Spain is a family holiday favourite – make the most of it with our handy guide
Where to go
With sandy beaches and coves, awesome nature reserves and culture-soaked cities, Spain is ideal for a family holiday that won’t put a strain on your wallet. One of the most fruitful areas to explore is northern Spain. It’s also cooler in summer months, when southern Spain can be sweltering and unsuitable for those with younger kids. Bilbao, the largest city of the Basque Country, is surprisingly good for families since its revitalisation in the 1990s: both its iconic Guggenheim Museum and its Museum of Fine Arts offer children’s activities like puppet shows and circus acts, and there’s a historic quarter full of buzzing tapas bars and restaurants. You’re also within a hour of the Karpin Abentura ecology theme-park, where you’ll find both live animals and animated dinosaur shows, and the Cabarceno Wildlife Park in the Cantabrian Mountains.
is also handy for the handsome seaside town of Donostia–San Sebastian, well-loved by Spaniards for its unspoilt old quarter, its three gorgeous beaches (supplemented by the one on Santa Clara island when ferries run in summer), its watersports and its cablecar up to the amusement park on Mt Igeldo. In winter, meanwhile, many locals head for one of several small family-oriented ski resorts in the tranquil Spanish section of the Pyrenees, where you’ll find crèches and children’s facilities such as snowparks. But don’t overlook the Pyrenees in summer, when it draws lovers of the great outdoors with its whitewater rafting, cycling, horse-riding and even rides in static hot-air balloons.
It’s just over 400 miles cross-country from Bilbao to Barcelona, one of the most perennially hip of city-break destinations but another surprisingly good bet for cheap family holidays in Spain. Kids will love the place, whether tots or teens. They can enjoy everything from one of Europe’s biggest aquariums and fabulous beaches to wacky street entertainment on the Ramblas, the outlandish buildings, monuments and mosaics of Gaudí, and the museums of Montjuic. There’s an amusement park on Barcelona’s Mt Tibidabo, or just an hour’s drive to the south brings you to the major themepark of Port Aventura, as well as the resort of Salou, part of the Costa Dorada, which was named for its golden sands. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Tarragona , where you can admire Roman ruins before running wild on Blue Flag beaches.
Great Places to Stay
Spain has a fantastic range of accommodation, from five-star hotels with kids’ clubs down to more flexible and budget-conscious self-catering villas and apartments, of which there is a wide choice from reputable specialists such www.interhome.com and www.homelettings.co.uk. Or combine the benefits of self-catering with the facilities of a resort-hotel, including a pool, at a holiday village such as those operated by PV Holidays.
Whatever you choose, try to spend at least a night or two in a parador. These uniquely Spanish hotels, which often occupy restored castles or other historic treasures, are surprisingly affordable given what they offer – often, a traditional restaurant with a menu that includes kids’ favourites, together with a children’s play area. Other ‘authentic’ (and green) options might include a yurt hotel or an olive farm in Andalucia.
Then there’s camping, which is especially popular in the cooler north and can include mobile homes as well as tents. Operators with whom you can book family-friendly campsites in pounds (helpful when the euro is so strong) include Canvas Holidays and Siblu. A good source of smaller-scale, sometimes rural, often environmentally conscious campsites is www.alanrogers.com/camping/spain. Alternatively, take to the open-road and pull up beside whatever beach takes your fancy – Spain is excellent for motorhoming. Read our guide to camping holidays in Spain for more information.
Eating Well on a Budget
is a culinary paradise where it’s still possible to eat well on a modest budget, provided you steer clear of tourist traps. Children love sampling from lots of little plates of colourful tapas – a convivial way to enjoy a family meal – while on the coast the seafood can be breathtakingly fresh and good and that perennial child-pleaser the sausage is superb in its various incarnations throughout Spain. Just remember that restaurants don’t normally start serving until 9pm or even later, so factor in a siesta to keep your kids up late, as the natives do.
Choosing self-catering accommodation will allow you the freedom to try out the local produce sold at buzzing markets such as Barcelona’s Mercado Boqueria and to make picnics to take out sightseeing.
For other family holiday ideas read our guide to family holidays in France or our guide to family holidays in Holland.
P&Os family holidays Expert
Rhonda has written and edited for most of the big-name travel publishers, including Time Out and Lonely Planet and is the author of three Frommer's family travel guides - London with Kids, Normandy with Your Family and Brittany with Your Family. She’s married to horror novelist Conrad Williams and along with her sons Ethan (7), Ripley (5) and Zac (2) she regularly travels to all manner of places as commissioning editor and main features writer for www.takethefamily.com.