be booked in advance. Try Toca Toca! (touch touch) where knowledgeable guides introduce kids to animals while explaining how they are adapted to their environments. There is also a wonderful planetarium with related activities.
It is incredibly good value – entry and most activities cost just €4 – and if you happen to be a client of La Caixa entry is free and you pay half price for all activities. Make sure you book your entry ticket and activities online before going to avoid queuing when you arrive.
Upstairs there is a café with sandwiches and snacks plus a buffet restaurant. Outside is a large paved area perfect for kids to run around while you relax with a coffee. With the activities, the huge museum and restaurant, you could easily spend a whole day here and go home with the satisfaction of having done something educational as well as fun.
The only downside is getting there, as it is not particularly easy by public transport. If you can get to Avinguda Tibidabo FGC station, it is a short but steep uphill walk to the back entrance (not recommended with pushchairs and complaining toddlers). Or you can catch the nearby 196 bus which goes all the way up to Tibidabo, then back down again to Cosmocaixa. Alternatively, splash out on a taxi and arrive unflustered.
Parc de la Ciutadella, s/n, 08003 Barcelona (map)
If you live in central Barcelona and have young kids, it’s worth considering joining the zoo as a member. Family membership is currently €87.90 for the year, allowing you to enter free all year and get a discount at the shop and food stalls. The other big advantage is you get to skip the queue, which can stretch for miles on weekend mornings.
Like many people, I have my reservations about zoos in general, and in four years of membership I’ve never been able to bring myself to look at the poor dolphins. But in a city like Barcelona which is so lacking in green spaces, having a place free of dog mess and traffic for toddlers to run around and play can be a godsend.
You are allowed to take your own food in and there are picnic areas with tables. You can buy lunch there (be prepared for very basic fried stuff, not great) or just get an ice cream and a coffee. A big draw for families are the two excellent playgrounds, complete with flying-foxes and giant tube slide. There are some organised activities for kids in the weekends and even summer casals.
Carrer de Rosselló i Porcel, 7, 08016 Barcelona (map)
If you’re willing to venture out of the centre of town you will find a day at piscina Can Dragó well worth the effort. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Metro Lluc Major (L3 – yellow line) or go one stop further to Metro Via Júlia and catch the 132 bus to avoid a hot walk in the sun with your grumbling kids.
Claiming to be the largest outdoor pool in Barcelona, Can Dragó is glorious oasis from the city heat. One side of the giant pool has a gently sloping beach-style entrance perfect for tiny tots to splash around in, and the rest of the pool is around 130cm deep. There is a café serving hot and cold food and ice creams, and an adjoining grassy park perfect for a picnic. The place is huge and doesn’t feel too crowded even in August, although I was advised that they do have to turn people away at weekends when it gets very full. It almost feels like a resort, but with adult entry just €7.10 it’s a bargain. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place until recently. So far, probably due to the location, it seems largely undiscovered by foreigners.
That’s my summer schedule, can you give me a few more options to get me through the holidays? Where are your favourite summer holiday hangouts?