The Gothic Quarter’s warren of medieval alleyways is great fun to explore, and one of its hidden treasures is the original Papabubble store on Calle Ample where jewel-like sweets are made by hand.
Children love the open-top tourist bus, but for a real (and cheaper) adventure, ride the vintage Tramvia Blau, or “blue tram” (€5.50pp one-way) from Plaça John F Kennedy, then take the funicular to the top of Tibidabo mountain. The reward at journey’s end is the Tibidabo amusement park (€28.50 adult, €10.30 under 1.2m, free under 90cm) with rollercoasters and rides for young children against jaw-dropping panoramic views.
If the rain in Spain falls mainly on your holiday, head to CosmoCaixa science museum (adult €4, under-16s free). My kids, aged five and eight, love the hands-on exhibits, all with information in English, and 3D planetarium. The star attraction is 1,000 square metres of living Amazonian rainforest teeming with live snakes, birds, insects, fish and capybaras.
Those who dream of being the next Lionel Messi can walk in his studmarks at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou Experience (€25 adult, €20 under-13s). After visiting the dressing rooms and stepping onto the hallowed turf, they can explore the club’s history in the museum. It’s not just a trophy collection; there are plenty of touch-screen displays showing famous Barça goals to keep everyone entertained.
A free light-and-music spectacular runs at the Montjuïc Magic Fountain year-round in the evenings – but the show timetable varies considerably (and can close in winter) so check the website for details.
Where are all the other kids?
What Barcelona lacks in green space it makes up for in urban playgrounds. Ciutadella park attracts picnickers with its lawns, boating lake and a giant plastic mammoth on which generations of children have posed for photos. The beaches nearest the city centre are dominated by teens and tourists. Walk or take the metro to Ciutadella-Port Olimpic instead and walk further along the seafront. Bogatell beach has cheerful-but-not-cheap xiringuitos (beach restaurants), of which the pick is Escribà. The next beach, the sporty Mar Bella, has a skate park, basketball nets and lots of families. Afterwards, wander up the Rambla del Poblenou for an ice-cold orxata (a sweet drink made with tigernuts) at the 100-year-old ice-cream parlour El Tío Che.
Xurros (deep-fried dough sticks) dipped into thick, hot chocolate at Granja La Pallaresa on Calle Petritxol – which has been serving the morning pick-me-up in the Gothic Quarter since 1947 – provide enough calories to carry you through to lunch.