Barcelona is a superb place for a family holiday. There are many museums and attractions that appeal to adults and children alike. However, I have noticed a sharp rise in entrance fees and exhibits which pushes up the prices for parents on vacation. While some expensive highlights might have to be included, like Sagrada Familia, there are others that don’t cost a penny. Read how local families take advantage of free sightseeing in Barcelona.
Every Sunday afternoon after 3pm, a lot of public museums offer free entrance. If your holidays happen to fall on the first Sunday of the month, that deal extends to the whole day (opening to closing times). To avoid waiting in queues, choose a large exhibiting space that can cater for the crowds. There are many museums suitable for kids in the city and also, the Night of the Museums occurs once a year in May for a free fun evening time visit.
Magic fountain and the MNAC
In Plaça Espanya, catch the night time musical dancing fountain show. The young ones love it! Loud music is accompanied by synchronised water that is dramatically back lit. It lasts for 15 minutes and runs every 30 minutes (Summer: Thursday to Sunday. Rest of the year: Friday to Saturday). Interested in Art? Catalonia’s National Art Museum (MNAC) offers free entry after 3:30pm on Saturday evenings so a good idea is to head there before catching the water show.
Children always love exploring a castle and this fortress situated on a mountain has great views. Down from the draw bridge is a cafeteria and a playground with some pretty impressive slides. There is a picnic area for parents who like to pack lunches and, if you enjoy walking, go to the grassy area to the left of the entrance (leaving the complex). It will eventually lead you to a trail that follows the mountain down to the bottom, finishing at the neighbourhood of Poble Sec (ask for directions on way down).
Barcelona has quite a long stretch of sandy coastline. What a better way to bribe the younger ones into museums and sightseeing than with the promise of a cool refreshing swim and ice-cream afterwards. Bogatell Beach is the one I usually recommend.
Giants and la Boqueria Market
Food markets are always great fun and none is more colourful or distracting than La Boqueria. Skip the main entrance and go through Palau de la Virreina at Rambla 99. Walk straight through its patio and, on the right behind a glass pane, are some of the Giants of Barcelona City. There is an explanation in English about each of them and it is a lovely hidden gem to view. Afterwards, go out the back exit (beside the toilets) and turn left into the market.
Parc de la Ciutadella
It was the site of the Universal Exhibition of 1888 and it is beautiful. Located in the city centre, this green space is an ideal location for a picnic. Equipped with ping pong tables (bring your own bat and ball), a lake with ducks and geese, playgrounds, a giant mammoth sculpture and a stunning fountain topped with a golden chariot sculpture. Barcelona zoo is also housed here (separate fee paying entrance) so don’t be surprised if you hear a lions call while playing some table tennis. Two minutes walk away, on Passeig de Sant Joan, is Arc De Triomf, the original and very impressive entrance way to the Universal Exhibition.
Horta Labyrinth Park
Ever wanted to try a real life labyrinth? The whole family can have fun trying to work out the one in this park. Step back in time to the former 18th century gardens of the Desvall’s family estate. It is a lovely area to explore but remember that picnics are not allowed on the grounds. Free on Wednesdays and Sundays, every other day they charge a very small entrance fee.
This city has too many festivals to keep up with! Each little neighbourhood will host their own Fiesta every year which provides great family activities and fun. The main two I would recommend are La Mercè, in September and Gràcia, in August.
La Mercè Festival (around 24th of September)
This is the city’s main festival which usually has a 4 day programme. There will be parades of Giants, fireworks, human castle building, light projections, dance shows… the list goes on.
Gràcia Festival (around 15th of August)
A really fun and cool neighbourhood which hosts one of the city’s most popular festival. Every year, streets compete decorating their walkways in the most spectacular way. As you wander around this barrio, you can find yourself under the sea, in Jurasic Park or meeting characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Live day time concerts for kids, jigsaw puzzle competitions (you can sign up for as a family) or ping pong tournaments are but a few of the fun activities to look out for. Don’t forget to check out the traditional human castles, fire runs and parades of Giants.
Catalan tradition displays at the Cathedral
Want to involve the younger ones in this region’s culture? Every Saturday during the summer months at 7.30pm, in locations around the Cathedral, catch a glimpse of traditional Catalan folk activities. It’s a recent initiative by the city council and the programme varies throughout the summer (some Saturdays it will not run). Have fun viewing human castles (castells) , stick dancers (bastoners) and Giants (gegants). Check the timetable at the local tourist office.
Beforehand, your family could visit the Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona. Its beautiful garden has 13 white geese housed inside (always a hit with kids). To enter for free, go between 8am and 12.45pm or 5.15pm and 7.30pm.
Hope you have free family fun from Ann-Marie, the Runner Bean family tour guide!
If you are thinking of visiting Barcelona with your children, don’t miss our special post Gaudí for kids: a family guide for Barcelona, the best way of making the most of Gaudí while having fun all the way.